Jesus: The Ultimate Example of Biblical Manhood?

The question was first posed when I read a Twitter thread asking questions about biblical manhood and womanhood, particularly as relates to being like Jesus. Soon afterwards, I heard someone assert that Jesus is the ultimate example biblical manhood. And these things got me thinking…

Christians are called to follow the example of Christ in some ways. We are not God and we are not called to die to save humanity from sin, but we are called to Christlikeness. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And again, Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

In some ways, it makes sense to say that Jesus could be described as the ultimate example of biblical manhood: Jesus was, of course, the perfect human, and he was a man. Thus it seems reasonable to tell men to follow the example of Christ as a way to live out their maleness in a healthy and holy way.

However, there are at least two potential problems. First, nowhere in the Bible are men in particular called to emulate the example of Christ as an example of godly masculinity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong to do so, but it’s important to note that the Bible itself does not make this call. Second, if men are to follow Christ’s example as the ultimate example of biblical masculinity, then who are women to look to as the ultimate example of biblical femininity? To ask it in a different way, if women follow Christ, will they not be walking in obedience? Are women to follow Christ only in some ways?

I don’t have answers to these questions (yet), but I do think it’s worth considering. I’m curious if you all have any thoughts on this.

Here’s what I do know: Jesus Christ, God become human, is not primarily our example; he is primarily our Savior. He knew neither sinful nature nor particular sins, yet he (in some mysterious way) took on our sin and the punishment we deserved for it, so that we could, by faith, receive the gift of the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.That is the most important thing to know about Jesus.

And secondly, we are called, once we are saved, to live out our new identity as ones who are forgiven and adopted children of God. This is possible because of Christ in us, making us new. And it is reasonable in light of the great work of salvation God has joyfully wrought for those who trust him.

So let us all–male and female–press on to know, love, imitate, and serve our Savior today and every day.

Isaiah 58:1-12 // The Fast That God Desires

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Text: Isaiah 58:1-12, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty and Everlasting God, let us feast with gladness upon Your holy word that it may give us strength to love You and love our neighbor. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

I never knew my great-grandfather personally. He went to be with the Lord when I was just 6 months old, but I’ve heard many stories about him and about his character.

One of the things that I hear about a lot is that when supper was on the table and there was only one piece of chicken or one piece of cornbread or one piece of whatever left, he would never take it. He always wanted someone else to have it, and I think that attitude of self-denial for the sake of others is what God is commanding here in Isaiah 58. Peter Leithart notes:

“For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body. We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical. The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked. The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.


Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure. After all, if food and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them? Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.[1]

What we have in this passage is a distinctly different message about fasting than the one we hear on mainstream Christian media.

  • There’s very little teaching and preaching about fasting anymore, but when we do hear it mentioned, it’s not spoken of as a way to be more devoted to God, or as a way to refrain from our own resources so that we can share them with others.
  • Instead we hear it spoken of like a glorified hunger strike to “earn God’s favor” or to get God to “release” blessings into our lives as some false teachers on TBN or Daystar would tell us.

 

However, these people that Isaiah is addressing would probably fall right in line with all of that nonsense on mainstream Christian media because if we’re being honest, our human nature hasn’t changed much since Isaiah’s day.

 

  • Our sinful nature would like to believe that we can manipulate the blessings of God with a hunger strike and call it a fast, and believe that it will be acceptable, but this in no way resembles the fast that God has chosen.

 

As we look at the text, I want us to break it down in four parts:

  • V. 1 – God’s Command to His Prophet
  • V. 2-5 – God’s Accusation Against His People
  • V. 6-7 – God’s Instruction To His People
  • V. 8-14 – God’s Promises to His People

God’s Command to His Prophet (v. 1)

“Cry out loudly, don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a trumpet. Tell my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins.” – Isaiah 58:1, CSB

 

We need men and women in our day with a prophetic voice who will cry loudly and not hold back when it comes to the issue of sin.

  • Sin separates us from God, and to be separated from God is a fearful thing, and ultimately I think the reason we don’t see a lot of pastors talking about sin the way the Bible does is because they don’t believe God or they don’t believe God will keep His word in regards to all of the warnings that He gives concerning sin.

 

Ezekiel 18:1 is very clear: the soul that sins shall die. People are dead in their sins, marching aimlessly towards death, hell, and destruction and the only way they’ll be made alive is if someone cares enough to proclaim what God has spoken.

 

  • It’s a sad thing when we allow people into our pulpits who don’t believe that heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and damnation aren’t high priority issues, but I’ll tell you what is: winning at life, living your best life now, making sure every day is a Friday.
    • You can win in this life, and lose in the next life.

“Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33, CSB

Losing doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Now, does it?

This is the whole reason that Isaiah is commanded to cry aloud and not hold back. God’s people are trying to fast try to do all these acts of piety and religion, not for God, not for others, but for themselves.

 

  • They’re giving things away to get an ego boost in return.
  • They’re esteeming their lives and their egos of more worth or value than the people they’re supposed to be helping, and as a result, God doesn’t hear them!
    • It’s not as if God has a hearing problem. It’s not as if God actually can’t hear what’s going on, but God refuses to entertain the prayers of those who refuse to repent.

 

That’s why Jesus tells us that if we’re giving a gift to God, and we remember that someone has something against us, we can’t pretend like everything is okay. We have to leave our gift at the altar, make things right with our brother, and then give the gift. (Matthew 5:23-26)

That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7, that if a husband doesn’t treat his wife with honor and understanding, then God will not hear his prayers.

 

God isn’t going to entertain the prayers of people who think they’re going to get some kind of divine pat on the head for being good little boys and girls. Instead, God brings an accusation against them.

God’s Accusations Against His People (v. 2-5)

“They seek me day after day and delight to know my ways, like a nation that does what is right and does not abandon the justice of their God. They ask me for righteous judgments; they delight in the nearness of God.” – Isaiah 58:2, CSB

 

If we just look at verse 2, then they appear to be doing right, but as we continuing reading, we see that all of this is just for show.

 

“Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!” – Isaiah 58:3a, CSB

 

They want God to be impressed with them.

 

  • “Look, God! Can’t you see all we’ve done for you!?”

 

And this is God’s response:

 

“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. 4 You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high. 5 Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny himself, to bow his head like a reed, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord?” – Isaiah 58:3b-5, CSB

 

The accusation from God comes in three parts:

 

  1. They do as they please on their fast day.

They’re going through the motions. They don’t view their fasting as an opportunity to seek God. Instead they’re going about their day as they normally would, they’re committing the same old sins and transgressions that they normally would. They’re oppressing the same people that they normally would, but by golly, they’re in the temple every time the doors are open.

 

  • They make life harder for their workers.

 

In the temple, they’re worshipping, they’re leaving their offerings, and they’re making sure everyone knows that they’re fasting, but then they go to work and make life harder on the people around them.

“During Isaiah’s time, the temple in Jerusalem was standing room only. No one missed a service. They sang psalms – old ones, new ones, all kinds of psalms. They said prayers and gave offerings. What they did not do was let worship trouble their consciences. If they kept their distance from God, then they could also keep their distance from God’s children. They did not want to make connections between their worship and their neighbors. They ignored the poor and everyone else they wanted to ignore.[2]” – Brett Younger

 

Think about that one line that Younger said out of that quote though – “What they did not do was let worship bother their consciences.”

 

  • How many times have we done that? How many times have we refused to allow ourselves to be convicted, and we just shoved it off by saying, “Oh, that preacher is just trying to make me feel bad. He’s just using scare tactics.”
    • All the while, God’s word is doing it’s work on us, it’s piercing our soul and spirit, it’s dividing our bones and marrow and we just squirm in our seats and hope it’s over with, but the reality of the situation is that letting God’s word work on us is the best thing we could do.
    • If you take a 5 year old to get a shot, they’re going to sit there and squirm and probably cry because they’re afraid of the pain, but the truth is that the best they could do is just sit there and let it happen. It’s the same way with us. The best thing we could when God’s word pierces us is just sit there and let it happen because we’ll come out better on the other side. We’ll be more conformed to the image of Christ than we were before.

 

 

  • They think they deserve to be heard.

 

“You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”
– Isaiah 58:4b, CSB

 

Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about the hypocrites and the Gentiles.

 

“When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” – Matthew 6:7, CSB

 

  • When we think that we have a right to be heard because of what we do, then we won’t be heard.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Kirk preached on Joshua 7 about Achan storing gold from the enemy in his tent after God had spoken the people and told them to destroy everything.
    • We can’t expect the fruit of obedience when we pursue disobedience.

 

The accusation against God’s people is clear: they have an entitlement problem. They want to believe that they can be rewarded by worshipping God in the temple, and making life harder for their neighbors in the workplace.

 

  • When you’re in a place of authority over other people, it’s easy to let your ego get in the way, it’s easy to allow yourself to believe that you are better than those that you’re over because, after all, you’re in this position, and they’re not, but as far as God is concerned everyone’s on the same playing field.
  • Think about the people we interact with on daily basis – the guy working the drive-thru at McDonald’s, the cashier at the gas station, the electronics associate at Walmart. Think about what happens when they make a common mistake.
    • Do we get out of shape about it, threaten to call corporate get some fired? Maybe not. Do we shoot them dirty looks and wish no one else was around so we could give them a piece of our mind? Maybe. Or are we patient with them because God has been patient with us.

 

So, God’s accusation against His people are clear, but so are His instructions.

 

God’s Instruction To His People (v. 6-10)

“Isn’t this the fast I choose: to break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7, CSB

 

The fast that God chooses does five things things:

  1. Sets Free Those Who are Bound (v. 6)
    1. Verse 6 is a picture of freedom – breaking chains, tearing off yokes, untying ropes, etc. We know that Jesus is in the business of setting people free, and if that’s the case, then we as Jesus’ people should also be in the business of setting people free.
  2. Feeds Those Who Are Hungry – “share your bread with the hungry” (v. 7)
  3. Shelters the Homeless – “bring the poor and homeless into your house”
    (v. 7)
  4. Clothes the Naked (v. 7)
  5. Makes You Available to People – “not to ignore your own flesh and blood” (v. 7)

 

Fasting isn’t simply about giving up food, it’s about giving up our resources and rights for the benefits of others.

 

  • The most powerful example of this is Jesus Himself.

 

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8, CSB

 

We look at this picture of Jesus emptying Himself, becoming a servant, dying on a cross, and we might be tempted to think that he went through all that so that we wouldn’t have to go through all of that, but that’s not the case.

 

“Jesus didn’t die on the cross simply so that we wouldn’t have to, but he died on the cross so that we would take up our cross and follow Him.” – Dallas Willard

 

  • When you take up your cross and follow Jesus, then you go to die with Him.

 

Think about what Paul says in Galatians 2:20.

 

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, CSB

 

Think about each word and each phrase of that verse. Paul is saying very clearly that He died with Christ.

 

Back in Romans 6:3, Paul uses the same language of death and resurrection when he says that all of us who were baptized in Christ was baptized into His death, and we were baptized into His death so that we could be raised into newness of life.

 

  • The more you follow Christ, the more you lean into Christ, the more die to yourself, the more you do those things, the more you are living in the newness of life.

 

The more you find yourself living in the newness of life, the more you realize that you don’t need the material things that you thought you needed.

 

  • Yes, you need a house, but maybe you don’t need a 5 bedroom, 4 bath, 3 story house.
  • Yes, you need a vehicle, but maybe you don’t need a 2019 Lincoln Town Car.

Fasting and celebrating Lent is an opportunity to examine what you can afford to live without and share with others, but it’s also an opportunity to see what has a hold on us.

 

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.[3]” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 

Once you see what’s controlling you, once you see what you can live without, then God makes a promise in verses 8-10.

 

  • It’s interesting to me that God isn’t simply calling us to a fast, He’s calling us to genuineness. He’s calling us to honesty.
    • These people that God is talking to may be able to live without food for a while, but they can’t live without power. They can’t live without prestige. They can’t live without privilege, and God says that if you really want to fast, then giving up your food isn’t good enough, you’ve got to give up these things too, and when you do, you get the benefits and promises listed in verses 8-10.

God’s Promises to His People (v. 8-14)

“Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer; when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of the yoke among you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, 10 and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. 11 The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry. 12 Some of you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the foundations laid long ago; you will be called the repairer of broken walls, the restorer of streets where people live.” – Isaiah 58:8-12, CSB

 

Verses 8-12 in this chapter is a picture of how God intends for us as His people to live.

 

We are to be a people who fill in the broken gaps of the world with our love and kindness, specifically the same love and kindness that God has shown us in Christ.

 

The best illustration I can think of how this might work is that there’s a giant pot hole in the road that goes to and from our apartment in Lamar. That pothole is an area where the road is broken and in need of repair, and the best thing the city could do is fill that part of the road with new asphalt.

  • Well, as the church when we see brokenness, we need to do what we can repair it. When we give to the women’s shelter, when we give to the Main Street Mission, when we get a motel room for a homeless couple, we’re filling a need, we’re repairing the broken walls as it says in verse 12.

Conclusion

Fasting isn’t simply about subtracting from your life, it’s about adding to your life in place of what you subtract.

 

  • You fast from food so that you can add worship, prayer, and devotion.
  • You take time away from normal things that might bring you pleasure (that may not be wrong in and of themselves) so that you can seek a higher pleasure only found in God.

 

In the late 1700’s the Puritan preacher, Thomas Chalmers, preached one of his most famous sermons, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” and the whole idea of this sermon was that it isn’t enough to simply abstain from sin, from worldly pleasures, from the love of the world, we have to replace those things with something else, namely a desire for God.

 

The question I want to leave us with this morning, is do we desire God?

 

If you fear that you do not desire God enough, and I think that’s a healthy fear to have, then you can pray, “God, increase my desire for You!” And that’s a prayer I believe He will honor.

 

  • It’s like the man who said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” We can say, “Lord, I love You, but I want to love You and desire You more.” Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we hear these words from Isaiah 58, and we are convicted to the very core of our being because we are guilty, but by Your grace, You set the guilty free. We are like the woman caught in adultery, except we’re caught in selfishness, greed, pride, lust, and every other vice and fault we can think of, and like that woman, You tell us, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more,” and that’s what we want. We don’t want to continue in our sin. We want freedom, true freedom that only comes from You. Set us free to love You and serve You. Set us free from carnal pleasure and desires. Give us a desire love You and love one another. Give us the grace and strength to love those that seem unlovable so that they can come to know You and be apart of Your family that we call the Church. We ask all of these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love one another. Amen.

____________________________

  1. Leithart, Peter, and Peter Leithart. “Fasting and Pleasure.” Patheos, Patheos, 6 Sept. 2017, www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2008/12/fasting-and-pleasure/.
  2. Brett Younger, “Homiletical Perspective: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12),” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
  3. Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperOne, 2018.

A Life Made Possible: A Review of ‘Hannah’s Child’ by Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah's Child Review

I don’t know that I could rightly identify as a Hauerwasian. I am a Calvinist, and I am quite happy to be in that camp. However, I knew he was the real deal when I read a quote that’s often attributed to him – “Jesus is Lord, everything else is bullsh*t.” When I first read that I knew I had to, at the very least, discover his background. After all, what is it that would cause him to such a conclusion and state it in the way that he did?

Hauerwas is a Texan by birth and the son of a bricklayer by trade. Through the course of certain life events (I’ll let you read the book to find out what those events are) he would end up in Divinity School not even knowing whether or not he was a Christian.

Maybe I’m wrong in what I’m about to say or maybe I’m just reading myself too much into his story, but it seems to me that in this book, Hauerwas not only takes us on his journey of faith but also provides an often critical commentary on Christendom in America from his raising at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in rural Texas to his current home at the Church of the Holy Family in North Carolina, and everywhere in between.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.

“Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist,

(As the pastor of a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, I feel that deeply. 😏)

which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had the be “saved.” Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for “personal prayer” at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.”

With this simple paragraph, Hauerwas puts into perspective and reveals that how we view corporate church gatherings in the South is just plain weird. (After all, the early church didn’t have hour long hymn singings from their Heavenly Highway Hymnal in the first few centuries. 😏)

As we follow Hauerwas up into the north (or as we might call it “Yankee territory”) he seems more at home in the churches in the north where ideas like church membership and the sacraments are treated with more gravity. Although Pleasant Mound (later named Pleasant Grove) would always be a special place, sometimes the place you call ‘home’ changes.

I can relate to that. My grandfather was the pastor at an independent Full Gospel church in a small town called Blackwell. Blackwell was known for it’s bar and two liquor stores. Hardly anyone knew that there were churches there, and honestly, I think that the churches were to blame for their own obscurity. God knows there was no shortage of people there to love and share Jesus with.

However, that little church was my home. The church disbanded and we left, but to this day, I still take drives to see the building and reflect on that wonderful place that I called home.

One of the most remarkable things that I was able to take from this book is how Hauerwas dealt with his first wife, Anne. His wife had some severe mental sicknesses that caused her to be irrational and often caused her to go into fits where she believed that she was in love with other men. Eventually, this led to their divorce, but for the time that they were married it was amazing to read about how gracefully and patiently he dealt with her. I think the reason that he put up with her behavior as long as he did was because they had a son together, and he was trying to keep the family together for his sake.

As someone who has been close to someone with severe mental disorders, his experience has informed my own, and has been a helpful guide for me in dealing with people who have mental illnesses but refuse help or treatment. Although, I don’t think Hauerwas would believe his work to be instructional, it truly has been instructional for me.

One other thing I would like to note about this work before I close out this review is his treatment of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11th had forever changed the world. Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11th was a decisive event. That was exactly the problem. For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in A.D. 33. Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11th had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.”

Time magazine would ask Hauerwas to write an article about the war on terror for their February 23, 2003 issue. For context: Stanley Hauerwas is an advocate of Christian non-violence. This means all war, from his perspective, is evil and can in no way be considered just so his perspective would be an altogether different one from many of the Falwell’s, Graham’s, and Jeffress’s of the nation who proudly made sure their voice was heard.

Here’s an excerpt from his article.

“G. K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush’s use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after September 11th needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans wants to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause. That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of a war against “evil.”

Although I’m not certain if I would call myself a pacifist or an advocate of Christian non-violence, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments, and when I read this paragraph I gave it a loud and hearty “AMEN!”

Hauerwas concludes his book by saying that his life was made possible by people who prayed for him. I find that statement to be true in my own life. Like Hauerwas, my life is a result of the prayers of my family. I don’t think I would be who I am had not my grandparents prayed for God work in and through my life.

So, would I recommend this book? If you don’t have the patience to wade through talk about the academic politics, then run far, far away, but you would like to read a compelling story about a theologian finding himself in the world of theology and academia, then by all means, read. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, but I also know that not everyone enjoys the same things that I do.

But if you decide to try it out and can’t wade through the politics and academic language, then just read the first two chapters, and then jump to the back of the book and read the last three chapters. I promise, you’ll get something positive out of it.

 

On Wearing Your Ash for a Hat

Ashhat

When I start this discussion, I want to be very clear. I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the season of Lent. (If you grew up under an evangelical rock like I did and are unfamiliar with these terms then here’s a good article to get you started, and here’s another one.)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are times when we can reflect on our sin and brokenness, and be thankful for God’s grace working in and through our lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

However, something I’m not a big fan of is people who go to an early Ash Wednesday service in the morning or maybe they receive ashes sometime around noon and then they wear their ashes on their forehead in public all day long.

I think receiving the ashes is a helpful reminder that we are sinful creatures that deserve death, and the ashes remind us that we will return to the dust from which we came. However, wearing them in public shows people that you’re celebrating Lent, and if people know that you’re celebrating Lent, then they know that you are fasting from something.

Jesus very plainly tells us in His Sermon on the Mount that we shouldn’t make our righteousness obvious to people.

“Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18, CSB

 

If we have to practice our righteousness before others in order for it to be valid, then we prove that our righteousness is not genuine, and if our righteousness is not genuine, then it’s not a righteousness that comes from Christ.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through Isaiah to condemn the way that God’s people were fasting. They were giving up their food just fine, but they couldn’t give up their power, their greed, or their mistreatment of others. They finally ask in Isaiah 58:3, “Why have we fasted, but you have not seen? We have denied ourselves, but you haven’t noticed!”

And then God gives them the answer: “Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast, and oppress all your workers. You fast with contention and strife to strike viciously with your fist. You cannot fast as you do today, hoping to make your voice heard on high.”(Isaiah 58:3-4, CSB)

In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that when we fast we really become aware of the things that have a stronghold on us. (I’m paraphrasing.) If we can give up food, but we can’t give up power, privilege, or prestige, then what do we really live off of? Where does our life come from? Are we genuinely seeking God or are we just wearing our ash for a hat?

From Isaiah 58 to Matthew 6, and even up to now, people haven’t changed that much, but God’s word to them still remains the same. If we’re going to fast during Lent, we should do so biblically, and to fast biblically is to fast discreetly, and we should give up the things that matter – our wills, our desires, and our own righteousness.

Instead, we should seek after God’s will, God’s desires, and God’s righteousness. Do we care about what God cares about? Do we want the same things that God wants? Lent is the perfect time to pray, fast, open our Bibles, and listen to Him.

Don’t Trust Someone Who Says They Have a Perfect Understanding of Scripture (because they don’t)

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A thousand apologies in advance if this post is disjointed, rambling, or otherwise incoherent. Due to a busy schedule, it has been literally months in the making.

I actually did not come up with the wording of the title of this article. It was Phil Johnson of Grace To You who said it in a radio broadcast when talking about a young man he was in correspondence with, who made this very claim. The young man said to Brother Johnson that he was writing a book about such and such, and he disagreed with him. He denied any need for correction and rejected it when offered to him. After all, he did say he has a perfect understanding of Scripture. I say he was writing about such and such because I can’t quite remember what Brother Johnson said it was about, but apparently, he was blatantly wrong, and not only that, he was trying to publish how wrong he was on this certain doctrine to the entire world. He was (and it is assumed, still is) wrong at the top of his lungs. I suppose a good alternate title for this article could be– “An Exhortation to Humility in Interpreting and discussing Scripture”

First: Two Extremes

Before the exhortation should come some context would be helpful. There are two extremes, or ditches, one can fall into as it relates to scripture interpretation. Both are ungodly and worldly. One is to be so very theologically or interperetively “humble” that you are squishy. The other is to be so very dogmatic that you are right, and there is no possibility you could be wrong, so hang any counsel from anyone else, especially if they are in disagreement. To say they are ditches or extremes, though makes it sound as if the correct view is somewhere in between.

It is, and it isn’t. Practically, the correct view is between the soft and hard view. However, there is no in between when it is pride and a false humility, which is also pride. Both are the same sin. In practice, it isn’t the road in between. It is a different road entirely.

The Theological and Doctrinal Jelly Sack

The “soft” approach, or false humility, is perhaps the worse of these two approaches to treating scripture, and subsequently, theology and doctrine. I say it is the worse of the two because it is the most disingenuous of the two. It purports humility, but practically is very proud.

This approach is often utilized by theological liberals and socinians. Since liberals are supposed to be the “nice guys,” it is necessary that in exercising pride, they be as deceptive as possible. The fact of the matter is that all humans are savage beasts, whether conservative or liberal. However, this deceptive approach baits people in by sounding very nice and open to everything, while espousing dangerous teachings and their teachers who are either hirelings or, worse yet, ravenous wolves. They believe abandoning standards communicated clearly in scripture is actually the biblical standard. They believe that since they are following the spirit of Jesus’ ministry, the actual words of Christ Himself doesn’t really matter. Besides, scripture was written by men, and is not as reliable as “personal revelation.” Such is the case when covenants and confessions and creeds are abandoned in the name of “diversity.”

I say hang their notion of diversity. We need unity.

The Theological and Doctrinal Fence Post

The “hard” approach, much like a brick or stone wall, is like a fence post (fence posts cannot be convinced of much).  I only use this term because in the self aggrandizing minds of these folks, brick and stone walls may connote unmoving strength, so let’s call them fence posts. They aren’t just any fence post though, lest they think they’re being compared to a good, strong corner post, used to stretch a six strand barbed wire fence. They are rotton wooden posts that aren’t even good for holding up any wire. They are utterly worthless, they stand alone, and if you argue with one, you won’t get anywhere at all.

This kind is so proud, they don’t even make an attempt at hiding their pride behind a lie. They openly and adamantly reject anyone offering a different insight than their own, especially if someone is biblically seeking to correct them in one of their faults.

These are the people who would claim perfect understanding of scripture, or at least claim the capability to potentially gain a perfect understanding in this life. They can argue using Scripture, though only by accepting the verses they can agree with, while wrenching verses out of context they find impossible to reconcile with their flawed views. Oddly enough, these might also abandon covenants, confessions, and creeds. Some are apt to write their own doctrinal statement, rejecting a biblical confession belonging to their own church, association, or denomination. I’m not knocking writing a confession of one’s own, that’s how they were done in the past, either by writing a confession as a new ministry or group of churches, as a person in bonds of persecution answering accusers, or as a summary or clarification of  a previous confession.  If you’re working with something that is already good, though, why change it? These confessions help us to submit to the authority of our church and to the authority of scripture, not of our vain minds. Ideally, they should eliminate pride in oneself.

And Now, the Feature Presentation.

“1LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. 2Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. 3Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.” Psalm 131

To begin, perhaps a bit of context is nessecary. This psalm is one of a series of psalms called psalms of ascent, or psalms of degrees. People. They were sang by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts, or by the worshippers and priests on their way up the steps of the temple. Considering the length of each psalm in the group, they were also likely psalms taught to children at home, or as devotions for such events as approaching Jerusalem and the Temple.

This psalm in particular focuses on child-likeness (not childishness), and teaches a very important attitude to have before God and man. It is a statement of child like humility. It instills this attitude in children who are learning these psalms. It is a proclamation to those taking their families to Jerusalem for the feast. Perhaps more importantly, for the men in the priesthood, it showed them the same as they approached the temple.

We are told likewise elsewhere in scripture, to be meek like children. This meekness surely doesn’t include a high opinion of oneself. In fact, I believe that you’ll find some of the highest level theologians never really consider themselves masters, but always students of the scriptures.

I, in no way, want to be the one to wear a badge labeled “Mr. Humble,” so I’ll just say I know a guy who can wear that badge and I try to be like him. There are issues that are clear in scripture that are fundamental to the Christian Faith, which only heretics deny. There are also things like baptism and eschatology that are also clear, which have no bearing on salvation. I suggest these things are important, and would affect which church I’m a member of, but it’s okay if a Presbyterian is wrong on this, or if the non-denominational (Baptist crossed with Assemblies of God) is wrong on that. What is important is that we agree on the basic doctrines that make Christianity what it is, whether you’re a Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist.

To Conclude…

When it comes to doctrinal issues, many of us are either very proud, very ignorant, or both. We are proud because, “I’m me, and I don’t believe anything that is wrong! There’s no amount of exegesis that will persuade me of this biblical truth. I’ll misquote and take as much scripture out of context as I please! I’m right, and if we differ, then you have your place with the devil!”

Otherwise, we are ignorant, which I believe is a majority of Christians who say, “Well, it has to be true- my granny, or my dad, or brother whistle britches believes that way! Surely they can’t be wrong, and if you quote that verse one more time, you’ll insult my dead grandparents’ faith, and I’ll rip your throat out. But hey! Let’s just agree to disagree!”

Of course, there’s the ignorant who are proud of it who say, “It doesn’t really matter what the Bible says about that. We are on the right side of history here, and this is how we attract people to our movement. Now, how ‘bout a Fortnite tournament and some pizza to help you forget your serious doctrinal question. Have this album from Bethel or Hillsong United!”

 

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (A book review)

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What if most people get poverty all wrong? What if the way we try to alleviate poverty makes things worse for everyone?

Several years ago, when my sister came to visit on a college break, she talked about community development and poverty in a way that mesmerised me. She described poverty as being about broken relationships and poverty alleviation as being about restoring those relationships. She talked about the need to differentiate between relief, rehabilitation, and development and the disastrous results when we don’t.

All these thoughts came from her studies in Community Development at Covenant College. Her (now former) professors are some of the world’s leading experts on poverty alleviation. So I decided to read the book her professors wrote: When Helping Hurts by Mr. Steve Corbett and Dr. Brian Fikkert. I was blown away by their insights, and it revolutionized the way I viewed poverty. To this day, I regularly think about principles in their book, which have effected the way I approach people, theology, social ills, and politics. Recently, I decided it was time to re-read it, except this time I took notes. (Which makes it much easier for me to write this book review. 😉)

Before we begin, I will note that this book is written primarily to North American Christians, though certainly anyone could benefit. It also acknowledges the fact that most North American Christians are some of the wealthiest people in the world, even if not all are wealthy by American standards. However, I’m aware that some of my readers may themselves have experienced or be experiencing poverty. For those in that category, I hope this book review can be an encouragement.

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The Book’s Purpose

Authors Corbett and Fikkert begin with the assertion that the North American Church is composed of some of the wealthiest people ever to live. Conversely, 40% of the world population struggles even to eat everyday. This book was written because North American Christians, as a whole, are failing to adequately care about an address poverty in North America and in the rest of the world. It was also written because when North American Christians DO attempt poverty alleviation, it often makes worse the very problems they are trying to solve by applying simplistic solutions TO the poor instead of working WITH the poor, thereby perpetuating shame amongst the poor and god-complexes amongst those trying to help the poor.

The call, then, is to care about and do more for poverty alleviation AND to do it in a way that gets to the root of issues, while neither hurting the poor nor ourselves in the process. As the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” It is imperative for Christians to care about poverty.

Why Should Christians Care About Poverty?

Christians are called to care for God’s creation and to participate in spreading God’s kingdom IN A HOLISTIC MANNER. In other words, though personal piety and the preaching of the gospel are VITAL, they are not the sum total of what Christians are Christians are to be about. In the words of Tim Keller, “The kingdom [of Jesus] is the renewal of the whole world through the entrance of supernatural forces. As things are brought back under Christ’s rule and authority, they are restored to health, beauty, and freedom.” Jesus died to reconcile us to God, BUT ALSO to reconcile us to one another and to creation.

Before the 20th century, Christian’s led the way in ministering to the poor in both physical and spiritual ways. This changed in the 1930s when evangelicals battled theological liberals over core doctrinal beliefs. At this time, because of its supposed connection to theological liberalism, evangelicals largely abandoned the poor. The shift was so dramatic, it has been called “The Great Reversal.” (It should be noted that this happened decades before Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty,” which evangelicals sometimes blame for the church’s retreat from poverty alleviation efforts.) In other words, throughout much of the history of the North American Church, theologically-conservative Christians were deeply and practically concerned about the poor.

What is Poverty?

How you answer this question will have profound effects on how you IDENTIFY poor people, what you BELIEVE about them, and HOW YOU SEEK ADDRESS THEIR SITUATION. If you believe poverty comes from lack of knowledge, you will want to EDUCATE the poor. If you believe poverty is a result of oppression, you will seek JUSTICE through social and legal means. If poverty comes from sinful and unwise choices, you will share the GOSPEL and truths about Christian living. If you believe poverty is due to lack of financial resources, you will donate MONEY. (Does this remind anyone else of the divergent ways Republicans and Democrats speak about and seek to address poverty?)

Brian Myers, a Christian development leader defines poverty in the following way: “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” Corbett and Fikkert echo the sentiment by describing poverty as being about broken relationships with God, with self, with others, and/or with creation. When these relationships are intact and functioning in a healthy way, people are able to fulfill their purpose AND provide for themselves.

An important aspect of these definitions is the realization that ALL of us are poor in some way. All of us need to have relationships restored to healthy functioning. “One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” (Page 61) This cuts to the heart of the god-complexes that many American Christians possess. ALL of us are broken, and ALL of us need restoration and healing, not just the obviously poor.

It is important, however, to specifically differentiate between the broad concept of poverty and material poverty in particular, which is a lack of material resources. Usually when people talk about poverty, this is the kind of poverty to which they are referring. Though the Bible uses “poor” in multiple senses (e.g. “poor in spirit”), the Bible’s called to help the poor is talking specifically about the materially poor.

Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development

One of the most important components of poverty alleviation is rightly differentiating between relief, rehabilitation, and development. The authors assert that one of the biggest problems when North American Christian try to alleviate poverty is the application of relief principles to rehabilitation or development situations. This might look like building a person a house while they sit, able-bodied, watching. So what’s the difference?

RELIEF addresses immediate needs when a person or group of people are incapable of meeting their own needs. This might occur immediately after a natural disaster or in the cases of mentally disabled homeless people, the very old, the very sick, and the very young. In cases such as these, relief is given to the poor with little participation from the poor themselves. Situations requiring relief are not the norm, but they do exist and should be dealt with quickly. Relief should be immediate, practical, rare, and temporary.

REHABILITATION begins “after the bleeding has stopped” and its goal is to restore the person or community to their pre-crisis level of functioning. In this stage, poverty alleviation happens in conjunction WITH the poor.

DEVELOPMENT then seeks to restore both the helpers and the helped to full levels of flourishing in their relationships with God, self, others, and creation. This also happens in partnership WITH poor.

One of the most important components of rehabilitation and development is “asset assessment.” This means that instead of starting with what the poor lack, the goal is to participate in analyzing the resources the poor ALREADY HAVE. This is called “asset-based community development” which is in opposition to “needs-based community development.” The goal is to evaluate the resources, skills, abilities, ideas, and solutions of the affected population, using these as the basis for facilitating poverty alleviation. How are their communities already organized? What programs or organizations are already in place to address these needs? What skills and resources do the poor already have? This process should be done in concert WITH those needing help, which in itself starts to restore a proper relationship with self as it encourages a sense of competence, self-esteem, and empowerment.

Other principles of good relief, rehabilitation, and development include the following. When possible, allow LOCAL organizations to help the affected community, perhaps partnering with them to assist their efforts. Start by taking care of the MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE and the MOST IMMEDIATE NEEDS, and do it in a fair and just way. Those assisting in poverty alleviation should be adequately trained both in their worldview (no paternalism; believing in the dignity of the poor; believing that God is already at work amongst the poor) and in the skills needed to do the work required. And finally, generally speaking, what people CAN do for themselves, they SHOULD do for themselves; feeling this sense of power and responsibility is actually PART OF THE PROCESS of restoring the broken relationships cause poverty.

Applications

After examining basic principles, Corbett and Fikkert turn to specific applications of these principles: short-term missions, U.S. material poverty, and global material poverty. I find it fascinating to see their philosophy applied in practical ways.

Short-term Missions

Having grown up in Southeast Asia, I myself have seen some bizarre things associated with short-term missions. From the arrogance of missionaries to the irresponsible use of funds. From culturally-insensitive behavior to paternalistic views of the local people.

But how can short-term missions be done well? Corbett and Fikkert suggest several practical ideas. First, make sure the host organization and local community are the ones initiating the request for help and are doing so in a way that is in line with good development principles. Along with this, those who will be going on the trip should have a clear understanding of what they will do and not do. Second, when recruiting team members, choose people who understand the purpose is less about saving the world and more about partnership and learning. It’s good if those interested in participating have already shown a heart for outreach and ministry in their local settings. Third, have adequate pre-field training that teaches some of the basic principles in this book including emphasizing that we are all poor. These conversations should continue WHILE ON THE MISSION TRIP and for A YEAR following the trip. Fourth, each member of the team should be required to pay part of their own expenses, perhaps raising an equal amount of money to donate to long-term missions or local development organizations. (Local organizations and long-term missionaries are generally much better equipped to make a lasting impact.)

US Material Poverty

What about in the United States? In the political arena, people often reference poverty, perhaps critiquing the way “the other side” deals with it. So what do Corbett and Fikkert have to say? In their view, the goal of material poverty alleviation is: “working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.” Obstacles to this include BROKEN SYSTEMS and BROKEN INDIVIDUALS. Broken systems may include racism, classism, and difficulty accessing safe and affordable housing, adequate education, and basic health care. Broken individuals may lack a healthy view of themselves or knowledge of how to better their situation. The exact contributing factors will vary by situation.

To address material poverty in the United States, it’s important to implement a relational, participatory, and developmental approach. In other words, relief is not (usually) what is needed; rehabilitation or development is. This means that the materially poor should participate in their journey towards restored relationships and providing for themselves.

There will generally be several components to poverty alleviation. Often, the materially poor can benefit from the development of soft skills (such as a good work ethic, social skills, dependability, communication), hard skills (related to a specific vocation), financial education, and worldview training. It may also be appropriate to connect them with government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which enables low-income workers to get tax credits for every hour they work; this, combined with a minimum wage salary may enable a family to live above the poverty line. Non-government organizations may be helpful in making available Individual Development Account Programs, which reward monthly savings via matching. One such program does a two-to-one match for every dollar saved.

Global Material Poverty

Global poverty is a huge issue. 2.6 billion people live on less than $2 a day. Economists believe that the long-term solution is to increase the number of large manufacturing firms. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough being started, which means there are not enough jobs. As a result, many people turn to farming or small businesses to support themselves. This is challenging for those in poverty because they lack capital and/or access to loans. The exception may be loan sharks, who routinely take advantage of poor people.

Enter the micro-financing revolution! Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate and economics professor, started a bank in Bangladesh to facilitate loans for poor people. Since it began in 1976, 7.58 million poor people have taken out loans from it for a total of $7.4 billion.

Through micro-financing, poor people are voluntarily put into borrowing groups and provide capital for other group members to take out small loans with a regimented repayment plan. In this system, poor people are coming together to help themselves and each other, and there is high accountability and motivation for loan repayment. While the number of large-scale manufacturing jobs are insufficient at present, micro-financing can be key to helping alleviate global poverty. However, the main disadvantage is that it focuses primarily on the material aspects of poverty.

Corbett and Fikkert work for a Christian development organization called the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. They have developed curricula to be used in conjunction WITH micro-financing that enables a more comprehensive approach to poverty alleviation. It includes business training, information on health, financial teaching, and worldview education (focusing on the four key relationships as well as the principles of dignity, stewardship, and discipline). This way, poor people are provided material resources to start small businesses WHILE gaining skills and support in other areas as well.

There are many ways that the North American Church can support micro-financing ventures globally. They can encourage and observe existing micro-financing efforts. They can subsidize training costs. They can facilitate training of those starting micro-financing ventures. They can donate to the evangelistic components of micro-financing institutions. They can financially invest in “business as missions” ventures. They can advocate for and promote organizations that use micro-financing. And they can pray for all the above.

Response

With so much information in this book, the authors then turn to what the proper response is, both for individuals and for communities.

Individual

Individuals, first of all, are called to repentance, if such repentance is necessary. Repentance for failure to care for the poor. Repentance for paternalistic attitudes and behaviors. Repentance for being disconnected from the full implications of Christ’s renewal of creation. “Without such repentance, our efforts to help the poor will continue to be characterized by providing material resources to the poor, rather than walking with them in humble and relational ways as we call on King Jesus to fix the root causes of both of our poverties.” (page 248)

Community

Corbett and Fikkert suggest a process whereby communities can mobilize together to address material property. “The goal of the process is to create a ‘community partnership,’ a group of individuals, associations (including churches), and institutions that cooperate to use the assets of the community to solve problems and to bring positive change to the community, i.e., to pursue ‘development.'”

The book recommends the following general process. First, interview all parties in the community. Second, identify community leaders, including those within the materially poor community. Third, form a team of identified leaders and conduct more interviews amongst the materially poor community. Fourth, choose a specific issue to begin addressing, one that is likely to be an easy success. Fifth, research and assess community assets, and begin the project. Sixth, evaluate the progress and celebrate successes. Finally, decide what is next; should the community partnership pick a different issue to work on or dig deeper into the current issue? Should the community partnership expand to include others or should it stay the same? In these ways, communities can pool their resources and expertise to address real problems in a way that honors the dignity, capabilities, and responsibilities of all involved.

My Reflections

When I first read this book about 4 years ago, I was fascinated! I was also grieved to realize my own wrong beliefs and attitudes about poverty. Honestly, this was one of those books that shifted my worldview–a game changer. It opened my eyes to the idea that problems in society can be because of broken individuals AND broken systems. This was a paradigm shift for me, which ended up preparing me to learn about American racism, which I wrote about here.

Growing up as a missionary kid in Southeast Asia, I could definitely relate to some of the critiques of short-term missions. I’ve seen short-term teams be culturally insensitive and prideful. I’ve been angered and grieved over all the money that goes towards short-term missions when indigenous organizations and long-term missionaries often suffer from lack of funds. Reading this book helped to explain my unease as well as help me see a positive way short-term missions can be done.

I’ve also seen tastes of global poverty, and I sometimes wonder at the immense wealth in the US (and the way it is often taken for granted). I remember when I was in graduate school studying elementary education, I visited a local public school with my classmates. We sat in a reading resource room to debrief our experience after classroom observations. Every single wall in the classroom was filled with reading material, and at one point, I started sobbing because of the immense resources that surrounded us. I wondered if the people at that school had any idea how blessed they were. Along with this, I myself have been challenged towards more thankfulness and less entitlement.

And finally, I was challenged to donate not just to missions but to community development and poverty alleviation efforts as I realized the integral role they play in the holistic spread of Christ’s kingdom.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book–particularly to North American Christians, but to others as well. It changed my worldview in good ways and has empowered me with knowledge to see people more accurately and to express practical care for others in productive, loving ways.

Resources

The authors of the book head up an organization called Chalmers Center for Economic Development. That would be a good resource for learning more about community development for my best practices in biblical perspective. (website) (Facebook).

I’m still learning about good community development organizations, but if you’re looking to check out specific organizations or donate to their work, here are a few I recommend. Food For the Hungry (website) and Care of Creation Kenya (website) are both good. Mission organizations I am particularly fond of are Wycliffe Bible Translators (website) and Mission to the World (website). (I grew up as a WBT/MTW missionary kid, and I think both of these organizations are excellent! 😉)

What have been your experiences with poverty or poverty alleviation? What organizations do you know off that are doing good work?

~Hannah 🌸

2 Timothy 4:1-5 // Our Mandate for Ministry

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[This sermon was preached on the evening of Friday, March 8th at the 2019 Spring Meeting of the Arkansas Presbytery by Candidate Logan Dixon.]

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Prayer for Illumination:

Shine within our hearts, Loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. [1]

Introduction:

That prayer for illumination that we just prayed is adapted from a 4th century liturgy of John Chrysostom.

 

From what we know about Chrysostom, he was a bold preacher of the word. He was an orator of his day, and earned the nickname “Bishop Golden-Mouth” because he was able to explain the text of Scripture so well that even the most impoverished and unlearned communicant could understand the Gospel.

 

You have to understand that in the 4th century almost everyone was illiterate, and even if the Scriptures were mass-produced at time (which they weren’t) it wouldn’t have done anyone any good. They couldn’t afford a copy of the Scriptures nor could they read them. All they knew was what was spoken in the homilies by their pastors and bishops, and what was presented in baptism and the sacraments.

 

Everytime the word was preached, every time they witnessed a baptism, and participated in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they heard and participated in the proclamation of the Word of God.  

 

And if there’s ever a time when we need a bold and clear proclamation of the word of God, it’s now. It’s today.

 

  • When so many voices are vying for our attention, when we have so many deceiving spirits trying to lure the people of God into falsehood and deception, we need to only hear one voice and that is the voice of God, and the only way to know what God has said is to open the book that He has given us.

 

“What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” – How Firm a Foundation

 

 

 

Context

I want us to think about the context for our passage this evening.

 

Paul writes two letters to Timothy over the course of Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus, and Paul’s first letter is general instructions about prayer in worship and the standards for pastors and elders in the church, and how the church should handle the financial support of widows.

 

This second letter that we’re reading from is much more personal. Paul knows his time is up and he’s probably asking himself, “If I’ve got one final word to say to a young pastor, to a son in the faith, what would I say?”

 

  • Really, it’s a profound question. If you knew your time was close, what would you say to a person or people that you knew you would influence.

 

Based on the reading of our passage, Paul’s final message to Timothy is clear: Preach the Word. This is what we’ve been called to do, this is our mandate for ministry.

 

This is what many of you have been charged with. You were ordained to word and sacrament. This is what I’m working towards right now as a candidate. I’m working towards getting ordained to word and sacrament.

 

Every time a pastor, an elder, or any person serving as pulpit supply such as myself stands behind this sacred desk our only obligation is proclaim what God has spoken in His Holy Word.

 

But before we really look at Paul’s charge to Timothy, let’s look at how he builds up to this statement. All throughout chapter 3, we get two pictures that Paul paints.

 

  • A picture of evil, and a picture of good.
  • A picture of chaos and a picture of order, specifically God’s order.

 

Look at chapter 3, where Paul describes the chaos.

 

“But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.

6 For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, 7 always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-7, CSB

 

In these 7 verses, Paul uses 19 words or phrases to describe the kinds of people that Timothy will be up against.

 

  • It’s almost as if Paul is using these words to take us on a tour through a wide gulf of immorality. 
  • Have you ever been on a guided tour through a museum? Paul is taking Timothy on a guided tour through a museum of the kinds of people that oppose the Gospel, and every exhibit he points to just gets worse and worse.  
    • Wife and I were on our honeymoon in Branson, and she wanted to go through the Talking Rocks Cavern (“big scary hole”). I had never been through a cave, and the lower we got, the deeper and darker it got, and one point the tour guide turned off what little light we had to show us how dark it was, and I couldn’t see in front of my face. I was gripping her hand the whole time, and this is what Paul is doing by describing at length those who deny, reject, or twist the message of Jesus Christ.

 

  • And probably the worst part about all of it, is this these aren’t simply secular pagans, these are people who claim to be believers. These are the kinds of people that will infiltrate the church. That’s what Paul says in 3:5, they’ll hold to a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.

 

Over the last two weeks at Mt. Carmel we’ve been walking through 2nd John, and this last Sunday we talked about the antichrists and deceivers of the world. However, these antichrists that John talks about didn’t come from the world, they went out from the church.

 

“Children, it is the last hour. And as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. By this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” – 1 John 2:18-19, CSB

 

And so, Paul tells Timothy that the way he’s going to know these people is the fact that they won’t have the same fruit.

 

  • They’ll have a form of godliness like we mentioned, but they’ll deny its power by the way they live. 
  • And they won’t stop there, the text says that they will “worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions. 
    • People can be led astray by their passions. We live in a time where truth is relative, I can have my truth, you can have your truth, and as long as we “tolerate” each other we can can get along hunky-dory. Anything can be true, you just have to “feel” that it’s true. Your passions just have to tell you that it’s true.

 

However, God’s word tells us a different story. God’s word tells us that we live in God’s world, and the only valid truth that we have is the truth that He establishes.

 

“Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world.” [2]
― Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

  • And it’s not a matter of “well, that’s true for us because we’re Christians,” No, that’s just the truth. Period.

 

Now, here’s the good news. Paul doesn’t just leave us there. It’s not as if we’re a bunch of sheep thrown to the secularist wolves.

 

If we look back at 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul tells us what will happen to these people.

 

“Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.”
– 2 Timothy 3:8-9, CSB

 

In these two verses, Paul summarizes Exodus 7 and 8 where Moses goes before Pharaoh, and as a sign to show that God is with him he has Aaron throw down his staff, and it turns into a snake.

 

Well, Pharaoh’s heart is hard so instead of relenting, and accepting this as a sign from God, he calls for Jannes and Jambres (his personal wizards, his Hocus Pocus hitmen) to throw down their staffs and they also turn into snakes, and then according to Scripture, Aaron’s staff swallows both of their staffs, and of course it makes them look bad in front of Pharoah. (Exodus 7:12)

 

  • And Paul says that this is exactly what’s going to happen in the end. These false teachers, these immoral people can’t win, and the reason they can’t win is because they’re visitors trying to win on the home turf.  
  • Here’s what I mean by that: Jesus spoke about this kind of situation when he gave us the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30). He tells us that the master planted good seed, but an enemy came in and planted bad seed, and then when Jesus explains the parable, He tells us that the field is the world, and there’s coming a day then the master of the field will come and separate the wheat and the tares. 
    • Why? Because the tares don’t belong in the field. Antichrists, deceivers, and false teachers don’t belong in the Church. They are intruders and trespassers in God’s world,  and I would go as far as saying that allowing the foolishness of such people to be known is one of the ways in which the tares are separated from wheat.  
  • God, in due time, allows the tares to go forth teaching what Paul calls “the doctrine of devils,” and when they do that, their foolishness will soon be made known to all as we just read in 2 Timothy 3:9.

 

So, in verses 1-9, in 2 Timothy 3, Paul paints of picture of the ungodliness that will rear it’s ugly head in the church, and Paul says, “Don’t follow their example, don’t go their way,” and then in verse 10, he says, “Instead remember what you have learned.” “Take all these examples of ungodliness and replace them with examples of godliness that you have learned.” Look at 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

 

“But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:10-17, CSB

 

Paul directly addresses Timothy 8 times. He makes it clear to Timothy in no uncertain terms that the ball is in his court.

 

  • Timothy has been equipped with the truth since he was a child. He not only knows what is right and what is wrong, but he knows the consequences of either choice.  

 

  • So, this is where it comes down to us. We’ve got the secularism of the world on one side, and we’ve got the Scriptures on the other side. Now, where are we going to go?

 

  • It comes down what we trust more.  
    • So, here’s my argument for why we should trust the Bible: The Bible reads the world, but the world can’t read the Bible. Here’s what I mean: everything the Bible says about what’s in the world has been true since the day it was penned, and is still true now. Yet, what the world says about the Bible is wrong and inconsistent. 
    • The world tells us that the Bible can’t be trusted, the world tells us that the Bible is a fairy tale book, the world tells that this book isn’t God’s word, that there is no God, and we just made everything up to control people with fear.  
    • Yet, the Bible tells us that the world and it’s lusts are passing away. (1 John 2:17). The Bible tells us that the world has a Creator, and evidence for our Creator is all around us, and when we refuse to worship Him, we are suppressing the truth with our unrighteousness and we are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-23)

 

Just turn on the TV, get on YouTube, or pick up the newspaper, and it won’t take you long to find someone suppressing the truth with their unrighteousness by trying to pick a fight with a God that they allegedly don’t believe in, and if all this nonsense stayed out there in world it would be one thing, but unfortunately this has somehow found its way into the pulpits of some of our churches.

 

The question for us as pastors, pulpit supply ministers, and elders is this: are we going to stand our ground as believers on the truth of what God has said or are we going to bow to the pressure of a world that has no idea what truth even is?

 

In the face of pressure and persecution, Paul’s words to Timothy are God’s words for us now: PREACH. THE. WORD.

 

  • The preached word has power, and I think we forget that. We replace biblical sermons with programs and conversations because that’s what people want now, but there’s no power in ideas and imaginations of men, but THERE IS POWER in what saith the Lord.

 

“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.” – Isaiah 55:10-11, CSB

 

During the days of the Reformation, someone asked Martin Luther to explain the amazing success of the message of justification by faith alone. It was a good question because this message spread like wildfire across Europe even though Luther himself spent time in and out of prison. How could one man have changed the course of history?

 

Luther looked at the man who asked him the question, thought for a minute and said, “While I slept or drank beer in Wittenburg … the Word did the work. I didn’t do anything. The Word did it all.” That’s beauty of the word of God, it has power precisely because it is God’s word. There’s nothing that we do to give it power.

 

  • There’s nothing that we can do to make the word of God more or less effective.  
    • Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet from the romantic era in the 1800s. Something many people may not know about him is that he was a Unitarian minister, and when someone asked him about the inspiration of Scripture he said, “I believe Scripture is inspired because it inspires me.”  
    • Let me say emphatically that that IS NOT how we, as Christians, are to view Scripture. The Scriptures are not inspired because they appeal to our subjective view of inspiration. They are inspired because when we read Scripture, we are reading the very words of God, and it behooves as Christians, specifically as Cumberland Presbyterians to return to a high view of Scripture.

 

Our very own Confession of Faith tells us, “God inspired persons of the covenant community to write the scriptures.  In and through the scriptures God speaks about creation, sin, judgment, salvation, the church and the growth of believers. The scriptures are the infallible rule of faith and practice, the authoritative guide for Christian living.” (1984 Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith, 1.05)

 

Did you catch those three key words in there? Inspired. Infallible. Authoritative.

 

My question to us is: do we still believe that?

With all of that in mind, I want us to examine two points from the text. First, the content of Paul’s charge, and the reason for Paul’s charge.

The Content of Paul’s Charge (v. 2, 5)

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching… But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, 5, CSB

 

If we wanted to, we could really break this down and exposit every clause that Paul says, but the main thing that Paul charges Timothy with is to be ready armed with the Word.

 

  • If you’re gonna be ready with it, then you’ve got to stay in it. If you’re going to be armed with a gun, you better know how to use that thing. It’s no different. It’s no different. We have to live with the Bible.  
  • As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget what Chris Anderson said at the last Presbytery meeting, “we have to live with the Bible in one hand and the Confession of Faith in the other hand.”

 

While preaching over this same text, J. Ligon Duncan said, “There are a lot of people who think that preaching is some sort of a moral deliverance on some relevant subject, with pious advice and counsel. But Paul says that preaching is heralding the divinely authorized message of God to a sinful and needy world, and that the way to do that is to preach His word, to explain His word, to apply His word.” [3]

 

In medieval times, when a king wanted his kingdom to know something he would send out heralds, and those heralds were to go out to every part of the kingdom and say whatever the king had given them to say. They couldn’t compromise the message. They couldn’t insert their own thoughts or opinions. If they didn’t like the message, they couldn’t change it.

 

  • We are in a similar situation as those heralds were. We have the word of God, and our responsibility is to proclaim it loudly and clearly, and to watch it go forth with power and authority.

The Reason for Paul’s Charge (v. 1, 3-4)

There’s actually two reasons for Paul’s charge. Reason #1 is found in verse one.

“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, [at] his appearing and his kingdom:”
– 1 Timothy 4:1, CSB

 

The first reason for Paul’s charge is that when Christ returns, He will return as a judge.

 

  • He will not only judge those who hear the word preached, but He will judge those of us who teach and preach the word. James 3:1 tells us that those of us who teach will receive a more strict judgement than those who do not. 
    • In 2nd Peter 2, the Apostle Peter describes in graphic detail the judgement that Jesus Christ Himself will place upon those who are false teachers. 
  • Jesus will also judge those who believe those false teachers. In Revelation 2, when Jesus has John write to the church at Thyatira, He tells them that they have tolerated the woman Jezebel to teach, and that He has given her time to repent, but if she doesn’t repent, He will throw her onto a sickbed ALONG WITH her children (in this case, those who believe her teaching). (Revelation 2:22)

 

Paul is reminding Timothy that God will hold him accountable if he doesn’t stick to the truth of Scripture.

 

The second reason for this charge is found in verses 3-4.

 

“For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. 4 They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4, CSB

 

The second reason for the charge is because the world isn’t going to stop twisting the truth, and creating false narratives for people to believe in, and as long as that’s the case, the church should be a place where the truth is preached.

 

In a world full of shifting sand, the church should be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only foundation that people can build their lives on.

 

My hope and my prayer for us as Christians, as Cumberland Presbyterians, is that we would never abandon or trade the truth of God’s Word. We must remain to be a people who are committed to the truth of Scripture.

 

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, and we are Your people. Send the Holy Spirit to embed this word deep within us so we would never lose sight of it. Let us live out the truth of Your Word so that when the cares of this world would come against us, we will not be choked out, but by Your grace we would live strong and free with the strength and freedom that comes through, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

___________

  1. From the 4th Century liturgy of John Chrysostom, adapted by M.D. Bush
  2. Schaeffer, Francis A. The God Who Is There. InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  3. “Preach the Word.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 29 May 2005, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/preach-the-word.