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Christian Living

January 23, 2012

This morning I am going to begin just a short series of articles on marriage. Having read several books on marriage in the past few months, I found myself really intrigued by what Paul says about the topic in his letter to the Ephesians. I’ve since had the opportunity to study it and wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

I am going to cheat a little bit at the start of this series by going to the end of the story before the beginning. There are a couple of members of my family who do this if they are reading a tense or scary novel—they will flip to the end, figure out how things conclude, and then go back and read the middle. Once they know that everything works out well, they can go back and read the rest without getting too wound up. I am going to do that here because any discussion of biblical marriage involves some scary words and ideas like submission and headship and leadership. This makes it very tense for a lot of us, so we’re going to go to the end of the story and see that it all turns out okay. Then we’ll go back to the rest of it.

Here is where we will begin:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31,32).

As he comes to the end of his teaching on marriage, Paul springs a giant surprise. He says that marriage is a mystery, that there is a hidden meaning in it and that until now this meaning has been hidden. The surprise is that marriage is a type or a picture or a display. Marriage is meant to be a portrait of something else. To show this he goes to the Old Testament, to the very first marriage of the very first man and woman. Let me give you some context.

The Mystery

God had created Adam and then allowed Adam to live by himself for a time so he could come to this understanding that in all of creation there was not a helper that was suitable to him. All the animals God had created paraded in front of Adam. Adam gave them names but saw that they were all very different from him. It’s not that he was lonely and pining away, but that God had him see that there was nothing or no one who was equal to him, no one who could help him carry out his God-given mandate. Adam had received his mandate from God, that he was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. But he knew that he could only do that with the help of something or someone that was like him.

Then God said, “It is not good for this man to be alone.” He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and he took one of his ribs and he fashioned a woman from it. He presented this woman to Adam in the first-ever wedding ceremony and the man immediately broke into a song of praise. Now he saw his helper, the one who would complement him and complete him and he sang out:

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

And then we read these words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now here, thousands of years later in this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul returns to these words and says this: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Just like that, Paul gives a whole new meaning to marriage, a whole new purpose. He says that for all this time the joining of husband and wife in marriage has actually been a mystery, that it has been pointing to something else, something greater. Only now after the death and resurrection of Jesus are we able to see what it has been pointing to. The mystery is that the marriage relationship is a portrait of the relationship of Christ to his church. This relationship is the ultimate marriage, the real marriage.

January 20, 2012

In his answer last week as to whether all jobs have the same intrinsic value, Matt Perman made the distinction between economic value and moral value: Not all jobs have the same economic value because, clearly, some jobs pay more than others. But this doesn’t make some jobs more important than others, because all jobs have the same moral value—that is, we are able to serve God fully and completely in any job (assuming it isn’t unethical by nature).

Matt’s answer spawned a lot of good comments and questions. One in particular brought up a point I wanted to hear Matt talk about a little bit more. In a nutshell, the commenter stated: “In addition to the moral value and economic value for a job, wouldn’t you say there is also a third category that we could call ‘impact value’?” He defined impact value as “the amount of good it does or can do for the kingdom.”

So I asked Matt if he would give us his thoughts on this, and once again he kindly obliged (He’s good that way). His answer:


This is an excellent question and I would say: yes, absolutely. That is a great and important point.

So we really have three categories here: moral value, economic value, and impact value.

January 18, 2012

It has come as kind of a shock to me, now that I am a pastor and preaching on a regular basis, that the vast majority of the sermons I preach will be rather ordinary. I will study hard and pray hard and work hard, I’ll get started early in the week and give it a couple of days to germinate and give it another look-through early on Sunday morning, and at the end of it all I will have a rather ordinary sermon. Not a bad one, but an ordinary one. It certainly won’t be the sermon I had envisioned when I first sat down with my Bible and a cup of hot coffee on Monday morning. In my mind I’ve got these visions of greatness; before me on the pulpit I’ve got this reality of ordinariness.

Last week a friend asked me how my sermon had gone and I said, “Somewhere between being receiving a standing ovation and being pelted with dead cats.” That seems to about capture it, because honestly, I don’t know. It’s not like the people were weeping and throwing themselves to the ground in sorrow and repentance, and it’s not like they all just got up and left. Their response was as ordinary as my sermon—some people expressed gratitude, a couple of people offered correctives or improvements, and the majority said nothing while showing nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

I guess when I had considered preaching I figured I’d be able to knock it out of the park every Sunday—that if I began early enough in the week and gave myself enough time to study I would always be able to put together an amazing sermon, or an above-average one at least. If I just put in the time, I would be able to do something extraordinary and put together something sublime. But even in those weeks that I can dedicate a full 30 or 40 hours to sermon preparation, Sunday rolls around and I find myself wishing for just another week or just another two weeks, to iron out the kinks and get the sermon where I hoped it could be.

This month I am preaching through the second half of Ephesians, a text that really deals with the ordinary Christian life. What does it look like to live a life that has been transformed by this gospel of grace through faith? Paul lays it out in all its ordinariness. It is not a life of doing things that makes all the world take notice and declare your virtues, but a life of quiet, humble service and a long, slow growth in godliness. And yet I still find myself hoping to write extraordinary sermons on being ordinary. Until now I had missed the irony.

January 17, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about Satan’s Great Desire which is to bring about disunity in your local church, somehow convincing you that the people in your church are no longer worthy of your love. I ended by giving the encouragement that God has equipped us to build and maintain this kind of unity and that all we need to do is use the tools he has equipped us with. How has he equipped us? According to Ephesians 4, he has given each of us a spiritual gift that is to be used to build unity through service to one another. 

This area of spiritual gifting is noticeably Christ-centered and along the way Paul makes three big points:

First, Christ is the giver of gifts. Paul goes all the way back to Psalm 68 and shows that this Psalm speaks of the resurrected Jesus giving gifts to the people he loves. These aren’t gifts wrapped in paper that we can open and put on display, but gifts in the form of abilities we possess. Christ doesn’t toss these gifts out to Christians in a random way, but thoughtfully and deliberately gives a gift to each person as he sees fit. Christ has a plan in giving out these gifts. He is the one who determines who will receive each gift and how much of that gift each person and each community of Christians will receive.

Second, Christ gives gifts that are diverse. If we look throughout the whole New Testament we’ll find several lists of these gifts and when we put them together we find that there are at least 20 of them; there are undoubtedly many more than the ones listed. What we see is that Christ gives out diverse gifts. In this letter Paul gives a partial list and one that focuses specifically on teaching. Some Christians are given gifts of teaching and here he lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The job of these teachers is not to do all the ministry or to use all the gifts, but to shepherd and teach and equip every Christian to use his own gift. These teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Why? So each one can then use his gift in a fuller, more comprehensive way.

January 16, 2012

I have been engaged in a study of the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and, not surprisingly, the themes from that letter have been resonating in my mind over the past few weeks. I have been struck by Paul’s emphasis on the importance of love and unity in the local church. On the one hand it’s kind of obvious—we need to love the Christians around us—but on the other hand, the personal implications are profound. I’ve always known that God calls me to love the people I covenant with in my local church, but until now I haven’t been quite so aware of the danger of falling out of love.

Paul did not seem to have any particular concern with the unity of this church in Ephesus. As far as we can tell he wasn’t writing because the church was splintering apart or because he had heard rumors of their disunity. But perhaps this was even more reason for him to address the issue. Paul knew that Satan is the great enemy of God and his people, and one of his enduring tactics to disrupt the church and to hinder our witness to the world is to bring about disunity. How does he do this? He does it by first eroding the love between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wherever there is disunity there will first be the absence of love and the presence of pride. Satan’s great desire for your church and for mine is to fracture the people in those churches into camps, into groups built along lines that have no business dividing us. We may know this in the abstract, but we need to make it personal. Here is what we need to see: God wants me and commands me to love the other people in my church; Satan wants me to hate them. God wants me to feel a great deal of unity with those people; Satan wants there to be an issue between us—something, anything, to drive us apart.

Have you ever paused to think about this? Do you know that Satan is actively working in your local church right now to drive a wedge between you and the other people there? He wants you to hate that other person—or at least to stop loving that other person—and he is constantly giving you opportunity to do just that. A quick survey of church history, whether on a global or local scale, will show just how successful he has been. He will split churches into factions by first making those Christians find reasons not to love one another, not to bear with one another in love.

January 05, 2012

This is my once-monthly Puritan post. I know that I’ve lost 50% of you with the word Puritan, but don’t be too hasty to run away; if you take the time to read this post, I know that you’ll benefit from it. I am simply sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death.

I have been going through John Owen’s book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate. So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death and seen that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death. Last month we saw that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin.

Having laid all the groundwork of the first four chapters, Owen is now ready to proceed to his primary concern, which is a practical consideration of how to put sin to death. Here is how he will go about this in the chapters to come: First, he will show what it is and what it is not to mortify any sin; then he will give directions for things you will absolutely need if you are to mortify any sin; and finally, he will discuss the particulars of how we actually go about putting sin to death.

Owen first covers what does not mean to mortify sin; this is what I am writing about today. The big theme of this section, at least in my view, is the deceptive nature of the human heart. There are many ways and many times that we convince ourselves we have put our sin to death when in reality we have done anything but.

Mortification is Not the Utter Destruction and Death of Sin

To mortify a sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished. There is no man that truly sets himself to mortify any sin, but he aims at, intends, desires its utter destruction, that it should leave neither root nor fruit in the heart or life. … Now, though doubtless there may, by the Spirit and grace of Christ, a wonderful success and eminency of victory against any sin be attained, so that a man may have almost constant triumph over it, yet an utter killing and destruction of it, that it should not be, is not in this life to be expected.

We should not expect that any one sin will be eradicated to the point that we can declare it fully and finally dead, never to appear in our lives again. In fact, the moment we do that, we invite Satan to tempt us in that very way. We aim at eradication, anticipate a great level of success, but know that it will only be completed destroyed when we are made perfect.

Mortification Is Not Simply Masking Over an Existing Sin

When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.

Do you see how deceptive the heart is? A man may forsake a sin, he may stop committing it for one reason or another, but that is not the same as actually putting that sin to death. Bad motives may cause us to mask over a sin for a time, but without the work of the Holy Spirit, that sin still lives on, even if it is quiet for a time.

December 22, 2011

Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories of the early church. It is a great little bit of writing—a short story in three acts. I was reflecting on that story recently and just had to tell you about it.

The chapter begins with a description of Herod’s persecution against the church. In order to please his Jewish subjects Herod has James arrested and killed. This makes his subjects so happy that he then goes after Peter, throwing him in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts Peter under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail; it is a little fact, some narrative tension, that the author offers to foreshadow what will come.

The second act tells how Peter is delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes all the guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happen to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived. But she forgets to let him in; he is left standing on the street, pounding at the door. With the prayer meeting coming to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that he really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while.

In the third act we return to Herod. Herod has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. And then we find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this story, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

December 14, 2011

There is no greater challenge in all the earth than living the Christian life. There is no challenge more difficult, no pursuit that demands more of us. Of course there is also no better pursuit and no greater joy than this—to seek the Lord. In the midst of this all-consuming task, it is wise to ask, at least occasionally, “How are we doing?” What is the state of the Christian church at this time?

It can be difficult to answer a question like this. We tend to look at Christianity from a too-earthly perspective. We know what the Lord has called us to be, we know what the Lord has called us to do, and so often all we can see is our own shortcomings and failures. The Lord has called us to take the gospel into all the world and to do so with boldness. Yet we are terrified to even whisper that good news to our neighbor. The Lord has called us to live righteous lives, to live lives that are marked by the gospel. Yet our lives are marked and stained by worldly values and worldly desires. We know that Jesus has told us not to worry about what we will eat and drink but always to trust in the Lord’s provision. And yet we worry, we save, we horde, we hold tightly to the things we know we should hold loosely. We feel the weight of all of this; we feel the shame of all of this, the guilt of it.

But let’s pause for a moment to ask whether we are thinking about it from the right perspective.

Let me tell you about my son. He is an utter failure and a terrible disappointment. Though he professes Christ, he is too often rude to his mother and to me; though he says that he is a Christian, he refuses to get along with his sisters, he refuses to do his job to the best of his ability, he gets grades that are so much less than they ought to be. And we won’t even speak of his personal hygiene! He is a grave, grave disappointment to me.

But hang on. What kind of a father would I be if I looked at my son in this way? What kind of a Father would have such a narrow view and such a negative view? When I look at my son from the perspective of a father, I see the sin and I see the things I wish he would do better, but that is not who he is to me. I am proud of my boy. I love my son and am thrilled at the way he is growing and learning and developing. I see him growing in his knowledge of the Word of God and growing in his ability to live as if it is true. Sure, he and his sisters fight too often, but I know that he sees his sin (eventually) and that he seeks their forgiveness. Yes, he can complain about having to do his job, but if he allows himself to sin for a time, he later repents and asks the Lord to give him a cheerful heart the next time. He is my son; I love him and I am proud of him.

Do you see the difference it makes when we look from the perspective of a father instead of the perspective of a son? It makes all the difference in the world.

December 13, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about Christians and money and tried to give an answer to 2 questions: Do I have to give some of my money away? and What should my attitude be as I give my money away? You can find that article here. Today I want to continue this little 2-part series by asking and answering 2 more questions: Where am I to give? and How much am I to give?

Where Am I to Give?

If what I said yesterday is correct, then we have established that we have to give some of our money away. This leads to the question of where we are to give that money. We have a near-endless number of great options available to us—we can give to the church, to individuals, to parachurch organizations or to charities and non-profits. If you have money to give, you will never have trouble finding worthy causes eager and willing to accept it. But what does the Bible say?

I find that question more difficult to answer than I might have thought. The New Testament presupposition seems to be that your primary form of giving is to the local church. At least, this is what appears to be modeled, even if it is not explicitly stated. Certainly this was the Old Testament pattern; the tithe was not given to individuals, but was given to the Lord through his appointed people.

What I find in the New Testament is that our responsibility for caring for others, whether that is in sharing the gospel or in sharing our wealth, begins closest to us and then moves out from there. A man is considered worse than an unbeliever if he does not care for his own family, not if he does not care for a family on the other side of the planet. After that, his responsibility is to his own local church—the brothers and sisters in Christ with whom he has covenanted. This is very practical; it would not make a lot of sense for him to assume primary care for a family in Asia while his primary care comes from someone in Australia.

So first we need to care for family, then church, and after that it goes out to other Christians. The New Testament seems to place a higher priority on caring for other believers than caring for unbelievers. Both may be important, but we are to care for other Christians before we care for non-Christians. And then of course there are times in which we can and ought to care for everyone, as a way to tend to needs and as a way to open up doors for the gospel. 

This is what we see modeled in the New Testament. After caring for their own families, people were giving through the church. While there is no doubt that Christians were at times giving directly to other Christians, the early church model is to give to the church so the church can distribute to those in need. We see this in the stories of Barnabas and Ananias and Saphira, those people who brought their gifts to the church for distribution (though out of very different motives). The church was the collection point and the distribution point.

This idea of giving primarily to the church makes sense for quite a few reasons.

December 12, 2011

Last week I wrote a little bit about money, trying to point out 4 of the ways that we, as Christians, tend to think about money and possessions in worldly ways. Today I want to follow that up with what the Bible says about giving and tithing. God gives us money and tells us to be careful, faithful stewards of it. Is one component of our stewardship giving at least a part of that money away? Let me answer this question by asking a series of four more: First, Do I have to give? Second, How am I to give? Third, Where am I to give? And fourth, How much should I give?

Let’s acknowledge from the outset that this is an always-difficult subject and one which generates quite a lot of discussion and disagreement. I plan to share the way I have worked it out in my own mind.

Do I Have to Give?

Money is a good gift of God. Even though it can be used for great evil and even though it always threatens to become an idol, money is good. Money is not the root of all evil; rather, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. This means that there is nothing wrong with earning it; there is nothing wrong with bringing home a paycheck. And, in fact, quite the opposite is true. The Lord expects that we will work hard, earn a fair wage and use our money responsibly.

With this in place, and assuming that you will earn money, does God now require you to give at least some of it away? My understanding is that he certainly does. I have come to this conclusion in a couple of different ways.

First, we see this modeled in the Old Testament. Of course we need to be careful with drawing from the Old Testament since we now live after Christ rather than before him. But having said that, many principles of the Old Testament are instructive. One thing God made clear to his people, from the earliest days, is that he required them to give back to him. He asked for the firstfruits of their labor; he wanted the first and the best. These firstfruits were symbolic of God’s claim to all of it. By giving away the first and best, God’s people were acknowledging that all of it was truly his. If they had given the last and worst, it would have been an indication that it truly and actually belonged to them. God asked for the best and that is what the people were to give him as their joyful duty.

God also asked for a tithe. He first announced this law in Leviticus 27 where he says, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” This means that one tenth, ten percent, of the harvest was to be given to the Lord. In that day the people did not deal in currency as much as in produce and goods, so that is what the Lord required them to give. No matter what line of work you were in, you were required to bring a tenth of it to the Lord—the first and best tenth. God did not get the leftovers but the best of the best.

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