Joe Thorn gives some excellent points concerning preaching that we all would do well to heed.
Monthly Archives: April 2008
Matthew 5:10-12 says:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus now shows what will happen to the “peacemakers” who try to bring others to Christ: persecution. And notice that Jesus doesn’t spend just one verse on this topic, but three. Why? Because of what Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” If you live for Jesus, opposition will come.
Some feel they are being persecuted at work, at home, etc. But there is a difference between getting persecuted and being persecuted for righteousness sake or, as it says in Matthew 5:11, on his account. He is speaking of persecution as a result of radically living for Christ. The world may persecute, but the church may as well because many may feel threatened and guilty seeing you live a life of mercy and purity and sharing your faith. Some just can’t handle it, so they try to drag that person down to their level rather than imploring God help them rise up to a level of sacrificial obedience.
Jesus is saying there are many ways to be persecuted. Some said it was just torture, but even spoken words of evil, insults, ridicule, mockery and shameful behavior may come our way as well. Jesus was not just persecuted by those who jammed the crown of thorns on his head or drove the nails in his hands. He was persecuted by Peter who denied him and Judas who betrayed him and by his disciples who abandoned him.
The truth is, we as Christians do our best to avoid persecution. We cannot stand having anyone say anything against us for any reason. My question to you is this: are you being persecuted and ridiculed and mocked and insulted for your faith? If you are, Jesus says, rejoice and be glad. See how contrary the Kingdom of God is to the kingdom of this world? Why rejoice? Because the reward you have in heaven is great! You are identifying with the prophets.
You see, being merciful, being pure and holy, being a peacemaker has a price. And however much you are willing to sacrifice in your life in Christ will be in direct proportion to how much you treasure Jesus Christ. So we must examine ourselves and test ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) and ask, Is the life I’m living so given over to Christ that the world takes umbrage? Do we give people a reason to persecute us for the sake of Christ?
May God shine the white hot light of His Spirit on us to see if we are living as a child of the King!
At a time when we have just acknowledged the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq where approximately 140,000 of our troops are fighting and where another 31,000 troops are deployed to Afghanistan in a war that began six years ago, we think of peace as a significant goal to attain. Is this the type of peacemaker we should be?
At a time when divorces are so rampant and homes are broken, a peaceful home almost seems too good to be true. Does God want us to be peacemakers in our home?
We live in a small community filled with churches that have arisen from church splits, and sadly church splits and religious divisiveness are par for the course nowadays. Is Jesus telling us to lower our doctrinal and denominational convictions so unity and peace may prevail?
You can see just from these three issues how people can read these verses in many different ways. For some, it means turning into a wishy-washy Charlie Brown type. But the Scriptures tell us that there are times when we need to contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In other words, anyone who denies himself and follows Jesus by faith will have opposition in the world.
So what type of peace is Jesus bringing? The Apostle Paul helps us in 2 Cor. 5:16-21:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The key is in verse 18, “The ministry of reconciliation.” This is the type of peacemaking Jesus is talking about and that Paul echoes, “Be reconciled to God.” True peacemakers are not just ones who try to reconcile nations or families or even churches, but it’s deeper — it’s reconciling a sinful man to a holy God. These are ones who are the “sons of God.” Meaning, as a son you bear the character of your Father who moved heaven and earth to reconcile you to Himself.
Let me ask you: are you a peacemaker? I’m not speaking of trying to reconcile sinner to sinner, but spending time working to reconcile sinners to a holy God? You say, “Well, that’s not my gift.” Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that evangelism is a spiritual gift, but is part and parcel of being a Kingdom child!
What can we do?
- Take time to look through the Two Ways To Live plan to get a good framework of what God has accomplished through Christ.
- Ask God to remind you of where you were before Christ.
- Ask God to show you the condition of those who are without the peace of Christ.
- Ask for a new love for Christ so you will rely more on your love for Christ rather than your fear before man!
- Realize that success is in obedience, not their response (HT: William Fay, Share Jesus Without Fear).
Now, let’s go!
Jesus urges us not to look to external piety and good works or even to our intellect, but toward the purity of heart he requires if we desire to fellowship with him. Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV).
If you desire to fellowship with God, then you must desire holiness before God. Christ here is calling us to unadulterated, unblemished purity. We all must be careful in allowing anything in our hearts, souls, and minds that distorts or takes away from the holiness of God. Carson again asks, “What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral?” Purity should not be present only in certain situations, but privately and publicly.
Staying pure is not easy at first. Since we are products of the Fall and are tinged by sin. I will say this: oftentimes, those who have not surrendered to Christ understand Christ’s desire for holiness better than some Christians. They understand it’s a total surrender. For many Christians, it’s just about getting to heaven. All too few concern themselves about growing in the faith. But Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
J. Vernon McGee told one time while at a chapel service in Dallas that a beautiful song was sung, “Take Time To Be Holy” which starts off, “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord.” Yet, Lewis Sperry Chafer who preached at that service requested that one word be changed. He said, “Let’s sing, ‘Take time to behold him, speak oft with thy Lord.” The connection is clear: If we wish to behold him, we must strive to be holy. And if we strive to live holy lives because we love him and wish to behold him as he is.
Do you long for purity in your heart? Do you find yourself allowing unholy things into your mind?
Due to some rather unseemly sites inexplicably linking to my site and to the inordinate amount of spam over the past two weeks, I am changing my site from http://bromattsblog.wordpress.com to http://treasuretheword.wordpress.com. The same content will be on this site. But this unseemly site linked to a particular post, and in order for me to delete the post, I would have to go on that site to find the actual link so I could delete the page. It wasn’t worth it, believe me.
So if you enjoy this blog, please change your bookmarks and your RSS feeds. The other blog will be gone within the next week.
Podcast #11: Welcome to the Treasure The Word Podcast. In this podcast, Bo McMillan challenges us to live a life of holiness in Christ. He preaches from 1 Peter 1:13-21. Bo is a student at Eastern Kentucky University.
Every once in a while I hear something that helps me so much in understanding my Christian walk, it gives me one of those “Ah-ha!” moments. I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller out of New York. One day, his wife insightfully told him how the Christian life for so many was like putting quarters in a Coke machine. The object is to put the quarters in, then out comes the beverage. But on occasion, you put the quarters in and they don’t drop. So what do you do? You shake it and bump it until you hear the quarters drop.
For all too many Christians, the quarters have been deposited in our minds. We know the facts of the Gospel in how God made us, how we have sinned, and how we need to be saved by Christ through his death and resurrection. Many of us have made that decision. The problem though is that those quarters haven’t dropped and we’re waiting in that frustrating in-between stage where we know salvation in Christ, but we just fail to live it out in Christ.
Last week, I preached on the first four beatitudes. Those are the quarters in the machine. These last four Beatitudes are what should come out when the quarters drop. Being a Kingdom child is not just about Kingdom thinking, but Kingdom living. And the only way this can happen is not just from living out Kingdom principles, but when the King of Kings lives in us — Jesus Christ. My prayer this morning is that the Spirit will shake us until the quarters drop.
1. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Mercy. One of the words that we find used in a number of different places, but do we really understand what this word means? We tend to use the word ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ in much the same way. Think of it this way: grace is receiving something you do not deserve, and mercy is not receiving something you do deserve. D.A. Carson says that, “Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.”
So, when we read this passage of Scripture, we tend to take it like this, “If we are merciful, we shall receive mercy.” If you do this, then this will come back to you. This sounds right on the surface. But how does one become merciful? In reality, one who is merciful is one who has received mercy himself — he is one who understands his need for mercy and have received it abundantly. He understands, going back to the first beatitude, that he is in poverty in spirit due to his sin. As a result, he prays like David did, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquities, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-3).
I came across this recently, “It is sometimes said that an alcoholic who won’t admit he’s an alcoholic hates all other alcoholics.” Here’s a question for you: are you more offended at someone else’s sin moreso than your own? How can you tell? Well, have you shown mercy because you realize that great mercy God showed you? Do you find yourself feeling unworthy of it? Do you find yourself even resenting God’s mercy?
Consider Jonah. Jonah was a Bible-believing prophet commissioned by God. Yet God sends Jonah to a place and a people that to whom he feels far superior. He believes in the Bible, yet displays no compassion, no love, no mercy toward them. Why? Some would say, “Well, he’s prejudice.” That’s true, but why? “Well, he’s a sinner, like all of us.” That’s true, but where’s the rub for him? The problem was that he believed in something greater than the Gospel, something other than God to sustain him. And if you are having trouble being merciful to others, have you truly received and understood the mercy of God?
The title of this book is sure to garner attention and even surprise from full-time pastors and preachers. To this, Piper offers his rationale behind the title:
The title of this book is meant to shake us loose from the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectations of professionalism. It is meant to sound an alarm against the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Of for the radically Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors!
Piper divides this book into 30 short chapters that may serve well as a devotional for pastors to read one chapter a day, thus finishing the book by the end of the month. These chapters deal with different areas. The first area Piper addresses is the love of the true nature and glory of God. He lays an excellent foundation for the pastor’s ministry in rightly representing God’s character before his people. Piper also encourages pastors to have a love for the doctrines of the Scriptures by rightly dividing the Word of truth, even the hard texts.
Piper also encourages a love for the church of Jesus Christ. He exhorts pastors to avoid sacred substitutes and man-made traditions which add to and take from the Scriptures all at once. Piper also encourages pastors to actively minister to their people during times of affliction and tragedy, giving them the sacred promises of God and assurance of his presence. He also encourages pastors to preach salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints so they will persevere in the faith.
Piper then encourages pastors to maintain a strong and healthy devotional life. He promotes the priority of prayer, as well as the reading of Christian biography. Pastors must see themselves as fellow servants of Christ and the church and therefore must sincerely model a walk with Christ before their people.
• “[God’s love for his glory] is no isolated note in the symphony of redemptive history. It is the ever-recurring motif of the all-sufficient Composer” (7).
• “The holiness of God is the absolutely unique and infinite value of His being and His majesty. To say that our God is holy means that His value is infinitely greater than the sum of the value of all created beings” (13).
• “Paul warns against any view of God which makes Him the beneficiary of our beneficence. His informs us that God cannot be served in any way that implies we are meeting His needs. It would be as though a stream should try to fill a spring that feeds it” (40).
• “Prayer is the coupling of primary and secondary causes. It is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven” (53).
• “Since preaching and the pastoral ministry in general are a great means to the saints’ perseverance, the goal of a pastor is not merely to edify the saints but to save the saints. What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation” (106).
• “The issue of racial prejudice and snubbing and suspicion and mistreatment is not a social issue; it is a blood-of-Jesus issue. When you get the conviction and the courage to say something about it to your people, tell them you are not becoming a social-gospeler but a lover of the blood-bought blessings of the cross of Christ” (197).
John Piper stands as a pastor and scholar captivated by displaying the glory of God in all things. As a result, he sees the professionalization of pastors diametrically opposed to exalting the glory of God in preaching and ministry. God must set the course for Spirit-led pastoral ministry and not the agendas of the world. John Piper’s book is a much-needed tonic for the contemporary evangelical world that looks to the culture first in order to address cultural issues. Piper declares:
We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:13). The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work (3).
This statement sets this book apart from other books dealing with pastoral ministry which are pragmatic and program-laden in nature.
What strikes the reader most is the difference of perspective between Piper and those of the New Homiletic and the Emergent Church. Whereas these two movement seek (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to move away from the sole authority of Scripture to a more open and conversant style of ministry, Piper sprints toward Scripture’s authority thus giving traction to the pastor’s message and ministry.
One of the great strengths of this book is Piper’s dogged determination to support every belief he preaches from Scripture. This fact alone distinguishes this book from the majority of other so-called Christian books. Piper seeks to establish every principle he puts forth on the basis of Scripture. All pastors would do well to model this practice of his. He notes:
Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error (84).
This exhortation serves the pastors and their churches well. In many Baptist state conventions, a large amount of rhetoric comes forth from these entities against the ill effects of alcohol and gambling. In regards to alcohol, traditionalists advocate total abstinence — even though the Bible never explicitly advocates this understanding. In regards to gambling, few biblical references accompany the high rhetoric against the lottery and casinos, although exceptions to exist.
In Chapter 21, entitled “Brothers, Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations,” Piper unfolds the controversy within himself and ultimately the church in dealing with the subject of alcohol. The majority of Baptist churches contain a clause in their church covenant calling for abstinence of alcohol. To this, Piper responds, “I am persuaded that such a regulation for church membership falls into the category of legalistic exclusivism and stands under the judgment of the apostolic word in Scripture” (152). Piper describes legalism as “the terrible mistake of treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to show our moral prowess and earn God’s favor” (153). Again, on every level, the reader sees Piper’s desire to honor God and his Word in every area, even in areas that may cause great controversy and even dismissal from a ministry position. He makes the pastor and preacher think through each of the issues he holds dear and to examine those issues under the white-hot light of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.
Piper uses the gospel to address to distressing social issues of our time: racism and abortion. In Chapter 26 (“Brothers, Sever the Root of Racism”), Piper asks, “Are our churches thermometers registering the racial attitudes and actions of the world; or are they thermostats raising the warmth of commitment to racial understanding and love and demonstrable harmony” (197)? Instead of appealing to another social construct to turn the church away from racism, he appeals to the Scriptures’ discussion of the barrier broken down between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22). In addressing the issue of abortion, Piper adamantly exhorts pastors to exhibit courage to stand and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
I believe pastors should put their lives and ministries on the line in this issue. The cowardice of some pastors when it comes to preaching against abortion appalls me. Many treat the dismemberment of unborn humans as an untouchable issue on the par with partisan politics…. The law of our land is immoral and unjust. That should be declared from tens of thousands of pulpits in America (212).
One rather convicting area Piper addresses to pastors is the issue of continually using and understanding the biblical languages. Piper believes that the languages in our churches and denominations should be “cherished, promoted, and sought” (82). He believes that the reason that expository preaching has lost its luster among the churches is because it lacks “precision and clarity” (83) along with the problem that preachers “tend to be second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. … Secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness” (83).
While this book stands tall above the majority of other books on pastoral ministry, one weakness is the intensity that Piper brings to the book. Clearly, the Puritans’ influence on Piper shows. When Piper noted how the Puritans preached salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints, he says, “What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation. It is not hard to see why the Puritans were so serious” (106). Piper is short on humorous anecdotes and illustrations in this book and for a reason. He does not want to give pastors the idea that pastoral ministry should not be taken with utmost gravity and seriousness. Yet Piper shares so many convictions in this book that he deems necessary, the reader risks being overwhelmed under the load, which may serve as Piper’s point.
I have read this work several times over the past five years and would highly recommend this book to every preacher and pastor. Pastors need to reclaim the understanding of the high calling God has placed on them. Piper’s contagious attitude toward the glories of Christ and the love for the church is refreshing and illuminating. This would stand as one of the first books I would recommend to any pastor, regardless of age or experience.
Piper, John. Brothers,
We Are Not Professionals. Nashville, TN:
Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002. 286 pp.