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A Model of Determination
July 22, 2016

Today I want us to travel together into the past, to England in the late 1700’s. King George III is on the throne, though this is before the madness that would mark his final days. The Industrial Revolution is well underway and life is changing as people begin a great migration to the cities to pursue those new factory jobs. On the other side of the Atlantic the American colonies have recently declared their independence.

Let’s zoom in on the year 1789 and the city of London. A well-dressed man walks into the British parliament and he delivers a daring speech. He makes a bold proposal. He wants to bring to an end a great evil, an evil he believes is staining his entire nation.

At this time in history, England is a nation that not only allows slavery, but actually condones it and supports it. In fact, the English economy has come to depend on it. British ships are constantly sailing down the African coast and as they go they are capturing men, women and children and shipping them across the Atlantic into a life of slavery. Countless thousands of these slaves will die along the way. Families are ripped apart; women are treated savagely; children are torn from their parents. These slaves are regarded as less than human, unworthy of rights and freedoms. North American plantations are producing vast wealth and making England a rich nation, but only at this cost—the cost of allowing and advocating slavery. Slavery is so much a part of the economy that almost nobody believes that anything can ever change.

WilberforceBut one man does. One man believes he can make a difference. His name is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce had become a member of Parliament in 1780 when he was only twenty-one years old. Five years later he experienced a great change in his life when he read a Bible and came to believe that he was a sinner who needed to be saved by Jesus Christ. That experience forever transformed his life and now, just 4 years later, he has come to see slavery as a great and reprehensible evil and he will dedicate his life to ending it. He believes that whether a person has dark skin or light skin, whether he was born in Africa or England, all are equally created in the image of God. All human beings have equal dignity and worth because all are equally made in the image of the Creator. None has the right to enslave another.

And so this man stands in front of his fellow members of Parliament and makes a speech in which he pleads justice for slaves and he proclaims that slavery is immoral, it is wrong. He is being very strategic here. He is not proposing that slavery be done away with all together. Not yet. There will be time for that. First he simply proposes that the slave trade be regulated and curtailed. Yet even with this modest proposal he is defeated. It is not even close.

He is defeated and slavery continues. Those ships continue to steal thousands and thousands of people and take them far away. But Wilberforce will not stop fighting. He will not go away. He brings bills again in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, 1805. And every time he is defeated. He is defeated by filibuster. He is defeated by illness. He is defeated by unrest and rebellion among slaves. He is defeated by international interests that simply refuse to allow the slave trade to die. He is defeated by plain old bigotry.

But still he does not give up. He does not surrender. His enemies come up with a strategy: If we can destroy the man we can destroy the cause. Even when great personal attacks come against him, even when people try to destroy his name and reputation, he persists. He fights on.

Much later he reflects on this time and says, “So enormous, so dreadful did the slave trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.

His first success comes in 1807, almost 20 years after he first began his crusade. In this year his persistence leads to a bill to abolish the slave trade in the British West Indies. Now, suddenly, the slave trade is illegal. This does nothing for those who are already slaves, but it is a start—an important start. And that day, too, will come. Wilberforce will live to see the triumph of his cause when slavery is finally and completely abolished. He is a man who changed the world by staying committed to his cause, by staying committing to his principles, by staying committed to what he knew God had called him to do.

We look back on William Wilberforce today and see his life and times as a great triumph of good over evil. Rightly do we regard him as a heroic figure. But his life was one of constant battles and discouragement. The one great victory came only after many, many crushing defeats. It was his persistence that changed minds, that changed his nation, that changed the course of history. If he had grown weary, if he had lost his confidence in his cause, he would not have rewritten history. He would not have been the hero he is today.

William Wilberforce exemplified one great but rare characteristic, one great but rare Christian trait. He was a model of determination. A model of persistence. A model of perseverance as he pursued what he knew God had called him to do. God had given him a desire and an opportunity and he persisted until he had completed the work God had called him to.

(Sources: William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity, Amazing Grace)

July 21, 2016

You know you ought to pray. You know that God invites and even commands you to pray. He loves to hear from you, loves to know you. Yet there are times when your soul feels bone dry, when even opening your mouth to pray seems an impossibility. What do you do?

Just Pray

Perhaps the hardest thing to do in those times is to even make the effort to pray. Just pray. It is always the right thing to do. Pray short if you need to. Tell God you are struggling to pray. But somehow just pray.

  • And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:17-19)

Pray the Gospel

Try some of these passages, all of which Jerry Bridges recommended as keys to his prayer life. As you pray them, confess who you are and remind yourself what God has done in Christ for you. Kindle even a small flame in your soul with the warmth of the Good News.

  • As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
  • “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
  • All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
  • Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
  • There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Pray Boldly

Boldness can be hard to come by in times of spiritual dullness or crisis, but boldness is the Christian’s birthright. Pray boldly, confident that Christ has opened the way to the Father and all of his blessings.

  • Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Pray Confidently

Pray boldly but also pray confidently, relying not on your own words or wisdom, but on the Spirit’s intercession.

  • In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Pray for Wisdom

Pray acknowledging your lack of wisdom not only to face your situation but even to know how to pray about it. Pray for wisdom because, as God says:

  • If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

Pray to Believe and Accept God’s Promises

The promises of God are good and sweet and comforting if only you will believe and accept them. Pray that God will help you to!

  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Pray for Peace

God is the giver of the truest, deepest soul peace. Pray that he will grant his peace to your soul.

  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Pray for Faith to Know that God Is With You

Finally, pray for the faith to believe that God does not leave or forsake the ones bought with his Son’s blood. He is always near, always with you.

  • Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

July 20, 2016

You, Christian, are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God makes his habitation within you. He has joyfully, willingly, come to you so you can be near to him. This knowledge, this wonder, has powerful consequences.

It gives assurance. If the Holy Spirit has made his home within you, you can be sure that he will never abandon you. Who or what could ever drive God out of his dwelling place? Is Satan powerful enough to displace the Spirit? Of course not. Is your sin or your desire to sin or your unbelief enough to drive him out once he has come in? Never! Knowing that you have the Spirit within allows you to live free from the terror of abandonment, free from the fear that God will give up on you. God has not only chosen to do something to you from without but has also chosen to take up residence within.

It gives hope. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is meant to give you hope in the battle against sin because as committed as you may be to battling sin, as much as you see the corruption and vileness of indwelling sin, you can rest assured that the Spirit sees it much more clearly and is much more committed to battling it than you are. You do not fight the battle against sin on your own, with only your own motivation, with only your own strength. No, you fight alongside the Spirit who is there within you, seeing the sin, hating the sin, longing for that sin to be destroyed so his dwelling place can be swept free of all defilement.

It gives motive. It gives you the motive you need to put sin to death, to attack it wherever it exists, and to tear it up by its roots no matter how deep they go. Every Christian wants this dwelling of the Spirit to be worthy of the Spirit; every Christian wants the Spirit’s dwelling to be undefiled by sin. When you know and believe that the Spirit has wonderfully and willingly taken up residence within, you have a powerful motive to full-out pursue the holiness he so loves.

Christian, you are indwelled by God himself. In the Old Testament God’s people had to go to the tabernacle and temple to experience the nearness of God. When Jesus was on the earth the people had to be in his presence to experience the nearness of God. Today each Christian experiences the deepest and most immediate intimacy, the intimacy that comes when God abides within.

Rescuing the Gospel
July 18, 2016

Is the Reformation over? Have the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics been sufficiently resolved that we can now pursue a return to unity? At the very end of his book Rescuing the Gospel, an account of the Protestant Reformation, Erwin Lutzer offers a compelling answer. While he admits that both Protestantism and Catholicism have developed since the sixteenth century and while he points out areas in which Protestants and Catholics are working in a common cause toward common goals, he insists that the Reformation has not yet come to an end. Any unity would come at the expense of the gospel. “On the most critical issue, namely the salvation of the human soul, Luther’s Reformation is far from over … No matter how many changes the Catholic Church makes, it will not—indeed cannot—endorse an evangelical view of salvation.”

Many make the argument that Catholicism has changed, that the church of the twenty-first century is so vastly different from the church of the sixteenth century that the old disagreements and arguments no longer hold. But here Lutzer points to 5 contemporary teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that must continue to divide us.

Mary. “The church still holds to the traditions it has always held about Mary, her perpetual virginity, her immaculate conception (which denies the biblical truth that all have sinned), the assumption of her body and soul into heaven, the queenship of heaven, and—most seriously of all—the ‘infallible’ teaching that she is the mediatrix of all grace, thus sharing with the Lord Jesus Christ in providing salvation for mankind. The catechism says, ‘By her intercession she continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation … Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” It is to her “protection that the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.”

Transubstantiation. The updated 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to teach transubstantiation, the doctrine that “the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice … the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner.” “Catholics are taught to worship the consecrated wafer … indeed, parishioners are instructed to give these consecrated elements the highest form of worship—the same degree reserved for the Holy Trinity. Historically (and to this present day) the Catholic Church has taught that salvation comes only through the grace given in the sacraments which, they say, unite the participant to Christ.”

IndulgencesIt comes as a surprise to many Protestants that the Catholic Church continues to affirm the use of indulgences. But “when Pope Francis visited Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013, the Vatican offered a plenary (complete) indulgence to those who couldn’t attend the event but followed on Twitter or by other means. The difference between today and days gone by is that indulgences are no longer sold as such; they are obtained by following the prescribed rituals and showing proper devotion to God as requested by the pope.” The very issue that sparked the Reformation remains in effect today.

Superstitions. While Lutzer admits that there is variance between official and unofficial teaching when it comes to superstitions, he also shows that the Church makes no move to ban such superstitions. To the contrary, they are tolerated and celebrated. “In St. Peter’s Basilica, long lines of people stand before a statute of the apostle to touch (or kiss) his toe. I asked our tour guide about this, and she said, ‘We have this tradition that if you touch Peter’s toe and die you go directly to heaven and bypass purgatory’.” Sure, this is unofficial teaching, “but why would Rome—in the very Vatican no less—foster and encourage these kinds of superstitions that mislead millions? Why aren’t the priests, in Rome or the West, condemning these kinds of abuses? What difference does an accord on justification with Protestants make as long as crowds continue to line up in the Vatican to touch the toe of Peter in order to receive special blessings, perhaps even the promise of eternal life?”

Sainthood. While both Protestants and Catholics speak of saints, we use the word very differently. The Catholic view of sainthood in which saints are recognized and canonized by the church, proves that Catholicism teaches a completely different understanding of justification and of glorification. In this way any doctrine of sainthood does not stand on its own but points to much deeper and more serious issues.

Again Lutzer asks the question: Is the Reformation over? Yes, “the complexity of the Reformation of the sixteenth century with all of its conflicts that permanently changed the map of Europe—that Reformation is over. But the doctrines that Luther and Calvin stood against—that aspect of the Reformation is not over.” In light of that, Lutzer insists that evangelicals remain vigilant like Luther, for “in some sense, our task is more difficult than his.” In the same way Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11 for giving the “impression that he agreed with the Judaizers,” we too must diligently rescue the gospel from even appearing off course. In short, conceding to blurred lines for the sake of unity is spiritual compromise. “We must remind the world that the gospel of the New Testament is for the spiritually needy who have nothing to offer God; they come not to give but to receive; they come not just to be helped but to be rescued.Their contribution to salvation is their sin; God’s grace supplies everything else.”

The Perfect Game
July 15, 2016

Baseball returns this evening from its annual mid-season classic. As the teams prepare to take the field I find myself thinking about the game I love, the game that has gripped and fascinated me for as long as I can remember. It is, to my mind, the best sport, the perfect game.

As a child I dreamed of mastering baseball and spent hundreds of sunny summer afternoons chasing the perfect fastball, the perfect swing, the perfect one-hopper from left field to the plate. When night came I fell asleep listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth as they called the highs and lows of the Toronto Blue Jays and when sleep took me I dreamed of taking my rightful place on my team—George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Dave Stieb, and me. Eventually childish fantasy gave way to adult reality but even broken dreams did nothing to temper my passion for the game. A son was born and soon I began to introduce him to my game and to my team. The cycle began anew.

What is it about this game? Why is it that every April I feel a new optimism, a new hope, a new excitement for a new season? Why is it that every October I find myself longing for just a few more games, a few more series? Why do I have such love for this game?

I Love the Challenge

Baseball is a game whose official rules extend to 172 pages and in these pages you will find provision for every eventuality from the routine and everyday to the obscure and nearly unthinkable. But for all the complexity, the heart of the game is so very simple—a man with a ball stands 60 feet, 6 inches from a man with a stick. The man with the ball pauses, he stares, he comes set, and for a moment remains perfectly still. Then he moves again in a careful choreography. His hands rise to his chest or his head, his knee comes up to his waist, his foot kicks outward, and as he plunges toward home plate his hand darts forward. Freeze the frame and you will see him clutching the ball, sometimes with his fingers split across two seams, sometimes with his fingers split across four, sometimes with the ball deep in his palm, sometimes with it nearly floating beneath his fingertips. Unfreeze. With a flick of the wrist it is gone and a mere four tenths of a second later it has slammed into the catcher’s mitt with the familiar smack.

Unless, of course, the man with the stick has had his way. Facing the pitcher is a batter and as the pitcher has been preparing to throw the ball, this man has been moving and shifting his own body, preparing to protect the plate. Before the ball is thrown he stands ready, his fingers loose on his bat, his wrists slowly rotating, his eyes fixed intently on the place where the pitcher’s hand will soon be. He shifts his weight back, lifts his front foot, and rotates his hips to the front as his arms begin to swing. If he times and judges it just right, he will hear the sound of summer, the sharp crack of ball on bat.

This, I’m convinced, pitcher against batter, is the greatest one-on-one challenge in professional sports. This little game within the game, played out hundreds of times every night, never gets old, never loses its thrill.

I Love .200, .300, .400

Baseball is a game of numbers, the sport of a thousand statistics. The most basic of them all is the batting average, the age-old measure of a batter’s raw ability to put bat to ball. It is best understood as the number of times the player will deliver a base hit if given 1,000 opportunities. The difference between a .200 batting average and a .300 batting average is merely 1 hit in every 10 at bats—just 100 hits in 1000 attempts. Yet that slim margin represents the difference between a bona fide superstar and a man looking for a new line of work. In almost every case a .200 hitter will be sent back to the minors or, at best, relegated to a part-time role. In almost every case a .300 hitter will be a star and receive a fat contract. As for that .400 hitter, there has not been one of them in over seventy years. How difficult is it for the man with the stick to beat the man with the ball? If he succeeds 2 times in 10 attempts he is a has-been, 3 times he is a star, 4 times he is a legend.

I Love the Fastball

The fastball is the one pitch every pitcher needs to master and to have as part of his repertoire. For all the talk of sliders and curves and sinkers, there is nothing more elemental than a pitcher overpowering a batter with that high heat. He might throw the venerable four-seamer which flies straight and true or opt for the two-seamer which tails off as it reaches the plate. Better yet, he will throw a mix of the two to keep the batter guessing. He will paint the corners, he will lure him and get him to chase, he will move up and down in the zone, he will assert his dominance. Baseball is at its purest when a fireballing pitcher stares down a red-hot slugger.

I Love the Change-Up

The purity and simplicity of the fastball is off-set by the dirtiness and deception of the change-up. The change-up is a pretender, a mimic, a cheat. It wears the guise of a fastball—the same look, the same action, the same motion—but it travels at a very different pace. This makes it a risk. The slow-moving change may as well be batting practice if the batter knows it’s coming. So the wise pitcher first displays his fastball. He throws it once, twice, three times. Now the batter has the measure of it, he is ready for the next one. But right here the pitcher judges the change-up worth the risk and springs his little surprise. Where the fastball zipped, this ball saunters, where the fastball stayed straight and true, this one falters and sinks. The batter is fooled, swinging long before the ball reaches the plate or perhaps finding himself stock still, tied in knots, helplessly watching as it chugs on by. Nothing makes an experienced pro look more like a rank amateur than a change-up perfectly set-up and perfectly executed.

I Love 60 Feet, 6 Inches

The integrity of baseball depends upon 2 crucial measurements, each of which brings parity to an aspect of the game. The first measurement is 60 feet, 6 inches, the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. That perfect distance brings perfect parity between the man with the ball and the man with the stick. Any closer and a fastball would be unhittable—the batter would have too little time to read the pitch, to judge it, to take his swing. Any farther and the pitcher would have too far to throw—the advantage would swing to the batter. But 60 feet, 6 inches is just right, ensuring that only the best pitchers and hitters are able to survive, and only the best of the best are able to thrive.

I Love 90 Feet

If the first great measurement is 60 feet, 6 inches, the second is 90 feet, the distance between the bases. It, too, is perfect because it, too, sets the perfect parity—parity between offence and defence, between runners and fielders. Even the greatest base-stealer must choose his moments carefully lest he be unceremoniously cut down. But even the greatest defense must be vigilant lest they be caught flat-footed and give up an easy base. At 85 feet defences would suffer and at 95 runners would have too far to go. Watch a runner steal second base and see how close he comes to being tagged. Watch a batter leg out an infield single and see that with another 5 feet, or 2 feet for that, he would be an easy out. It is the perfect distance to maintain the challenge just as it ought to be.

I Love 325 Feet

Baseball depends upon precise measurements—60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher to the plate, 90 feet from base to base—but it finds its character in imprecise ones. Beyond those few, precise measurements there are any number of ways the game is quirky and customized. A field for professional soccer or football is identical to every other, but when it comes to baseball, every field is different, every one has its unique personality. There is the 325-foot short porch in AT&T field’s right corner, the imposing Green Monster rising up in Boston’s left field, the infamous double and home run catwalks jutting over the field in Tampa Bay, the ivy-covered walls in Wrigley Field. Some parks have fast-playing grass and others have slow-playing turf. Every field is different, every field an individual.

I Love the Shift

Actually, I don’t love the shift, but I do love what it represents. It represents strategy, the measures teams take to gain even a small advantage over their rivals. Yet with any benefit there is risk. A team may put on the shift to gain double coverage in one part of the field but to do this they must abandon another section altogether. They pull in the infield to try to make an out at the plate but this increases the risk of a hot hit scorching through. They guard the runner to keep him from the easy steal but this widens the gap between first and second. Or maybe they choose not to guard him at all but this offers him a tempting head-start if he decides to steal. Through the ebb and flow of a game each player will position himself a hundred different ways to account for a hundred different scenarios. Behind every moment of action is a deliberate strategy.

I Love the Game

Perhaps the greatest beauty in baseball is the vast chasm between its apparent simplicity and its actual difficulty. It is and remains the greatest one-on-one showdown in sports. There is nothing quite like it. Free throws, penalty kicks, penalty shots, 55-yard field goals each have their own challenge, their own thrill. But there is nothing as pure and nothing as thrilling as a man with a ball trying to blow it past that man with a stick.

Image credit: Shutterstock

How To Be Rich
July 14, 2016

My family lives in the poorest section of one of Canada’s wealthiest towns. Work brought us here sixteen years ago, and we bought the only house we could afford—a forty-year-old thousand-square-foot townhouse surrounded by much newer homes that are five, six, and seven times more expensive than ours. With a brief, five-minute drive we cruise past gated neighborhoods where every home costs in the tens of millions. In a town like this we have many opportunities to see great wealth and all the ostentation that can come with it. In a town like this we often hear people brag of their riches, of all that they have, all that they spend.

In our town we are poor. As my daughter said after visiting a friend: “We rode bikes in their basement. Their basement is bigger than our whole house!” But measured wider, we are rich. By somebody’s measure we are all rich. In comparison to someone else, even you and I have extravagant wealth. After all, poverty and wealth are relative terms and by the very fact that you are reading these words on an electronic device you have more wealth than someone else. And for that reason you and I need to learn to live the lifestyle of the rich and godly.

Listen to what Philip Ryken says as he examines some verses in the book of 1 Timothy:

In the providence of God, some Christians live in comfortable circumstances. They own their own homes. They wear nice clothes. They have more than enough food to eat. And Christians who are blessed with such material prosperity do not need to feel guilty about it; nor do they need to divest themselves of their wealth. They are even allowed to enjoy themselves. For everything we own comes from God himself, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). God is no miser. He provides for the rich and the poor alike, and whatever he provides is for our enjoyment. … The Bible celebrates the good things of life.

Yes, the Bible celebrates the good things of life, but it also warns us they can be deceptive, that they can keep us from celebrating life’s better things. We are far too easily pleased. As wealthy Christians, you and I need to learn to live well with our wealth. 1 Timothy 6 outlines a number of ways to do that and I was recently struck by a few of them.

First, the rich and godly acknowledge the temptation that we will set our hope on our wealth. Riches engage our sinful hearts with the promise of provision, the promise that our daily bread comes not from God’s hand, but from a pension, a bank account, a retirement plan. We need to constantly remind ourselves that these riches are uncertain, that a lifetime’s wealth can disappear in the blink of an eye, the screech of car tires on wet pavement, the collapse of a market. Wealth is good but unreliable. We need a better place in which to set our hope.

Second, the rich and godly are known not for their abundance of finances but their abundance of good works. Paul says “[We] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…” The consistent testimony of the Bible is that we are all to do good to one another, constantly seeking opportunities to glorify God by caring for others. This is equally true for the rich and the poor. No matter who we are or what we have, we are to commit ourselves day by day to good works—works done for the good of others and the glory of God. Rich people may consider themselves too good, too blessed to get their hands dirty in caring for others. But no, rich and poor alike are to seek out opportunities to be hands-on ministers of mercy to others.

Third, the rich and godly put their wealth to work in this great task of doing good to others. Those who have been blessed with financial means have the added privilege and responsibility of doing good to others through their wealth. Ryken says “Some deeds of mercy also require money. Thus another way that wealthy Christians can glorify God is through the wise use of their money. God calls all his children ‘to be generous and ready to share’ (1 Tim. 6:18), to embrace a lifestyle of giving. Instead of considering godliness as a means to gain, he wants them to use their gain as a means of godliness. The stewardship of personal wealth is an important aspect of a rich Christian’s calling.” We are not to be known for our extravagant wealth but our extravagant deeds—deeds done for the good of others and the glory of God.

The simple fact is that by some measure you and I are rich. We need to admit it, embrace it, and seek God’s guidance in living like it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

12 Marks of Excellent Pastoral Ministry
July 13, 2016

John MacArthur has had a long, faithful, fruitful ministry unblemished by great scandal. For decades he has maintained a tight focus on teaching the Bible verse by verse and book by book. In 2006 he taught through 1 Timothy 4 and there he saw Paul providing his young protégé with “a rich summary of all of the apostle’s inspired instruction for those who serve the church as ministers, as pastors. And it all begins with the statement, a noble minister, an excellent minister, a good servant of Christ Jesus.” What are the marks of such a man? MacArthur reveals twelve of them.

An excellent minister warns people of error. Paul urges Timothy to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines… rather than furthering the administration and stewardship of God” (verse 3). The same instructions are given two chapters later and in 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and 1 Thessalonians 5. An excellent minister “understands the devastating potential of lies” and instructs his people against teaching and believing them. “When you point out error, you are a noble servant of Christ.”

An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture. This is a continual process he gives his life to. “You will spend your whole life mastering one book - one book, the only book that God has inspired which he has placed all of his truth. The Bible becomes the sole content of your ministry, the sole theme of your preaching and it must saturate your mind and your soul. You make a radical commitment to the Bible and to Bible study and to Jesus. That is being lost rapidly in ministry.” That loss is evident in a culture in which the Bible is no longer authoritative. Publishers, pressured to bring Bible sales back up, feel they must “appeal to felt need rather than the revelation of God.” The Bible is not fiction, it is not a book of suggestions, it is the inspired Word of God. “We are to saturate ourselves with the teaching of Scripture, the content, the words of the faith, and the dedoscalia, that which Scripture affirms propositionally.”

An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching. “Have nothing to do with worldly fables” (verse 10). The word used here is Peritaomi which means to radically separate from what is holy. There are some things so evil that a pastor must not even listen to them. “Many young men who started out in ministry have been ruined, not by learning error as error, but by sitting under someone teaching error as truth. Being seduced with error from someone who believed that the error was true.” An excellent minister separates himself from the “corrupting influence of unholy teachers.”

An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness. “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (verse 4b). This implies “strenuous training, self-abnegating, self-dying discipline in the direction of godliness - pulling up the loose ends, girding up the loins of your mind, as Peter would say it, beating your body into submission, lest in preaching to others, you become a documas, disqualified.” All the while the excellent minister needs to keep his conscience clear. Paul was speaking to a culture that like ours, was obsessed with vanity and physical exercise, but “an excellent minister, while responsible for his physical health, is far more consumed with his godliness and the disciplines that produce godliness.”

An excellent minister is committed to hard work. “If a man is willing to pay the price for fatigue and weariness, his ministry will not be mediocre.” Excellent ministry should be exhausting. Paul calls Timothy “to labor and strive “ (verse 10). The word for this is agonidzimi, to agonize in struggle. The gospel is worthy of a minister’s agony for his labor has eternal significance. “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things that are not seen” (2 Corinthians 4:17). MacArthur continues, “There is no more important, no more glorious, no more wondrous work than as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4… adding souls to the heavenly hallelujah chorus so that their voices can redound to the glory of God.”

An excellent minister teaches with authority. Verse 11 says “command and teach these things.” The Bible does not give prescriptions or suggestions, it gives commands. “Authority comes from God through the Scriptures to you when you handle the Scripture accurately, clearly and boldly.”

An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue. “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.” Paul commands Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather… show yourself an example of those who believe” (verse 12). MacArthur, reflecting on his first week at his church remembers being introduced in this way: “We don’t know what this young kid is gonna be able to tell us.” How did he overturn this? By living a godly life: “The single greatest support of truth in your preaching is the power of an exemplary life. This is your most reliable weapon. This is what makes everything believable.”

An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry. Verse 13 is a summation of what a minister is called to do: “Until I come, give attention to the reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Read, explain, apply, and be consumed with Scripture. “The greats of the past understood their whole life was given comprehensively to the word of God.” MacArthur, when asked by his students the secret to great preaching answers, “keep your rear end in the chair until you finish your work. Come out when you have something to say.”

An excellent minister uses his spiritual gift and employs it. “That is to say he is faithful to the usefulness of that gift, that calling, that ordaining, that setting apart over the long, long haul.” Verse 14 says, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you.” The excellent minister knows that the gift he has, given by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in his life, is a gift he has for life: “You’re headed for a long life. And I hope it’s long - very long.”

An excellent minister is passionate regarding his work. The phrase used in verse 15 literally translated means, “in these things be you.” This applies to all life - there is no work/life separation here. “In this you live, move and have your being.” In these things be you.

An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually. Already, MacArthur established that the excellent minister’s life must be one of spiritual advancement, but a key word here is “manifestly.” This ought to show! “Let your progress be seen by everybody. People can live with that. They can love someone like that. They need to see your weakness. They’ll embrace you for it. They’ll love you for it. And they’ll know you understand their weakness.”

Finally, an excellent minister perseveres in ministry. All eleven elements thrive on this. Here, MacArthur reflects on 37 years of ministry: “I’ve seen 37 years of the work of the word in his church and what a joy, what an unspeakable benediction to my life. And when you do all these things, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

This is what an excellent pastor does. and the solemn commitments he must make. In closing, MacArthur asks, “You want results? Those are the best results you’re gonna get. Heaven—that is the greatest result.”


You can listen to, read, or download MacArthur’s sermon free of charge from GTY.org.

No Bible No Breakfast
July 11, 2016

No Bible, no breakfast. Have you ever heard this little phrase? Has anyone ever told you to obey it? It’s a mantra that I have bumped into a number of times in the past few weeks. In one recent case a popular Christian leader held it up as a necessary motto for the believer, a basic mark of Christian obedience. He seemed to imply that godly people don’t eat their breakfast until they’ve read the Bible. He told how he holds to this rule and insisted that his followers ought to do the same. I cringed when he said it. I cringe just about every time I hear “No Bible, no breakfast.”

ShirtAs I understand it, the phrase originated with the Chinese evangelist Leland Wang. He once wrote “I have lived by ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ for forty-four years.” He explained that he instituted this personal rule after being convicted that he was too often willing to skip his daily Bible reading in order to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I found an … effective means of ensuring my early reading. If I did not read at least one chapter to start the day, I did not eat my breakfast. ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ became my motto.” It became his personal motto and was meant to ensure he would prioritize time in God’s Word. In this way the mantra is no different from any of the rules or principles you and I might implement to address our weaknesses and promote our sanctification. “No Bible, no breakfast” may be just the one you or I need to ensure God’s Word takes appropriate priority in our lives.

But like any other rule or any other principle, we need to be very careful how we apply it. We need to be cautious about how much weight we assign to it. The reason I so often cringe when I hear this motto is that some well-meaning Christians have made it a rule that begins to bind the conscience of other believers as if it is a sure mark of godliness. There is nowhere in the Bible where God insists that we must spend time reading his Word before we eat our first meal of the day. In fact, while we are told we must make the Bible a priority in our lives, there is not even a clear command to tell us that we must have a time of daily personal devotions. For this reason we have to speak cautiously and pastorally when using a phrase like “no Bible, no breakfast” lest we fall into the critique Jesus made of the religious authorities of his day: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). What the Bible does not demand of us may prove to be a heavy burden to others. We may also forget that the rule does not exist because we are godly but ungodly—Wang created the rule because he was otherwise neglectful toward an important responsibility. It’s as much a marker of ungodliness as it is of godliness.

Wang himself seems to have understood the potential danger of his rule. He insisted that he instituted it “not as a law to bind me, but as a motto to remind me. For ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’.” This was his rule to address his conscience and his weakness. He recommended it to others but seems to have understood that he would have been overstepping his authority to demand it of them. That is wise! We can all benefit from hearing how others apply God’s truth to their lives and the measures they take to promote personal godliness. But the benefit fades when we insist that others must take those same measures.

The biblical priority is not “reading before feeding,” but the primacy of God’s Word in the life of the Christian. For some people this priority is best expressed in reading the Bible before eating breakfast. For others, though, this is a difficulty or impossibility and for them the very same rule may bring unnecessary doubt or unfair shame. What represents freedom for some will represent captivity to others. So heed the rule if you can do so in freedom. Even recommend it to others if you think they would benefit from it. But, like Wang, ensure that it is not a law to bind you but a motto to remind you.

No Bible No Breakfast

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