“Affliction, Friend or Foe?” A Sermon by Albert N. Martin

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One of the common experiences of all the people of God is this matter of affliction. In this study we will look at Second Corinthians 1: 3– 11 under the general theme of affliction, friend or foe?

2nd Corinthians 1:1-11

(1) Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia: (2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; (4) Who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (5) For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (6) But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: (7) and our hope for you is steadfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort. (8) For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: (9) yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead: (10) Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us; (11) you also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.

It is obvious that the theme of this passage is the subject of affliction. For the very thing which triggers this eulogy, this blessing of God the Father, is that the Apostle and his companion, Timothy, have experienced a peculiar measure of the consolation and comfort of God in the midst of affliction. So the Apostle begins with those words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Father of mercies, The God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction.” It opens up the whole subject of affliction in which there are given to us some very helpful perspectives concerning the experience of all the people of God.

Introduction

In introducing our study of the passage, it is necessary to understand several things about affliction.

First of all, the meaning of the word affliction, as it is found here in the passage before us. The word itself literally means, that which is pressing or pressure. Hence it is come to speak of oppression, affliction or tribulation. It refers to distress brought upon men and women, particularly by outward circumstances which in turn create this inward distress. It’s translated numerous ways in the New Testament. In some places it’s translated tribulation, in others, as it is here, affliction; sometimes persecution; other times trouble; but it is that which God reveals is the portion of all of His people. This pressure, this oppression, this tribulation, this inward distress brought about by outward circumstances, our Lord says, will be the portion of all of His people. 

John 16:33 “In the world you shall have [and this is the same word in the original] affliction. You shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the very elementary messages that the Apostles used to give on their missionary follow up tours, concern the whole subject of affliction. 

We read in Acts 14:21-22, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations [afflictions same word in the original] we must enter into the kingdom of God.”

AFFLICTION IS ONE OF THE COMMON DENOMINATOR’S OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD

The Apostles were very, very concerned that believers understand, early in their Christian lives, that affliction and tribulation were part and parcel of normal Christian experience. It is for this reason that our Lord in His parting words spoke the words previously quoted, in the world you shall have tribulation. He had given them some tremendously encouraging promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some promises concerning His ministry of comfort and consolation and illumination; and the impartation of gifts and graces in power, but less they misunderstand this, to think that they would come to some level of experience in the Holy Spirit that would either immunize them from, or totally lift them out of the realm of tribulation and affliction, our Lord says, toward the conclusion of those wonderful words of John 14, 15, and 16, In the world you shall have tribulation. 

John was so confident that tribulation was as much a part of the Christian life as faith in Christ, that when he addresses the believers of Asia Minor in Revelation 1 this is how he addresses them: Revelation 1:9 “I John your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus.” He looks upon all believers as fellow partakers, not only of the kingdom and the steadfastness that are in Christ, but also of the tribulation, the affliction, the persecution, that are in Christ. So it is not surprising that our Lord tells us in the parable of the sower that some apparent converts are caused to wither in their profession, when they come into contact with their first real affliction. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus said, when tribulation, and persecution, when affliction and persecution arise because of the Word, they stumble. It was affliction that caused the consternation of the Psalmist in Psalm 73. He was afflicted and he saw the people of God afflicted, and it didn’t make sense to him, because the people who were not committed to the worship of Jehovah and to the law of God seem to be wonderfully insulated from affliction, and this he could not understand.

And so in the light of the fact that the Scripture teaches, that affliction is one of the common denominator’s of the people of God, and that affliction can be the occasion of stumbling and consternation, it is necessary for every Christian, to learn how to confront affliction.

One of the great problems that we face, as in many other areas, we carry over into the Christian life worldly, carnal views of affliction. You see the unbeliever looks upon affliction as his or her greatest enemy. Every affliction that comes into their life is a roadblock in the pursuit of their carnal and temporal goals, and therefore affliction is always their enemy. They can never hug affliction to themselves and say welcome, my God-sent friend. He looks upon affliction says, “Who are you? My enemy!” They do all within their power to get affliction, out of the way. The unbeliever looks upon it as enemy, all enemy, and nothing but enemy and yet sad to say, many children of God, to some degree or another, have absorbed that mentality and do not understand the purpose of God in affliction. But now, for the child of God, there should be a totally different perspective concerning the subject of affliction.

In this study as we consider this passage in second Corinthians we will seek to layout THE DIVINE PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION which, when understood by the child of God, will help them to embrace their afflictions rather than to run from them as an unwanted enemy.

ILLUSTRATION

Let me illustrate the difference that this perspective will make. Try to picture a little child who’s been involved in a serious accident. He’s been knocked unconscious and has a compound fracture. He’s got a bone sticking right through the skin which will demand not only the setting of the bone, but also some sutures, and the first time that he awakes out of his unconsciousness he looks up, and there is a man with a mask on his face, and a skullcap on his head, a big needle in his hand and a scalpel in his other hand, and the poor child coming to consciousness thinks he’s awaken in the midst of a horror movie. He’s scared and he screams out and begins to fight to get himself off that table until he is quieted down. His mom or dad, with a nurse or the doctor, explains to him that the person standing there with the needle is going to put the needle in so that he won’t feel any pain when he takes the scalpel and begins to patch him up and put the arm back in place. Once the child understands, that which in his first reflex looked so foreboding, something to be resisted, then he will welcome that which upon first sight he utterly rejected. In the same way, the child of God many times –when they wake up as it were and see afflictions standing before them with his long needle and with his scalpel– their reaction is one of wanting to run. It’s at that point that they need to be still and to understand what God is saying, “This is the purpose that I have in this affliction for you.” Then the heart of the child of God is stilled to submit to that affliction.

FIVE DIVINE PURPOSES IN AFFLICTION

What then, according to 2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 11 is the divine purpose in affliction?

I would suggest that the Apostle indicates that there are at least five divine purposes in affliction, and we’re limiting our observations just to this passage. We could range far and wide in many other portions of Scripture, but we want to stick with this portion and lay out these aspects of the divine purpose in affliction. Our purpose is that you, as a child of God, may recognize this, so that when affliction comes, and it will come, you may be able to confront it biblically, and not look upon affliction as your foe, but as your friend.

What is the first purpose of God in affliction? It’s set before us in verse 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort;” As the Apostle Paul breaks out in praise to God, he praises God with specific reference to the revelation of God’s character that has come to him in the context of affliction, therefore:

(1) THE FIRST PURPOSE OF GOD IN AFFLICTION IS TO GIVE US A FULLER REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

In this text God is called three things: first, He is called the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, secondly, the Father of mercies and thirdly, He is called the God of all comfort.

When the Apostle addresses Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is indicating that God has been revealed to him in the saving revelation made, in and through, Jesus Christ the Lord.

In other words, when the Apostle thinks of God, he not only thinks of Him as the God of creation, not only as the God of Providence, but he thinks of Him particularly, as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thinks of Him as the God Who has revealed Himself and His way of salvation in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, whatever follows in this text, whatever other revelation is made of God, it’s made in the context of that fundamental revelation of God as a saving God, in Jesus Christ, the Lord. That’s the starting point. If you do not stand in a saving relationship to God, through the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, this message is not for you. This is God’s Word to believers who know God as 

(i) The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle further says in verse five, as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us even, even so our comfort abounds through Christ. All of the consolation of God to His suffering saints is in terms of their vital union with Jesus Christ. But now notice, the Apostle not only knows Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, but he calls Him, in this place, and it’s the only place that I know of in the New Testament where God is addressed in these terms, the Father of mercies, or literally the Father of the mercies, or the compassions and the God of all comforting. Let’s look at those two ascriptions of God for a moment.

(ii) The Father of all compassions or mercies. The word mercy, means pity to those who are in distress. Remember in the life of our Lord and in His ministry needy people would encounter Him and cry out, ‘Son of David, have mercy upon me. Look upon me with Pity.’ In Psalm 103:13, like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear Him. The Psalmist addresses God in terms of God’s inward disposition in the face of the afflictions of His people. 

When God beholds the afflictions of His people, ordered by His own divine providence, how does He behold them? He doesn’t behold them with a stoical indifference saying, ‘Well I’ve decreed it, and it’s for their good. Let them work it out.’ No. In all their afflictions, the Scripture says, He was afflicted. He is not only the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who’s revealed a way of forgiveness and acceptance through the Lord Jesus, but He’s the God Who, having brought us into His family and given us the Spirit of adoption, is to us the Father of mercies and the God of all comforting. Where the reference to mercy focuses upon the disposition of God’s heart, the reference to comforting points out the activity of God. He not only has an attitude of pity and compassion, but He puts forth that attitude in positive comfort of His people. In the midst of the pressure of their distress, He is the God Who comforts them.

How did the Apostle Paul come to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? That revelation was made to him in the way that it’s made to all sinful people. He must first of all be brought to a sight of his sin. He must be brought to a sight of the mercy that God extends in the Lord Jesus. You can see that in Romans 7. I had not known sin unless the law said you shall not covet and he details how God dealt with him to show him that in spite of all his external morality and religiosity, he was lost and undone. Then he came to know God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

You see, just as no one knows God as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, apart from the experimental knowledge of sin and of grace [inward moral transformation] so you cannot really know God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, unless you are in the experimental crucible of affliction. You don’t have pity upon those who are well off. You don’t need to extend comfort to those who are completely at ease. Pity, is for the afflicted. Comfort, is for the distressed, and the Apostle tells us in this passage, that the first purpose of God in affliction, with reference to His children, is to give them this further unfolding of His Own character. To bring them into an experimental awareness, of the God that He is, and so if you pray as a Christian, ‘O God, help me to know You better.’ Perhaps you find yourself praying in the words of Philippians 3, ‘that I may know Him’. Would you have further revelation of the character of God? Not in the abstract, but in the real stuff of human experience? Then child of God don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. It’s in the context of affliction that you will come to know Him as the God of all mercies and the God of all comfort, and if you’re going to be so self-sparing that you say, God, don’t touch me with affliction what you’re saying is, I want no further revelation, experimentally, of the depth and the breath, the height and the length of Your Infinite Character. So the first purpose of God in affliction is to give us a fuller revelation of His Character.

The second purpose is laid out in verses four through seven of 2nd Corinthians. 1:4 “Who comforts us in all our affliction, that [here’s the purpose] we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. 6 But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: 7 and our hope for you is stedfast; knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.” The Apostle is saying that:

(2) THE SECOND DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION, FOR THE CHILD OF GOD, IS TO EQUIP US FOR A MORE USEFUL MINISTRY TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Notice that thread of thought, God comforts us, that we may be able to comfort others. Sufferings abound in us, comfort abounds through us. If we are afflicted for your sake, if we are comforted for your sake, and you can reduce the basic thought of verses four through seven to this simple equation, all that happens to us happens for your sakes. All that comes to us, issues in blessing to you. In the context, the primary reference to this is to the Apostle and his companion Timothy. 

Whatever particular trials they were passing through by virtue of the problems at the church at Corinth and in the light of their overall ministry, the Apostle wants the Corinthians to know that what is happening to them is for their sake, but in the light of passages like Romans 15:14, in which the Apostle speaks in such broad terms of the ministry that believers have one to another, we cannot give this an exclusive reference to the Apostle. He said, Romans 15:14 “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” 

He says of the Romans, I’m confident that as brethren, you’ve come to sufficient experimental knowledge, that you are able to admonish one another, and so we see the second aspect of the divine purpose in affliction. How is God going to equip you for a more useful ministry to others? I’ll tell you what He is going to do. He’s going to put you into the fires of affliction that in those fires of affliction, as you experimentally become acquainted with the comfort of God, you in turn, may be an instrument of consolation and comfort to others. 

We do not exist in the body of Christ for our own sake. God has placed us in the body of Christ that we might be an instrument of maturity and development in the lives of the other members of that body. 1 Corinthians 12 deals with this very clearly. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. When one member is comforted all are comforted with it. Ephesians 4, the body is built up by that which every joint supplies. It makes increase of itself in love. How are we going to be made more useful in our ministry to others? It’s going to be in the midst of affliction. If affliction is the common experience of all the people of God, in all ages, then one of the great needs that they have, is for people to be able to console them and comfort them in their affliction. Who is going to be able to do it? Those who themselves have proven the consolation of God in the midst of affliction. Those who have experimentally learned how to face the needle and the scalpel, and instead of screaming and ranting and raving to get off the operating table, say instead, Lord, put in the needle and do your work with the scalpel. 

May I prove you to be the God of all comfort, the Father of all mercies, to the end that I may have a more useful ministry unto others. There are few things which reveal the depth of our selfhood more clearly than the quickness with which we reject affliction. We complain, ‘Lord, this is doing this, and that, and the other to me.’ 

Instead of just saying, ‘O God, if this is the price that I must pay to be an instrument in Your hands, to be a blessing to others, I am willing to submit to anything that I might be an instrument of consolation to my fellow believers.’ Isn’t that the true mark of divine love? Love seeks not her own. Isn’t that our big problem? The moment affliction comes all we think about is what it’s doing to me, to my name, my comforts, my plans. The Apostle Paul didn’t look upon it this way. When afflictions came tumbling in upon him he said, ‘Well hallelujah, there’s a lot more people out there that are going to be helped!’ As the afflictions abound so the consolations abound and he welcomed affliction knowing that it was going to equip him for a more useful ministry to the people of God. 

So let me encourage you, Child of God, some who may, this very instant, be in the midst of an unusual discipline of affliction and tribulation, and you found it so difficult, you’ve cried out, ‘Lord is there something in me? Is it some chastisement? Is it some sin?’ You’ve been open and honest before God and you’ve drawn a blank. Perhaps this is the perspective that you need to bring into the total picture, ‘Lord there are no accidents with you. You know every single person to whom I must be an instrument and means of grace all along the way from here to glory. Lord I embrace all of your disciplines to me that I might be a source of blessing to others.’

The Apostle goes on to give us a third purpose in affliction that helped him to look upon affliction, not as a foe, but as a friend. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, “For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead:” What was the third divine purpose in affliction according to the Apostle?

(3) THE THIRD DIVINE PURPOSE IN AFFLICTION IS TO SHUT US UP MORE FULLY TO THE POWER OF GOD.

Notice his words; ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant, you Corinthians, concerning this tremendous affliction which came to us in Asia.’ What he’s referring to nobody knows for certain. The commentators all make their guesses and most of them disagree, but whatever it was, it’s not important what the trial was, but what the purpose of God was. Notice, he says here what was God’s purpose. We had this affliction come upon us that brought us to the place where we despaired even of life. He said yes, we had the very sentence of death within ourselves. We were as good as dead. To what purpose? That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead. In other words, the Apostle Paul says, we were brought to a place, where the only way out of that circumstance of affliction was a manifestation of divine power equal to the power that raises dead men to life. In any other kind of exercise of divine power there may be great divine assistance, but there may be already something there to work with. If a lame man came to the Lord Jesus, He straightened out a leg that was already there. If a blind man came, the Lord gave sight to eyes that were already there. But when the Lord Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb there was nothing there. There was a direct intrusion of life from without, and Paul said we were brought to the place where our confidence was in an exertion of divine power that was equal to the power that raises men from the dead. Therefore, he says, this affliction was not our foe, but our friend, because it shut us up more fully than ever to confidence in the mighty power of the living God.

We can have a very romantic view of the Apostle Paul as though he didn’t have to wrestle with indwelling sin and corruption, yet Romans 7 is an eloquent testimony to the fact that this was not true. Look at 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had a tendency to be proud and God, seeing that tendency to be proud, said lest you be puffed up beyond measure because the revelations given to you I’m going to allow this messenger of Satan to buffet you. And Paul says, ‘Lord, I can’t complete my ministry with this thing. It hinders me, it cripples me, it weakens me.’ The Lord said, ‘No. If I take it away your pride would weaken and cripple you, therefore, I’m going to allow this affliction so that in the midst of your physical weakness you’ll be conscious of where your dependence is; and in the midst of your weakness the power of Christ will be manifested.’ So the Apostle needed, as we do, to be constantly pushed away from the subtle temptation of self-confidence and to look more upon God’s work as the work of Him assisting us in the exercise of our own cleverness and our own abilities; so when this affliction came, Paul said this was the divine purpose: that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

If the Apostle Paul needed affliction to shut him up more fully to confidence in the power of God, who are you and who am I to think that we will be shut up by any lesser means? That which God brings upon us that makes us consciously embrace our weakness and comes like scissors to cut the cords and the nerves of creature confidence and carnal confidence, these things, the Apostle says, are the divine purpose in affliction.

Sometimes the Lord has to do it with regards to monetary things. It is pretty hard for some of us to pray ‘Lord give us this day our daily bread’ and really mean it. We’ve collected our check week in and week out, month in month out, until suddenly we are laid off. Affliction comes. And then we begin to know what it is, as we never knew before, to look to God to supply our daily bread. Suddenly those words are no longer pretty words in a prayer that you memorized as a child; they become the experimental petition of our own hearts. ‘Loving Father, look down upon us and our family in our need; give us this day our daily bread.’ And what happens with that affliction? It shuts you up to the power of God and the intervention of God.

Sometimes it comes with health. Some of us know weeks and months and years of getting out of bed with two sound feet and a sound mind and a body that can carry us to our work. Though we halfheartedly say, ‘Lord give me strength for this day’ and at the end of the day thank the Lord, it really doesn’t come from the heart. We pretty well think we can get along on our own steam until God allows that strength to be shriveled. Then we know what it is to lay there on a bed of weakness or sickness and say, ‘Oh God, if I’m to even get through half this day, You must sustain me. You must strengthen me.’ Then we are shut up to the exercise of divine power for our daily strength in a way that we never were before. How did this come about? Affliction was Gods means to shut us up more fully to His power.

So it is with the matter of wisdom or with the matter of patience. God puts us in situations where all of our natural resources are utterly depleted and we say-–as far as that duty is concerned and what I must have to perform it–-I’m as good as a dead man. The sentence of death is upon me. And God says, ‘It’s about time that you understand what I’ve said. All along, without Me, you can do nothing, but you didn’t believe Me. I told you right along, cursed be he that trust in man and makes flesh his arm but you didn’t believe Me.’ Now affliction has come and what has been its effect? To shut us up to the exercise of divine power. Christian, don’t look upon affliction as your enemy. That which shuts you up more fully to the exercise of divine power is your friend.

The fourth divine purpose of affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:10. Having spoken of this trust in God Who raises the dead, he goes on to say, 1:10 “Who delivered us out of so great a death, and [now he makes a prophecy] will deliver: on Whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us.” Do you see what Paul is doing? He’s left the realm of testimony and now he’s making an affirmation of faith. Looking back upon this circumstance, whatever it was, that shut him up to the exercise of divine power, he says:

(4) THE FOURTH FUNCTION OF AFFLICTION WAS TO INCREASE HIS FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

Way back when God called the Apostle Paul, He made a promise to him and we read that promise in Acts 26:16 “Arise and stand on your feet for to this end have I appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness, both of the things wherein you have seen Me and of the things wherein I will appear unto you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send you, to open their eyes…” Here was the promise of God: ‘Paul I’m commissioning you with this gospel commission, and in the accomplishment of it I will deliver you from every opposition until my purpose for you is accomplished.’ And again and again the Apostle Paul was brought into circumstances where it seemed his life was going to be snuffed out. One time he was stoned, other times plots were laid to take his life, but again and again when these afflictions came and God fulfilled His promise, what did it do? It increased his faith in the promises of God, for faith is strengthened in two ways: 

1st – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY LOOKING TO THE GREATNESS OF THE GOD WHO MADE THE PROMISE, and

2nd – IT’S STRENGTHENED BY EXPERIENCING THE REALITY OF THE FULFILLMENT OF THAT PROMISE.

Faith is strengthened in those two ways. Beholding the God Who makes the promise. That’s the emphasis of Paul in Romans 4. Abraham waxed strong in faith. How? Being fully persuaded that what God had promised He was able to perform. As he conceived in his mind the character and might and power of God, he could look at his own body that was as good as a dead body and say, this body will yet father a child because the God Who made the promise (in Isaac shall your seed be called). God is able to father a child through the dead body of Abraham. And He’s able to do something with Abraham’s body to make it able to father a child.

But the Apostle in this passage is focusing upon the second way in which faith is strengthened. Faith is also strengthened by the experiencing of the reality and the fulfillment of those promises. So the Apostle says, ‘When we had the sentence of death in ourselves, we despaired of living unless God put forth the mighty arm of resurrection power.’ Once He did, Paul said, ‘We have confidence that the God Who has delivered, will still deliver, and continue to deliver, until His purposes for us are accomplished.’ Notice how that faith became even stronger when, as he’s about to lay down his life in 2 Timothy 4, he makes a similar reference to the delivering power of God. 2 Timothy 4:16-18, “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom: to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul said, ‘This past deliverance strengthens my faith to believe the Lord will yet deliver me from every evil work and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom to Whom be glory forever and forever.’ Your faith is not strengthened by pulling your promises out of a promise box. Your faith is strengthened when that promise in the promised box goes with you into the fires of affliction. That’s when your faith is strengthened. You prove God in terms of His promise in the midst of affliction. Then you’re able to come forth with that ringing affirmation, the Lord has delivered, He will deliver, He shall deliver from every evil work. It’s quite easy to pray, ‘Lord increase my faith.’ Then when God begins to put you in the context of affliction you say, ‘Lord this doesn’t have anything to do with my prayer.’ But that’s the very answer to your prayer. It’s by affliction that our faith in the promises of God and the God of the promises is strengthened.

The fifth divine purpose in affliction is found in 2 Corinthians 1:11, “You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” Now, whether the Apostle is referring to the past prayers of the people of God [the grammar in the original is uncertain] or whether he is saying, ‘In the light of what I’ve told you, you will now have a renewed prayer involvement with Timothy and myself in our ministries’–- whether he’s looking to a past deliverance or thinking of future deliverances in which their prayers will have a part–-the end result will be this: Thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf. In other words, as Paul is delivered from affliction, preserved in the midst of affliction:

(5) THE 5TH DIVINE PURPOSE OF AFFLICTION IS TO PROVOKE CORPORATE PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT FOR HIS SERVANTS.

One of the great delights of being a child of God and scripturally identifying oneself with a visible community of God’s people (the visible church) is that when we enter that affliction we do not enter it alone. We have not only the presence of our Lord Jesus by the Spirit, but we have the presence of the Lord Jesus in the members of His body and Christ and His union with His body is not a mere theological concept. That union is so vital that Paul says, if you sin against the weak brother, you sin against Christ. The weak brother is a member of His body like a finger is a member, and Christ is saying, ‘If you touch My finger you touch Me. That’s a part of Me. When you hammered that finger, you hammered Me.’ The Lord Jesus said, to Saul, ‘Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ when Saul was persecuting the church. When he touched the church he was touching the Lord. The concept of this organic life union between Christ and His people was so real in the mind of the Apostle Paul that he says, when we are afflicted and in answer to our prayers deliverance is wrought and we are preserved, then the end result will be corporate praise to God for the comfort and consolation ministered unto us.

The testimony of the people of God who have entered into unusual periods of affliction is almost always at the top of the list. They’ve said this: The concept, the biblical principle of the unity of the body of Christ, has become precious to me in my affliction in a way I’ve never experienced it before that affliction came.

With a couple who lost their little girl, this concept came through so clearly, the sense that when they passed through this trial of their faith, this affliction, they did not pass through alone. There was not only the Lord Jesus ministering His own grace directly by the Spirit to their heart, but there was the Lord Jesus ministering through His body that supportive role of love and intercession and sympathy and understanding. There’s a realization that the body of Christ is not just a theological term. It’s not just that we meet under the same roof to hear the same sermons and sing the same hymns. There is a bond of identification of love and compassion which when God is pleased to undertake, results not just in the person who was afflicted and has received comfort rendering praise to God, but as the whole body of God’s people entered into that affliction, by their supplications. So, now they enter into praise and rejoicing and God is magnified not by just the one, but by the many. Notice how that is the clear emphasis of the text, “You helping together on our behalf by your supplications to this end, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.” This scripture says, ‘Whosoever offers praise glorifies Me, and if God is glorified by the praise of one of His people, He’s glorified more intensely by the whole body of His saints rendering praise onto Him.’

So we learn from this passage that there are at least five distinct divine purposes in our afflictions. In light of these, can that which gives you a fuller revelation of the character of God be your enemy? or is it your friend? Can that which equips you for a more useful ministry to God’s people, can that be your enemy? or is that your friend? Can that which shuts you up more fully to the power of God be your enemy? or your friend? Can that which increases your faith in the promises of God ever be conceived of as your enemy? or your friend? Can that which provokes corporate praise and thanksgiving to God be your enemy? or is it your friend?

Child of God, be done with carnal views of affliction, looking upon affliction as a dreaded enemy. Look beyond the temporal, beyond the immediate and oft times flesh weathering disciplines of affliction, and realize that through affliction you will come to know God experimentally in a way that you could not otherwise know Him. That through affliction you will be made a more fit instrument of blessing to God’s people. That through affliction your faith will be strengthened by your sense of the certainty of the promises of God. Then your involvement with the people of God in praise will be increased. This is the divine purpose in affliction. So, if you are presently in the midst of affliction, may God help you to view that affliction scripturally. If you aren’t presently in the midst of it, don’t breathe too easy, for in the world you shall have affliction that through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God. If you’re a child of God, as sure as you sit here, you’re going to pass through affliction. May God help you and may God help me to view our afflictions in the light of divine revelation.

To those who do not know God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then you cannot know Him as the God of comfort. You cannot know Him as the Father of mercies. It will not do in the next affliction to go whimpering to God and say, ‘Oh God, Whoever you are, wherever you are, comfort me!’ No. If you’re indifferent to God’s demands with reference to your sin, to repent and believe the gospel, that you acknowledge yourself to be undone and standing in need of His mercy; if you live in impenitence and unbelief and despise the gospel, do not think you can come crying to God and somehow snatch to yourself the comfort that He has pledged to His children. No. If you would know Him as the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort, I entreat you first of all, to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent of your sin. Believe the gospel. Embrace His gracious promise, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

But thank God if, in grace, He has brought us to know Him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of all mercies and the Father of all comfort to us. May we prove Him to be that in our experience and all of the theory that we have of these things God will make real to us in the crucible of affection.

When we begin to scream and holler and jump off the table when we see the syringe and the knife, may God help us to quiet one another down and remind one another of the principles of this passage, the divine purposes in affliction that we might know that affliction is not our foe, but our friend in the purpose of Almighty God.

Whether it is the death of a loved one, having an unsaved child, marital issues, loss of a job, etc. It’s all made to increase our awareness of the frailty of life and press us further into Him so that when these same things hit others we can understand and help them through with a real compassion and understanding.

About Albert Martin: Pastor Albert N. Martin concluded 46 years of ministry at Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, New Jersey, in June 2008, and he and his second wife Dorothy relocated to Michigan (he lost his first wife Marilyn in 2004 after 48 years of marriage and a six-year battle with cancer). A recognized evangelist, counsellor, pastor and preacher, Al Martin had his first experience of street preaching before the age of eighteen, under the guidance of elders at the Mission Hall he attended. He taught all the courses in Pastoral Theology in the Trinity Ministerial Academy for 20 years until it closed in 1998. He went to be with the Lord in 2017. Al Martin is the author of four booklets published by the Banner of Truth Trust – A Life of Principled Obedience, Living the Christian Life, The Practical Implications of Calvinism, and What’s Wrong with Preaching Today? He has also written several helpful books: The Forgotten Fear: Where Have All the God-Fearers Gone?; You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges; Preaching in the Holy Spirit; Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies; and Two Volumes on Pastoral Theology entitled: Vol. 1: The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life & Vol. 2: The Man of God: His Preaching and Teaching Labors. In a labor of love Pastor Brian Borgman wrote a book on Albert Martin’s Theology of Preaching called: My Heart For Thy Cause.

How To Emulate Jesus in Our Disciple Making

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*Making Disciples Jesus Way: A Few at a Time by Dr. Greg Ogden

Thesis: The church urgently needs to recapture its original mission of making disciples of Jesus by creating intimate, relational environments of multiplication and transformation.

“The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product”, writes Bill Hull (Hull, Bill. The Disciple Making Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1988, 14.). Is there any more important question for a pastor to answer than, “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries”? According to pollsters such as George Barna and George Gallup, we are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle than the rest of society. This has been well documented so I will not bore you with a recitation of the bad news. I will get right to what I consider the solution.

Jesus made it crystal clear that there is to be a singular product which He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” (Mission Statement of Willow Creek Community Church , South Barrington , IL), but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.

When I have opportunities to speak to pastors on the subject of disciple-making, I have taken an informal poll, “Raise your hand if you have a few people in your weekly schedule with whom you meet for the purpose of helping them to become reproducing disciples of Jesus?” Sadly, I get minimal response. It would seem to be a natural expectation since Jesus modeled for us the way to grow disciples. He called twelve “to be with him” in order to shape their character and transfer his mission to them. I believe we have a crisis of product in major part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.

In this article I will describe an embarrassingly simple, yet reproducible way to grow disciples of Jesus that will leave your practice of ministry forever changed and your church populated with self initiating, reproducing disciples of Christ.

Here is the model: Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of 3 or 4 (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication.

In my experience, the following three elements form the necessary building blocks to grow disciples, which, in turn, addresses our “crisis of product”:

• The model for multiplication

• The priority of relationships

• The environment for accelerated growth

The Model for Multiplication

I call it my major “ah-ha” moment in ministry. It has shaped my approach to growing disciples more than anything else. Frankly, it was a discovery break-through I stumbled on.

I had been frustrated that I was not seeing a multiplication of disciples. The one-on-one model was the paradigm that I had assumed was the way to make reproducing disciples. After all, wasn’t the Paul-Timothy relationship the biblical pattern? Discipling meant to give myself to one other person for the purpose of seeing the life of Christ built in them, which would then lead them to do the same for another and so on. The only trouble was, I wasn’t seeing “them doing the same for another.” In other words, there was no multiplication.

What was I doing wrong? We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Frustrated, I would redouble my efforts: make sure I had good content; ratchet up my prayer life; teach the skills of bible study, witness, etc; and yet I was not able to instill confidence, pass on the vision, nor empower the other person to disciple others. All my refinements only led to the same results.

Then the break-through came. I had written a disciple-making curriculum (Greg Ogden. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), which became the basis for my final project for a Doctor of Ministry degree. My faculty mentor thought it would be a worthy experiment to test the dynamics of this material in a variety of settings. So in addition to the one-on-one, I invited two others to join me on this journey. There was no way I could have anticipated the potency to be unleashed. Just by adding a third person it was as if the Holy Spirit was present to us in a way that was life-giving and transforming and laid the foundation for multiplication.

I have never gone back to the one-on-one model for making disciples because of what I experienced. Now thirty years later, I have had considerable opportunity to reflect on the difference in dynamics between triad and quads, and the one-on-one approach.

What were the limitations of the one-on-one model?

1. In the one-on-one the discipler carries the full weight of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of another. The discipler is like the mother bird that goes out to scavenge for worms to feed to her babies. With their mouths wide open, the babes wait in their nest for the mother bird to return. The discipler is cast in the role of passing on their vast knowledge to the one with limited knowledge.

2. The one-on-one relationship sets up a hierarchy that tends to result in dependency. The one- on-one creates a father-son, teacher-student, mature-immature relationship. As appreciative as the Timothy might be, the one in the receiving position will more often than not, not be able to see themselves in the giving position. The gulf between the Paul and the Timothy is only accentuated when the relationship is between pastor and parishioner. The pastor is the trained professional, who has superior biblical knowledge which the non-professional, ordinary lay person will never see themselves achieving.

3. The one-on-one limits the interchange or dialogue. I liken the one-on-one discourse to playing ping-pong. It is back and forth, with the discipler under continuous pressure to advance the ball. The discipler must keep pressing the interchange on to a higher plane.

4. The one-on-one also creates a one-model approach. The primary influence on a new disciple becomes a single person. The parameters of the discipling experience are defined by the strengths and weaknesses of one individual.

5. Finally, the one-on-one model does not generally reproduce. If it does, it is rare. Only self- confident, inwardly motivated persons can break the dependency and become self-initiating and reproducing (These generalities are in no way meant to demean the positive and powerful experiences that a one-on-one relationship has meant to many. When it comes to the multiplication of disciples my experience teaches me that this generally does not lead to reproduction).

In my opinion we have inadvertently held up a hierarchical, positional model of discipling that is non-transferable. As long as there is the sense that one person is over another by virtue of superior spiritual authority, however that is measured, very few people are going to see themselves as qualified to disciple others. We may tout this is as a multiplication method, but in actuality it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

As a result of my experience, I commend a non-hierarchical model that views discipling as a mutual process of peer mentoring (“Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well” – Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, 17). In order to avoid the dependency trap, the relationship needs to be seen as side-by-side, rather than one having authority or position over another.

An Alternative Practical Model of Disciple-Making (Triads/Quads)

Here is my best take on why triads/quads are energizing, joy-filled and reproductive:

1. There is a shift from unnatural pressure to the natural participation of the discipler. When a third or fourth person is added, the discipler is no longer the focal point, but they are a part of a group process. The discipler in this setting is a fellow participant. Though the discipler is the convener of the triad/quad, they quickly become one of the group on the journey together toward maturity in Christ.

2. There is a shift from hierarchy to peer relationship. The triad/quad naturally creates more of a come-alongside mutual journey. The focus is not so much upon the discipler as it is upon Christ as the one toward whom all are pointing their lives. Even as a pastor, I found that though the relationship may have started with a consciousness that I was the “Bible answer-man” because of my title and training, within the first few weeks the triad/quad allows me to be another disciple with fellow disciples who are attempting together to follow Jesus.

3. There is a shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange. In my initial experiment with triads, I often came away from those times saying to myself, “What made that interchange so alive and dynamic?” The presence of the Holy Spirit seemed palpable. Life and energy marked the exchange. As I have come to understand group dynamics, one-on-one is not a group. It is only as you add a third that you have the first makings of a group (Think Trinity).

4. There is shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers. The book of Proverbs speaks of the wisdom that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). It is often those who may be perceived as younger or less mature in the faith from which great wisdom comes, or a fresh spark of life or just great questions. In a current quad, one of the men at our initial gathering announced, “I have never opened the Bible.” I had observed an eagerness and hunger in Mick, so I was sure that I had misunderstood his comment. So I responded, “You mean you have never studied the Bible seriously”. “No, I have never opened a Bible.” Since that first session, Mick has demonstrated a veracious appetite for Scripture. Yet what has been particularly challenging is his perceptive questions that have led to engaging dialogue and deeper exploration.

5. There is a shift from addition to multiplication. For me there is no greater joy than to see a Christian reproduce. All the above adds up to empowerment. For over two decades, I have observed an approximate 75% reproduction rate through the triad/quad model of disciple- making.

In summary, a smaller unit encourages multiplication because it minimizes the hierarchical dimensions and maximizes a peer-mentoring model. By providing a discipleship curriculum specifically designed for this intimate relationship, it creates a simple, reproducible structure, which almost any growing believer can lead. Leadership in these groups can be rotated early on since the size makes for an informal interchange and the curriculum provides a guide to follow.

Anything worthy of the name of discipling must have a way of creating the dynamic of intergenerational multiplication. But this is only one aspect of growing self-intiating, reproducing disciples.

Disciples Are Made In Relationships, Not Programs

Making disciples places priority on an invitation to relationships, not an invitation to a program.

Disciple-making is not a six-week nor a ten-week, nor even a thirty-week program. We have tended to bank our efforts on making disciples through programs, while not keeping a priority on the relational process.

Biblically, though, disciples are made in relationships. When I am forming a new triad/quad, I approach someone personally, eyeball to eyeball in the following way: First, I ask the Lord to put on my heart those to whom He is drawing me. I am looking for those who are hungry and teachable. When there is a settled conviction as to who the Lord would have me approach, here is generally what I say to them, “Will you join me, walk with me as we grow together to become better disciples of Christ? I would like to invite you to meet with me and one or two others weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intends us to be. As I was praying about this relationship, I sensed the Lord drawing me to you.”

How does this relational approach differ from a program?

(1) Discipling relationships are marked by intimacy, whereas programs tend to be focused on information.

Programs operate with the assumption that if someone has more information that it will automatically lead to transformation. In other words, right doctrine will produce right living. Filling people’s heads with Scripture verses and biblical principles will lead to change in character, values and a heart for God.

Alicia Britt Cole captures this difference between program and relationship, “Program was safer, more controllable, and reproducible—less risky, less messy, less intrusive. It seemed easier to give someone an outline than an hour, a well-worn book than a window into our humanity. How easy it is to substitute informing people for investing in people, to confuse organizing people with actually discipling people. Life is not the offspring of program or paper. Life is the offspring of life. Jesus prioritized shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring because His prize was much larger than information; it was integration” (Alicia Britt Cole, “Purposeful Proximity—Jesus’ Model of Mentoring”, Online Enrichment, A Journal for Pentecostal Ministry).

(2) Discipling relationships involve full, mutual responsibility of the participants, whereas programs have one or a few who do on behalf of the many.

Most programs are built around an individual or a few core people who do the hard work of preparation and the rest come as passive recipients of their work. Of course, this is less true of a more egalitarian small group than it is of a class where one-way communication dominates. Though this may provide tremendous benefit to one who has done the preparation, the result is usually enormous amounts of unprocessed information. As much as I believe in the power of preaching for conviction and decision, I would be naïve to believe that preaching alone produces disciples. If preaching could produce disciples, the job would have been done.

In a discipling relationship the partners share equal responsibility for preparation, self-disclosure, and an agenda of life-change. This is not about one person being the insightful teacher, whereas the others are the learners who are taking in the insights of one whose wisdom far exceeds the others. Certainly maturity levels in Christ will vary, but the basic assumption is that in the give and take of relationships, the one who is the teacher and the one who is taught can vary from moment to moment.

(3) Discipling relationships are customized to the unique growth process of the individuals, whereas programs emphasize synchronization and regimentation.

The very nature of most of our programs is that they cannot take into account the uniqueness of the individual, which is essential to growing disciples. A program usually has a defined length. You commit to ten weeks and you are done. Often churches follow the academic calendar. Start a program in September when school starts and complete it in June in time for summer vacation. Once the cycle is completed, disciples are supposed to pop out the other end of the system. Completing the program is equated with making disciples.

Discipling relationships must necessarily vary in length of time, because no two people grow at the same speed. It is not just a matter of a forced march through the curriculum, but an individualized approach that takes into account the unique growth issues of those involved.

(4) Discipling relationships focus accountability around life-change, where as programs focus accountability around content.

Programs of discipleship give the illusion of accountability. But upon closer look the accountability is more focused on completing the assigned study curriculum than follow through on the changes or transformation into Christlikeness that is expected of a disciple of Jesus.

Growth into Christ-likeness is the ultimate goal. The gauge of accountability in programs tend to be easily measurable, observable behaviors such as Scripture memory, completing the required weekly reading, and practicing spiritual disciplines. In a discipling relationship the accountability focuses on learning to “observe or obey all that [Jesus] has commanded” (Matt. 28:19). For example, there is a huge difference between knowing that Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, and actually loving our enemies. Discipling relationships are centered on incorporating the life of Jesus in all we are in the context of all that we do.

The Environment of Transformation: The Three Necessary Ingredients

Without question the setting where I have experienced the most accelerated transformation in the lives of believers has been in these triads/quads or small reproducible discipleship groups. I call them the “hot-house” of Christian growth. Hot houses maximize the environmental conditions so that living things can grow at a rate greater than would exist under normal circumstances. The conditions are ripe for accelerated growth. This is what happens in a triad/quad.

Why is this? What are the climatic conditions in a discipleship group of three or four that create the hothouse effect? There are four ingredients when exercised in a balanced way that release the Holy Spirit to bring about a rapid growth toward Christlikeness: This can be summarized in the following Biblical principle: When we (1) open our hearts in transparent trust to each other (2) around the truth of God’s word (3) in the spirit of mutual accountability ,(4) while engaged in our God-designed mission, we are in the Holy Spirit’s hothouse of transformation.

Let’s look at what is contained in each of these three environmental elements that makes for accelerated growth and reproduction.

Climatic Condition #1 – Transparent Trust

We return to the fundamental truth that has been repeated the theme throughout this article: Intimate, accountable relationships with other believers is the foundation for growing in discipleship. Why is transparency a necessary condition for change? The extent to which we are willing to reveal to others those areas of our life that need God’s transforming touch is the extent to which we are inviting the Holy Spirit to make us new. Our willingness to enter into horizontal or relational intimacy is a statement of our true desire before God of our willingness to invite the Lord to do His makeover in our life.

The small size of a triad/quad says that this is going to be close. There is little place to hide. The environment in which self-revelation is drawn out is increasing trust. Certainly trust does not happen instantaneously. Trust is an earned and developed quality. To get to the deep end of the pool we must go through the shallower waters of the affirmation of encouragement, support through life’s difficulties, and prayerful listening in order to help our partners hear God’s voice in life’s decisions. Only then are we likely to venture in over our heads by confessing our patterns of besetting sin to one another.

My experience tells me that few believers either have the regular habit or the safe context in which we can reveal to another human being what lurks inside the recesses of our hearts. Until we get to point where we can articulate to another those things that have a hold on us, then we will live under the tyranny of our own darkness. James admonished his readers, “Confess your sins to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ). James makes a direct connection between confession and healing. In this context healing appears to be of a physical nature. Yet James believed that the health of one’s spirit directly affected the health of one’s body.

What is the connection between confession and freedom? Bringing the shame of our guilt into the light before trusted members of the body of Christ can in itself have a liberating effect. Once something is admitted before others, it begins to lose it power to control. Sin loves the darkness, but its power weakens in the light.

To learn to swim in the deep waters of transparent trust is a necessary element for accelerated growth in the Christian. Learning to swim can be a scary experience, especially when you in over your head. But once you learn to trust the water to hold you up, you can relax and experience its refreshment.

Climatic Condition #2 – Truth in Community

The second of four environmental elements that creates the conditions for the hothouse of accelerated growth is the truth of God’s word in community. I started with relationships because I believe that the context in which God’s word should be studied is in community. A great failing today is that we have separated the study of God’s word from transparent relationships. We have been more concerned about getting our doctrine right than our lives right. It is not that knowledge is not important, it is. It is not that right doctrine is not important, it is. It is just not enough. Because the goal is to incorporate truth into our being which happens as we process it with others.

It is particularly important in our day that a disciple has the opportunity to cover the essential teachings of the Christian life in a systematic and sequential fashion. We are living at a time when the average person has minimal foundation for their Christian faith. A generation ago Francis Schaeffer and Elton Trueblood warned us in prophetic voice that we were one generation away from losing the memory of Christian faith in our culture. We are the next generation of which they spoke!

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an unlikely place to find evidence for this loss memory. One night Leno took to the streets with microphone in hand asking people questions about their biblical knowledge. He approached two college age women with the question, “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” Quizzical and blanks looks led to this reply, “Freedom of speech?” Then Leno turned to a young man, “Who according to the Bible was eaten by a whale?” With confidence and excitement, he blurted out, “I know, I know, Pinnochio!” The memory of Christianity has been lost.

One of the participants in a discipling triad that I led was woman about ten years my senior who had been raised in the home of a congregational pastor. After we had completed our time together, she said to me, “Greg, I have something to confess. When you asked me to join this group, I didn’t think I had a whole lot to learn. After all I had been studying the Scriptures all of my life having been raised in a home where the Bible was central. But I discovered as we covered the faith in a systematic and sequential order, that my understanding was much like a mosaic. I had clusters of tiles with a lot of empty spaces in between. This approach has allowed me to fill in all those places where tiles belong. I now see in a comprehensive fashion how the Christian faith makes sense of it all.”

Climatic Condition #3 – Life-Change Accountability

Life-change accountability is rooted in a covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is written, mutual agreement between 2 or more parties that clearly states the expectations and commitments in the relationship (Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, page 14 provides an illustration of what a mutual covenant might look like). Implied in this definition is that the covenantal partners are giving each other authority to hold them to the covenant to which they have all agreed.

Yet there is a rub. To willingly give others authority to hold us accountable to what we said we would do is for most Westerners a violation of what we hold most dear. Robert Bellah’s ground breaking research, Habits of the Heart, is a sociologist’s search for the core of the American character. He found that freedom from obligation defined the center of what it is be to an American. Here it is in a nutshell: We want to do, what we want do to, when we want to do it, and no one better tell us otherwise. We want to be in control of our own choices, life direction, character formation, schedules, etc. Everything in us grates against accountability.

Yet accountability brings us back to the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one under authority. Disciples of Jesus are who leave no doubt that it is Jesus who is exerting the formative influence over our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The way to get serious about this truth is to practice by coming under authority in our covenantal relationships in Christ.

Climatic Condition #4: Engaged in our God-Designed Mission

Micro groups are not designed to be holy huddles. Though we all seek safe environments where our true self can be nurtured, micro groups also need to be springboards from we are sent to serve Christ in all dimensions of our life. In many ways, this fourth dimension, though last in order, is most critical. Without mission, there will be little transformation. It is as we apply our faith in the work place, in our roles in the home, are stewards of our financial resources, exercise or spiritual gifts in ministry the church or addressing an area of brokenness in the world, that we have to come to terms with our fears and limitations.

As we are engaged is mission we are stretched beyond our limited resources. When we are thrown back in reliance on Jesus, waiting for Him to show up because we are beyond our comfort zone, we are just where we need to be. This is where the importance of our micro group takes on even deeper significance. In this group we are refreshed, patched up, encouraged and sent back out to be ambassadors of Jesus.

Conclusion: “The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product.” I would challenge every pastor in America to schedule into his week a 90-minute time slot to meet with two or three others for the express purpose of discipling for multiplication. Can you imagine the impact on the quality and quantity of the product, if we began to see an organic multiplication of these reproducible groups over the next ten years?

*This article is presented here with the written permission of the author – Dr. Greg Ogden. The original article may be found along with many excellent disciple making resources at the website: globaldi.org which stands for the Global Discipleship Initiative of which Greg Ogden is the Chairman of the Board. The Global Discipleship Initiative trains, coaches, and inspires pastors and Christian leaders to establish indigenous, multiplying disciple making movements, both nationally and internationally.

About the Author: Greg Ogden (D.Min, Fuller Theological Seminary) recently retired from professional church leadership and now lives out his passion of speaking, teaching and writing about the disciple-making mission of the church. Most recently Greg served as executive pastor of discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in the Chicago western suburbs. He previously held the positions of director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate professor of lay equipping and discipleship. His seminal book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ has sold over 250,000 copies and has been a major influence on discipleship in the contemporary church. He is also the author of several other excellent resources that will help you in effectively making disciples who make disciples: Transforming Discipleship; Making Disciples a Few at a Time; The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others;  Leadership Essentials: Shaping Vision, Multiplying Influence, Defining Character (co-authored with Dan Meyer); Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship; and Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God.

An Encouraging Sermon by John Piper on Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles

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“Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles; Tomorrow’s Mercies for Tomorrow’s Troubles.”

A Sermon By Dr. John Piper

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” ~ Matthew 6:34

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Sometimes I have reinforced a sermon by following it up with a STAR article (The STAR is Bethlehem Baptist’s weekly newsletter). Today I want to reinforce a STAR article with a following sermon. The STAR article last week was called, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles; Tomorrow’s Mercies for Tomorrow’s Troubles.” There were several points. One was this: 

(1) Every day God appoints a measure of pleasure and pain for that day—like the old Swedish hymn says:

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what he deems best—

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Kind beyond all measure, the Lord gives pain and pleasure to each day as he deems best. We don’t always agree enthusiastically with what God deems best for us. It is hard for us to feel that he is kind beyond all measure when he gives us pain. Causing pain is not generally equated with showing kindness, especially if God’s measure for one day is a lot more than another day. But it’s true, as we will see more fully in a moment. God gives each day his wise and loving measure of pain and pleasure. That was the first point of the STAR article.

(2) The second was that there is fresh mercy from God for each day’s appointed pain. 

Today’s mercies are not designed to carry tomorrow’s burdens. There will be mercies tomorrow for that. Today’s mercies are for today’s burdens. But tomorrow? What about tomorrow? What will become of our children? Will they believe? Or will they forsake the way of righteousness? What will become of our health? Will we go blind or deaf or lose our memories? Who will take care of us? Will we spend the last 10 years of our lives out-living all our friends and family, abandoned, slumped over in a wheel chair at a rural nursing home? What will become of our marriages? Will we ever trust again? Will we laugh and play and pray and talk in peace? Will we be there for the children? Will we be there for each other? Will it be sad and strained and dissatisfying for 30 or 40 more years? What will it be like tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? What will become of our church? What will tomorrow bring? Or Wednesday? Or next Sunday? Or a year from now? Or ten years from now? Will we be together? Will we be winning the lost, and standing for righteousness, and delivering the oppressed, and sending more and more missionaries to the unreached peoples, and resting in the care of 17 district elders, and worshiping with white-hot zeal for the glory and grace of our great God? What about tomorrow? Will we have the strength to live tomorrow when it comes? And to live it well and wisely and even joyfully, no matter what God’s measure of pain and pleasure?

The point of the STAR article was that the strength to live tomorrow will be given tomorrow, not today. And it will be given. Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.

I can’t express how important I believe this is for the living of the Christian life—for children, for teenagers, for college students and young adults in the work world, for middle-aged people facing major life changes, for older people with tremendous uncertainties before them, for single people and married people. It’s important because of how natural and strong is the impulse in our hearts to want to feel sufficient today for tomorrow’s challenges. We don’t like it when the gauge reads “empty” at the end of the day, and we have to go to sleep— if we can—not feeling the power for tomorrow’s troubles.

The Christian’s Secret of Dealing with Trouble

There is a secret to the Christian life here that I want you to get a handle on. If you don’t—if you go on desperately needing to feel today the strength for tomorrow, then it seems to me that either you will cave in under the pressure of excessive anxieties, or you will find a worldly strategy for developing immense ego strength and persuade yourself that you really are sufficient for tomorrow’s troubles. Neither of those is God’s way. God’s way is summed up in two passages of scripture. One is Matthew 6:34, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (The other text is Lamentations 3:22-23. See below.)

Let me tell you what I think that text does not mean. It does not mean: Make no preparations for tomorrow’s needs. If you’re a farmer, the thought about tomorrow’s empty silos should cause you to sow your field with corn months before you need the corn. Almost everything that is worth doing requires some forethought, planning, and preparation. Jesus said, “Which of you desiring to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). The point of Matthew 6:34 is not—don’t make wise preparations. The point is—don’t bring the troubles and uncertainties of carrying out those preparations tomorrow into today. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What does Jesus mean by “enough”? Or as the old Authorized Version says, “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” What does he mean by “sufficient”? He means that your sovereign heavenly Father, who is kind and wise beyond all measure, lov- ingly gives unto each day what he deems best, including both its pain and pleasure. Each day’s troubles are “enough”—they are “sufficient”—because God determines their limit. God decides what is enough and what is sufficient (cf. 1 Cor 10:13).

You can know some of the pressures that are coming tomorrow. And part of your job may be to make some preparations for them. Those preparations are part of today’s “sufficient” trouble. But how those preparations will turn out tomorrow, and whether you feel strong enough today to do your part tomorrow—that is not something God wants you to carry today. Those are tomorrow’s burdens. God does not give mercies today for bearing tomorrow’s burdens.

For example, we on the staff must now plan and design worship services ahead of time. It’s like the farmer: we know that if there is going to be a harvest of corporate worship on Sunday, there needs to be some plowing, sowing, and watering earlier in the week. That’s OK. Jesus wants us to do that.

But what about the questions that start to arise from the flesh: How will it go on Sunday? Will the people be there? Will God meet us? Will it be real and deep and earnest and life-changing and soul-winning and Christ-exalting? Will the people be disappointed? With these questions we can cross the line from faithful preparation to unfaithful anxiety. We cross over from dealing with today’s sufficient burden (preparation) and begin to borrow tomorrow’s troubles (how will it be received?). And that is spiritually very dangerous because today’s mercies are given by God for today’s burdens not tomorrow’s.

Or the danger can happen another way. Not only can we start to fret about how our preparations will turn out, but we can start to fret over whether we will have the resources to handle all the preparations after this. What about Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Easter and then April and May and June and July and August? Will the spiritual resources be there? That too can be a crossing over the line between faithful planning and unfaithful anxiety. The strength to plan worship for July 10, will be given on July 5th and 6th. And probably not before.

Now where in scripture do I get this confidence that God not only gives the trouble to each day that is sufficient for that day, but also the mercies which are tailor-made to carry that day’s trouble? I get it from (among other places) Lamentations 3:22-23, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”

It’s the phrase “they are new every morning” that gives me this great confidence that each day’s mercies—each day’s kindnesses—are given specifically for that day. Ponder that with me. Let it sink in. “His mercies . . . are new every morning.”

Why are they new every morning? Why does God do it that way? It’s not because yesterday’s mercies were bad or weak. It’s because they were yesterday’s. Yesterday’s mercies were for yesterday’s burdens. Today’s mercies are for today’s burdens. They are new every morning. They are like the manna in the wilderness: you can’t keep it overnight. Enough comes for each day. You live on God day by day, or you don’t live on God.

The Swedish hymn gets it right again. The second verse says, “Every day the Lord himself is near me, With a special mercy for each hour.” A special mercy for each hour. The mercy to carry you through this hour is given in this hour. This truth will save your life again and again, if you grasp it and live it. Because how many times in life do we come to the end of our resources and say. “There isn’t anything in here anymore. I am depleted. One more straw and this camel’s back will break.” And we despair that tomorrow will just be rolled on to today’s depleted condition. And at that moment we desperately need this truth: God will not expect you to carry one more straw with these present mercies. When the next straw is added the mercies will be new.

So we must not compound today’s load with fretting over tomorrow’s. We must not doubt God and say, “I have no more strength; so tomorrow will be impossible to live.” That’s not true. You will not be asked to live tomorrow on today’s strength. What you need today is not tomorrow’s strength, but today’s faith that tomorrow’s mercies will be new and will be enough.

And there’s something different between the experience of faith for tomorrow’s power, and the actual experience of that power itself. Faith stands on the promise of God and waits and hopes in weakness and peace. And, of course, that waiting and hoping is part of today’s mercy. Part of today’s mercy is the ability to trust that there will be sufficient mercy for tomorrow. And we trust in that because God promises it in Lamentations 3:23 (cf. Phil 4:19; 2 Cor 9:8-11).

But in spite of all the peace that faith can bring about today, it is not yet tomorrow’s mercy or tomorrow’s power. There’s a difference. And that’s why there is such a battle that goes on. We want the feeling of adequacy today for what we will have to go through tomorrow. But God says, “Trust me. I will give it to you when you need it.”

Let me illustrate what I am saying by the following story. In 1931 a missionary named John Vinson was working in North China. An army of bandits swooped down on his village looting, burning, and killing. They took 150 Chinese and Vinson captive. When the government troops pursued, the bandits offered Vinson his freedom if he would write a letter to the commanding officer of the government troops asking him to withdraw.

Vinson said, “Will you let the Chinese prisoners go free?” “Certainly not” was the reply. “Then I refuse to go free,” he said. That night the bandits tried to flee, taking Vinson with them. Many bandits were killed, and many of the captives escaped. Vinson could not run because of a recent surgery. A little Chinese girl later reported that a bandit pointed a gun at Vinson’s head and said, “I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?”

Now at this point how do you feel? Are you projecting yourself into Vinson’s place? If so, do you feel rising within you the power to respond with great serenity and to die with peace? The point of what I have been saying is this: you don’t have to feel that right now. What God wants from you now as you sit there is not the strength to die that death. That is not today’s trouble for you. It may be tomorrow’s. What God calls you to now is not to have the power to do what Vinson did, but to have the trust in God that when your time comes he will give what you need.

Vinson looked up and said, “No, I am not afraid. If you kill me, I will go straight to God.” Which he did (This story is taken from The Elizabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1994).

Today’s mercies for today’s troubles; tomorrow’s mercies for tomorrow’s troubles. “As your days so shall your strength be” (Deut 33:25). Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. The troubles and the mercies are appointed day by day.

*This sermon as well as all of John Piper’s sermons are available at desiringgod.org 

 Tim Keller’s – Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

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A “Must Have” Handbook for the Modern Preacher

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Tim Keller is as Bostonians say “Wicked Smart.” He has also demonstrated humility, wisdom, and faithfulness through much suffering and success in planting one of the most successful and model ministries for City Churches of the world – Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, New York. He has also blessed Christians around the world with wonderful Christ centered and gospel centered resources.

I have read this book twice – in English and Spanish, I am also taking several bi-vocational pastors and elders in my church through this book. In my opinion it is the first go-to handbook for preachers in the 21st Century. Why? Let me give five reasons:

(1) Tim Keller practices what he preaches (a) Tim Keller preaches the Word – he has been preaching for over 45 years in both a semi-rural context and a large city context and knows how to preach to “blue-collar” and “white-collar” congregations; (b) He always preaches the gospel in every sermon; (c) He always preaches Christ whether he’s preaching from the Old or New Testaments; (d) He preaches culturally relevant messages without compromising biblical truth; (e) He preaches so as to help you love Christ with your mind; (f) He preaches so as to stir the soul/heart, which leads to real life change and Christ-like transformation; (g) He preaches with the unction or power of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Tim Keller gives examples, illustrations, principles, and theological reasons for why and how to do all of what he models in his own preaching (see #1 above).

(3) The extensive footnotes are worth gold. Make sure you don’t only read the book – read the footnotes! About 30% of the material in this book is in the notes. There is great stuff in the notes – you will feel like you are sitting with Tim over coffee with what he shares in the notes!

(4) Much of what Tim writes about you will not get in Bible college or Seminary. I didn’t get 80% of what he writes about in Bible college or seminary – I did get about 50% of what he talks about with a month sabbatical I spent taking preaching courses at Westminster Seminary. However, if you didn’t attend a seminary that is reformed you most likely missed how to get to Christ from all of the Scriptures.

(5) The last chapter of the book is also extremely helpful – he gives ample example, principles, and illustrations to help you write and preach an expository sermon.

Tim Keller knows what he’s talking about – when he’s pretty much talking about anything. However, what Keller is best at is preaching. You have the opportunity in reading and studying this book to learn from one of the best preacher’s of our time. 

Preacher: Who Are You Speaking To Every Week?

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People Pastors Are Preaching To Week in and Week Out – *Tim Keller

In Tim Keller’s outstanding book on preaching: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism he has a wonderful section in the footnotes that perhaps a lot of people miss when they read his book (30% of the book is in the footnotes). Here are the different kinds of people you may be speaking to. Does the text you are preaching speak to any of them?

  • Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian.
  • Immoral pagan: Is living a blatantly immoral/illegal lifestyle.
  • Intellectual pagan: Claims the faith is untenable or unreasonable.
  • Imitative pagan: Is fashionably skeptical, but not profound.
  • Genuine Thinker: Has serious well-conceived objections.
  • Religious non-Christian: Belongs to an organized religion, cult, or denomination with seriously mistaken doctrine.
  • Non-churched nominal Christian: Has belief in basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection.
  • Churched nominal Christian: Participates in church but is not regenerated.
  • Semi-active moralist: Is respectably moral but his religion is without assurance and is all a matter of duty.
  • Active self-righteous: Is very committed and involved in the church, with assurance of salvation based on good works.
  • Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet.
  • Curious: Is stirred up mainly in an intellectual way, full of questions and diligent in study.
  • Convicted with false peace: Without understanding the gospel, has been told that by walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or doing something he is now right with God.
  • Comfortless: Is extremely aware of sins but not accepting or understanding of the gospel of grace.
  • Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
  • New Believer: Is recently converted.
  • Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith.
  • Eager: Is beginning with joy and confidence and a zeal to learn and serve.
  • Overzealous: Has become somewhat proud and judgmental of others and is overconfident of his own abilities.
  • Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all of the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
  • Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (Generally we call a person afflicted who has not brought the trouble on himself).
  • Physically or Emotionally afflicted: Is experiencing bodily decay: (a) the sick; (b) the elderly; (c) the disabled; (d) Dying; (e) Bereaved: Has lost a loved one or experienced some other major loss (e.g., a home through a fire); (f) Lonely; (g) Persecuted/abused; (h) Poor/economic troubles; (i) Desertion: Is spiritually dry through the action of God, who removes a sense of his nearness despite the use of the means of grace
  • Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong.
  • Overtaken: Is tempted largely in the realm of the thoughts and desires.
  • Taken Over: Has had a sin become addictive behavior.
  • Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not.
  • Undisciplined: Is lazy in using the means of grace and gifts for ministry.
  • Self-satisfied: Has had pride choke his growth, is complacent, and has perhaps become cynical and scornful of many other Christians.
  • Unbalanced: Has had either the intellectual, the emotional, or the volitional aspect of his faith become overemphasized.
  • Devotee of eccentric doctrine: Has become absorbed in a distorted teaching that hinders spiritual growth.
  • Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient. If a person is a new believer, or tempted or afflicted or immature, and does not get proper treatment, he will become spiritually depressed. Besides these conditions, the following problems can lead to depression: (a) Anxious: Is depressed through worry or fear handled improperly; (b) Weary: Has become listless and dry through overwork; (c) Angry: is depressed through bitterness or uncontrolled anger handled improperly; (d) Introspective: dwells on failures and feelings and lacks assurance; (e) Guilty: Has a wounded conscience and has not reached repentance.
  • Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to a withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church.
  • Tender: Is still easily convicted of his sins and susceptible to calls for repentance.
  • Hardening: Has become cynical, scornful, and difficult to convict.

*Excerpt adapted from Note #20 in Chapter 6: “Preaching Christ To The Heart” in Tim Keller’s wonderful and Highly Recommended Book: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.

James Montgomery Boice – “The Preacher And God’s Word”

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The Preacher and God’s Word

Anyone who thinks seriously about the state of preaching in the twenty-first century must notice a strange contradiction. On the one hand, there is a strong acknowledgment of the need for great preaching, usually defined as expository preaching. But on the other hand, good expository preaching has seldom been at a lower ebb. Evangelical (and even liberal) seminaries exhort their young men, “Be faithful in preaching…. Spend many hours in your study poring over the Bible…. Be sure that you give the people God’s Word and not merely your own opinions” (The author’s own theological training was received at Princeton Theological Seminary, a seminary hardly noted today for being strongly evangelical, though many of its students are. But in the homiletics department the greatest honor was given to expository preaching and the students were repeatedly urged to allow nothing to take the place of solid exegetical work in sermon preparation. The problem is that the admonitions are not followed by the vast majority of Princeton’s graduates, and the reason for this is that the concerns of the homiletics department are being undercut by the views of the Bible conveyed in the biblical departments). But in practice these admonitions are not heeded, and the ministers who emerge from the seminaries—whether because of poor instruction, lack of focus, or some other, undiagnosed cause—generally fail in this primary area of their responsibility.

Pulpit committees know this. So do the people who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday. Many know what they want. They want a minister who will make his primary aim to teach the Bible faithfully week after week and also embody what he teaches in his personal life. But ministers like this from the standard denominations and even some others are hard to find and apparently are getting harder to find all the time. What is wrong? How are we able to explain this strange contradiction between what we say we want and what is actually produced by most of our seminaries?

Decline of Preaching

This problem is so obvious that a number of answers have inevitably been given, most of which contain some truth. One answer is that attention has been shifted from preaching to other needed aspects of the pastoral ministry: counseling, liturgies, small group dynamics, and other concerns. Hundreds of books about these diverse aspects of the ministry are appearing every year, many of them best sellers, but there are not many valuable books on preaching. There are some, but they are not very popular. And one cannot really imagine a work like Clarence Macartney’s Preaching Without Notes attracting anywhere near the degree of attention in the seventies as it attracted just thirty years ago. Clearly the attention of a great majority of ministers is being directed away from expository preaching to other concerns.

On the surface, then, this seems to be a valid explanation of the decline of good preaching, and one might even tend to justify the decline temporarily if, so we might argue, these other equally important concerns are being rediscovered. But the trouble with this view is that these concerns need not be set in opposition to good preaching and, indeed, must not. In fact, the greatest periods of faithful expository preaching were inevitably accompanied by the highest levels of sensitivity to the presence of God in worship and the greatest measure of concern for the cure of souls.

The Puritans are a great example, though one could cite the Reformation period or the age of the evangelical awakening in England as well. The Puritans abounded in the production of expository material. We think of the monumental productions of men like Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Richard Baxter (1615- 1691), John Owen (1616-1683), Thomas Watson (d. 1686), John Flavel (1627-1691), Jonathan Edwards (1702-1758), and that later Puritan Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). These men produced material so serious in its nature and so weighty in its content that few contemporary pastors are even up to reading it. Yet common people followed these addresses in former times and were moved by them. Worship services were characterized by a powerful sense ofGod’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were no less concerned with the individual problems, temptations, and growth of those under their care. Who in recent years has produced a work on pastoral counseling to equal Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656)? Who has analyzed the movement of God in individual lives as well as did Jonathan Edwards in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1737) and Religious Affections (1746) or Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844)? Questions like these should shake us out of self-satisfied complacency and show that we are actually conducting our pastoral care, worship, and preaching at a seriously lower level.

Another explanation given for the current decline in preaching is the contemporary distrust of oratory. Again, there is some truth to this. The decline in popularity of orators such as William Jennings Bryan has been accompanied by a decline in the popularity of oratorical preaching by men like Henry Ward Beecher and his more recent successors. But the trouble with this explanation is that great preaching is not inseparably wedded to any one style of preaching. Indeed, the Puritans themselves were not commonly great orators. And, for that matter, good speakers are not really unpopular today, though today’s popular style is somewhat different from that of a previous age. John Kennedy was quite eloquent, for example, and he was highly regarded for it.

The trouble with these explanations of the decline of preaching is that each is based on an external cause. They deal with the mind-set of the secular world. What is really needed is an explanation that deals with the state of the contemporary church and with the mind-set of her ministers.

What is the answer in this area? The answer is that the current decline in preaching is due, not to external causes, but to a prior decline in a belief in the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God on the part of the church’s theologians, seminary professors, and those ministers who are trained by them. Quite simply, it is a loss of confidence in the existence of a sure Word from God. Here the matter of inerrancy and authority go together. For it is not that those who abandon inerrancy as a premise on which to approach the Scriptures necessarily abandon a belief in their authority. On the contrary, they often speak of the authority of the Bible most loudly precisely when they are abandoning the inerrancy position. It is rather that, lacking the conviction that the Bible is without error in the whole and in its parts, these scholars and preachers inevitably approach the Bible differently from inerrantists, whatever may be said verbally. In their work the Bible is searched (to the degree that it is searched) for whatever light it may shed on the world and life as the minister sees them and not as that binding and overpowering revelation that tells us what to think about the world and life and even formulates the questions we should be asking about them.

Nothing is sadder than the loss of this true authority, particularly when the preacher does not even know it. The problem is seen in a report of a panel discussion involving a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister. The rabbi stood up and said, “I speak according to the law of Moses.” The priest said, “I speak according to the tradition of the Church.” But the minister said, “It seems to me….” (Of course, Judaism and Roman Catholicism are also undergoing their own struggles with the question of authority. The anecdote must involve an orthodox rabbi, a tradition- oriented priest, and an average Protestant clergyman).

It is hard to miss the connection between belief in the inerrancy of Scripture issuing in a commitment to expound it faithfully, on the one hand, and a loss of this belief coupled to an inability to give forth a certain sound, on the other. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one who makes the connection. He writes on the decline of great preaching:

I would not hesitate to put in the first position [for the decline]: the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth. I put this first because I am sure it is the main factor. If you have not got authority, you cannot speak well, you cannot preach. Great preaching always depends upon great themes. Great themes always produce great speaking in any realm, and this is particularly true, of course, in the realm of the Church. While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to speculate, and to theorize, and to put up hypotheses and so on, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane. You cannot really deal with speculations and conjectures in the same way as preaching had formerly dealt with the great themes of the Scriptures. But as belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined. I suggest that this is the first and the greatest cause of this decline (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 13. Lloyd-Jones also cites a reaction against “pulpiteering” [in which he is thinking along lines similar to my remarks about oratory] and “publication of sermons” as literary productions).

Lloyd-Jones is right in the main in this analysis. So our first thesis is that the contemporary decline in great (expository) preaching is due in large measure to a loss of belief in biblical authority and that this loss is itself traceable to a departure from that high view of inspiration that includes inerrancy.

Word Or Deed?

But there is a problem at this point. The problem is that those who approach preaching in this way are accused of making the Bible their God and of centering the gospel in a book rather than in the divine acts of God in history, which is where it should be, according to their critics.

There are various forms of this latter perspective. On the one hand, there is a valuable emphasis on the specific “acts” ofGod. An example of this is the work of G. Ernest Wright entitled The God Who Acts. In this study Wright stresses the acts rather than the Word of God, saying, “The Word is certainly present in the Scripture, but it is rarely, ifever, dissociated from the Act; instead it is the accompaniment of the Act” (G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts [London: SCM, 1952], p. 12. In more recent writing Wright has broadened this view considerably, stressing that a biblical Act is not merely a historical happening but rather one in which the Word of God is also present to interpret and give it meaning – cf. The Old Testament and Theology [New York: Harper, 1969], p. 48).

He points to the Exodus as the event on which the giving of the law is based (Exod. 20:1-3) and to the signs given to and by the prophets. According to Wright, it is the act that is primary. Another form of this critique is held by those who emphasize the revelation of God to the individual in such a way that personal experience rather than the Word of God becomes decisive. What should we say to these emphases? Are those who emphasize the Word in their preaching bibliolaters? Do they worship the Bible? Have they distorted the Bible’s own teaching through their excessive veneration of it?

Not at all! It is true that the acts ofGod can be overlooked in a certain kind of preoccupation with linguistic and other textual problems. But this is more often the error of the Old or New Testament scholar than the preacher. Actually, a hearty emphasis on the Word ofGod is itself profoundly biblical, and it is even mandatory if one is to appreciate the acts of God prophesied, recorded, and interpreted in the Scriptures.

Which comes first, the word or the deed? The most common answer is the deed, which the word is then seen to interpret. But this is a distortion of the biblical picture. Certainly the acts ofGod are of major importance in the Bible and in Christian experience. But it is inaccurate to say that the deeds come first. Rather, the Word comes first, then the deeds, then a further interpretation of the deeds scripturally.

Let me give a number of key examples. First, the creation. It is possible to argue that God created the world initially and then interpreted the creation to us in the opening pages of the Bible and elsewhere. But this is not the way the Bible itself presents this matter. What Genesis says is that first there is God, after that the Word of God, and then creation. God spoke, and after that the things about which God spoke came into being. The words “and God said” are the dominant feature of the opening chapter of Genesis (vv. 3, 6, 14, 20, 24, 26). Only after that does God “see” (vv. 4, 10, 12, 19, 21, 25), “separate” (vv. 4, 7), “call” (vv. 5, 8, 10), “make” (vv. 7, 16, 25), “set” (v. 17), “create” (vv. 21, 27), “bless” (vv. 22, 28), and explain to the first man and woman what he has done (vv. 28-30).

The second example is the call of Abraham, the next great step in the unfolding of God’s purposes. There is nothing in Abraham’s story to indicate that God acted in any particular way to call Abraham. We read rather, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”‘ (Gen. 12:1, 2). It was after receiving this word of promise that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him” (v. 4). Faith in the divine promise characterized Abraham, and it is for his response to the Word ofGod, even in the absence of the deed, that Abraham is praised: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb. 11:8), “And he [Abraham] believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).

A third example of the primacy of the word to deed is the Exodus itself, so often cited in precisely the opposite fashion. Here we do have a mighty intervention ofGod in history on the part of his people, and it is certainly true that the ethical standards of the Old Testament are imposed on the grounds of this deliverance (“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. … You shall have no other gods before me,” Exod. 20: 2, 3). But this does not mean that the deed precedes the word. Rather the deliverance was fully prophesied beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 15: 13, 14) and was announced to Moses as the basis on which he was to go to Pharaoh with the command to let God’s people go (Exod. 3:7-10).

The same is true of the coming ofJesus Christ. This fourth example is the greatest illustration of the intervention of God in history. But the event was preceded by the word even here, through prophecies extending back as far as the germinal announcement of a future deliverer to Eve at the time of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) and continuing up to and including the announcement of the impending birth to Zechariah the priest (Luke 1: 17), Joseph (Matt. 1:20-23), Mary (Luke 1:30-33), and others who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-27,36-38). Emphasis on the word of God and faith in that word in reference to the coming of Christ is particularly evident in David’s great prayer in 2 Samuel 7. God has just established his covenant with David, promising that his throne should be established forever. David responded:

Who am I, O Lord Goo, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in thy eyes, O Lord God: thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! And what more can David say to thee? For thou knowest thy servant, O Lord God! Because of thy promise, and according to thy own heart, thou hast wrought all this greatness, to make thy servant know it. . . . And now, O LORD God, confirm for ever the word which thou hast spoken concerning thy servant and concern- ing his house, and do as thou hast spoken; and thy name will be magnified for ever, saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of thy servant David will be established before thee. For thou, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, hast made this revelation to thy servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore thy servant has found courage to pray this prayer to thee. And now, O Lord God, thou art God, and thy words are true, and thou hast promised this good thing to thy servant; now therefore may it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee; for thou, O Lord God, hast spoken, and with thy blessing shall the house of thy servant be blessed for ever (vv. 18-21, 25-29).

In these words David exercises faith in the word ofGod primarily. A final example of the primacy of the word is Pentecost, which inaugurated the present age of the church. Peter, who was the spokesman for the other disciples on that occasion, recognized immediately that this was nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s promise to Joel regarding a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem … these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'” (Acts 2:14-17).

As the Bible presents the matter, in each of these key moments in the divine economy, the word ofGod rather than the deed of God is primary, though of course in some cases the actual writing of the biblical material followed both. This is not meant to suggest that the actual intervention of God is unimportant, for, of course, that is not true. It is of major importance. But it is meant to say that we are not getting the emphasis reversed when we follow the biblical pattern and stress the actual word or promise of God in contemporary preaching. This does not undermine God’s acts. The promise is about them. It merely places them in the context in which God himself places them in Scripture.

So the second thesis is that an emphasis on the Word of God in today’s preaching is demanded by the very nature of God’s revelation of him self in history. It is declared of God through the psalmist, “Thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word” (Ps. 138:2).

Having recognized the primacy of the word in God’s own dealings with the human race, it is not at all difficult to note the primacy of the word in that early Christian preaching recorded in the New Testament.

Peter’s great sermon given on the day of Pentecost is an example. Peter and the other disciples had experienced a visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested by the sound of a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire that had rested on each of the disciples (Acts 2:1-3). They had begun to speak so that others heard them in a variety of languages (v. 4). In addition to this, they had all just been through the traumatic and then exhilarating experiences of the crucifixion, resurrection, visible appearance, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. These were heady experiences. Yet when Peter stood up to preach on Pentecost, he did not dwell on his or anyone else’s experiences, as many in our day might have done, but rather preached a profoundly biblical sermon centered on specific biblical passages. 

The format was as follows: First, there are three verses of introduction intended to link the present manifestations of the outpouring of the Spirit to God’s prophecy of that even in Joel. These were a lead-in to the major text. Second, Peter cites the prophecy in Joel at length, giving a total of five verses to it. Third, there is a declaration of the guilt of the men of Jerusalem in Christ’s death, which, however, was in full accordance with the plan and foreknowlege of God, as Peter indicates. This takes three verses. Fourth, there is an extended quotation from Psalm 16:8-11, occupying four verses. These stress the victory ofChrist over death through his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Fifth, there is an exposition of the sixteenth psalm, occupying five verses. Sixth, there is a further two-verse quotation from Psalm 11: 1, again stressing the supremacy of Christ. Seventh, there is a one-verse summary.

Peter’s procedure is to quote the ‘Old Testament and then explain it and after that to quote more ofthe Old Testament and explain it, and so on. Moreover, the Scripture predominates. For although there are eleven verses of Scripture versus twelve for other matters, much of the material in the twelve verses is intro- ductory to the Scripture and the rest is explanation.

Peter’s procedure does not demand that every subsequent Christian sermon follow precisely the same pattern.We know that even the other New Testament preachers did not preach in the same way that Peter did; each rather followed a pattern deter- mined by his own gifts and understanding. But the sermon does suggest the importance that Peter gave to the actual words ofGod recorded in the Old Testament and the concern he had to inter- pret the events of his time in light of them.

One chapter farther on we have another example of Peter’s preaching. This time his outline was slightly different, for he began with a more extended statement of what God had done in

Jesus Christ, in whose name the lame man had just been healed. But this quickly leads to the statement that all that had happened to Jesus had been foretold by God through the prophets (Acts 3: 18) and then to two specific examples of such prophecy: Deuteronomy 18:18, 19 (cited in vv. 22, 23) and Genesis 22:18 (cited in v. 25). The burden of each of these sermons is not the current activity ofGod in Christ and/ or the Holy Spirit alone, still less the subjective experience of such activity by Peter or the others. Rather it is the activity of God as proclaimed in the Scriptures: “God has promised to do these things, and he has done them. Now, therefore, repent and believe the gospel.”

Peter was concerned to affirm that God had said certain things about the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, that he had said these in certain specific passages and words of the Old Testament, and that God was now fulfilling these promises precisely. In other words, in his preaching and thinking Peter gave full authority to the very words of Scripture as the words of God.

Peter’s own formal statement of his attitude to the Word is in 2 Peter I: 19-21. “And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse ofman, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

In his discussion of this text and others like it, Dewey M. Beegle argues that since Peter was not in possession of the original autographs of Scripture and does not refer his statement to them explicitly, he is referring therefore only to errant copies and cannot be saying that they are inerrant in accordance with a specific theory of verbal inspiration. He concludes, “There is no explicit indication in this passage that Peter made any essential distinction between the originals and the copies. The important teaching is that the Scriptures had their origin in God; therefore the copies that Peter’s readers had were also to be considered as being from God and thus worthy of their careful study” (Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], p. 155).

But surely to argue that Peter did not believe in an inerrant Scripture in this way is merely to read a twentieth-century distinction into Peter’s situation where it does not belong. Certainly Peter is not making a distinction between the originals and copies. That isjust the point. He is not even thinking in these terms. If someone would point out an error in one of his copies, he would readily acknowledge it-obviously the error got in somewhere-but still say precisely the same thing: that is, that the Old Testament is God’s Word in its entirety. It is “from God” (v. 21). Consequently, it is “more sure” even than the theophany that he and two other disciples had been privileged to witness on the Mount of Transfiguration (vv. 16-19). (A clear example of the fallacy of this kind of argument is Beegle’s similar treatment of the often quoted words of Augustine to Jerome, “I have learned to pay them [the canonical books] such honor and respect as to believe most firmly that not one of their authors has erred in writing anything at all” {Epistle 82, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 12, “St. Augustine: Letters 1-82,” trans. Wilfrid Parsons [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1951], p. 392}. Beegle disregards this statement because we know: 1) that Augustine read the Bible in a Latin translation made from the Septuagint, 2) that this version was errant, and 3) that Augustine was therefore wrong in regarding it so highly [Scripture, Tradition, and lnfallibility, p. 137]. But Augustine was no fool at this point. He knew there were errors in the various translations and copies. In fact, his letter goes on to say, ” If I do find anything in those books which seems contrary to truth, I decide that either the text is corrupt, or the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I failed to understand it.” Still Augustine says that the Bible, as God’s Word, can be fully trusted. He believed that, as originally given, it was an inerrant revelation, and the copies [except where it can be shown that errors in text or translation have crept in] can be regarded and quoted as those inerrant originals).

Peter is not the only one whose sermons are recorded in Acts, of course. Stephen is another. Stephen was arrested by the Sanhedrin on the charge of speaking “blasphemous words against [the law of] Moses and God,” and he replied with a defense that occupies nearly the whole of Acts 7. This sermon contains a comprehensive review of the dealings of God with Israel, beginning with the call of Abraham and ending with the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. It is filled with Old Testament quotations. Its main point is that those who were defending the law were not obeying it. Rather, like those before them, they were resisting the Word of God and killing God’s prophets (Acts 7:51-53).

Acts 13 marks the beginning of the missionary journeys of Paul and contains the first full sermon of Paul recorded. It is a combination of the kinds of sermons preached by Peter on Pentecost and Stephen on the occasion of his trial before the Sanhedrin. Paul begins as Stephen did, pointing out to theJews of the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia that God, who had dealt with the people of Israel for many years, had promised repeatedly to send a Savior, who has now come. He points out that this one is Jesus, whose story he briefly relates. Then he offers his texts, citing in rapid sequence Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33), Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34), and Psalm 16:10 (v. 35). These are explained, and then there is a concluding quotation from Habakkuk 1:5 (v. 41). Clearly the emphasis is on these verses.

On the next Sabbath in the same city many came together to hear this gospel, but the Jews were jealous and spoke against it. Paul responded by preaching a sermon on Isaiah 49:6, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

So it is throughout the other sermons in Acts. The only apparent exception is Paul’s well-known address to the Athenians, re- corded in chapter 17. In this address the apostle begins, not with Scripture, but with quotations from the altars of the Athenians and from Greek poetry, and he never gets to Scripture. But one must remember that Paul’s sermon was interrupted at the point at which he began to speak of the resurrection. Can we think that if he had been allowed to continue he would have failed to mention that this was in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, as he did when he reached this same point in other sermons? Besides, even if he would not have quoted Scripture on this occasion, it would only mean that he departed from his normal procedure. It would not mean that he regarded the very words of God, recorded in the Old Testament, less highly.

We conclude that each of the New Testament preachers is concerned to proclaim God’s word as fulfilled in the events of his own lifetime. Moreover, his emphasis is on this word rather than on his own subjective experiences or any other less important matter. The thesis that emerges at this point, our third, is that preaching that is patterned on the preaching of the apostles and other early witnesses will always be biblical in the sense that the very words of the Bible will be the preacher’s text and his aim will be a faithful exposition and application of them. This cannot be done if the preacher is sitting in judgment on the Word rather than sitting under it.

“Higher” Criticism

But how can the preacher honestly treat the Bible in this way in view of the development of biblical studies in the last century? We might understand how such an “uncritical” attitude would be possible for the early Christian preachers. They probably did not even consider the problem in adhering to an inerrant and there- fore totally authoritative Bible when they actually had only “errant” copies to work from, for they did not know the full extent of the difficulties. But we do know. We “know” there are errors. We “know” that the Bible is not one harmonious whole but rather a composite work consisting of many different and often conflicting viewpoints. Is it not true that we must simply give up the biblical approach because of the assured findings of archaeology, history, and, above all, higher criticism? Are we not actually compelled to treat the Bible differently?

Our “knowledge” that the Bible contains errors and is a composite and often contradictory work is said to be the reason for the overthrow of the old inerrancy position. But is it? When looked at from the outside, this seems to be the reason. But confidence is shaken when we realize that most of the alleged errors in the Bible are not recent discoveries, due to historical criticism and other scholarly enterprises, but are only difficulties known centuries ago to most serious Bible students. Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and many others were aware of these problems. Yet they did not feel compelled to jettison the orthodox conception of the Scriptures because of them. Either they were blatantly inconsistent, which is a difficult charge to make of men of their scholarly stature, or else they had grounds for believing the Bible to be inerrant-grounds that were greater than the difficulties occasioned by the few problem passages or apparent errors.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

Divine truthfulness was the rock beneath their approach to Scripture. Their study of the Bible led them to this conclusion, and thereafter they approached the difficulties of biblical interpretation from this premise.

This approach has characterized the majority of their heirs in the Reformation churches down to and including many at the present time, although not all inerrantists feel obligated to use this approach (Some simply accept the Bible for what it claims to be and then operate on that premise. Thoughtful exponents of this view feel that any other approach is unwarranted and even presumptuous if the Bible is truly God’s Word [“If it is, how can we presume to pass judgment on it?”]). In fuller form, the argument has been presented as follows:

1. The Bible is a reliable and generally trustworthy document. This is established by treating it like any other historical record, such as the works ofJosephus or the accounts of war by Julius Caesar.

2. On the basis of the history recorded by the Bible we have sufficient reason for believing that the central character of the Bible, Jesus Christ, did what he is claimed to have done and therefore is who he claimed to be. He claimed to be the unique Son of God.

3. As the unique Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is an infallible authority.

4. Jesus Christ not only assumed the Bible’s authority; he taught it, going so far as to teach that it is entirely without error and is eternal, being the Word of God: “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5: 18).

5. If the Bible is the Word of God, as Jesus taught, it must for this reason alone be entirely trustworthy and inerrant, for God is a God of truth.

6. Therefore, on the basis of the teaching of Jesus Christ, the infallible Son ofGod, the church believes the Bible also to be infallible (This classical approach to the defense ofScripture is discussed at length by R.C. Sproul in “The Case for lnerrancy: A Methodological Analysis,” in God’s lnerrant Word, ed. John Warwick Montgomery [Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974], pp. 248-60. It is the element most lacking in Earl Palmer, “The Pastor as a Biblical Christian,” in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers [Waco: Word, 1977]. Palmer speaks of a fourfold mandate given by Jesus Christ to every Christian: to grow in our relationship with God, to love our neighbor, to share the gospel, and to build up the body of Christ [p. 127]. But as true and important as these four items are, they do not express the whole of our obligation as Christians. We are to believe and follow Christ in all things, including his words about Scripture. And this means that Scripture is to be for us what it was to him: the unique, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God, and not merely a human testimony to Christ, however carefully guided and preserved by God. If the Bible is less than this to us, we are not fully Christ’s disciples).

The negative criticism of our day does not approach the Bible in this way. Rather, it approaches it on the premise of naturalism, a philosophy that denies the supernatural or else seeks to place it in an area of reality beyond investigation. It is this philosophy, rather than the alleged errors, that is the primary reason for rejection of the inerrancy position by such scholars.

Critical views of the Bible are constantly changing, of course, and at any one time they exist in a bewildering variety of forms. Currently we think of the Bultmannian school in Germany, the post-Bultmannians, the Heilsgeschichte school of Oscar Cullmann and his followers, and others. These views are competing. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics that tie the various forms of higher criticism together.

One characteristic is that the Bible is considered man’s word about God and man rather than God’s word about and to man. We recognize, of course, that the Bible does have a genuine human element. When Peter wrote that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” he taught that it is men who spoke just as surely as he taught that their words were from God. We must reject any attempt to make the Bible divine rather than human just as we reject any attempt to make it human rather than divine. But recognizing that the Bible is human is still a long way from saying that it is not uniquely God’s word to us in our situation and merely human thoughts about God, which is what the negative higher criticism does. The view that the Bible is man’s word about God is simply the old romantic liberalism introduced into theology by Friedrich D.E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), namely that “the real subject matter of theology is not divinely revealed truths, but human religious experience,” as Packer indicates (J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 148). Is this the case? The answer to this question will determine how and even if one can preach the Word of God effectively.

A second characteristic of much higher criticism is its belief that the Bible is the result of an evolutionary process. This has been most evident in Old Testament studies in the way the documentary theory of the Pentateuch has developed. But it is also apparent in Bultmann’s form-criticism, which views the New Testament as the product of the evolving religious consciousness of the early Christian communities.

Again, we acknowledge that there is a certain sense in which God may be said to unfold his revelation to men gradually so that a doctrine may be said to develop throughout the Scriptures. But this is not the same thing as saying that the religious expressions of the Bible have themselves developed in the sense that the negative critical school intends. In their view, early and primitive understandings of God and reality give way to more developed conceptions, from which it also follows that the “primitive” ideas may be abandoned for more contemporary ones. Crude notions, such as the wrath of God, sacrifice, and a visible second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be jettisoned. So may various aspects of church government and biblical ethics. If we decide that homosexuality is not a sin today, so be it. We can even cite the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit in revealing new truth to us in support of our rejection of such “outmoded” ethics. If we find Paul’s strictures regarding the role of men and women in the government of the church obsolete, we can just disregard them. Such thoughts are blasphemous! Yet this is what flows from the essential outlook of today’s higher criticism.

The third characteristic of much higher criticism follows directly upon the first two; namely, that we must go beyond the Scriptures if we are to find God’s will for our day.

But suppose the preacher is convinced by the Scripture and by the authority ofChrist that the Bible is indeed God’s word to man rather than merely man’s word about God, that it is one consistent and harmonious divine revelation and not the result of an evolutionary process, that it is to the Scriptures and not to outside sources that we must go for revelation. We must still ask: Can he actually proceed like this today? Is this not to fly in the face of all evidence? Is it not dishonest? The answer is: Not at all. His procedure is simply based on what he knows the Bible to be.

We may take the matter of sacrifices as an example. Everyone recognized that sacrifices play a large role in the Old Testament and that they are not so important in the New Testament. Why is this? How are we to regard them? Here the negative critic brings in his idea of an evolving religious conscience. He supposes that sacrifices are important in the most primitive forms of religion. They are to be explained by the individual’s fear of the gods or God. God is imagined to be a capricious, vengeful deity. Worshipers try to appease him by sacrifice. This seems to be the general idea of sacrifice in the other pagan religions of antiquity. It is assumed for the religion of the ancient Semite peoples too.

In time, however, this view ofGod is imagined to give way to a more elevated conception of him. When this happens, God is seen to be not so much a God of capricious wrath as a God of justice. So law begins to take a more prominent place, eventually replacing sacrifice as the center of religion. Finally, the worshipers rise to the conception ofGod as a God of love, and at this point sacrifice disappears entirely. The critic who thinks this way might fix the turning point at the coming of Jesus Christ as the result of his teachings. Therefore, today he would disregard both sacrifices and the wrath of God as outmoded concepts.

By contrast, the person who believes the Bible to be the unique and authoritative Word of God works differently. He begins by noting that the Old Testament does indeed tell a great deal about the wrath of God. But he adds that this element is hardly eliminated as one goes on through the Bible, most certainly not from the New Testament. It is, for instance, an important theme of Paul. Or again, it emerges strongly in the Book of Revelation, where we read of God’s just wrath eventually being poured out against the sins of a rebellious and ungodly race. Nor is this all. The idea of sacrifice is also present throughout the Scriptures. It is true that the detailed sacrifices of the Old Testament system are no longer performed in the New Testament churches. But this is not because a supposed primitive conception of God has given way to a more advanced one, but rather because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of himself has completed and superseded them all, as the Book of Hebrews clearly maintains. For this person the solution is not to be found in an evolving conception ofGod, for God is always the same-a God of wrath toward sin, a God of love toward the sinner. Rather, it is to be found in God’s progressing revelation of himself to men and women, a revelation in which the sacrifices (for which God gives explicit instructions) are intended to teach both the dreadfully serious nature of sin and the way in which God has always determined to save sinners. The sacrifices point to Christ. Therefore John the Baptist, using an integral part of ancient Jewish life that all would understand, is able to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Peter can write, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

In this the data is the same. The only difference is that one scholar approaches Scripture looking for contradiction and development. The other has been convinced that God has written it and therefore looks for unity, allowing one passage to throw light on another. The Westminster Confession put this goal well in saying, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” [I, ix]. (I discuss the higher criticism at greater length in The Sovereign God [Downers Grove, Ill.: lnterVarsity, I978], pp. 97- I09. The preceding five paragraphs are borrowed from pp. 113-15.

The thesis that emerges from this discussion is that higher criticism does not make the highest possible view of the Scripture untenable. On the contrary, higher criticism must be judged and corrected by the biblical revelation.

Regeneration

Not only does God exalt his name and his very words in the Scriptures and likewise in the preaching of that Word, but he also exalts his Word in the saving of men and women. For it is by his Word and Spirit, and not by testimonies, eloquent arguments, or emotional appeals, that he regenerates the one who apart from that regeneration is spiritually dead. ‘Peter states it thus: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

There are many moving images for the Word of God in the Bible. We are told in the Psalms that the Bible is “a lamp” to our feet and “a light” to our path (Ps. 119: 105). Jeremiah compares it to “a fire” and to “a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). It is “milk” to the one who is yet an infant in Christ (1 Peter 2:2) as well as “solid food” to the one who is more mature (Heh. 5:11-14). The Bible is a “sword” (Heh. 4:12; Eph. 6:17), a “mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12; James 1:23), a “custodian” (Gal. 3:24), a “branch” grafted into our bodies James 1:21). These are great images, but none is so bold as the one Peter used in this passage: the Word is like human sperm. Peter uses this image, for he wishes to show that it is by means of the Word that God engenders spiritual children.

In the first chapter Peter has been talking about the means by which a person enters the family of God. First, he has discussed the theme objectively, saying that it is on the basis of Christ’s vicarious death that we are redeemed. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18, 19). Second, he has discussed the theme subjectively, pointing out that it is through faith that the objective work of Christ is applied to us personally. “Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). Finally, having mentioned these truths, Peter goes on to discuss the new birth in terms of God’s sovereign grace in election, this time showing that we are born again by means of the Word of God, which he then likens to the male element in procreation. The Vulgate makes this clearer than most English versions, for the word there is semen.

What does this teach about the way in which a man or woman becomes a child ofGod? It teaches that God is responsible for the new birth and that the means by which he accomplishes this is his living and abiding Word. We might even say that God does a work prior to this, for he first sends the ovum of saving faith into the heart. Even faith is not of ourselves, it is the “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Afterward, when the sperm of the Word is sent to penetrate the ovum of saving faith, there is a spiritual conception.

The same ideas are in view in James 1: 18, which says, “Of his own will he brought us forth [‘begot he us,’ KJV] by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

The point of these verses is that it is by means of the very words of God recorded in the Scriptures and communicated to the individual heart by the Holy Spirit that God saves the individual. It is as Calvin says, in speaking of faith:

Faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of a tree. For no others, as David witnesses, can hope in God but those who know his name (Ps. 9: l 0) . . . . This knowledge does not arise out of anyone’s imagination, but only so far as God himself is witness to his goodness. This the prophet confirms in another place: “Thy salvation [is] according to thy word” (Ps. 119:41). Likewise, “I have hoped in thy word; make me safe” (Ps. 119:4, 40, 94). Here we must first note the relation of faith to the Word, then its consequence, salvation (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Vol. I, pp. 576, 577).

Is it really the Word that God uses in the salvation of the individual? If it is, if God chooses so to operate, then the preacher can hardly fail to give the words of God the fullest measure of prominence in his preaching. He will revere them as that super- natural gift without which nothing that he desires to see happen within the life of the individual will happen.

We conclude that the texts of the Bible should be preached as the very (and therefore inerrant) Word of God if for no other reason than that they are the means God uses in the spiritual rebirth of those who thereby become his children.

A Fork In The Road

It is often said by those who adhere to inerrancy that a departure from the orthodox view of the Scripture at this point inevitably leads to a decline in adherence to orthodox views in other areas. This would no doubt be true ifall deviators were consistent, but it is hard to demonstrate that this is always true, since one individual is not always as rigorous in carrying out the full impli- cations of a position as another. It is enough to say that this has happened enough times with those who have entered the ministry to concern deeply anyone who sincerely desires the stability and growth of evangelicals and evangelical institutions.

On the other hand, and this is perhaps even more significant, many of those who have wrestled. through the problem of the Bible’s inerrancy or noninerrancy and have come Jut on the inerrancy side, testify to this as the turning point in their minis- tries, as that step without which they would not have been able to preach with the measure ofpower and success granted to them by the ministration of the Holy Spirit. I can testify that this has been true in my own experience. As pastor of a church that has seen many hundreds ofyoung men go into the ministry through years of seminary training, I can testify that this has been the turning point for the majority ofthem as well. It is sometimes said by those who take another position that inerrantists have just not faced the facts about the biblical material. This is not true. These men have faced them. But they are convinced that in spite of those things that they themselves may not fully understand or that seem to be errors according to the present state of our understanding, the Bible is nevertheless the inerrant Word ofGod, simply because it is the Word of God, and that it is only when it is proclaimed as such that it brings the fullest measure of spiritual blessing.

May God raise up many in our time who believe this and are committed to the full authority of the Word of God, whatever the consequences. In desiring that “Thus saith the Lord” be the basis for the authority of our message, the seminaries, whether liberal or conservative, are right. But we will never be able to say this truthfully or effectively unless we speak on the basis of an inerrant Scripture. We are not in the same category as the prophets. God has not granted us a primary revelation. We speak only because others, moved uniquely by the Holy Spirit, have spoken. But because of this we do speak, and we speak with authority to the degree that we hold to what Charles Haddon Spurgeon called “the ipsissima verba, the very words of the Holy Ghost” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954], p. 73).

We need a host of those who have heard that Word and who are not afraid to proclaim it to a needy but rebellious generation.

*Article adapted from James Montgomery Boice “The Preacher and God’s Word” – Chapter 5 in The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI., 1978

About the Author: James Montgomery Boice was for many years pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the speaker on the Bible Study Hour radio program heard weekly from coast to coast. He was a graduate of Harvard College, A.B.; Princeton Theological Seminary, B.D.; and the University of Basel, Switzerland, D. TheoL. He served as assistant editor of Christianity Today before becoming pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dr. Boice is the author of Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John; Philippians: An Expositional Commentary; The Sermon on the Mount; How to Really Live It Up; How God Can Use Nobodies; The Last and Future World; The Gospel ofJohn (5 vols.); “Galatians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Can You Run Away From God?; Our Sovereign God, editor; The Sovereign God; and God the Redeemer. He was chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and was on the Board of Directors of The Stony Brook School and Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns.

George Marsden’s – “Jonathan Edwards: A Life”

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A Masterful Cultural Biography

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

It’s hard to fathom how many hours of research and writing that went into this masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden is to be commended for presenting the cultural and historical milieu in which Jonathan Edwards lived and served his God.

In this thorough yet readable account of Edwards life, Marsden paints a multi-faceted picture of the historical, cultural, political, philosophical, and theological climates in which Edwards lived and breathed. The author does a wonderful job of drawing the reader into the early to late eighteenth century of the pre-Revolutionary colonial British colonies.

If you are interested in American history, philosophy, theology, politics, and Christianity you will immensely benefit from this book. It is a treasure trove of helpful information, explanation of Edwards key ideas, and will illuminate your understanding and respect for the man that has been called the following: “The greatest mind America has ever produced” ; “The greatest Pastor in the history of America” ; “The greatest Philosopher in American History”; and “The greatest Theologian America has ever produced.” 

I recommend this book highly and know without any reservation whatsoever that lovers of Edwards will benefit richly from this outstanding biography of one of the most exceptional Christians that has graced our planet.

5 Things To Pray For Your Pastor

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5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020

By Nicholas Batzig

As a pastor, I sometimes mistakenly think that those most in need of my prayers in the church are those who have the most noticeable spiritual or physical weaknesses. I would imagine that, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all thought or said at some time or another something along the lines of, “So-and-so is really going to need a lot of prayer.” On the one hand, it is entirely right that we acknowledge that our brothers and sisters who have more noticeable weaknesses have a great need for our prayers. On the other hand, however, those to whom God has given the most gifts and graces are also greatly in need of our prayers. Contrary to what some might suppose, ministers of the gospel desperately need the prayers of the saints.

Pastors need the saints’ prayers because they are ever the object of the flaming arrows of the evil one. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. As one of my seminary professors so illustratively put it, “Ministers have a bull’s eye on their backs and footprints up their chests.” Sadly, this is even a reality for pastors within the context of the local church.

With so much opposition and difficulty within and without, pastors constantly need the people of God to be praying for them. The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. While there are many things one could pray for pastors, here are five straightforward scriptural categories:

1. Pray for their spiritual protection from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Whether it was Moses’ sinful anger leading to his striking of the rock (Num. 20:7-12), David’s adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11), or Simon Peter’s denial of the Lord (Matt. 26:69-75) and practical denial of justification by faith alone (Gal. 2:11-21), ministers are faced with the reality of the weakness of the flesh, the assaults of the world, and the rage of the devil. There have been a plethora of ministers who have fallen into sinful practices in the history of the church and so brought disgrace to the name of Christ. Since Satan has ministers of the gospel (and their families) locked in his sight—and since God’s honor is at stake in a heightened sense with any public ministry of the word—members of the church should pray that their pastor and their pastor’s family would not fall prey to the world, the flesh, or the devil.

2. Pray for their deliverance from the physical attacks of the world and the devil.

While under prison guard in Rome, the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to pray for his release when he wrote, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19; see also 2 Cor. 1:9-11.). After Herod imprisoned Simon Peter, we learn that “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). After an exodus-like deliverance from prison, Luke tells us that Peter showed up at the home where the disciples were continuing to pray for his deliverance. This is yet another example of the minister being delivered from harm due, in part, to the prayers of the saints.

3. Pray for doors to be opened to them for the spread of the gospel.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul asked the church to be praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains” (Col. 4:3). The success of the spread of the gospel is dependent in part on the prayers of the people of God. In this way, the church shares in the gospel ministry with the pastor. Though he is not the only one in the body who is called to spread the word, he has a unique calling to “do the work of an evangelist.” The saints help him fulfill this work by praying that the Lord would open doors “for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”

4. Pray that they might have boldness and power to preach the gospel.

In addition to praying for open doors for the ministry of the word, the people of God should pray that ministers would have Spirit-wrought boldness. When writing to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul asked them to pray for him “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). There is a well-known story of several college students going to visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in order to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. As the story goes, Spurgeon met them at the door and offered to show them around. At one point he asked if they wanted to see the church’s heater plant (boiler room). He took them downstairs where they saw hundreds of people praying for God’s blessings on the service and on Spurgeon’s preaching. The gathering of the people of God to pray for the ministry of the word is what he called “the heating plant”! Believers can help ministers by praying that they would be given boldness and power in preaching the gospel.

5. Pray that they might have a spirit of wisdom and understanding.

One of the most pressing needs for a minister of the gospel is that he would be given the necessary wisdom to counsel, to know when to confront, to mediate, and to discern the particular pastoral needs of a congregation. This is an all-encompassing and recurring need. The minister is daily faced with particular challenges for which he desperately needs the wisdom of Christ. It is said of Jesus that “the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and of counsel and might” was upon Him (Is. 11:2). The servants of Christ need that same Spirit. Much harm is done to the church as a whole if the minister does not proceed with the wisdom commensurate to the challenges with which he is faced. Those who benefit from this wisdom can help the minister by calling down this divine blessing from heaven upon him.

*Article adapted from Ligonier Ministries, ligonier.org  (January 3, 2020)

What is the Role of a Biblical Deacon?

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*What Is The Role of a Deacon? 

(Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions & Answers Series)

Whereas the office of elder is often ignored in the modern church, the office of deacon is often misunderstood. In many churches, the board of deacons provides the spiritual leadership in the church in partnership with the pastor. They are involved in making the important decisions of the church and often involved in teaching and shepherding. But based on the NT data, the role of the deacon is mainly a servant role.

Deacons are needed in the church to provide logistical and material support so that the elders concentrate their efforts on the Word of God and prayer.

Differences with Elders

The NT does not provide much information concerning the role of deacons. The requirements given in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 focus on the deacon’s character and family life. There are, however, some clues as to the function of deacons when their requirements are compared with those of the elders. Although many of the qualifications are similar, there are some notable differences.

Perhaps the most notable distinction between elders and deacons is that deacons do not need to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). Deacons are called to “hold” to the faith with a clear conscience, but they are not called to “teach” the faith (1 Tim. 3:9). This suggests that the deacons do not have an official teaching role in the church. D.A. Carson rightly comments, “Deacons were responsible to serve the church in a variety of subsidiary roles, but enjoyed no church-recognized teaching authority akin to that of elders” (D.A. Carson, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 229). Wayne Grudem likewise states, “It is significant that nowhere in the NT do deacons have ruling authority over the church as the elders do, nor are deacons ever required to be able to teach Scripture or sound doctrine” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 920).

Again, this does not mean that deacons cannot teach in any capacity but simply that they are not called to teach or preach as a matter of responsibility related to their office as deacon.

Like elders, deacons must manage their house and children well (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). But when referring to deacons, Paul does not compare managing one’s household to taking care of God’s church (1 Tim. 3:5). The reason for this omission is most likely due to the fact that deacons are not given a ruling or leading position in the church—a function that belongs to the elders.

Other differences provide us with less information. Some maintain that the omission for deacons be gentle and not quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:3) may indicate that the elders were often put in situations that required such characteristics. Knight, for example, suggests that this omission “may reflect the fact that the deacon is not in the role of one who must give oversight and direction, as well as discipline, in sometimes difficult situations that make such qualifications imperative” (George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 167).

Although Paul indicates that a person must be tested before he can hold the office of deacon (1 Tim. 3:10), the requirement that he cannot be a new convert is not included. Paul notes that if an elder is a recent convert, “he may become puffed up with conceit” (1 Tim. 3:6). One implication of this distinction could be that those who hold the office of elder—because they possess leadership over the church—are more susceptible to pride. On the contrary, it is not as likely for a deacon—someone who is in more of a servant role—to fall into the same sin.

The fact that Paul includes the character of a deacon’s wife also might reveal an important distinction (1 Tim. 3:11). Because the role of a deacon is focused toward serving and not leading, a wife could easily be involved. The wife of an elder would be more limited since Paul forbids women “to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Finally, the title “overseer” (1 Tim. 3:2) implies general oversight over the spiritual well-being of the congregation, whereas the title “deacon” implies one who has a service-oriented ministry.

Duties of Deacons

We have discussed some distinctions between elders and deacons, but we have yet to specify the precise duties of deacons. We already have indicated that deacons are not responsible to teach or lead the congregation. They are not the spiritual elders of the church. Instead, the deacons provide leadership over the service-oriented functions of the church. The Bible, however, does not clearly indicate the function of deacons. But based on the pattern established in Acts 6 with the apostles and the Seven, it seems best to view the deacons as servants who do whatever is necessary to allow the elders to accomplish their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the church (The role of the Seven should not be compared too closely with the role of the deacons since Steven was also a miracle-worker [Acts 6:8] and preacher [Acts 6:8-10] and Philip was an evangelist [Acts 21:8]).

Just as the apostles delegated administrative responsibilities to the Seven, so the elders are to delegate responsibilities to the deacons so that the elders can focus their efforts elsewhere. Newton rightly concludes, “In the servant role, deacons take care of those mundane and temporal matters of church life so that elders are freed to concentrate upon spiritual matters. Deacons provide much needed wisdom and energy to the ample physical needs of the church, often using such provision as opportunities to minister as well to the spiritual needs of others” (Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life, p. 41). As a result, each local church is free to define the tasks of deacons based on its particular needs.

There are some clues as to the function of deacons based on the requirements in 1 Timothy 3. Wayne Grudem offers some possibilities:

“Deacons seem to have had some responsibility in caring for the finances of the church, since they had to be people who were “not greedy for gain” (v. 8). They perhaps had some administrative responsibilities in other activities of the church as well, because they were to manage their children and their households well (v.12). They may have ministered to the physical needs of those in the church or community who needed help [Acts 6]…Moreover, if verse 11 speaks of their wives (as I think it does), then it would also be likely that they were involved in some house-to-house visitation and counseling, because the wives are to be “no slanderers” (Grudem, ST, p. 919).

We must note, however, that some of the requirements could have been given to counter the characteristics of false teachers and were not so much directed toward deacons’ duties. William Mounce maintains that the requirements listed suggest that a deacon would have substantial contact with people: he must not be double-tongued, must have a dignified wife, be faithful in marriage, and have a well-managed family (William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 46:195). Although such a conclusion is possible, it cannot be given too much weight.

What are some duties that deacons might be responsible for today? Basically they could be responsible for any item not related to teaching and ruling in the church. Below is a list of possible duties:

Benevolence – Similar to what took place in Acts 6 with the daily distribution to the widows, the deacons should be involved in administering funds for the needy.

Facilities – The deacons could be responsible for the basic management of the church property. This would include making sure the place of worship is prepared for the worship service. Other items may include cleanup, sound system, etc.

Finances – Some believe that matters of finance should be handled by the elders since the famine-relief money brought by Paul and Barnabas was delivered to the elders (Acts 11:30). But while the elders can oversee the financial business of the church, it is probably best left to the deacons to handle the day-to-day matters. This would include collecting and counting the offering, record keeping, helping to set the church budget, etc.

Logistics – Deacons should be available to help in a variety of ways so that the elders are able to concentrate on teaching and shepherding the church.

Ushers – The deacons could be responsible for distributing bulletins, seating the congregation, preparing the elements for communion, etc.

Summary

The role of a deacon is different from the role of an elder. Whereas elders are charged with the tasks of teaching and shepherding the church, deacons are given a more service-oriented function. That is, they are given the task of taking care of matters related more to the physical or temporal concerns of the church. For example, they might have responsibility over areas such as benevolence, facilities, finances, and other matters related to the practical logistics of running a church.

Reflection Questions

(1) What are the roles of the deacons in your church?

(2) In one sentence, how would you describe the main function of the deacons from a biblical perspective?

(3) What are the main differences between the elders and the deacons?

(4) Are there any clues given in the qualifications for deacons that might shed light on their duties?

(5) What are some needs deacons might fill in your church?

*Article Adapted from Chapter 36: “What Is the Role of a Deacon?” in 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons by Benjamin L. Merkle. Benjamin L. Merkle is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has taught since 2008. 

Wisdom On Bible Study from Dr. Timothy Keller

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Excellent Bible Study Help: Tim Keller said these are five questions he asks of a biblical text as he reads it for himself:

(1) How can I praise him?

(2) How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?

(3) If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?

(4) What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?

(5) Why is God telling me this today?