I was asked to put down in article from my short message for our Valentine’s Banquet. The following is a distillation of that message.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Three reasons for the message: First, because we need to learn to see that the whole of our lives are in submission to God’s Word because we believe it is God’s Word. Second, because it is easy to “do marriage” and not carefully think through how we do it. And third, because marriage should look different with Christians.
So the challenge I wish to give is simple but hard. That together you must strive against the constant pressure of this age to properly reflect God’s purposes in your marriage. And this all starts by constantly reminding your spouse of the mercies of God. Paul spent eleven chapters unfolding the rich, boundless mercy of God to us, poor sinners. He gave us His Son, while we were still His enemies, to redeem us and bring us full forgiveness from our sins. No longer children of wrath, we are now His children.
With that in mind, husbands and wives need to learn first of all how to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God. This is the essence of true worship, the daily giving ourselves to God because of His mercies toward us. We were once dead in sin but now we are alive in Jesus. Therefore we need to help each other think as those alive in Jesus. We need to help each other work and serve as those alive in Jesus. We are to help the other become holy, separated unto God. We are to examine what and how we do things to consider if they are acceptable offerings of worship to our Holy God. It is to be a marriage that acknowledges the Lordship of God in our lives and actions. In other words, marriage cannot be passive. You have made a covenant with your spouse and if both of you profess love for Jesus and you hope in His saving work on the cross for your salvation then you must labor to grow together as a pleasing sacrifice.
This means you fight against conformity to this age. This age is constantly pressing in on your marriage. Only a foolish person would not be aware of it. It seeks to conform you to its ideals and goals and delights. A biblical, God-glorifying marriage is a rebellious marriage. It shakes its fist to this age and the god of this age. It stands to make a contrast to the many counterfeits that seek to replace it. But this only happens if we know what worldliness truly is. It can be defined in three ways:
It is a belief system. Paul writes, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) It is a belief system that turns our focus from Jesus and the glory of God and onto anything else. What is the great deception that lies at the center of this world’s teachings? You can take all of them, the religions and the philosophies. The convictions and the beliefs and they all boil down to one key point—they distract you from resting and trusting and enjoying the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when you see your spouse buying into a false belief system you need to pray for them and challenge them. You must provoke them to consider their path.
It is an attitude. Simply put it is a rebelling against the Lordship of God, His designs and purposes. Jesus said it bluntly, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23) You can easily fall into a self-centered, self-righteous mind set. But if you are wise you are always seeking to better express things like justice, mercy and faithfulness. You are mindful that your marriage must not devolve into just doing the right things, but rather, it exists to promote the mercy of God to those who watch.
But the way Paul says we resist the pressure to conform to this age is by renewing our mind. How is this done? It is a huge subject but here are two key ways it is accomplished. First, as a couple you must practice repentance. Embrace the fact that you will sin and embrace that you both need to repent. As you confess your sin and you learn to reject sin together you will find yourself feasting upon the gospel that broke the power of sin in your lives. A healthy marriage is one where the couple is constantly growing in holiness and godliness in their day to day living.
Second, practice the art of biblical remembering. Remember what you were before Jesus. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our sin, we were held captive to our lusts and under the control of Satan. When a person forgets what he was before Christ he becomes spiritually smug and sin is sure to follow. But we also need to remember Jesus Christ. There are hard times in any marriage and this is why we need to contemplate Jesus. As the author of Hebrews points out, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
In addition you must remember the days past when you were faithful. There will be times you fail and difficult days. During those times you can lose hope and think that things will never change. But it is good for you to be able to look back in your life to the times you saw God’s blessing and care working clearly in your marriage. It encourages you to press forward. This is what the writer of Hebrews told his audience where were in danger of apostatizing, “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35)
Also remember Jesus’s suffering when you suffer. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) Your marriage is not fireproof. If you seek to honor the Lord in your marriage it will come under attack from outside and even perhaps from the inside. There are those who look to be lovers of Jesus, but that is before the sufferings of Jesus come. Marriages become dry deserts because the partners had a worldly view of marriage, one that focused on having fun, being fulfilled and such. But suffering reveals our idols like nothing else. But for all who love Jesus, there will come that day, or year when you shall make the decision to stand for His name and only His name.
And finally remember that Jesus shall return. He shall bring all things to light including your marriage. And when he does your marriage will be done. Too often we forget that marriage is temporary and in eternity there shall be none of it. We shall receive reward or suffer loss in how we honored it as a gift from God. All things shall be made plain and, praise God, all things shall be made new. So we help each other by reminding the spouse that this moment is not all that there is. Rather we help each other look to what is to come.
You are tasked with the responsibility of working with a man or woman in your church over a sin that dominates them. They have possibly come and acknowledged it to you or the leadership; or more than likely that person has been confronted with this sin and the need to put it away. The ugly stuff is over with. The confrontation is done, the angry looks and cutting language that the person used while being backed into a corner have passed away. Tears are dried, blame-shifting is abandoned and finally the truth, or at least most of it, is finally drawn out and now comes the good stuff. Repentance.
Do you think of repentance as the good stuff? To many the answer is no. But it is. The nasty, smelling, filthy stuff is sin tucked neatly away beneath a well-pressed shirt or a neatly maintained bank account. As that sin is hidden it invariably grows in power and its tendrils reach out into new areas of the life until one day it all comes crashing down around you. Someone had the audacity to peek beneath the surface, to ask questions that could not be easily evaded. And the next thing you know someone is sitting with you to deal with this sin and is very serious about the task.
Been there? I have. On both sides of the table I might add. I have rejoiced when I sit and see relief on the face of the one trapped in sin, as they realize they are not alone anymore and that there is someone who actually cares about them and their soul. They are fun for the confession of sin comes tumbling out , often in gasps coated in grief and shame. They want to know what to do. They desire the help.
Then there are those who are like a feral cat in a corner. Nothing is going to come easy. Questions are met with scorn, answers have to be dragged out and then carefully dissected to discern what was actually said versus what the person wanted you to assume. “I don’t remember” becomes the defense of the day. They listen with suspicious expressions as they try to discern how much you actually know. But finally, the truth comes out and lies writhing before all who witness it. They confess the sin and they appear to own it as well. Now, as I said earlier, comes the good stuff, repentance.
And so we are back to you. Pretend you are sitting in my office and you experienced the paragraph above as an interested bystander. I asked you to be there so that you could learn how sin acts and reacts when it is being confronted. I wanted you to see how ugly it can be, how destructive it truly is. You are wide-eyed and thinking that the next time I ask you to sit in with me that you will suddenly develop flu-like symptoms. But then you hear me say that you want that person to begin to meet with you for the next several weeks to begin to put this sin behind them. Do you know what to do? What to look for?
The task may seem daunting but usually it is not. It requires that you love Jesus, love the gospel, love the person and understand how repentance manifests itself. Like I just wrote, it is the good stuff. It is redemptive in its very nature. It is helping lift a beloved brother or sister out of a pit that has them trapped. It is embracing them as a fellow sinner who needs to grow in grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Next post I will begin to lay out the essence of repentance. This is important because there are a lot of forgeries out there and if you are going to help that person turn and triumph in Christ over their sin then you better be ready.
In the final chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus says to Peter that he is going to die in a very specific way. Here is how it is written: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19b NAS)
Peter, being Peter looks over at John and asks what is going to happen to him? Jesus basically says, “if I want him to live forever what do you care?” Then He says very forcefully, “You follow Me!” Jesus was not going to give into the idle curiosities of Peter nor should He.
This is a good passage to chew on for young men and women who seek the discipleship of older men and women in the church. If you are discipled by a person who has others he is discipling there becomes a great temptation to wonder what is going on in their lives and interactions. But frankly, it is not any of your business unless the one discipling you chooses to tell you.
This was a lesson I had to learn when I was younger and it is a lesson many others need to learn as well. There is something in our nature to cause us to consistently croon our necks around trying to see if what the other guy is getting is the same as what we are getting. How much time, what kind of conversations, books being read, opportunities offered, etc. But behind all of this is envy and the fear of being left out.
If you desire to be discipled you need to be ready to follow, that is the essence of discipleship. It means you stop worrying about what anyone else is doing and just be busy with what you are to be doing, reading, practicing, and hearing.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments
(Psalm 111:10 NASB)
The biblical mandate for true wisdom is simple, the fear of the LORD. To the modern, American ear this sounds quite negative, but it is not at all. It is simply the idea of orienting yourself under the authority of God in your life. It is recognizing and delighting in His utter supremacy over all things as Creator. Therefore, nothing is beyond His reach and nothing can thwart His will.
Simple enough, but that only puts you on the beginning of wisdom, not the end. I have been a pastor long enough that it is quite a challenge today in getting people to see the infinite value of just fearing God. Yet, those same people will often think that they possess wisdom for most any event or decision, never considering whether they are a person who has even begun to learn true wisdom by first consistently ordering their life under God. By using the adverb “consistently” I mean longer than a few months.
Worse, it is common to see that when they seek counsel that they gather around themselves men or women of like age and experience. To call that seeking wisdom is like a glutton asking fellow gluttons whether that extra burger is something they should eat. It is amazing how often they agree with your assessment.
When you are thinking of seeking counsel ask yourself who in your circle of life possesses wisdom that is beyond merely the “beginning of it?” Mark these men or women out in your mind ahead of time. When you go to them lay out your thoughts and your concerns. Present to them the process by which you are coming to your decision. Give clear, biblical arguments, or admit that you have none to give (which is OK, that happens more than people like to admit). And then prepare yourself to not hear a quick verse-quote and a pat on your head. Come with a spirit that says, “I lack wisdom, he doesn’t so let me come to learn.”
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 NASB)
Who are you watching? Who are you consistently going to for counsel or wisdom on a situation? I am thankful for elders who I can go to anytime and receive advice and warnings.
If you need some additional reminding, here is the video we showed in our church a short time ago. If don’t have 5 minutes, then just jump to 1:30 and listen.
I am reluctant to link and comment to this other blog because I am in it. However I have a different set of readers out there in blog-land and I think the essences of the post is worth it. For me, as a pastor, the question is always how I spend my time and what is my vision.
In many ways the temptation is to grow the church, even when my lips are quick to say, “No, no, that is not what we are about.” And now, after fifteen years at the same church it is tempting to relax and enjoy the lack of battles that I once had to fight. A third temptation is to coast on all of the hard study I did in prior years realizing that so many who attend now have never heard those sermons.
But in the end I keep coming back to what I never really had, a man who would lend me his life so that I could walk next to it, watch it, and learn from it. I had many good men that I knew, but none who would go so far as to do that for me and the effects are still felt today. A long time ago I decided that if someone wanted me they could have me if at all possible. But I also decided that they would get the real me, not the one I wanted them to see. For those I have who want to go into full-time ministry I have tried to give them a no-holds look at want lies before them. Nothing is worse than entering into something that demands everything you are and you are ignorant of what lies ahead for you and your family.
All of that to say, here is a good blog post, excellent perhaps, on how one seminarian views the value of what many churches offer, an internship. But this is not for seminarians, or even pastors. In fact, it is for anyone who seeks to influence other Christians, formally or informally. This is what our young people need from our old people. This is what that first time mother needs from the grandmother. Just bold, honest, faith-filled, gospel-centered advice. Read it and consider yourself, what are you doing in the lives of those younger in the faith?
What? You don’t know Serapion? Psssssh! Obviously you need to bone up on your Church history. Serapion was a pastor back in the second century. You can read a bit about him here. And as a pastor he took his responsibility as a shepherd very seriously. Two key tasks are at the foundation of any faithful pastor. Accurately teach the Word and guard the Church from false teaching. In reality they are one and the same, just different sides to the same coin.
Paul wrote these words to the elders in Ephesus upon his imminent departure:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock ; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert . . . . (Act 20:28-31a)
That charge has not changed over the past 2000 years and most certainly did not fall on deaf ears with Serapion. Here is what happened. He found out that in one of the smaller villages, known as Rhossus a letter was being read and expounded that was supposedly written by the Apostle Peter. In time he was able to secure a copy of it and upon reading it realized that it could not have been written by Peter. He was well trained and as he read it he could see many problems emerging from the text. Issues that were not consistent with the biblical texts. He warned the churches using the letter of the dangers and as a result was found to be a faithful shepherd.
You can read a lot more about this event here, it is a good introduction to the nature of how our canon (the exact number of books in the bible) came about. What stood out for me though were these words:
Despite Serapion’s rejection of the book, Gospel of Peter remained popular reading among Christians for several centuries. In fact, more ancient fragments remain from Gospel of Peter than from the Gospel According to Mark. Still, only the scantest evidence exists to suggest that, except for those few months in the church at Rhossus, Gospel of Peter was ever considered an authoritative account of Jesus’ life.
The second century church was a lot like today. Every wind of doctrine came blowing by and many were eager to glom on to them, all to the harm of the church. But even though the Gospel of Peter remained popular as a book in the church, Serapion remained faithful as a witness against it. It appears he was in the minority but that did not matter. He had a charge, given ultimately from God Himself, to preach the Word and the correct those in error. And that was the charge that motivated him to his task.
Today we need the same. There is no way to stem the flood of bad teaching, much less, false teaching. You have men and women claiming a word from the Lord right and left. You have obvious charlatans leading revivals right and left. You have men who believe they are the voice of God today and their devoted followers who see them as anointed and untouchable. You have other pastors in love with men like Joel Osteen, yearning to have a “church” similar to his. A man like T. D. Jakes is able to be proclaimed orthodox by two pastors based merely upon their own word. And the list goes on and on; and this is only in the evangelical Western world.
The only answer, unless the Lord is pleased to bring about true repentance and revival, is to be ever reforming. Always submitting ourselves to the written Word of God. It is to be teaching truth and refuting error. It is disciplining out of the church those who cause dissensions through strange teachings. The task of the pastor who is ministering right now is to stand firm and remain faithful to his charge. In addition it is his responsibility to raise up young men within his congregation who can be strong in the Word and faithful in deed. Men who will be true, faithful servants of the Most High.
And like Serapion, numbers and polls cannot matter. All that matters is faithfulness to our Lord. It is His Church and He shall build it.
This is the next installment on the issue of church discipline. I am seeking to give reasons why the Church is expected to actually carry this out. The primary passage is Matthew 18:15-17 which establishes the basic process on discipline. But it was also my first reason for the practice of discipline–our Lord commands it.
The second reason is simple but important seeing it practiced is a lesson to all others in the church. Sin is serious and how one is handling who is practicing sin is serious as well. It helps force people who might be flirting with sin to become serious and sober-minded again. It reminds them that they belong to a community of believers and they are not mere individuals with no accountability.
There are two examples I can point to in Scripture that help make this point. The first is in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. Here is the brand new church, just starting out. The practice at that point was to bring your offerings and lay them at the feet of the Apostles who would then oversee the dispersing of the funds as needed. Ananias had committed to give all the money from the sale of some land, but he decided, with his wife’s full knowledge, to keep some back. Apparently when he brought the money it was with the idea that he was giving all of it to the Lord. End result for both him and his wife was that they were struck dead by the Lord. Now that is discipline!
If this situation followed the advice that I have been often given by some over the years, it would have been, “don’t rock the boat.” You can hear it now, “it was just a small lie, who hasn’t done that. God is the God of love and forgiveness and we need to overlook these things.”
But the very opposite was the action of the Spirit. This is key to note because it was not the work of man to kill them. This is not some mad fundamentalist who got out of control. It was the Holy Spirit who did this. Discipline was swift and fierce, and the result in found in verse 11, “and great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” That is one of those understatements that pop up all over the bible.
The second passage is in relation to elders. In 1 Timothy 5:20 an elder who continues to sin is to be publicly rebuked so that the rest of the congregation may be fearful of sinning. We actually have done this in our church and that was exactly the result we saw. Several men realized that they were taking their following of Jesus way to casually and it caused a bit of a season of repentance within the Body. It was not fun, but it was a good and necessary event commanded by our Lord.
Well it has been quite awhile since I continued with my story, you know, the one that is why I started this blog in the first place. If you didn’t know about the story you can read it in this order here, here, here, here, and yes, even here. But dear reader, be wise and start reading them from left to right.
I am still in Houston (no, not literally, in the telling of my story I am still in Houston) and still at a medium sized Southern Baptist Church that was not helping me or my girlfriend to grow. I was on my own and was devouring everything I could get my hands on by John MacArthur. At some point I thought it would be cool to get some training and heard he had a Bible Institute called Logos. I inquired about doing it via mail. They don’t do that, but the person who relied back to me mentioned that there was a former associate pastor who now pastored in my area. So I checked the church out and was so blessed to hear a biblical sermon for the first time in untold years. A man turned around when Kim and I first took a seat and immediately greeted us with a, “Hi, my name is Bruce I want to tell how God saved me and saved my marriage.” We were hooked and began attending from that day forward.
Kim and I started to have pre-marital counseling and the pastor started to disciple me. Not anything real solid, but it was better than what I had up to that point, which was nothing. I was a starving man being given real food and I could not get enough of it. Which was why I was stunned a few months later to come to church and have the elders announce that they had made the pastor resign because he was not accomplishing the things they desired from him. One man, who was my Sunday School teacher, stood up and told the church he had been praying every day since the pastor came that God would remove him and he was thankful that day had come. I was sick, stunned and mad. How could the elders not see that he was a good teacher? How could they say he wasn’t accomplishing the right things? Rubbish! That is what it was, rubbish.
When I went home that day I called a couple of men I knew there and they were angry as well. We talked and decided we would get together with a few families and consider starting a new church and have the man pastor us there. And that is what we did. A little church was constituted in Houston, Texas in a child care building.
Oh, and did I mention that in all of this I showed incredible arrogance, folly, and am ashamed of ever starting that church? No? Well I was, but that part and the part where God’s providence works in and through idiots like me will have to wait for the next post on my story.
I was preparing to publish another pastoral prayer today when I happened to read a short bit out of 2 Timothy which then set off a different stream of thinking. Here is the text:
But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me!(2 Timothy 3:10-11)
Paul loved his son-in-the-faith Timothy. That is evident wherever they are mentioned or interact. And Paul was a faithful discipler to Timothy. He was a man who diligently pursued his Lord and learned to order all things in his life under the mighty hand of his Lord. No, not to the point of sinlessness, but to the point of consistency and faithfulness. This is so true that he could tell the church at Corinth to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1) because he was confident that he was imitating Christ.
It is here that the duty of being a discipler of others becomes very dangerous. The essence of discipleship is calling the person to follow you. The assumption is that you are following Jesus and have done so to the point of greater maturity than the other person. You are inviting them to walk down the same path you walked. You are, in other words, calling them to imitate you.
Do you see the element of danger now? Look at the list Paul put together for Timothy, all that Timothy followed Paul in doing. Notice that immediately following that there is not the standard apology that Paul could have “been better at being an example.” There is the simple, confident statement that Timothy followed him. Not just his teaching, but in his conduct. Not just his conduct, but his sufferings. Not just his perseverance, but his love. Such a broader spectrum of the life of a Christian.
Discipleship is a serious, dangerous duty. We are all called to make disciples of Jesus and that assumes we are pursuing and following Him ourselves. There is no reason not to be moving toward discipleship, all that is required is to repent of taking that duty lightly. Discipling a person is a life of continual repentance as you exhibit what it looks like not to have ‘arrived’ as much as to be pressing onward.