The nineteenth-century pastor and author J. R. Miller wrote, “The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. What a man is survives him. It can never be buried.” That is a true sentiment, but there is something more important than what people think of us after we are dead: the impact we have while we are here.
Character is absolutely critical in leadership. America’s current moral decline is directly linked to the fact that we have elected, appointed, and hired too many leaders who have no character. In recent years, some have tried to argue that character doesn’t really matter in leadership; what a man does in his private life supposedly should not be a factor in whether he is deemed fit for a public leadership role. That perspective is diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. Character does matter in leadership. It matters a lot.
In fact, character is what makes leadership possible. People simply cannot respect or trust those who lack character. And if they do not respect a man, they will not follow him. Time and truth go hand in hand. Leaders without character eventually disappoint their followers and lose their confidence. The only reason such people are often popular is that they make other people who have no character feel better about themselves. But they aren’t real leaders.
Lasting leadership is grounded in character. Character produces respect. Respect produces trust. And trust motivates followers.
Even in the purely human realm, most people do recognize that true leadership is properly associated with character qualities like integrity, trustworthiness, respectability, unselfishness, humility, self-discipline, self-control, and courage. Such virtues reflect the image of God in man. Although the divine image is severely tarnished in fallen humanity, it has not been entirely erased. That’s why even pagans recognize those qualities as desirable virtues, important requirements for true leadership.
Christ Himself is the epitome of what a true leader ought to be like. He is perfect in all the attributes that make up the character of a leader. He is the embodiment of all the truest, purest, highest, and noblest qualities of leadership.
Obviously, in spiritual leadership, the great goal and objective is to bring people to Christlikeness. That is why the leader himself must manifest Christlike character. That is why the standard for leadership in the church is set so high. The apostle Paul summarized the spirit of the true leader when he wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Peter might just as well have written the same thing. His character was molded and shaped after the example he had witnessed in Christ. He had the raw material for becoming a leader, and that was important. His life experiences helped hone and sharpen his natural leadership abilities, and that was also vital. But the real key to everything—the essential foundation upon which true leadership always rises or falls—is character. It was the character qualities Peter developed through his intimate association with Christ that ultimately made him the great leader he became.
One of those qualities that really stood out in the life of Peter was his submission. At first glance that may seem an unusual quality to cultivate in a leader. After all, the leader is the person in charge, and he expects other people to submit to him, right? But a true leader doesn’t just demand submission; he is an example of submission by the way he submits to the Lord and to those in authority over him. Everything the true spiritual leader does ought to be marked by submission to every legitimate authority—especially submission to God and to His Word.
Leaders tend to be confident and aggressive. They naturally dominate. Peter had that tendency in him. He was quick to speak and quick to act. As we have seen, he was a man of initiative. That means he was always inclined to try to take control of every situation. In order to balance that side of him, the Lord taught him submission.
And He did it in some rather remarkable ways. One classic example of this is found in Matthew 17. This account comes at a time when Jesus was returning with the twelve to Capernaum, their home base, after a period of itinerant ministry. A tax collector was in town making the rounds to collect the annual two-drachma tax from each person twenty years old or older. This was not a tax paid to Rome, but a tax paid for the upkeep of the temple. It was prescribed in Exodus 30:11–16 (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:9). The tax was equal to two days’ wages, so it was no small amount.
Matthew writes, “Those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’” (Matthew 17:24). Peter assured him that Jesus did pay His taxes.
But this particular tax apparently posed a bit of a problem in Peter’s mind. Was Jesus morally obliged, as the incarnate Son of God, to pay for the upkeep of the temple like any mere man? The sons of earthly kings don’t pay taxes in their fathers’ kingdoms; why should Jesus? Jesus knew what Peter was thinking, so “when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’” (Matthew 17:25).
Peter answered, “From strangers.” Kings don’t tax their own children.
Jesus drew the logical conclusion for Peter: “Then the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:26). In other words, Jesus had absolute heavenly authority, if He desired, to opt out of the temple tax.
But if He did that, it would send the wrong message as far as earthly authority is concerned. Better to submit, pay the tax, and avoid a situation most people would not understand. So although Jesus was not technically obligated to pay the temple tax, he said, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matthew 17:27).
The coin in the mouth of the fish was a stater—a single coin worth a shekel, or four drachma. It was exactly enough to pay the temple tax for two. In other words, Jesus arranged for Peter’s tax to be paid in full, too.
It’s intriguing that the miracle Jesus worked demonstrated His absolute sovereignty, and yet at the same time, He was being an example of human submission. Christ supernaturally directed a fish that had swallowed a coin to take the bait on Peter’s hook. If Jesus was Lord over nature to such a degree, He certainly had authority to opt out of the temple tax. And yet he taught Peter by example how to submit willingly.
Submission is an indispensable character quality for leaders to cultivate. If they would teach people to submit, they must be examples of submission themselves. And sometimes a leader must submit even when there might seem to be very good arguments against submitting.
Peter learned the lesson well. Years later, in 1 Peter 2:13–18, he would write,
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
This was the same lesson Peter learned from Christ: You are free in one sense, but don’t use your freedom as a covering for evil. Rather, regard yourself as the Lord’s bondslave. You are a citizen of heaven and merely a sojourner on earth, but submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake. You are first and foremost a subject of Christ’s kingdom and a mere stranger and pilgrim on this earth. Nonetheless, to avoid offense, honor the earthly king. Honor all people. This is the will of God, and by submitting, you will put to silence the ignorance of ungodly men.
Remember, the man who wrote that epistle was the same man who when he was young and brash slashed off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He is the same man who once struggled over the idea of Jesus’ paying taxes. But he learned to submit—not an easy lesson for a natural leader. Peter especially was inclined to be dominant, forceful, aggressive, and resistant to the idea of submission. But Jesus taught him to submit willingly, even when he thought he had a good argument for refusing to submit.
(Adapted from Twelve Ordinary Men.)
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170731
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You
You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).
A new article from CWC contributor and brother in Christ, Edward Benitez:
Christianity Today recently posted a brief article titled “Joel Osteen Denies He’s A Prosperity Preacher, Says His Focus is on Helping Other People.” (1)
As the title suggests, Joel Osteen disavows that he endorses or teaches the prosperity “gospel,” which is described as “a belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.”2
Does Joel Osteen preach all that?
Indeed he does, as a close look at any of his sermons reveals and as many critics have pointed out. In this particular critique by Christianity Today, however, it appears not so much as a denial but rather as an excuse/justification to preach it.
“Our message is that we’re blessed to be a…
View original post 772 more words
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:16–17)
Before we examine the sanctifying power of Scripture, this crucial statement by Paul must be considered. Some scholars suggest that All Scripture is inspired should be translated, “All Scripture inspired by God is . . ,” which would leave open the possibility that some Scripture is not inspired by Him. But that rendering would make the Bible worthless as a reliable guide to divine truth, because we would then have no way to determine which part of it is inspired by God and which is not. Men would be left to their own finite and sinful devices and understanding to discover what part of the Bible may be true and which may not, what part is God’s Word and what part is human conjecture. Paul’s thought is that the Scripture that gives salvation must therefore be inspired by God. The words of men could never transform the inner person (Ps. 19:7).
In addition to the many other specific biblical references to the inspiration and authority of Scripture—some of which are mentioned below—it is important to note that similar Greek constructions in other parts of the New Testament (See, e.g., Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4; Heb. 4:17) argue strongly from a grammatical perspective that all Scripture is inspired is the proper translation. Scripture is the revelation conveyed, inspiration is the means of that conveyance. In the words originally revealed and recorded, all Scripture is God’s inerrant Word.
The first predicate adjective that describes Scripture, namely, its being inspired by God, focuses on the authority of His written Word. Theopneustos (inspired by God) literally means, “breathed out by God,” or simply, “God-breathed.” God sometimes breathed His words into the human writers to be recorded much as dictation. He said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). But, as clearly seen in Scripture itself, God’s divine truth more often flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, and emotions of His chosen human instruments. Yet, by whatever means, God divinely superintended the accurate recording of His divinely breathed truth by His divinely chosen men. In a supernatural way, He has provided His divine Word in human words that any person, even a child, can be led by His Holy Spirit to understand sufficiently to be saved.
It is of utmost importance to understand that it is Scripture that is inspired by God, not the men divinely chosen to record it. When speaking or writing apart from God’s revelation, their thoughts, wisdom, and understanding were human and fallible. They were not inspired in the sense that we commonly use that term of people with extraordinary artistic, literary, or musical genius. Nor were they inspired in the sense of being personal repositories of divine truth which they could dispense at will. Many human authors of Scripture penned other documents, but none of those writings exist today, and, even if discovered, they would not carry the weight of Scripture. We know, for instance, that Paul wrote at least two other letters to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 2:4), but no copies of those letters have ever been found. The letters doubtless were godly, spiritually insightful, and blessed of the Lord, but they were not Scripture.
Many men who wrote Scripture, such as Moses and Paul, were highly trained in human knowledge and wisdom, but that learning was not the source of the divine truth they recorded. David was a highly gifted poet, and that gift doubtless is reflected in the beauty of his psalms, but it was not the source of the divine truths revealed in those psalms.
Scripture first of all and above all is from God and about God, His self-revelation to fallen mankind. From Genesis through Revelation, God reveals His truth, His character, His attributes, and His divine plan for the redemption of man, whom He made in His own image. He even foretells the eventual redemption of the rest of His creation, which “also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” and which “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:21–22).
The Bible is not a collection of the wisdom and insights of men, even of godly men. It is God’s truth, His own Word in His own words. The psalmist declared, “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). God’s Word is divinely revealed to men on earth and divinely authenticated in heaven. Peter declares unequivocally, “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20–21).Those God-given, humanly recorded words became God’s written Word, inerrant and authoritative as originally given. Prophēteia (“prophecy”) is not used here in the sense of prediction but in its basic and broader meaning of speaking forth, of proclaiming a message. It carries the same inclusive idea as “the oracles of God,” with which ancient Israel had the marvelous privilege of being entrusted (Rom. 3:2). “Interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20b) translates epilusis, which refers to something that is released, sent out, or sent forth. In this verse the Greek noun is a genitive of source, indicating origin. In other words, no message of Scripture was originated and sent forth by men’s own wisdom and will. Rather, the godly men through whom Scripture was revealed and recorded were divinely instructed and carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Within the Bible itself, “God” and “Scripture” are sometimes used almost interchangeably. Referring to words spoken directly by God to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), Paul wrote that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you’ ” (Gal. 3:8). Later in that same chapter the apostle again personifies Scripture as God, declaring that “Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (v. 22). In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’ ” (Rom. 9:17).
When he first preached in Galatia, many years before he wrote his epistle to the churches there, the apostle had declared,
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.” And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm, “Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” (Acts 13:32–35)
The Inspired and Inerrant Scripture
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in both testaments. All Scripture refers to the New as well as to the Old Testament. As noted above, the hieros grammata (“sacred writings”) were the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament), which Timothy had been taught from childhood (v. 15). Graphē (Scripture), on the other hand, was commonly used in the early church not only of the Old Testament but also of God’s newly revealed Word, in what came to be called the New Testament.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus gave powerful and unambiguous testimony to the divine authority of both testaments. The four gospels contain the first divine revelation after that of the Old Testament prophets, which had ceased some four hundred years earlier. Jesus’ declaration that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35) applied specifically to the Hebrew Scriptures but also, as will be seen, to the totality of Scripture, that is, to both testaments, which together compose God’s written Word.
Early in His ministry, Jesus said of the Old Testament, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18). Later He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17).
Jesus repeatedly used divinely revealed truths from the Old Testament to affirm His messiahship. He declared, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38), and, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:42). As Jesus walked with the two disciples on the Emmaus road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
In addition to His teaching that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35), Jesus said that “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:48–50). The words of the incarnate Christ are the words of God the Father; therefore, to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s Word.
The men whom God assigned to write the gospels would not have been able in their mere humanness to remember accurately everything Jesus said or did. For that reason Jesus promised that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26–27).
The Lord would reveal additional truth after He returned to heaven. “I have many more things to say to you,” He said, “but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:12–14).
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Scripture [graphē] says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18). It is important to note that the first quotation is from the Old Testament (Deut. 25:4) and that the second is from Jesus’ own lips (Luke 10:7), that is, from the New Testament.
The Pentateuch (The first five books of the Old Testament) contains at least 680 claims to divine inspiration. Such claims are found 418 times in the historical books, 195 times in the poetic books, and 1,307 times in the prophetic books. The New Testament contains more than 300 direct quotations and at least 1,000 indirect references from the Old Testament, almost all of them declaring or implying that they were God’s own Word. The book of Hebrews opens with the declaration “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). The writer was speaking of both testaments, God’s speaking through “the prophets” representing the Old and His speaking through “His Son” representing the New.
Many New Testament writers directly testified that they knew they were writing God’s Word. Paul reminded believers in Corinth of a truth he doubtless had taught them many times in person when he ministered there: “[These] things we also speak,” he said, “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 16). In his next letter to them he defended his earnestness as well as his authority, saying, “We are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).
Paul assured the churches in Galatia: “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.… He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb,… called me through His grace, [and] was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:11–12, 15–16). He told the church in Colossae, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25–27). And to the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Peter recognized that Paul, a fellow apostle, had been used by the Lord to write His Word. Referring to Paul’s letters, Peter wrote of “some things [in them that were] hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, emphasis added). Jude attests that “the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” carried the weight of Scripture, divinely warning that “in the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 17–18).
No New Testament writer had a greater awareness that he was recording God’s own Word than did the apostle John. That awareness is affirmed with particular certainty in the book of Revelation, which begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev. 1:1–2). A few verses later the apostle says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches’ ” (vv. 10–11). At or near the end of each message to those churches is the admonition “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The apostle also makes clear in many other parts of that book that he is writing God’s explicitly revealed truth (See, e.g., 19:9; 21:5; 22:6).
It is both remarkable and significant that, although most, if not all, of the human writers were aware they were recording Scripture and sometimes were overwhelmed by the truths God revealed to them, they exhibit a total lack of self-consciousness or apology, in the common sense of that word. Together, the biblical writers make some 4,000 claims to be writing God’s Word, yet they offer no defense for being employed by God in such an elevated function. Despite their realization of their own sinfulness and fallibility, they wrote with the utter confidence that they spoke infallibly for God and that His revelation itself is its own best and irrefutable defense. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,” Isaiah proclaimed for God, “and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without ac-complishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10–11).
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in its words. To deny that all of the Bible is inspired obviously is to deny that all of the words of Scripture are inspired. Just as obviously, such denial places man as judge over God’s Word, acknowledging as authentic and binding only those portions which correspond to one’s personal predispositions. Whether the human judgment about inspiration is made by a church council, church tradition, or individual preference, it is based on subjective, sin-tainted, and imperfect knowledge and understanding. When men decide for themselves what to recognize as true and worthwhile, as meaningful and relevant, they vitiate all authority of Scripture. Even when they concur with Scripture, the agreement is based on their own human wisdom.
Unless the very words of Scripture are inspired and authoritative, man is left to his own resources to ferret out what seem to be underlying divine concepts and principles. But instead of discovering what has been called “the Word behind the words”—that is, the divine truth behind the human words—that approach leads to the very opposite. It presumptuously and self-deceptively “discovers” man’s word, as it were, behind God’s words, judging God’s divine truth by the standards of man’s sinful inclinations and distorted perceptions. As Paul said to Titus, the commandments of men turn people away from God’s truth (Titus 1:14).
Even from a purely logical perspective, to discount the words of Scripture is to discount all meaning of Scripture. Not only is it impossible to write without using words but also is impossible, except in the most nebulous way, even to think without words. It is as meaningless to speak of thoughts and ideas without words as to speak of music without notes or mathematics without numbers. To repudiate the words of Scripture is to repudiate the truths of Scripture.
It is true, of course, that both testaments contain revelations whose bare words God intentionally made cryptic. In some cases, as with Jesus’ parables, the purpose was to hide the meaning from willful unbelievers. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, “He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted’ ” (Matt. 13:10–11). In other cases, as with predictive prophecies, even the most godly believers, including the men to whom God revealed the prophecies, could not discern the full meaning. Peter explains, for example, that, “as to this salvation [through Jesus Christ], the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10–12).
In other words, although Scripture never reveals truths apart from words, in some places it reveals words apart from their full truth. The point is this: The words of Scripture are always inerrant, whether or not they convey their full meaning to those who read them or can be fully understood by our limited comprehension.
When Moses protested to God that he was not qualified to lead Israel because he had “never been eloquent” and was “slow of speech and slow of tongue,… the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say’ ” (Ex. 4:10–12). When Moses continued to object, “the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently… And you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and it shall come about that he shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be as God to him’ ” (Ex. 4:14–16, emphasis added).
In Psalm 147, the inseparable relationship between God’s Word and His words is clear. The Lord “sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow. He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel” (Ps. 147:15–19, emphasis added). It is only through words that God has revealed His Word.
Jeremiah testified: “The Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’ … Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them.’ … Thy words were found and I ate them,” the prophet responded,“and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jer. 1:9; 15:14, 16, emphasis added). Ezekiel made a similar affirmation, saying, “Then [the Lord] said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me.… But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.’… Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, take into your heart allMy words which I shall speak to you, and listen closely’ ” (Ezek. 2:3, 7; 3:10, emphasis added).
In reply to Satan’s temptation to make bread from stones in order to satisfy His physical hunger, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’ ” (Matt. 4:4, emphasis added). Man is fed spiritually by God’s “every word,” and every revealed word of God is found in His written Word, the Bible. In His last major public discourse, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35, emphasis added).
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the essence of the gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, emphasis added). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing,” He said on another occasion. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63, emphasis added). “For I did not speak on My own initiative,” our Lord again makes clear, “but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (12:49–50; cf. 14:24). Believing in the Father is believing in the Son, and the Son’s words are the Father’s words.
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in everything it teaches and reports. Some scholars maintain that, because the Bible is not a textbook on such subjects as history, geography, and science, it is inerrant only when it speaks on spiritual and moral matters. But like those who claim to accept the underlying divine concepts and principles of Scripture but not its words, these interpreters also determine by their own resources what is divine and infallible and what is human and fallible. Again, man becomes the judge of Scripture.
Through the centuries, some scholars have pointed to “mistakes” in the Bible, statements about people, places, and things that did not jibe with the accepted “facts” of history, archaeology, or modern science.
Until Copernicus’s discovery in the sixteenth century, men assumed that the sun rotated around the earth, because that is how it appears from our earthly perspective. Because we now know that the earth rotates around the sun, many scholars charge the Bible with factual error in reporting that Joshua successfully commanded the sun to stand still and the moon to be stopped (Josh. 10:12–13), whereas it must have been the earth that stood still. But highly trained meteorologists still speak of sunrise and sunset, especially when communicating with the general public. Those phrases are firmly established figures of speech throughout the world, and no sensible person accuses someone of being inaccurate or unscientific for using them. Not only that, but if God created the universe, stopping the rotation of the earth, the sun, or the moon—or of all three—would have been equally simple. It is significant that most people who question the reality of such miraculous events also question many of the clear theological and moral teachings of Scripture as well.
For many years some scholars charged the book of 2 Kings with error for reporting that “the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:14). They based that judgment on an ancient Assyrian record of the transaction that gives the amount of silver as being 800 talents. But later archaeological findings have revealed that, although the Assyrian standard for a talent of gold was the same as that used by Judah and Syria, the standard for silver was considerably different. When adjusted for that difference, the biblical figure was found to be accurate.
Not only is the Bible’s reporting of history unerring but so is its prediction of history. Ezekiel foretold in amazing detail the destruction of Tyre, first by Nebuchadnezzar, later by Alexander the Great (Ezek. 26:1–21; 29:18), and then by Egypt (30:10–26). In similar detail, Nahum predicted the devastation of Nineveh (Nahum 1:15–3:19; cf. Zeph. 2:13, 15), which was conquered and destroyed in 612 b.c.. by the Medes and Chaldeans. Both Isaiah (Isa. 13–14; 21:1–10) and Jeremiah (Jer. 50–51) accurately predicted the ultimate destruction of Babylon, which would “never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation” (Isa. 13:20). That great city was conquered first by Cyrus, founder of the Persian empire and the man whom God prophesied would free His people Israel from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 44:28; 45:1–14). That noble king not only allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, but, with an amazing awareness of his divine mission under the true God, charged them to rebuild the temple there and returned to them all the sacred and valuable temple objects pilfered by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1). Other Assyrian and Persian kings successively conquered and plundered Babylon. Its final conquest was by Alexander the Great, who intended to rebuild the city but was prevented by his untimely death at the age of thirty-two. When the capital of the Syrian empire was moved from Babylon to Seleucia by Seleucus Nicator in 312 b.c.., Babylon gradually died. By the time of Christ, the city was inhabited primarily by a small group of scholars, and bricks from its rubble were carried away to build houses and walls in surrounding towns. Today the almost barren site of ancient Babylon, located in the southern part of modern Iraq, is valued only for its archaeological significance.
As noted in the first point, God’s divine Word, revealed through His divine words, is not itself the means or the power of salvation, but is the agency of it. Near the end of his gospel account, John explained that “these [things] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
As Peter declared to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem soon after Pentecost, “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified,… He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10–12).
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul echoes the words of Jesus: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.… So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:9–10, 17, emphasis added; cf. James 1:18).
Christ also uses His Word to sanctify and cleanse His church from sin. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul said: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25–26, emphasis added). In his first letter to believers at Thessalonica he said, “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis added; cf. Phil. 2:16).
The second predicate adjective Paul uses to describe Scripture is profitable, which focuses on the sufficiency of God’s written Word. Profitable translates ōphelimos, which includes the ideas of beneficial, productive, and sufficient.
Scripture is sufficient in being comprehensive. Paralleled in the Old Testament only by Psalm 119 and confirmed by Joshua 1:8, these verses supremely affirm the absolute sufficiency of Scripture to meet all the spiritual needs of God’s people.
David understood the sufficiency of God’s Word, and in one of his most uplifting psalms he exulted:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (Ps. 19:7–13)
In verses 7–9 David refers to God’s Word by six different titles: God’s law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear (Referring to worship), and judgments. In those same verses, he mentions six characteristics of that divine Word: It is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. Also included are six blessings that the Word brings in the believer’s life: It restores the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and produces complete righteousness. The remaining verses (10–13) extol the benefits of the work of the Word: It makes rich, delights, rewards, convicts, and protects. It is a marvelous mark of God’s loving grace that He has given us every truth, every principle, every standard, and every warning that we will ever need for living out our salvation according to His will.
Scripture also is complete. Jude admonished his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). John closes the book of Revelation, as well as the entire Old and New Testaments, with this sobering warning from the Lord: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19).
False religious systems that claim to be Christian invariably expose their falsehood by their view of Scripture. Mormonism considers The Book of Mormon to be as divinely inspired and authoritative as the Bible, in fact more so, because they view that book as being a latter-day, updated revelation from God. Christian Science views Science and Health, With a Key to the Scriptures in the same way. Some charismatics claim to have received special revelations from God, which, if genuine, would carry the same divine authority as the Bible. For most of the twentieth century, a large percentage of members and a higher percentage of clergymen in most major Protestant denominations have not recognized the Bible as being wholly revealed by God and inerrant. Those views and many others like them share the common heresy of considering Scripture to be incomplete or inadequate.
It is because of such distorted and destructive views of Scripture within professing Christendom that biblical believers must, more than ever before, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As in the early church, the greatest danger to the church has always been from within. Paul warned the godly, mature church at Ephesus, pastored first by the apostle and then by Timothy, and led by godly elders, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30, emphasis added).
In the remainder of verse 16, Paul declares that Scripture is profitable for believers in four important ways: for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
The Teaching Scripture
for teaching, (3:16b)
As mentioned in chapter 8 of this commentary in regard to verse 10, didaskalia does not refer to the process or method of teaching but to its content. In this context, as in most others in the New Testament, didaskalia refers specifically and exclusively to divine instruction, or doctrine, given to believers through God’s Word, which included not only the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the teaching of Jesus during His incarnation but also the inspired teaching of the apostles and New Testament authors.
“A natural man,” Paul explains, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.” It is not that the unsaved person is intellectually inferior, but that such truths “are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14–16).
While warning believers about the dangerous teachings and work of antichrists, John assures his readers: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.… As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.… And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:20, 24, 27).
When it comes to godly living and godly service, to growing in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), God-breathed Scripture provides for us the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary to live as our heavenly Father desires for us to live. The wisdom and guidance for fulfilling everything He commands us to believe, think, say, and do is found in His inerrant, authoritative, comprehensive, and completed Word.
Even after conversion, trust in one’s own wisdom is a severe hindrance to correct understanding of Scripture and to full usefulness in the Lord’s service. The counsel to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) is every bit as valid for Christians as it was for Old Testament saints.
Throughout church history, the Lord has uniquely and wonderfully sustained and blessed the spiritual lives and influence of believers who, because of imprisonment, illiteracy, isolation, or other restrictions beyond their control, could not study His Word. But the teaching of Scripture is the divine body of truth without which no believer who has access to it can live, minister, or witness effectively. Tragically, some of the most biblically illiterate believers in our day live in lands where God’s Word is readily available and where scriptural preaching, teaching, and literature are abundant.
It goes without saying that it is impossible to believe, understand, and follow what you do not even know. It is completely futile, as well as foolish, to expect to live a spiritual life without knowing spiritual truth. Biblically untaught believers, especially those in biblically untaught churches, are easy prey for false teachers. They are spiritual “children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Throughout most of redemptive history, God could have said what He said in Hosea’s day: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). It is for that reason, as well as for the even greater reason of honoring the Lord, that regular, systematic, and thorough study of the doctrine in God’s Word is imperative for God’s people.
We not only are to guard what we know but sincerely seek to learn more of God’s inexhaustible truth. We should pray with Job, “Teach Thou me what I do not see” (Job 34:32). That dauntless man of God had lost his children, his servants, his flocks, his health, and even his reputation. He was wholly unable to see why God permitted those calamities to come upon him, and he therefore wanted the Lord to teach him whatever he needed to learn in order to endure his painful existence and to profit from it spiritually.
Just before Jehovah’s covenant with Israel was ratified near Sinai, Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ ” (Ex. 24:7). Unfortunately, the people of Israel seldom again demonstrated such reverence for God’s Word. Shortly before they were to enter and take possession of the Promised Land, Moses reminded them again: “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.… And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut. 4:5, 14). God’s command to Joshua, Moses’ successor, applies to every believer: “Be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh. 1:7–8).
When the young but godly King Josiah heard read to him “the words of the book of the law,” which had been discovered as the temple was being repaired, “he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us’ ” (2 Kings 22:11–13).
Although they did not believe their own words, the unbelieving and hypocritical Pharisees were completely correct when they said of Jesus, “You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any” (Matt. 22:16). It was because of His utter truthfulness and righteousness and His refusal to defer to anyone that those men, and others like them, put Jesus to death. Contrary to their godly forefather Josiah, they would not accept the teaching of God.
On a trip from Greece back to Jerusalem, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, many of whom had ministered both with him and with Timothy, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia,… how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.… For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:18, 20–21, 27).
Both the first and last pieces of spiritual armor that Paul mentions in his letter to believers at Ephesus pertain to Scripture. “Stand firm therefore,” he says, “having girded your loins with truth.” Then, after putting on the “breastplate of righteousness,” shodding our feet with “the gospel of peace, “taking up the shield of faith,” and donning “the helmet of salvation,” we are to equip ourselves with the only offensive implement mentioned here—“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14–17). Machaira (“sword”) refers to a short sword, or dagger, a weapon used in close combat that required skillful use in order to be effective. “Word” translates rhēma, which refers to a specific statement or wording, not to general truth, as does the more commonly used logos.
Our “wielding” of Scripture, as it were, should be as precise, accurate, and appropriate as possible. No matter how good our intentions might be, to interpret or apply a passage thoughtlessly or to quote it out of context creates confusion and uncertainty. It does disservice to the Lord and to those we are attempting to instruct. In order to present ourselves “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,” we must handle “accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Careless use of Scripture, even by the Lord’s own people, can do great damage to the cause of Christ, as it often has done throughout church history.
During His wilderness ordeal, Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with an accurate and carefully chosen quotation from Scripture (See Matt. 4:3–10). Because He was the incarnate Son of God, anything He might have said would have carried the same divine weight as Scripture. But as an example for His followers, He chose to quote divine truth that already was recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Following the pattern of our gracious Lord, our weapon against the temptations and deceptions of the devil should always be a careful and precise use of God’s revealed Word. It then goes without saying that, in order to use Scripture in that effective way, we must thoroughly know it and understand it. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us], with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
The truths of God’s Word are spiritual wealth that we should continually be depositing into our minds and hearts. Like deposits of money in our bank account, those deposits of divine truth become spiritual assets that we can draw on readily when confronting temptation, when making moral choices and when seeking God’s specific will and guidance for our lives.
The Reproving Scripture
for reproof, (3:16c)
A second work of the Word in the life of believers is that of reproof. Elegmos (reproof) carries the idea of rebuking in order to convict of misbehavior or false doctrine. As with teaching, Scripture’s work of reproof has to do with content, with equipping believers with accu-rate knowledge and understanding of divine truth, in this context divine truth that exposes falsehood and sin, erroneous belief, and ungodly conduct.
Richard Trench, a noted nineteenth-century British theologian, comments that elegmos refers to rebuking “another with such effectual wielding of the victorious arm of the truth, as to bring him not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction of his sin.”
Regular and careful study of Scripture builds a foundation of truth that, among other things, exposes sin in a believer’s life with the purpose of bringing correction, confession, renunciation, and obedience.
Using the same Greek word as Paul does in Ephesians 6:17, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Bible as a divine sword that exposes sin in a believer’s life. “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword [machaira], and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12–13). Scripture precisely and thoroughly penetrates the believer’s mind, soul, and heart.
Every Christian who has been saved for any length of time has experienced times of being sharply and deeply convicted by reading a particular Bible passage or hearing it preached or taught. Every experienced Christian also knows that during times of disobedience he is strongly tempted to forsake Bible study and worship and finds that fellowship with faithful believers becomes less attractive and comfortable. Looked at from the opposite side, decreased desire to study God’s Word, to worship Him, and to be with His people is reliable evidence of unconfessed and unforsaken sin. It is for that reason that a Bible-teaching, Bible-believing, and Bible-obeying church is never a haven for persistent sinners. As Jesus explained the principle to Nicodemus, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20).
Scripture has the negative ministry of tearing down and destroying that which is sinful and false as well as of building up and improving that which is righteous and true. Just as in medicine, infection and contamination must be excised before healing can begin. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.… Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:26, 31).
Reproving the wrongdoing of his people is as much a pastor’s responsibility as helping build them up in righteousness. At the beginning of the next chapter of this letter, Paul wrote, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). The first two of those three admonitions are negative, the first one being the verb form of elegmos (reproof). God’s minister, like God’s Word, must reprove sin and falsehood.
Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured. Paul reminded the Corinthian church what he doubtless had taught them many times. “We are not like many,” he said, “peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.… We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). Luke commended God-fearing Jews in Berea because they “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). As every preacher and teacher should be, Paul and Silas were not offended but were greatly pleased that everything they said was measured against God’s Word.
“I have more insight than all my teachers,” the psalmist testified before the Lord, “for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts” (Ps. 119:99–100). “From Thy precepts I get understanding,” he continues a few verses later; “therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (vv. 104–105). God’s Word steers us away from sin and toward righteousness.
Isaiah warned the people of Israel to “hate every false way.” “And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [light]” (Isa. 8:19–20).
When we are constrained by God’s Word to reprove a sinning brother or sister, we should do so in humility and love. That always was Paul’s practice. “I do not write these things to shame you,” he told immature and disobedient believers in Corinth, “but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14). If the holy Lord obligates Himself to reprove and discipline His disobedient children in love (Heb. 12:5–11), how much more are His children obligated to reprove each other in love.
It is just as important, although more difficult, to be gracious when we receive reproof, whether directly by God’s Word or from other believers who call us to biblical account. “For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light,” an Old Testament saint professed, “and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23). Like him, every believer should be as grateful for the reproving work of the Word as for its encouragement. It is impossible to genuinely seek righteousness and truth if we do not hate and renounce sin and falsehood.
The Correcting Scripture
for correction, (3:16d)
Epanorthōsis (correction) is used only here in the New Testament and refers to the restoration of something to its original and proper condition. In secular Greek literature it was used of setting upright an object that had fallen down and of helping a person back on his feet after stumbling. After exposing and condemning false belief and sinful conduct in believers, Scripture then builds them up through its divine correction.
Correction is Scripture’s positive provision for those who accept its negative reproof. “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” Peter admonishes, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1–2).
Perhaps the most extensive praise of God’s Word in all of Scripture is found in Psalm 119. Among the many well-known verses in that beautiful tribute to God and His Word, the unknown psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word. With all my heart I have sought Thee; do not let me wander from Thy commandments. Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:9–11).
“If we confess our sins,” the Lord assures us through John, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace,” Paul told the Ephesian elders, “which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When submitted to the Lord’s marvelous grace, our areas of greatest weakness can, through correction, become areas of greatest strength.
Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1–2). In order to make His people obedient, useful, and effective in His service, the Lord has to trim away not only things that are sinful but also things that are useless. He may take away things that are perfectly good in themselves, even things that seem necessary, but which He knows are a hindrance to our spiritual growth and service. They can sap time, attention, and effort from the work He has for us to do. Like His discipline, this process sometimes “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful,” but also like discipline, “to those who have been trained by it” the Lord’s wise and gracious cropping of superfluous branches “afterwards… yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).
As with reproof, godly believers, especially pastors and teachers, are often the channel through which the Word brings correction. Earlier in this letter, Paul reminded Timothy that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, emphasis added). In his letter to believers at Colossae, the apostle gives similar counsel: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Despite the dreadful calamities with which God allowed him to be afflicted, Job affirmed to his friend Eliphaz that “he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).
The Scripture that Trains for Righteousness
for training in righteousness; (3:16e)
Training translates paideia, which had the original meaning of bringing up and training a child (paidion), but it came to be used of any sort of training. It also is rendered “correcting” (2 Tim. 2:25) and “discipline” (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 7, 11). In the context of verses 16–17, it clearly refers to training in the broader and probably more positive sense, since the negatives are covered by reproof. It is directed at the ideas of instruction and building up. Until the Lord takes us to be with Himself, His Word is to continue training us in righteousness.
As with teaching, reproof, and correction, godly believers—especially leaders in the church—are instruments through which Scripture provides training for God’s people. After reminding Timothy that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5), Paul assured him that “in pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (v. 6, emphasis added).
Peter gives similar counsel to believers: “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23–25).
And just as milk nourishes a baby in ways it does not understand, so God’s Word nourishes us in ways we often do not understand. No matter how deep our understanding of Scripture may be, we still should be able to affirm with the psalmist, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1). We should rejoice with Paul that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The Enabling Scripture
that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:17)
The Bible can be of great value to an unbeliever. Most important, as discussed in the previous chapter, it will lead to salvation those who come to trust in the Savior and Lord it proclaims. But Paul is speaking here of Scripture’s special value for preachers, who are able, with the Spirit’s guidance, to understand and to proclaim the truths of God’s Word.
The apostle is addressing the man of God, a technical phrase used only of Timothy in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it is frequently used as a title for one who proclaimed the Word of God. In this context, man of God refers most directly to Timothy and, by extension, to all preachers.
Artios (adequate) refers to persons who are complete, capable, and proficient in everything they are called to be or do. In Christ “you have been made complete,” Paul tells Colossian believers (Col. 2:10). The preacher who carefully studies and sincerely believes and obeys the truths of Scripture will stand strong in living and defending the faith.
Equipped for every good work could be paraphrased, “enabled to meet all demands of righteousness.” By his life he will affirm the power of the Word to lead men to salvation and to equip them for righteous living and for faithful service to the Lord. When the man of God is himself equipped by the Word, he can then equip the believers under his care. Just as “we are [the Lord’s] workmanship,” Paul explains, we also should be doing His work. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Christ says to all those who belong to Him what He said to the Twelve: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Whether our purpose is to lead men and women to saving faith in Jesus Christ, to teach God’s truth to believers, to refute error in the church, to correct and rebuild erring believers, or to train believers to live righteously, our supreme and sufficient resource is God’s Word. It not only gives us the information to teach but also shapes us into living examples of that truth.
One cannot help wondering why so many evangelical pastors of our day, like many Christians throughout history, have lost sight of that foundational truth. Every church, everywhere and in every time, should be totally committed to preaching, teaching, and implementing the Word, thereby pleasing and exalting the gracious and sovereign God who has revealed it.
Through the convincing and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is God’s own provision for every spiritual truth and moral principle that men need to be saved, to be equipped to live righteously in this present life and to hear one day in the life to come, “Well done, good and faithful servant,… enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt.25:21).
16 Without any conjunction (such as “for”), Paul elaborates the supreme value of Scripture. He focuses primarily on two aspects (with emphasis on the second element): first, “all Scripture” (more likely than “every Scripture”; see Notes)—in the original context, the OT (but see 1 Ti 5:18; 2 Pe 3:16)—is “God-breathed” (theopneustos, GK 2535; NASB, “inspired by God”). The term, an apparent Pauline coinage, is found in subsequent Greek literature (Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Sib. Or. 5:308; 5:407 [ca. AD 90–130]; cf. Homer, Iliad, 20.110), but the concept of the creative, life-giving breath of God and the image of the word of God as “breathed” by God have deep OT roots (Ge 1–2; Ps 33:6; Isa 42:5; cf. M. R. Austin, “How Biblical Is ‘The Inspiration of Scripture?’ ” ExpTim 93 : 77–79). The notion of inspiration is not foreign to the OT (Nu 24:2; Hos 9:7). The present passage is one of the major texts on the divine inspiration of Scripture (see B. B. Warfield’s classic study, “God-Inspired Scripture,” Presbyterian & Reformed Review 11 : 89–130).
Second, because it has God as its source (cf. Warfield, “God-Inspired Scripture,” 293–94), Scripture is “useful” (ōphelimos, GK 6068; cf. 1 Ti 4:8; Tit 3:8) in a variety of ways (cf. Ro 15:4; 1 Co 10:11). Employing a symmetrical literary device called “chiasm,” with the two positive features enveloping the two negative ones, Paul notes that Scripture is “useful” for (a) “teaching” (didaskalia, GK 1436, a general term; see comments at v. 10 and at 4:3); (b) “rebuking” (elegmon, GK 1791; cf. Sir 21:6; 32:17; 48:7); (b’) “correcting” (epanorthōsin, GK 2061; cf. 1 Esd 8:52; 1 Macc 14:34; Josephus, Ant. 11.157; 16.263; Epictetus, Disc. 3.21.15); and (a’) “training [paideia, GK 4082; cf. Eph 6:4; Heb 12:5–11] in righteousness.” As in child rearing, Christian growth entails both nurture and correction (cf. Eph 6:4).
17 The end result of such thorough biblical training will be that the “man of God”—Christians in general and specifically church leaders—will be “adequate” (artios, GK 787; cf. Philo, Plant. 125), “complete [exērtismenos, GK 1992; cf. Ac 21:5; the NIV conflates the two terms to “thoroughly equipped”] for every good work” (see esp. 2:21; Tit 3:1).While salvation comes through faith in Christ (2 Ti 3:15; cf. 1:9; Tit 3:5), the purpose of a person’s calling is good works, a major theme in the PE (1 Ti 2:10; 3:1; 5:10, 25; 6:18; 2 Ti 2:21; Tit 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14).
Once again the message is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere (Eph 2:8–10). (1) Proper Christian training must first be grounded in Scripture (not merely the passing on of humanistic principles or values); (2) it must be thorough—there are no shortcuts to true spiritual growth—including both instruction and correction (rather than focusing unilaterally on encouragement); and (3) it is not merely for a person’s own edification or intellectual stimulation but for equipment for ministry to others.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 141–162). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Be on guard for yourselves (20:28a)
The first priority for anyone involved in spiritual leadership is his own relationship with God. Effective ministry is not mere outward activity; it is the overflow of a rich, deep relationship with God. As John Owen wisely observed,
A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more. (Cited in I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 192)
No one is ready to face the pressures and responsibilities of ministry who is not right with God. Those pressures, as well as the demand to set the example, require that leaders constantly be on guard (Mark 13:9; Luke 21:34).
The first step in being on guard is self-examination. After a whole chapter of exhortation to the young preacher (1 Tim. 4:1–15), Paul summed up what he had said by calling Timothy to examine himself (verse 16): “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” He charged Timothy to scrutinize his life and doctrine to make sure both honored God. Such was crucial to his own perseverance and to the salvation and perseverance of others. Paul expressed that same truth in his second letter to Timothy:
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:20–21)
In a house there were vessels for dishonorable uses, such as garbage and other waste. There were also vessels for honorable uses, such as food and drink. Only clean ones of high quality were fit for honor. Since God uses clean and holy instruments, vessels of honor, self-examination and forsaking sin are essential for leaders. Although God does bless His truth in spite of the preacher, He does not bless the unholy leader, no matter what title, position, or office he might hold.
In a powerful passage from his classic work The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter gives a stirring call for pastors to examine themselves:
Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done, dishonour him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet contemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and wilfully break them? If sin be evil, why do you live in it? if it be not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? if it be not, why do you tell men so? If God’s threatenings be true, why do you not fear them? if they be false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you “know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death”; and yet will you do them? “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, or be drunk, or covetous, art thou such thyself? “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” What! shall the same tongue speak evil that speakest against evil? Shall those lips censure, and slander, and backbite your neighbour, that cry down these and the like things in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slaves yourselves: “For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” “To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.” O brethren! it is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it. ( The Reformed Pastor [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979], 67–68)
Personal holiness is the requirement of true and powerful spiritual leadership. God calls for holiness that is not just outward, in the eyes of men. Paul had that outward virtue even before his salvation, when he described himself as blameless as to the law (Phil. 3:6). But he called it “rubbish” (v. 8) compared to true righteousness. True holiness is inward, so that one can say with Paul, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).
Shepherd the Flock
and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (20:28b)
After making sure that his own life (and consequently that of his family, 1Tim. 3:4–5) is in order, a leader’s second priority is the spiritual care of his flock. Positively, that care involves the feeding and leading of all the flock. The metaphor of a flock and a shepherd is often used to describe God’s relationship to His people. It is an apt one, since sheep are helpless, timid, dirty, and in need of constant protection and care. The Old Testament frequently describes Israel as God’s flock (Pss. 77:20; 78:52; 80:1; Isa. 40:11; 63:11; Jer. 13:17; 23:2–3; 31:10; Ezek. 34:2ff.; Mic. 2:12; 5:4; 7:14; Zech. 10:3), and the New Testament pictures the church as a flock with the Lord Jesus Christ as its Shepherd (John 10:1ff.; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2–4).
Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), has taken His flock and divided it into many smaller flocks (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2, “the flock of God among [or apportioned to] you”; 1 Pet. 5:3, “those allotted to your charge”). The Holy Spirit sovereignly raises up overseers, or undershepherds, who are responsible to shepherd their flocks. Shepherd is from poimainō, a comprehensive term encompassing the entire task of a shepherd. The most important part of that task, however, is to feed. In John 21:15–17, Jesus three times instructed Peter to care for His sheep. The second time He used poimainō, but the first and third times boskō, which has the more restricted meaning of “to feed.” Obviously, then, the primary task of an undershepherd of the Lord’s flock is to feed the sheep. Sadly, many undershepherds today fail to do that, seemingly content to lead their sheep from one barren wasteland to another. The tragic result is a spiritually weak flock, ready to eat the poisonous weeds of false doctrine, or to follow false shepherds who deceitfully promise them greener pastures, while leading them to barren desert.
Since sheep are followers, the shepherds’ task also involves leading the flock. They must set the direction for the sheep to follow. The New Testament knows nothing of congregational rule; instead it commands believers to “obey your leaders, and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Paul reminded the Thessalonians that their pastors were given “charge over you in the Lord” and were to be appreciated, esteemed, loved, and followed without conflict (1 Thess. 5:12–13). God has committed the leadership of the church to the overseers (elders, pastors). Those who serve faithfully are to be doubly honored (1 Tim. 5:17); those who fall into sin are to be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:20). It is a sobering realization that elders will someday give an account to God for how they lead those committed to their charge (Heb. 13:17).
The motive for such high standards of leadership lies in the fact that the church belongs not to men, but to God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). Church leaders have a stewardship over His property and must discharge that stewardship faithfully (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2). Further, the church is the most precious reality on earth, since the ultimate price was paid for it when the Lord Jesus Christ purchased it with His own blood (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19). That demands that every leader treat the church as the precious fellowship that it is. God is a spirit and has no body, hence no blood. Yet Paul can say that God as much as purchased the church with His own blood because he “believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that [he] hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God” (G. T. Stokes, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible [New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1903], 2:419).
The Lord Jesus Christ set the example of loving concern for the church that all leaders must follow. In Ephesians 5:25–27, Paul describes Christ’s sacrificial love for the church:
Christ …loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
The undershepherd must have the same concern for the purity of the church as did the Great Shepherd. Paul certainly did. To the Corinthians he wrote, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Those undershepherds who truly value the church will shepherd their flocks by feeding them the Word of God and faithfully leading them.
28. “Keep watch over yourselves and the entire flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd God’s church which he purchased with his own blood.”
In addition, the elders have the task of caring for the spiritual needs of “the entire flock.” Paul uses imagery borrowed from the agricultural society of his day. This is rather unusual for Paul, whose educational training kept him from any intimate knowledge of sheepherding. Yet he knew that Jesus had frequently alluded to the shepherd and the sheep.42 And when Peter wrote his epistle, he called Jesus the Chief Shepherd under whom elders serve as overseers and shepherds of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1–4).
Oversight means loving care and concern, a responsibility willingly shouldered; it must never be used for personal aggrandisement. Its meaning is to be seen in Christ’s selfless service which was moved by concern for the salvation of men.
Both Paul and Peter describe the responsibilities of an overseer in their respective epistles. Paul lists a number of qualifications for anyone who aspires to the office of elder/overseer (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9), and Peter similarly specifies the duties of an elder (1 Peter 5:1–4). Both apostles use the terms elder and overseer interchangeably.
Another difficulty, however, remains. What is the meaning of the literal translation with the blood of his own? If we translate the phrase “with his own blood,” which most translations have adopted, we confuse the meaning of the sentence. The context mentions the Holy Spirit and God, to whom the word blood fails to apply. Perhaps the suggestion to say that “his own” is a variant of “his beloved” or “his one and only [Son]” is a step toward solving the matter.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 732–733). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Under the Shadow of God’s Wings
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the Lord, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
All the psalms are from God and are wonderful. But some have commended themselves to God’s people as being especially rich and comforting and to which they have repeatedly turned in times of sickness, loneliness, and trouble. Psalm 91 is one of these special psalms. It has been committed to heart by thousands of people, and millions have turned to it with thankfulness in the midst of life’s calamities.
Psalm 91 may be compared with Psalm 46, which calls God “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Martin Luther loved that psalm and turned to it often because he had so many troubles. Psalm 91 may also be compared with Psalm 90. Both call God the “dwelling place” of his people, which is probably why they have been placed together in the Psalter. There are verbal similarities between the two psalms, which has led some commentators to conclude that Psalm 91, as well as Psalm 90, was written by Moses, though there are no other truly substantial reasons for thinking that. Besides, the psalms differ greatly in their tones. As H. C. Leupold says, “The latter [Psalm 90] is somber and stately; this is bright and simple. The one breathes deep insight; the other cheerful trust.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was not overstating the case when he wrote, “In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm; its tone is elevated and sustained throughout, faith is at its best and speaks nobly.”
Psalm 91 has given us two great hymns as well as some additional verses by well-known writers such as Edmund Spenser (“And Is There Care in Heaven”) and Horatius Bonar (“He Liveth Long Who Liveth Well”). The hymns we sing are “Under the Care of My God, the Almighty” from the Bible Songs Hymnal of 1927 and “The Man Who Once Has Found Abode” from the Reformed Presbyterian Book of Psalms of 1940.
One striking feature of Psalm 91 is that it consists of three clear movements marked by a change in pronouns. The first movement is marked by the pronoun I (vv. 1–2). It expresses the psalmist’s personal faith in God. The second movement is marked by the pronoun you (vv. 3–13). It is a word from the psalmist to the reader or listener, his word to us. The final stage is marked by the divine pronoun I (vv. 14–16). Here God speaks to the reader to declare what he will be and do for the one who loves him and calls upon him. In the New International Version the second of these two major movements is divided into separate stanzas (vv. 3–8 and 9–13). The first speaks of God’s protection from many kinds of dangers. The second expresses the condition for such protection by God and the results if the condition is met.
The Psalmist’s Personal Faith in God
The first verse of the psalm is a thematic statement, expressing what the remainder of the psalm will be about:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
However, as soon as the psalmist makes that statement he immediately breaks in to confess his own faith before commending it to us: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’ ” (v. 2). This is the equivalent of the apostle Thomas’s confession of faith after Jesus had appeared to him following the resurrection and Thomas fell at his feet, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
So here is a first point of application: Is Jesus Christ your Lord and God? Is the God of the Bible your refuge in times of trouble? The psalm’s promises are for you only if he is.
What promises they are! And with what force they are commended to us! There are four metaphors for the security we can have in God. God will be our “shelter” and “shadow” (v. 1) and our “refuge” and “fortress” (v. 2). There are also four names for God, which give substance and strength to the metaphors. He is “the Most High,” “the Almighty” (v. 1), “the Lord,” and “my God” (v. 2). When the psalmist identifies God as his God in the last expression, it is a way of saying that the shelter, shadow, refuge, and fortress are for those who really do dwell in God and trust him. Spurgeon wrote, “The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence.”
So here is a second application: Do you live in close fellowship with God? Do you rest in the shadow of the Almighty? Is he your place of habitual dwelling? The psalm is written to urge you to trust and cling to God in all circumstances.
Trust in God Commended
Having stated his own personal faith in God, the psalmist now commends that faith to us, taking six verses to explain what God will do for the one who trusts him. The most striking feature of this section (and the one following) is the use of the singular you throughout, which is a way of saying that these truths are for each person individually. They are for you if you will truly trust or abide in God.
Verse 3 sets the tone for this section by saying that God will save the trusting soul from two kinds of dangers: first, the subtle snare of enemies, described as the trap a fowler used to catch birds, and second, death by disease or pestilence. This does not mean that those who trust God never die from infectious diseases or suffer from an enemy’s plot, of course. It means that those who trust God are habitually delivered from such dangers. What Christian cannot testify to many such deliverances? Indeed, our entire lives are filled with deliverances from many and manifold dangers, until God finally takes us to be with himself.
The words “deadly pestilence” (v. 3) and later “the pestilence that stalks in the darkness” and “the plague that destroys at midday” (v. 6) help us recall many instances of such protection.
Lord Craven, a Christian, was a nobleman who was living in London when plague ravaged the city in the fifteenth century. In order to escape the spreading pestilence Craven determined to leave the city for his country home, as many of his social standing did. He ordered his coach and baggage made ready. But as he was walking down one of the halls of his home about to enter his carriage, he overheard one of his servants say to another, “I suppose by my Lord’s quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country and not in town.” It was a straightforward and apparently innocent remark. But it struck Lord Craven so deeply that he canceled his journey, saying, “My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am.” So he stayed in London. He helped the plague victims, and he did not catch the disease himself.
There is a similar story from the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In 1854, when he had been in London only twelve months, the area of the city in which the young preacher lived was visited by Asiatic cholera. Many in Spurgeon’s congregation were affected, and there was hardly a family in which someone did not get sick, and many died. The young pastor spent most of every day visiting the sick, and there was hardly a day when he did not have to accompany some family to the graveyard.
Spurgeon became physically and emotionally exhausted and sick at heart. He was ready to sink under this heavy load of pastoral care. But as God would have it, one day he was returning home sadly from a funeral when he noticed a sign in a shoemaker’s shop on Dover Road. It was in the owner’s own handwriting, and it bore these words: “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling,” a quotation from Psalm 91:9–10 (kjv).
Spurgeon was deeply and immediately encouraged. He wrote, “The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to put those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God.”
Verse 4 contains two appealing images of God’s protection: first, that of a mother bird, sheltering and protecting her young (“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”) and second, that of a warrior’s armor (“his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart”). The exact meaning of the word rampart (niv) is uncertain. The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; hence, it can mean “buckler,” “armor,” or, as in the niv, a “rampart” or fortress. It may be that something of each of these ideas is in the Hebrew word.
Jesus appropriated the first of these two images for himself, saying as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus would have saved and sheltered Jerusalem and its inhabitants, but the people were not willing. They would not come to him. They would not “dwell” in the shelter of the Most High. They cried out for his crucifixion instead.
As for the second image, we may recall God’s words to Abraham when he was returning from his attack on the kings who had raided Sodom and Gomorrah and carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot. Abraham had won the battle, recovering Lot, the women, and their possessions. But Abraham was in danger of retaliation by these kings. It was then that God spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). That is what God will be to us, if we will trust him.
Here is an important question: What exactly is it that is said to be the believer’s “shield and rampart” (v. 4). God, of course! But in what respect? The King James Version says, “His truth will be your shield and buckler.” In my view, the New International Version is richer at this point, for the Hebrew word means more than mere truth. It has to do with God’s entire character, described as faithfulness. Still something is lost if we do not also realize that the Hebrew word for faithfulness is based on the word for truth and that what is involved here is God’s faithfulness to his promises—that is, to his word. In other words, it is when we believe God’s Word and act upon it that we find him to be faithful to what he has promised and learn that he is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies.
Verses 7–8 describe thousands falling on either side of those who trust God, noting, “You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” This interprets the death of the thousands as God’s punishment for sin and places the deliverance of God’s people in that context. In other words, it is not a promise that those who trust God will never die of disease or even in some military conflict, but that they will not suffer those or any other calamities as God’s judgment against them for their sin. Their sin has been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Protection from Dangers: The Condition
Much of what is found in the third stanza of this psalm (vv. 9–11) is like what we have seen already. It tells us that “no harm will befall” us and that “no disaster will come near your tent” (v. 10). But there are a few new elements.
One of them, probably the chief idea because it comes first, is that there is a condition to the kind of protection the psalm has been promising—that the individual “make the Most High [his] dwelling” (v. 9). This is more than merely believing in God or coming to God occasionally when danger threatens. It means resting in God continually and trusting him at all times. It means living all of life “in God.” Martin Luther wrote that this refers to “one who really dwells and does not merely appear to dwell and does not just imagine that he dwells” in God.
The second new element reinforces the first and, by means of its use in the New Testament, is an illustration of it. It is the reference to angels, the psalmist saying,
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone
This is the verse the devil quoted as part of his temptation of Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13. It is the only verse of Scripture actually quoted by the devil, at least that we have a record of. But he misquoted it! He left out “in all your ways”—that is, in the ways marked out for us by God and not our own willful ways. For that was the very essence of the temptation; he wanted Jesus to go his own way rather than trusting God and being contented with God’s way, even if it meant going to the cross. The devil wanted Jesus to test God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple, trusting his Father to send angels to bear him up so he would not be dashed to pieces when he fell and thus impress the people. Jesus replied rightly, saying, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matt. 4:7, quoting Deut. 6:16). Testing God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple would not be going in the way God had given him to go. It would be the very opposite of trusting God; it would be “baiting” him or “putting him to the test.”
The Lord’s trust in his Father also resulted in Satan’s defeat, another part of the psalm the devil omitted (v. 13). The psalm tells us that if we go in God’s way, trusting him to uphold us, then we will “tread upon the lion and the cobra”; we will “trample the great lion and the serpent.” The Bible elsewhere describes Satan as “a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and that “ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). Jesus triumphed over him by trusting God. Likewise, in Christ the righteous will be victorious over Satan too.
Here is one more thought about this incident. When Jesus replied to Satan, he rejected the temptation to jump from the temple, trusting the angels of God to keep him from being killed. But the angels were there anyway, though invisibly. For after Satan had completed his temptation we are told God’s “angels came and attended him” (Matt. 4:11). In other words, God was upholding Jesus even in the temptation.
God’s Promises for Those Who Trust Him
The last three verses of this psalm contain a confirming oracle of God in which the controlling pronoun switches from you, which dominated in verses 3–13, back to I, as in verse 2. Only here the I is God himself. In these verses God adds his seal to what the psalmist has been saying. God promises three things to those who trust him.
These verses also make a point that has been developed several times already—the promises are for those who trust in or love God. Therefore, they are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should. Here the psalmist quotes God as saying that the blessings are for those who love God and acknowledge his name (v. 14), call upon him (v. 15), and seek satisfaction in what he alone can provide.
Do you do that? Or are you still trying to find satisfaction in the world? Do you love the world more than you love Jesus? John R. W. Stott reminds us of Romans 8:28, observing that “God is the supreme object of the believer’s love as well as faith, and it is to those who love God that the assurance is given that ‘in all things God works for their good.’ ”
8 Seeing God’s salvation with the eye of faith will further encourage the godly, to whom the Lord has promised his protection and blessing. The godly will witness the righteousness, justice, and fidelity of the Lord as well as the punishment of the wicked (see Reflections, p. 271, The Perfections of Yahweh). No power in heaven or on earth is greater than that of Yahweh, the Divine Warrior (see Reflections, p. 733, Yahweh Is the Divine Warrior)!
9–10 The invitation is more explicitly extended to all the godly. The psalmist’s personal experience serves as an encouragement to embrace the way of wisdom by making “the Most High,” i.e., the Lord, one’s “dwelling” (v. 9). He is the “dwelling” (cf. 90:1) of his people, under whose shelter they find “refuge.” The Lord does not guarantee that no evil will befall those who trust him (“make the Most High your dwelling”); but all who find “refuge” (cf. v. 2) in him will rest with the confidence that whatever happens on earth is with his knowledge. Nothing happens outside of his will, whether “harm” (lit., “evil,” v. 10) or “disaster” (lit., “disease” or “wound”; cf. 38:11; Lev 13; 14; Isa 53:8).
91:7, 8 Safety even in the midst of massacre. Even where there is slaughter on a wholesale basis, the Beloved of the Lord is absolutely safe. When the wicked are punished, He will be a spectator only, free from the possibility of harm.
91:9, 10 Insurance against calamity. Because the Savior made the Most High His refuge and His dwelling place, no disaster would strike Him, no calamity would get near Him.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 746–752). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 698). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 699). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 690). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Believe it or not, some people will be upset with my title. You see, some “Christian” teachings out there would question whether this woman is even a Christian. They might even claim she is a fake, a fraud, a phony. At best, they will tell you that she obviously does not have faith, and/or she must have sin in her life that she refuses to repent of.
That in a nutshell is how the heretical Health and Wealth gospel looks at the issue of suffering. Except for persecution, these folks will insist that a Christian should never suffer. They certainly should not experience any sickness or illness, and they should not be poor as well.
They insist that Christians are King’s Kids and they should live like it. That means rolling in the dough and never having to suffer from ill health and sickness. If a Christian does experience these things, it is because of a lack of faith or unconfessed sin. This is a damnable theology, one I have refuted many times. See the 64 other articles here for more on this: billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/
Thus the H&W gospel just does not know what to deal with someone like Joni Eareckson Tada. Because it is such a deplorable and unbiblical “gospel” it can only condemn someone like her. It has no place for this sort of suffering, and it teaches that God is only glorified when we are delivered from illness, not while in it.
But enough of the despicable H&W gospel, and more about Eareckson Tada. Many of you would know her story. Fifty years ago as a 17-year-old American teenager she dived into a shallow body of water. She was paralysed from the shoulders down, and has been a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic for half a century now.
Yet she has one of the most radiant and glorious Christian testimonies you will ever come across. God is glorified big time in her life and in her sufferings. The way she has dealt with her disability has demonstrated great faith – massive faith – more than most of us will ever know. And God has been greatly glorified by her moving and powerful testimony.
Millions of Christians have been strengthened in their faith by knowing about her and her story. She has spoken all around the world and has written often on her story. She has penned nearly 50 books, including her best-selling 1976 autobiography, Joni. Other terrific volumes include: A Step Further (1978); When God Weeps (1997); and Finding God in Hidden Places (2010).
She has just given an interview with Christianity Today, marking her 50 years of disability, and this is well worth quoting from.
How do you feel as you reflect back over the past 50 years?
Just the other day I was reading 1 Peter 5:10 [ESV], where Peter says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Honestly, I’m amazed that the last 50 years feel like only “a little while.” Maybe God does that when we finally do love Jesus more, when we finally do follow him more closely. Maybe he erases all the horror, all the despair, all the depression of the past when we learn how to trust God. He pushes into the background all the terrible times of anguish, and he brings forward the highlights—the moments of hope, peace, and growth. As I look back over 50 years, I just see God at work. That’s pretty exciting.
Throughout your journey with quadriplegia, you’ve interacted with people who link suffering to sin or who’ve taught that having “enough faith” leads to miraculous healing. What appeal did this sort of “faith healing” initially have for you as a young woman?
When I was first injured, I just wanted out of my wheelchair. I wanted to walk again, I wanted to have hands that worked. So I followed every scriptural injunction: I was anointed with oil, I went to the elders, I confessed sin. I would call my friends up on the telephone and insist, “Hey, the next time you’re going to see me, I’m going to be on my feet. Have faith with me, believe with me.”
I remember going to [faith healer] Kathryn Kuhlman’s services. The one that sticks in my mind was the first one I went to. The place was packed. There were several thousand people and I was sitting in the wheelchair section. I was watching Kuhlman preach, testimonies were shared, and music was offered up from the platform. Then the spotlight centered on the corner of the ballroom where healings were happening and my heart started pumping. The spotlight switched to another corner, and I was getting more excited, thinking that maybe the spotlight will come and hit the wheelchair section. But it never did.
In fact, the ushers came early to escort those of us in wheelchairs out of the event so as not to create a traffic jam. I remember sitting there in the line of people waiting at the elevator and all of us were quiet. I looked up and down that line and I thought, Something’s wrong with this picture. Why is it that the people who needed healing most obviously were the ones that the spotlight missed? I realized I was getting it wrong—the Bible must have something else to say about this.
How has your view of healing changed?
One of the first things I read about healing that really helped was from Mark 1. Jesus has been healing all day long. Finally, everybody goes away and night falls. The crowds come back early the next morning and Simon Peter goes looking for Jesus because he’s not to be found—he’s somewhere praying. When they find him, Simon says, “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus’ reply to Peter is so amazing. He doesn’t say, “Oh, quick, let me go back down the hill and help all these sick people.” Instead he says to Peter, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—where I must preach there also. For this is why I have come.”
I read those words, “This is why I have come,” and I began to see Jesus’ priorities of healing differently. The same man who healed withered hands and blind eyes is also the one who said, “If that hand causes you to sin, cut it off, or if that eye leads you astray, gouge it out.” God is interested in a deeper healing.
There really are more important things in life than walking. There are more important things in life than having the use of your hands. And that is having a heart that’s free of the grip of sin and pride and self-centeredness. I’m not saying I’ve arrived—I’ve got a long way to go—but I’m on my way, and that’s a very good feeling.
Do you counsel those who are suffering due to disease or disability to pray for physical healing?
Yes, I think it’s so important to. In fact, the Book of James tells us to. We should follow every one of those scriptural injunctions I mentioned a moment ago. God may well miraculously heal, and if he does, it’s not only to the benefit of that person but it’s to God’s glory. It’s a sneak preview of the day when the eyes of everyone who is blind will be opened, and the ears of all those who are deaf will be unstopped, and the tongues of all those who can’t speak will shout for joy, and all lame people will leap like deer. However, I think those kind of miraculous healings are often the exception rather than the rule.
Of real interest is the fact that she also spoke about little Charlie Gard who died today in the UK, just before his first birthday. And she has long spoken out against legalised euthanasia. The interview says this about his tragic case:
Of the Charlie Gard case in England, you’ve said the hospital’s initial decision to remove life support against his parents’ wishes “only reinforces the ‘better off dead than disabled’ mentality that, as of late, is being fueled by cost considerations in hospitals.” Where do you see this mentality, and why is it so dangerous?
It’s dangerous because of the very low life value we put on people with severe chronic conditions—people who use up a great many healthcare resources. In an economy where healthcare dollars are very scarce, the triaging of healthcare resources will be skewed in favor of the strong and not the weak. I see this even now in some of my friends who are quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent. They’re having a harder time getting the kind of healthcare that they need.
Our economy is so focused on cost-effectiveness and return on investment. We live in an entitlement culture where cost-benefit analysis is preeminent. And who suffers in such a society? It’s the elderly. It’s newborns with multiple disabilities. It’s those in comas. It’s people with chronic medical conditions. That’s why I think that this whole issue is so critical right now for the church.
The interview goes on to talk about her views on legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. Because this is such a hot topic at the moment, and because she has written and said so much on this matter, I will devote a whole new article to that issue. Let me finish with the closing question asked of her:
One aspect of your ministry, Joni and Friends, is equipping churches to develop disability ministries. What gifts do those with disabilities bring to the church?
If our churches are looking for God’s power to show up in our congregations, 2 Corinthians 12 tells us that God’s power shows up best in weakness. People with disabilities bring to the church a great audiovisual aid of how to deal with hardship. They show the church how God’s power can be released through weakness, and we all need examples of that. We need to see people who are smiling and persevering and enduring through their hardships.
Is God glorified when he instantly heals someone? Absolutely. Is God glorified when he gives the sufferer great grace to endure? Absolutely. Thank you Joni for your wonderful life and testimony. God bless you.
John Wigger has written a new book about Jim and Tammy Bakker. In this article he provides an interesting overview of their rise and fall.
Read more: Prosperity Gospel Apocalypse
A months-long effort by Senate Republicans to pass health legislation collapsed early Friday after GOP Senator John McCain joined two of his colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill.
Russia ordered the U.S. to slash hundreds of embassy and other personnel in the country in a dramatic and sweeping retaliation to the passage of a new sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress.
Pickups in consumer and business-equipment spending powered a U.S. economic rebound in the second quarter, signaling the eight-year expansion is on track to be sustained, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. Gross domestic product rose at a 2.6% annualized rate from prior quarter.
American households scaled back their pace of savings to the lowest level in nine years at the end of 2016 as the growth of their wages and salaries slowed, updated government figures show. The personal savings rate was 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, down from a previously published 4.9 percent.
The United States is ordering relatives of American diplomats to leave the Venezuelan capital ahead of a polarizing vote planned for Sunday to start rewriting the country’s constitution.
AP Top Stories
Warning of “holy hell” to pay if the president fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a top Senate Republican is working to prevent the potential end result, the dismissal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor says a 30-year-old man has been killed in a protest in a western town, pushing the official toll to least 98 dead in nearly four months of unrest.
Nigeria’s upper house of parliament backed a series of constitutional amendments on Wednesday that could weaken the presidency and boost the legislature, the latest twist in a two-year power struggle between the two institutions.
More than ten villages in central Portugal have been evacuated as forest fires rage in the provinces of Castelo Branco and Santarem. Almost 5,000 firefighters supported by water-dropping aircraft are deployed across central and northern areas of Portugal as the country continues its annual summertime battle against wildfires.
Muslim leaders told the faithful to return to pray inside a major Jerusalem holy site on Thursday after Israel removed security devices it installed outside entrances to the shrine following a deadly Palestinian attack at the compound.
A federal judge sentenced a Phoenix man Wednesday to 68 years in prison for his role as a gunman in a standoff that stopped federal agents from rounding up cattle near the Nevada ranch of anti-government activist Cliven Bundy three years ago.
American Airlines has launched a new baggage alert system that will inform customers about the status of their luggage and save them from waiting around at baggage carrousel.
Iran on Thursday “successfully” tested a satellite-launch rocket, days after warning Washington of a response to new US sanctions over the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile programme, state television said.
Vietnam on Friday said other countries should respect its legitimate right to drill for oil in its waters amid growing tension with China over energy development in the South China Sea.
The United States on Thursday transferred to the Philippines two brand-new, single-engine surveillance planes, boosting the capability of its former colony to patrol sprawling maritime borders, including pirate-infested southern waters.
High-ranking Iraqi security officials say up to 7,000 Islamic State group affiliates remain in Iraq after the fall of Mosul, where the group’s leader declared the self-styled caliphate three years ago.
A ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels toward the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia was shot down late on Thursday, said the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
North Korean hackers are increasingly trying to steal cash rather than secrets, a South Korean government-backed report suggests. Cyber-criminals are targeting financial institutions as Pyongyang faces tough nuclear sanctions, the Financial Security Institute (FSI) claims.
Transgender people will not be banned from serving in the US military until the president issues guidance to the Pentagon, military officials said.
Venezuela is banning protests that could “disturb or affect” Sunday’s controversial election for a new constituent assembly. Prison terms of between five and 10 years could be imposed on those contravening the ban, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol said.
South Africa could soon give sign language official status, one of a few countries in Africa to do so. Sign language would become South Africa’s 12th official language.
Google is planning to train 10 million people in Africa in online skills over the next five years in a bid to make them more employable.
Starbucks is to take full ownership of all its China outlets, after agreeing to buying out its joint venture partner for $1.3bn.
Police in China have detained 18 suspected members of a banned religious cult, state news agency Xinhua said. The Church of Almighty God cult was started in the 1990s and claims Jesus was resurrected as a woman in China.
Shariah law. Female genital mutilation. Terror attacks. Minnesota was a cozy, quiet environment before the introduction of massive Third World immigration, but that has changed with the arrival Somali refugees, according to former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has been declared a terrorist organization by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Catholic Churches Using Replacement Theology to Deny Divinity of Temple Mount: Christian Leader
The Catholic Church’s response to recent turmoil over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem confirms that the Church is using Islamic replacement theology, in “direct violation of the Torah”, to “promote heresy” and deny the Jewish and Biblical connection to the Mount, said prominent Christian and Jewish voices in a harsh takedown of anti-Israel Christian vitriol.
Hypothetically speaking, US Admiral says ready for nuclear strike on China if Trump so ordered
The US Pacific Fleet commander, addressing a security conference in Australia, said in answer to a question on Thursday that he would be prepared to launch a nuclear strike on China if President Donald Trump so ordered. The fleet spokesman later said the question was asked as an “outrageous hypothetical”.
Who is the sovereign on Temple Mount?
This Tuesday, we will mark the 9th of Av, when the Temple was destroyed. The Temple represents our unity. When we restore our union, we will not need bricks to prove our place is here in Israel. From the perspective of the Wakf (the Islamic organization controlling and managing the Temple Mount), and the rest of the Arab world, the resistance to the detectors represents the resistance to Israel’s sovereignty on Temple Mount in particular, in the city of Jerusalem, and in all of Israel.
Temple Mount prayers conclude peacefully, clashes reported in West Bank
Amid high security in the Old City of Jerusalem, thousands of worshipers attended Friday prayers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Crowds dispersed peacefully from the compound, where entrance to prayer-goers was limited to men aged 50 and older and all women.
Netanyahu discussed settlement exchange plan with US
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed with Washington in recent weeks the idea of redrawing the borders in any future agreement with the Palestinians, incorporating the major settlement blocs into Israel, while drawing out the heavily populated Israeli-Arab area of Wadi Ara and making it part of a future Palestinian state, a senior diplomatic official confirmed on Thursday.
Nearly 100 injured in clashes as Palestinians return to Temple Mount
Earlier on Thursday, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, announced that Muslims could return to pray at the holy place…Muslims rioted on the Temple Mount Thursday evening and hurled rocks at police and the Western Wall plaza, after returning to pray there for the first time in almost two weeks. Ninety-six people were wounded in clashes with police, according to the Red Crescent.
‘More than 40’ killed in battle with Boko Haram in Nigeria
More than 40 people have died in north-east Nigeria during an attempt to free people who had been ambushed in a convoy by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, sources have told the BBC. At least five members of an oil exploration team were killed and soldiers also died. Army chiefs have now been ordered to relocate to the affected area.
Russia orders US to cut embassy staff in retaliation for sanctions
Russia has retaliated for new US sanctions, telling the US to cut diplomatic staff to 455 and barring the use of some properties. The new US embassy staffing level would be the same as at Russia’s embassy in Washington. The Russian foreign ministry also said it was seizing holiday properties and a warehouse used by US diplomats.
Iran carries out ‘successful’ satellite launch
Iran says it has successfully tested a rocket that can deliver satellites into orbit, days after the US imposed new economic sanctions on Tehran over its ballistic missile programme. The Phoenix rocket was launched from a new space centre in Semnan in northern Iran. The US criticised the launch and described it as a provocative action.
Obamacare Repeal Collapses as Senate GOP Blocks Health Bill
A months-long effort by Senate Republicans to pass health legislation collapsed early Friday after GOP Senator John McCain joined two of his colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill. “I regret that our efforts were simply not enough, this time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote. “This is clearly a disappointing moment.”
Davis imam sparks dismay with ‘filth of the Jews’ remark
A Davis, Calif., mosque that was targeted recently in a vandalism hate crime found itself at the center of controversy this week after an imam delivered a sermon with inflammatory remarks about Jews. “Oh Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews…” Imam Ammar Shahin said in Arabic in his July 21 sermon at the Islamic Center of Davis.
House of Representatives boosts military spending, gives Trump border wall money
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $68 billion increase in military spending next year with legislation that also provides money to start construction of President Donald Trump’s Mexican border wall. The bill increased spending on the U.S. capability to defend itself from foreign missile attacks amid growing concerns about North Korea’s increasing capacity to hit the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile…
Pakistani elders order innocent girl be raped for her brother’s crime
Elders in a Pakistani village ordered a 17-year-old girl be raped, after her brother was accused of raping another young girl, CNN reported Thursday. Police of the town of Muzaffarabad arrested 20 after the two assaults took place, according to the department’s reports, which state that it all started with a mother complaining to a village elder that her 12-year-old daughter had been raped.
Muslim gang rampaged through Liverpool attacking strangers because they were white “non-Muslims”
A gang of Muslim men rampaged through Liverpool city centre attacking strangers because they were white “non-Muslims”. One witness feared Amin Mohmed, Mohammed Patel and Faruq Patel were ISIS terrorists.
Wells Fargo Forced Unwanted Auto Insurance On 800,000 Borrowers
Wells has just been busted yet again for another major scandal: the NYT’s Gretchen Morgenson writes that more than 800,000 people who took out car loans from Wells Fargo were also charged for auto insurance they did not need, and some are still paying for it.
Iran successfully launches satellite-carrying rocket — report
Iran successfully launched a satellite-carrying rocket into space on Thursday, the country’s state media reported without elaborating.
Israeli forces gird for Friday protests as Temple Mount unrest persists
Israeli forces prepared for possible violent protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank Friday, as flaring tensions surrounding the Temple Mount persisted even as Muslim leaders ended their protest over Israeli security arrangements at the flashpoint holy site.
PA ambassador to UN justifies slaughter of Israeli family
Questioned on Halamish masscare, PA ambassador says world cannot ‘expect all Palestinians to be angels’ and that ‘resistance’ is natural.
Is this the generation that is going to witness the end of America? If our country stays on the path that it is currently on, it is very difficult to see how we are possibly going to make it. Throughout human history every great society has eventually entered a period of decline, and sadly that is happening to us as well. My hope is that we can wake the American people up while there is still time, and that we can return to the values and the principles that this nation was originally founded upon. Below are 16 facts that prove that America is in deep, deep trouble. Many of these numbers come from my new book, and many of them seem almost too crazy to believe… (Read More…)
I know that politicians aren’t supposed to talk like this, but I don’t care. I am not a politician and I never will be. And I am not running for Congress because I want a career in politics. We have enough career politicians right now, and so we definitely don’t need another one. So I am not going to carefully craft a message that I think that the voters want to hear. Instead, I am just going to tell the truth, and I believe that people all over America are going to stand with me. And the truth is that if America does not turn back to God, there isn’t going to be an America. (Read More…)
We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world. In 1980, total government and personal debt in the United States was just over the 3 trillion dollar mark, but today it has surpassed 41 trillion dollars. That means that it has increased by almost 14 times since Ronald Reagan was first elected president. I am searching for words to describe how completely and utterly insane this is, but I am coming up empty. We are slowly but surely committing national suicide, and yet most Americans don’t even understand what is happening. (Read More…)
“I take microchipping as a form of the mark. There’s many pieces of the mark, and then again, all these pieces of the mark is designed to control,” he said.
Doyle is referring to the news story about a company called Three Square Market that is giving their employees the option to get a microchip implanted in their hand. Read more here.
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 06:20 AM PDT
There is going to be a meteor shower on 12th of August, 2017. According to astronomers this will be the brightest shower in the recorded…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|The Reason for So Many False Conversions
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 06:14 AM PDT
(By Bert Farias) Many call Jesus Lord but don’t do what He says (Luke 6:46). They are deceived. Many believe in Jesus, but there’s no…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|Billy Graham Answers: Is the Antichrist Roaming the Earth as We Speak?
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 06:08 AM PDT
With Bible prophecies of the end times appearing to come to pass before our very eyes, there’s a big one many wonder about. Is the…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|What Does the New Testament Really Say About the Gift of Prophecy?
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 06:02 AM PDT
(By Eddie Hyatt) New Testament prophecy has its roots in Old Testament prophetic ministry. In the Old Testament, God raised up certain individuals to be…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|Japan Slaps 50% Tariff on Some U.S. Beef
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:54 AM PDT
Japan said Friday it would impose a temporary 50% tariff on frozen beef from the U.S. and several other countries, a move that could inflame…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|An End-Times Prayer for Jerusalem
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:49 AM PDT
(By Kelly Mcdonald Jr) “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!’ For my…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|Is Christianity in America Dying?
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:42 AM PDT
Is Christianity in America dying? That’s a question that has emerged in recent years amid numerous polls showing decreased proportions of Americans who say they’re…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|16 Facts That Prove That America Is In Deep, Deep Trouble
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:31 AM PDT
(By Michael Snyder) Is this the generation that is going to witness the end of America? If our country stays on the path that it…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|Lance Wallnau Issues an Urgent Prayer Alert for the First Family
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:26 AM PDT
The last couple of weeks have been particularly difficult on President Donald Trump, but even more so for his family and those who work with…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|Walmart Cashier Flabbergasts Foster Mom When He Hears the Voice of God
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:22 AM PDT
The Walmart shoppers were growing impatient. It was late on a Friday night in Newcastle, Oklahoma, and many of the customers were grumbling and complaining…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|LYING SIGNS AND WONDERS: UFOs Appear Over England and Mexico
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:19 AM PDT
(Reported By Jim Denison) An unidentified flying object made headlines recently when it appeared over southwest England, and a “flying saucer” was spotted last week over Mexico. Is your…
Read more at End Time Headlines.
|U.S. says Iran rocket test breaches U.N. resolution
Posted: 28 Jul 2017 05:12 AM PDT
Iran successfully tested a rocket that can deliver satellites into orbit, state television reported on Thursday, an action the United States said breaches a U.N….
Read more at End Time Headlines.
With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them either to believe or deny His teachings.
Who do you say Jesus is? Your response to Him will determine not only your values and lifestyle, but your eternal destiny as well.
Consider what the Bible says about Him:
JESUS IS GOD
While Jesus was on earth there was much confusion about who He was. Some thought He was a wise man or a great prophet. Others thought He was a madman. Still others couldn’t decide or didn’t care. But Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). That means He claimed to be nothing less than God in human flesh.
Many people today don’t understand that Jesus claimed to be God. They’re content to think of Him as little more than a great moral teacher. But even His enemies understood His claims to deity. That’s why they tried to stone Him to death (John 5:18; 10:33) and eventually had Him crucified (John 19:7).
C.S. Lewis observed, “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity [Macmillan, 1952], pp. 40-41).
If the biblical claims of Jesus are true, He is God!
JESUS IS HOLY
God is absolutely and perfectly holy (Isaiah 6:3), therefore He cannot commit or approve of evil (James 1:13).
As God, Jesus embodied every element of God’s character. Colossians 2:9 says, “In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” He was perfectly holy (Hebrews 4:15). Even His enemies couldn’t prove any accusation against Him (John 8:46)
God requires holiness of us as well. First Peter 1:16 says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
JESUS IS THE SAVIOR
Our failure to obey God—to be holy—places us in danger of eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:9). The truth is, we cannot obey Him because we have neither the desire nor the ability to do so. We are by nature rebellious toward God (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Bible calls our rebellion “sin.” According to Scripture, everyone is guilty of sin: “There is no man who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And we are incapable of changing our sinful condition. Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
That doesn’t mean we’re incapable of performing acts of human kindness. We might even be involved in various religious or humanitarian activities. But we’re utterly incapable of understanding, loving, or pleasing God on our own. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
God’s holiness and justice demand that all sin be punished by death: “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). That’s hard for us to understand because we tend to evaluate sin on a relative scale, assuming some sins are less serious than others. However, the Bible teaches that all acts of sin are the result of sinful thinking and evil desires. That’s why simply changing our patterns of behavior can’t solve our sin problem or eliminate its consequences. We need to be changed inwardly so our thinking and desires are holy
Jesus is the only one who can forgive and transform us, thereby delivering us from the power and penalty of sin: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Even though God’s justice demands death for sin, His love has provided a Savior, who paid the penalty and died for sinners: “Christ … died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ’s death satisfied the demands of God’s justice, thereby enabling Him to forgive and save those who place their faith in Him (Romans 3:26). John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He alone is “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13).
JESUS IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE OBJECT OF SAVING FAITH
Some people think it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere. But without a valid object your faith is useless
If you take poison—thinking it’s medicine—all the faith in the world won’t restore your life. Similarly, if Jesus is the only source of salvation, and you’re trusting in anyone or anything else for your salvation, your faith is useless.
Many people assume there are many paths to God and that each religion represents an aspect of truth. But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). He didn’t claim to be one of many equally legitimate paths to God, or the way to God for His day only. He claimed to be the only way to God—then and forever.
JESUS IS LORD
Contemporary thinking says man is the product of evolution. But the Bible says we were created by a personal God to love, serve, and enjoy endless fellowship with Him
The New Testament reveals it was Jesus Himself who created everything (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). Therefore He also owns and rules everything (Psalm 103:19). That means He has authority over our lives and we owe Him absolute allegiance, obedience, and worship.
Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Confessing Jesus as Lord means humbly submitting to His authority (Philippians 2:10-11). Believing that God has raised Him from the dead involves trusting in the historical fact of His resurrection—the pinnacle of Christian faith and the way the Father affirmed the deity and authority of the Son (Romans 1:4; Acts 17:30-31).
True faith is always accompanied by repentance from sin. Repentance is more than simply being sorry for sin. It is agreeing with God that you are sinful, confessing your sins to Him, and making a conscious choice to turn from sin and pursue holiness (Isaiah 55:7). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15); and “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).
It isn’t enough to believe certain facts about Christ. Even Satan and his demons believe in the true God (James 2:19), but they don’t love and obey Him. Their faith is not genuine. True saving faith always responds in obedience (Ephesians 2:10).
Jesus is the sovereign Lord. When you obey Him you are acknowledging His lordship and submitting to His authority. That doesn’t mean your obedience will always be perfect, but that is your goal. There is no area of your life that you withhold from Him.
JESUS IS THE JUDGE
All who reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior will one day face Him as their Judge: “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Second Thessalonians 1:7-9 says, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
HOW WILL YOU RESPOND?
Who does the Bible say Jesus is? The living God, the Holy One, the Savior, the only valid object of saving faith, the sovereign Lord, and the righteous Judge.
Who do you say Jesus is? That is the inescapable question. He alone can redeem you—free you from the power and penalty of sin. He alone can transform you, restore you to fellowship with God, and give your life eternal purpose. Will you repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/articles/A335
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to YouYou may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/connect/copyright).
This post was originally posted on: https://truth4freedom.wordpress.com
(Alternative News, Apologetics, Current Events, Commentary, Opinion, Theology, Discernment Blog, Devotionals, Christian Internet Evangelism & Missions Activist).
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
This blog is an aggregator of news and information that we believe will provide articles that will keep people informed about current trends, current events, discussions and movements taking place within our church and culture.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107,material here is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
A headline link on this blog post doesn’t necessarily mean that there is agreement or approval with all the views and opinions expressed within the headline linked article. Caution is also warranted with regards to the advertisements and links that are embedded within the headline linked article.
*Please note that the preceding blog post content is formed by my personal conviction, values, worldview and opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
“Operation Pull Teen Vogue” is underway reports Leah Jessen of LifeZette:
Christian parents have been expressing their outrage that a magazine aimed at today’s tweens and teenagers is giving young people explicit directions about controversial sexual acts — information that is wholly inappropriate for children in general.
“How disgusting,” evangelical leader Franklin Graham said of the material in a Facebook post. “As parents and grandparents, regardless of one’s faith, we shouldn’t stand by and let this kind of trash be pawned off on our children.”
Fire Breathing Christian has some questions professing Christians who choose not to attend a local church need to be thinking about…and a few things to consider:
Why gather with and commit to serving with a local bunch of often incredibly immature, confused, messed up, and biblically illiterate yahoos when you can instead bond with a group of awesome people who share your understanding and your passion in the areas that light you up and make you happy?
Why sit on Sundays in a pathetic little church building alongside pathetic little baby Christians who don’t share your wisdom, your spiritual depth, and your general awesomeness when you can bond instead with your people in Facebook forums and threads on your own schedule?
Why listen to some unenlightened simpleton preacher wannabe pitch some lame-o sermon on some subject you “mastered” long ago when you can instead immerse yourself in online sermons, podcasts, and social media conversations that feed your appetites on your terms at your preferred depth, and (this is important to mention again:) on your schedule?
Dave Jenkins of Servants of Grace urges fellow Christians to spend time with the Lord each day. He writes:
Whenever I write or speak about the need for Christians to daily read their Bible, I almost always get some form of pushback. At the heart of most of the pushback, I hear is something along the lines of how I’m making Bible reading a duty rather than a delight. I’ll grant that sometimes I don’t always communicate in the most nuanced way on this topic. With that said I’m often left wondering after these types of conversations, “Why do we need to qualify and nuance daily Bible reading?” After all, daily Bible reading has had a long tradition in the history of the church; especially in the Reformed tradition since the Protestant Reformation.
The Reality of Present Strife
Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:51–53)
The dividing that the gospel of Christ brings is for both time and eternity. In this discourse Jesus gave a parable involving just and unjust servants that illustrated eternal separation (see the exposition of 12:41–48 in the previous chapter of this volume). The faithful steward represents those who are ready for Christ’s return; who are obedient to the gospel, believe in Jesus, confess Him as Lord, and are saved (Rom. 10:9). They will be rewarded with blessedness forever in heaven. The unfaithful stewards (whether defiant, distracted, or ignorant) represent unbelievers, who do not believe in Jesus, accept the gospel, or repent. They will be sentenced to varying degrees of eternal, conscious punishment in hell.
But how they respond to Jesus will not only divide people in eternity, but also in time, as the Lord’s rhetorical question, Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division, reveals (cf. Matt. 10:34). It was reasonable for the Jewish people, based on the Old Testament teaching noted earlier in this chapter, to suppose that Messiah would bring peace. But Jesus told them that He came not to bring peace, but rather division. When there is no peace between sinners and God, there will be no peace between people, but rather strife and conflict.
To illustrate His point Jesus chose society’s most fundamental unit, the family (cf. a similar illustration in Micah 7:6). He often used the phrase from now on to describe something that was beginning, and would continue to be that way in the future (e.g., Matt. 23:39; 26:29; Luke 5:10; 22:69; John 8:11; 13:19; 14:7). Jesus, who came as the Prince of Peace to reconcile sinners to God (2 Cor. 5:18–20), was and would continue to be, at the same time, the great divider (cf. John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19).
In the Lord’s hypothetical illustration five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Six members of the household are named, but there are only five individuals, since the mother of the son and the mother-in-law of the daughter-in-law [her son’s wife] are the same person.) This illustration has played out innumerable times in real families since Jesus’ day. The offense of the gospel often causes those who reject and hate it to make outcasts of even family members who believe it. In Matthew 10:21 Jesus revealed how far family division over Him could go: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.” But He made the following comforting promise to those who lose their earthly families because of the gospel: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).
51 The phrase ἐν τῇ γῇ (en tē gē, “on earth”) may refer to the “land” of Israel. This meaning of γῇ, gē (GK 1178), is possible (TDNT 1:677–78). “Peace on earth” in 2:14 has ἐπί (epi, “on”; so 12:49), not ἐν, en, as here. If this was the case, Jesus’ words would refer even more clearly to the Jewish messianic expectations current in his day. “No, I tell you” (οὐχί λέγω ὑμῖν, ouchi legō hymin) is emphatic.
12:51–53. Jesus again knew what the disciples were thinking. They saw him as a man of peace, perhaps the king who would win the war to end all wars and create the messianic kingdom of peace (see Isa. 9; 11). They still had much to learn about Messiah. Jesus came to divide families and friends. He was the dividing line. Dedication and faithfulness to him set a person apart from family and friends. The coming of Jesus the Messiah left no room for neutrality. You choose to be for him or against him. Your choice brings strong opposition
51–53. Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth! No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one family there will be five divided against each other: three against two, and two against three. They will be divided: father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
We have here a mashal; that is, a paradoxical saying, one that sounds unbelievable! That it is contrary to prevailing opinion is indicated by the question, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” and the answer, “No, I tell you, but rather division.” What Jesus says here causes the one who hears or reads it to startle in shocked disbelief. The natural reaction to the surprising statement would be: “How can this saying be true? Is not Christ ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Isa. 9:6)? Is he not the One who pronounces a blessing on those who make peace (Matt. 5:9)? If he did not come in order to bring peace how can the following passages be true: Ps. 72:3, 7; Luke 1:79; 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21; Rom. 5:1; 10:15; 14:17; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:20; Heb. 6:20–7:2? Do not all of them in the strongest terms proclaim Jesus as the Bringer of peace?”
We should remember, however, that it is the characteristic of many a mashal to place emphasis on one aspect of the truth rather than on a proposition that is universally valid. See on Matt. 5:34, “Do not take any oath at all.” The merit of such aphorisms is that they stop a person short and make him think. So here also. A little reflection will soon convince the earnest student of Scripture that there is a sense in which the coming of Christ into this world not only brought division but was even intended to do so. If that had not been its immediate purpose would not all men have been lost (John 3:3, 5; Rom. 3:9–18)? Would they not all have rushed onward toward their doom? Besides, even in the lives of those who are ultimately saved is it not true that through many tribulations they must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22)? Is not the life of the believer one of Sturm und Drang (storm and stress)? To be sure, in the end all is peace, but the same Paul who exclaims, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” also complains, “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24, 25).
In addition, there will be bitter opponents. Here “on earth,” that is, during this present dispensation, the followers of Christ must expect division. It is thus that it will become evident who is on the Lord’s side and who is not. It is thus that “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Josh. 5:13, 14; Matt. 21:44; Luke 2:34, 35; 20:18). The entrance of Christ into this world divides in two, splits apart, cleaves asunder, and in so doing turns one person against another.
Faith not only creates division between one race and another, one people and another, one church and another; it even brings about division in the family, in fact often the sharpest division of all. In this connection Luke here mentions “five” family members all living under the same roof; father, mother, unmarried daughter, married son and his wife (the parents’ daughter-in-law). Because of the relation which these various members assume toward Christ there is intense friction between them: “three against two, and two against three.”
For Practical Lessons and Greek Words, etc., see pp. 686–690.
12:54–56 Knowing How to Interpret the Weather
Knowing How to Interpret the Time
Cf. Matt. 16:2, 3
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, at once you say, ‘It is going to rain.’ And so it does. 55 And when a south wind is blowing, you say, ‘Scorching heat is on the way.’ And it comes. 56 Hypocrites! The look of earth and sky you know how to interpret. Then how is it that you do not know how to interpret this present critical hour?”
For a possible connection between this section and the immediately preceding one see p. 537.
Again, as once before (verses 14–21), Jesus turns to the crowds.
12:51–53 He knew very well that His coming would not give peace on earth at that time. And so He warned the disciples that when men came to Him, their families would persecute them and drive them out. The introduction of Christianity into an average home of five would split the family. It is a curious mark of man’s perverted nature that ungodly relatives would often rather have their son a drunkard and dissolute person than have him take a public stand as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ! This paragraph disproves the theory that Jesus came to unite all humanity (godly and ungodly) into a single “universal brotherhood of man.” Rather, He divided them as they have never been divided before!
 MacArthur, J. (2013). Luke 11–17 (pp. 172–174). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 231). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 209). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 682–684). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1421–1422). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
7–9 The confident answer begins with an interjection—“surely” (see Notes). Because death is the common experience of humankind, rich and poor alike, the rich cannot boast of any advantage over the poor. They cannot use their money to redeem themselves from death or to send a substitute for themselves. They may live on a grandiose scale so as to give the impression that they will live forever, but they, too, must ultimately face death for what it is—a separation from the land of the living, from the comforts of life, and from social and economic distinctions. This separation is summed up in one word: “the pit” (v. 9; NIV, “decay”). The “pit,” as a synonym for “Sheol” (cf. 16:10), signifies death and possibly retribution for the evil done in life (cf. 94:13).
7–9 Redeem … ransom, the first word emphasizes finding the price, the second, covering the need. But no payment is sufficient to buy eternal life. Life of another. The Hebrew says ‘even a brother’, i.e. even in a case where love would hold nothing back. There is a case where payment can commute the death penalty (Ex. 21:30)—but Death itself cannot be bought off! 
49:7–9 No man can. No person, regardless of his means, is able to escape death; it is inevitable (Heb 9:27). This passage anticipates the second death of hell (cf. Rev 20:11–15), except for those who by faith have repented of their sin and embraced the only adequate ransom—the one paid by the Lord Jesus Christ with His death on the cross (cf. Mt 20:28; 1Pe 1:18, 19).
49:7 Reliance on God is the only solution to death. Such reliance anticipates faith in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 10:9) and the hope for our future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42–57; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 423). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 517). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 49:7–9). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 997). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
pride forfeits honor (9:35)
Ironically, pride keeps people from obtaining the very honor that they seek. Proud people—even those in ministry—battle for position and seek to promote themselves, but end up forfeiting true honor and often end in humiliation. Honor is reserved for the humble. Like many in our day, the disciples viewed spiritual pride as normal, desirable, and legitimate. After all, pride characterized the most revered men in Israel, the religious leaders, who “[did] all their deeds to be noticed by men … they broaden[ed] their phylacteries and lengthen[ed] the tassels of their garments. They love[d] the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matt. 23:5–7; cf. 6:1–5).
Jesus knew what the disciples were thinking (Luke 9:47), even if they refused to express it. Sitting down, as rabbis commonly did when they taught, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Pursuing accolades, affirmation, and exaltation from men forfeits the true reward (Matt. 6:1–5) that comes to those who are willing to be last, not to those who have to be first.
35 Jesus assumed the posture of a Jewish rabbi—he sat down (Mt 5:1; 13:1; Lk 5:3; Jn 8:2; cf. Mk 12:41) and called the Twelve to him. True greatness comes through service of others. To become first, you must be last—the position of a lowly servant. The term “servant” (diakonos) commonly referred to a table waiter or domestic servant, someone whose sole purpose was to meet the needs of others. Swete, 205, writes, “The spirit of service is the passport to eminence in the Kingdom of God, for it is the spirit of the Master Who Himself became diakonos pantōn [‘servant of all’].” This teaching is a complete reversal of worldly values. How important this principle was for Jesus can be seen by its repetition throughout the gospel tradition (Mk 10:31, 43–44; Mt 20:26–27; 23:8–11; Lk 22:24–27; cf. Php 2:1–11; Gos. Thom. 22). The very fact that the disciples were concerned about who was greatest underscores again their failure to understand Jesus’ statements about his suffering and death. The kind of service Jesus was talking about involved radical self-sacrifice for others.
9:35. Jesus did not focus on their arguing about who was the greatest. He spoke frankly, telling them if they wanted to be first, they must be last. The theme of servanthood echoes throughout Mark’s Gospel and reaches its greatest expression in chapter 10. Jesus stated again that human values are not necessarily kingdom values. In human institutions, we may fight for status. We may be concerned about being in the right crowd or being seen by powerful people. The old adage, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” has no place in the kingdom of God in the way the world means it.
In another sense, it is only who you know that can gain you entrance into God’s kingdom. But the image of a humble man or woman falling on his or her knees before God in repentance and asking for pardon and grace is a much different image than that of the businessperson cuddling up next to the person on a higher rung of the ladder.
35. So he sat down, called the twelve to him, and said, If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.
Having summoned the men into his immediate presence, Jesus, by means of the gesture of sitting down, as already explained, indicates that as their Teacher, he is about to give them a very important lesson. That lesson is this: their idea of what it means to be “great” must be changed; in fact, radically reversed. True greatness does not consist in this, that from a towering height a person, in a self-congratulatory manner, has the right now to look down upon all others (Luke 18:9–12); but in this, that he immerses himself in the needs of others, sympathizes with them and helps them in every way possible. So, if any person—whether he be one of The Twelve or anyone else—wishes to be first, he must be last; that is, servant of all.
Jesus must have repeated this lesson many a time throughout his ministry, probably at various places and in slightly varying ways. See also Matt. 20:26, 27; 23:11; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 9:48b; 14:11; 18:14. In fact, is not this a lesson that is stressed throughout Scripture? See Job 22:29; Prov. 29:23; Isa. 57:15; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5.
As to self-centered ambition and vanity, “Before downfall goes pride; and before stumbling, a haughty spirit” (Prov. 16:18). Was not this the experience of Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32:14, 21), of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:30–33), and of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:21–23)? On the other hand, note what is said about the commended centurion (Matt. 8:8, 10, 13), the humble Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:29; cf. Matt. 15:27, 28), and the penitent tax-collector (Luke 18:13, 14).
One reason why the lesson taught by Jesus is unforgettable is that he himself was constantly exemplifying it in his own life (Mark 10:44, 45; Luke 22:27; John 13:1–15; Phil. 2:5–8).
 MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 37–38). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 849). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 151). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 357–358). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Pornography is a serious sin, and one that increasingly affects Christian families. Ladies, if you, your husband, or your child are viewing pornography, it’s time to stop, repent, and flee from that sin. If you need help and support, set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling, even if you are the only one who will go. Here are some additional biblical resources which may help:
When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography Theology Gals, Episode 22 with Vicki Tiede (be sure to check out all of Vicki’s links under “Episode Resources”)
How to Stop Looking at Porn from When We Understand the Text
When We Understand the Text Q&A on Pornography (23:13 mark) with Gabriel Hughes
Hey, Porn Addict: Stop It by Gabriel Hughes
What Does the Bible Say About Pornography? at Got Questions
Dealing with Private Sins by John MacArthur
Pornography Resources from Wretched Radio
Support Groups Have No Place in the Church at No Compromise Radio
(Not specifically about pornography, but important points to consider if you’re thinking about a church support group or accountability partner related to pornography usage.)
God tasks parents with the holy calling of raising our children, “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In this our greatest task is to help them understand the Gospel so they might trust in Christ and be saved. The problem for parents is that we often have a difficult time discerning when our kids have truly come to Christ. Either we get excited that our kids are showing interest in the Gospel and pronounce them Christians too quickly or we are so afraid of them making a false profession of faith that we go a long time without treating them as a brother or sister in Christ.
As parents we do have some guidance in knowing if our children are truly in the faith. Everything that would be present in an adult’s conversion will be present in a child’s conversion, but it will show itself in a different manner. I was 19 when I came to Jesus, and was aware of my new life in Christ the moment it took place. At the same time we have stories like John Piper’s. He does not remember his conversion, but his mother was convinced he came to faith and he does not remember ever not believing since then.
We can never know beyond a shadow of a doubt if our child has actually trusted in Christ, but we can see evidences that point to a genuine conversion. Here are some questions we can ask as we attempt to discern whether or not our children have trusted in Christ.
Awareness of sin and the need for a savior is an absolute necessity in conversion. While a child will not have years of drunkenness or debauchery for which they should be ashamed, he will know he has sinned and needs to be forgiven. In Romans 2, Paul talks about the law being written on the heart of every person. We instinctively know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
When your child tells you he wants to become a Christian or starts talking about baptism, ask him why he is thinking about this now. Draw out of him, in his words at his age level, whether he feels conviction for his sins and knows that he needs a Savior. Unless he is convinced of his sins, he cannot know that he has a problem from which he needs to be saved.
If your child shows awareness of and conviction for sin, begin to talk to her about Jesus. You will not be looking for her to give a discourse on the hypostatic union or penal substitutionary atonement. Does she know Jesus is the son of God? Does she believe that he is real, and that he lived the perfect life we could never live?
Then you should move into a discussion about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can she articulate the basic facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Again, you are not looking for a doctoral level treatise, but in her words can she tell you about what Jesus did for her. What you are looking for here is illumination. As she talks about Jesus, do you see an awareness that she understands and knows this at a heart level?
The other night we read about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment so she could be healed in our family devotion. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. I took that opportunity to talk to our daughters about salvation being by faith alone. Their Dad is a pastor, their Grandfather is a pastor, their Uncle is a pastor, and their Great-Grandfather was a pastor. They never remember a time when they were not gathering with the church each Sunday and never remember a time when they were not hearing the Gospel in family devotions and in discussions during everyday life, so I wanted to make sure they heard a clear reminder that none of these things make them a Christian.
When your child approaches you about becoming a Christian, you must make sure that she gets this. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves.” The Scripture’s testimony is clear, and while your child may not be able to give you an excursus on justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness, you do want her to evidence that she knows she must repent and trust in Jesus. Does she understand that her works or her baptism don’t make her a Christian, but that repentance and trust in Jesus do? Does she have childlike faith in Jesus Christ alone?
Seeing signs of the work of the Spirit in your child’s life is not as evident as it would be in an adult. Your six-year old is not going to have the same kind of testimony that a man with a notorious past would have, but his salvation is just a miraculous. If he has trusted in Jesus, he has been born again and the Holy Spirit indwells him. He will shows evidences of conversion.
If believers grow in conviction over our sins, compassion for other people, and display the fruit of the Spirit, then this will be present in your child’s life. It will be there in childlike form, but it will be there. You will also start to see the lights come on for him spiritually. He will start to understand more of God’s truth and demonstrate a greater awareness of God’s work in his life. As you observe his life, do you see signs of the Spirit’s work in him?
The invitation system, a pressure-packed VBS or kids’ camp, and friends getting baptized can start putting pressure on your child to make a profession of faith without actually understanding the Gospel. Often children want to know why they can’t take Communion, and hear the answer, “because you haven’t been baptized yet.” In their minds the solution seems simple, “then let me get baptized so I can take Communion.”
You can never know for certain that your child has pure motives in his desire to become to profess Christ, but you should examine to the best of your ability any outside forces that may be exerting pressure on him. Ask him what made him start thinking about this. It may have been a friend’s baptism, but what about the event made him start pondering it for himself? Communion may have sparked an interest in him, but does he just want to take the bread and juice, or did hearing the meaning of Communion draw him to Jesus? These are all factors for you to ask about, think through, and pray over.
Your child does not get a visible mark on her forehead or a stripe on her back when she comes to Jesus, so you have to talk, pray, and discern. Invite your pastor in to talk to your child and ask questions. He may be able to see and hear things you don’t.
Most of all though, keep putting the Gospel in front of your children. Talk about it in everyday life, in family devotions, and around the table after Sunday worship. Sing songs, pray over your kids, and repent to them when you have wronged them. God’s word never returns void, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and in due time we will sow if we reap, so take every opportunity to tell and show your kids that Jesus is better than life.
Here is my thesis, short and sweet: if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but you are living just like everyone in the world is, then chances may be good that you really are not a Christian at all. I do not say this by my own authority of course, but by the authority of the Word of God.
Everywhere Scripture highlights how God’s people are to be living lives radically different from those who are not God’s people. Thus if the life you live is indistinguishable from what any non-Christian lives, then it may be time to ask yourself some hard questions.
And when I say different, I don’t mean in a superficial or nominal way. Some Christians are different all right, but mainly because they are just plain weird. It is not that they are holy and Christlike, just odd and perhaps too religious. They may have all sorts of man-made taboos, habits and things they run with, but they demonstrate no real godliness or Holy Ghost spirituality.
But the born-again Christian will think differently, act differently and relate to others differently. I will explain what this looks like in more detail in a moment. But let me first mention why this article has come about. There have been two main reasons for writing this piece.
The first is something I just caught a glimpse of on TV, while the second is an author I have been reading through of late. The first can be covered quite quickly: it turns out to have been a UK documentary on cam girls. The 60 seconds or so that I saw was enough to leave me all rather gobsmacked.
One moment it was showing what this gal was doing for her paid customers, and the next minute it showed her with her flatmate at the dinner table praying. (Was it perhaps her lesbian partner? I did not stay around to find out.) But it showed them before the meal praying together, asking God’s blessing on all they did.
As I say, I was just floored. Here we had sleaze and sexual sin at its most blatant, yet the folks involved actually seemed to consider themselves Christians with whom God was perfectly happy. Um, yes, we can speak about God’s pleasure and blessing on an ex-cam girl, or an ex-prostitute, or an ex-sex-worker, or an ex-murderer, etc., but not on those still proudly living in known, overt sin.
I thought this was just so utterly bizarre, and reflected on it for a few moments. It occurred to me that there are likely millions of people who live just like the world, or live just like the devil, who have convinced themselves that they are nonetheless just peachy Christians whom God is perfectly happy with. This is deception of the highest order.
The other thing I was doing at the time offered a very nice counter piece to all this. I was reading some of John Stott’s writings. He was terrific in almost everything he wrote, and was such a champion of biblical Christianity. See my introductory article on him here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/notable-christians-john-stott/
I have around 25 of his books, and they are always worth pulling off the shelves and rereading. So I was looking at his short but really excellent 1978 commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Of interest, he subtitled the book, Christian Counter-Culture.
Of course that is a concept I am fully familiar with. I was part of the original secular counter-culture of the late 60s and early 70s. We radical lefties, hippies, druggies and peaceniks really did think we could set up a counter-culture to replace what we considered to be the corrupt, authoritarian, violent, patriarchal, hung-up middle class America.
Stott picks up on this theme and argues that the real message of the Sermon on the Mount is that we Christians are to be a genuine counter-cultural force. We are to be different. That is the major emphasis of these three chapters. Let me offer some lengthy quotes from the opening pages of this excellent commentary.
He begins by speaking about the great tragedy of the church conforming to the world. He says this:
No comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words, ‘But you are no different from anybody else.’ For the essential theme of the whole Bible from beginning to end is that God’s historical purpose is to call out a people for himself; that this people is a ‘holy’ people, set apart from the world to belong to him and to obey him; and that its vocation is to be true to its identity, that is, to be ‘holy’ or ‘different’ in all its outlook and behaviour.
He notes how this was certainly the case with the people of Israel: they “were his special people,” they “were to be different from everybody else. They were to follow his commandments and not take their lead from the standards of those around them.”
But sadly they did not do what was demanded of them, and soon enough they were saying, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world” (Ezekiel 20:32). Stott continues:
All this is an essential background to any understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. . . . It portrays the repentance (metanoia, the complete change of mind) and the righteousness which belong to the kingdom. That is, it describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God.
And what do they look like? Different! Jesus emphasized that his true followers, the citizens of God’s kingdom were to be entirely different from others. They were not to take their cue from the people around them, but from him, and so prove to be genuine children of their heavenly father. To me the key text of the Sermon on the Mount is 6:8: ‘Do not be like them.’ It is immediately reminiscent of God’s word to Israel in olden days: ‘You shall not do as they do’ (Leviticus 18:3). It is the same call to be different. And right through the Sermon on the Mount this theme is elaborated.
Their character was to be completely distinct from that admired by the world (the beatitudes). They were to shine like lights in the prevailing darkness. Their righteousness was to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, both in ethical behavior and in religious devotion, while their love was to be greater and their ambition nobler than those of their pagan neighbors.
There is no single paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount in which this contrast between Christian and non-Christian standards is not drawn. It is the underlying and uniting theme of the Sermon; everything else is a variation of it.…
Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different – different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships – all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule.
This my friends is the normal Christian life. But we do not hear this sort of teaching anymore, so it sounds strange, harsh, austere and even unChristlike. We think we can live any way we like and God is fully happy with us. We even think we can strip and gyrate before lustful men as a cam girl and still ask God for his blessings.
As I said above, if you are living just like anyone in the world is living, you may be in desperate need of a spiritual check-up. It is time we all get back on our faces before God and seek him afresh. Reading the Sermon on the Mount while on our knees in an attitude of humility, brokenness and penitence would be a good way to begin.
How can I forgive myself?
The most faithful response to this question is the reject it as an illegitimate question.
The biblical teaching about forgiveness can be summarized in two main ideas:
That’s it. Sermon over. There is not third point. God has forgiven us and we must forgive others. Period.
There are more than 125 direct references to forgiveness in the Bible. But the Bible does not teach that we should forgive ourselves. It does not explain how to forgive ourselves. It does not say anything about forgiving ourselves whatsoever.
God is just, holy, and righteous. We are not. We are sinners who cannot do anything to win the approval of God. We cannot reach up to God. But God has reach down to us through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our infinitely holy God extends forgiveness to stubbornly rebellious sinners. Yet they are those who claim, “I know God has forgiven me. But I need to learn to forgive myself.”
This is the self-centered psychology of the world, not the teaching of scripture. In fact, it contradicts the message of the Bible. If I need to forgive myself, it suggests that I am the God that I have offended and need to appease. This way of thinking is not just erroneous, it is blasphemous.
To claim that I have been forgiven by God but I cannot forgive myself betrays that I do not understand, believe, or appreciate the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a sinister attempt of the Enemy to get us to depend upon our own righteousness, rather than the grace of God.
Isaiah had a violent encounter with the holiness of God (Isaiah 6), who was seated in sovereign authority. “Woe is me!” Isaiah responded, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Confronted by sovereign holiness, Isaiah braced himself to die. But God graciously forgave him instead. As he basked in amazing grace, Isaiah did not say, “I know God has forgiven me. Now, I have to learn to forgive myself for my unclean lips!” Rather, Isaiah volunteered to be God’s messenger, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
When a Christian repents of sin and receives forgiveness by the atoning blood of Christ, it is natural to wish you had never sinned against God in the first place. There should be a godly sorrow over sin. There will be regret and remorse, as you consider those who are hurt by your sin. You may lament the consequences of your transgressions. But none of these things represent an ongoing guilt for which you need to forgive yourself.
“For freedom Christ has set us free,” declares Paul. “Stand firm therefore, and do not submit against to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Jesus guarantees our spiritual liberty by declaring, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
You do not need to supplement divine forgiveness with any self-forgiveness. Your forgiveness in Christ is complete. Receive it. Remember it. And rejoice in it. If your testimony is, “God has forgiven me,” that is enough! You do not need to forgive yourself.
1 John 1:9 is the Christian’s blessed assurance…
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Source: How Can I Forgive Myself?
Prayer is hard work. It’s not something that comes naturally.
We go about our days, engaged in the home or workplace, distracted by good things that would keep us from prayer if we let them. Our hearts are prone to wander from God in self-reliance toward temporary pleasures, rather than running to him in dependence for the lasting joy and satisfaction only he can provide.
No relationship will flourish without intention—and this takes work! Perhaps you feel your need for communion with God, and you want to grow in forming a habit of prayer, but you don’t know where to start…
Maybe prayer seems daunting, like a high mountain to climb; or perhaps the pace of your day doesn’t seem to allow for this time. Yet, the growth of any relationship won’t fall into our laps; we need to be intentional, trusting God will meet and help us in this time of sought communion.
So here’s a start! The following are five keys to help you form a habit of prayer:
Forming any habit requires action. Unless I choose to rebuild my strength through physical therapy exercises, it won’t happen. Unless I choose to show up on time by leaving early, it won’t happen. Similarly, we won’t pray unless we choose to pray, despite the obstacles (and there are always obstacles!).
So choose to pray. Choose a location. Choose a time of day that works best. Choose a context that will become familiar over time. Our living room couch is my chosen, consistent spot, the place I go each morning to read my Bible and pray.
Of course, certain times require flexibility in our communion with God—and there’s grace for these seasons! A newborn baby, a relocation, a new job and schedule, a decline in health—these circumstances may change our context for prayer, but they needn’t change our choice to pray. We press on, no matter the season, and we choose prayer by the strength God supplies.
Because prayer doesn’t come naturally, our hearts are wayward, and our circumstances change, we desperately need God to help us pray—and this means we need him to transform our hearts, the seat of our deepest desires. If prayer is merely something we add to our “spiritual checklist,” a joyless obligation, then we’ll pray for all the wrong reasons and never be transformed. But if God were to change our hearts, then we’d yearn for prayer because we first and foremost desire him.
So we ask God for help! We ask him to change our fickle, self-interested, apathetic, and easily distracted hearts. John Piper says,
Too many of us are passive when it comes to our spiritual affections. We are practical atheists. We think there is nothing we can do….This is not the way the psalmists thought or acted. It is not the way the great saints of church history have acted either. Life is war. And the main battles are fought at the level of desires, not deeds.
If you’ve been discouraged by your apathy toward prayer, hear this good news: Jesus lived and died and resurrected so your heart would be made new and your desires changed! He gave his life for your apathy and wayward desires, bearing your sin, and now he lives to intercede for you when you ask God to change your heart. So ask for his help today. He delights to give it.
God has graciously spoken to us through his precious Word, and we can open our Bibles to hear from him each day. What an incredible thing, to hear from the God of the universe through words and phrases and sentences and chapters and books! What a wonder that the almighty, holy God would speak to undeserving, sinful humans like us.
If prayer is responding to God’s words (he speaks; we listen, consider, and respond), then before prayer can become a habit, we need Scripture reading to become a habit. As in the last point, we can ask God for his help where Bible reading is concerned: God, give me the desire to hear from you in your Word!
Our prayers will also be more focused and clear when they’re rooted in biblical truths we know we can trust because God, himself, has said so. The more we read our Bibles, the more inclined our hearts will be to pray in response (Psalm 119:36).
Prayer can feel overwhelming. How do I know where to begin?, we ask. Choosing patterns for prayer has helped me pray more consistently and with greater intentionality.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Is anyone currently asking you about your prayer life? If you want to make prayer a habit, ask a trusted, believing friend to hold you accountable by checking in with you on a weekly basis: “How has your prayer time been? How can I pray for you in that regard?” See if you might hold them accountable as well.
At this point, some of you might be feeling discouraged because you haven’t sought to make a habit of prayer. Friends, because of Christ, you can lift your drooping heads and strengthen your weak knees—it’s never too late to start! God delights to provide for us the desire, motivation, and ability to commune with him in prayer, and he has secured this high privilege for you to draw near through the sacrifice of his Son.
You’re never too late, nor is God ever too far away. Prayer is a gift and, through his strength, it can become a habit for you.