Posts Tagged With: apostle Paul

His Blessing, His Comfort, His Glory: How Paul Shepherds With God’s Sovereign Purpose

(Below is the manuscript of the sermon preached on July 5, 2015:  “I Never Reconcile Friends: Predestination and Free Will” from Ephesians 1:3-14.  Note: if you listen to the sermon, don’t try to follow along with the manuscript.  Really.  Don’t. Seriously.)

Remember when I said that you all asked major league questions for this Summer Playlist series?  Absolutely!  If you’re a guest with us, about two or three months ago, I asked our people what questions you have of the Bible that you’d like answered.  Here’s what you’ve asked so far:

The next question?  What About Predestination and Free Will?, in which we will look at Ephesians 1:3-14.   If we have free will, how can we be predestined?  If we are predestined, how can we have free will?”

Whenever this conversation takes place, it’s like oil and water as far as how people deal with this.  Those who hold strongly to free will have their verses, and those who hold to predestination have their verses.  We then load it up in our theological gun and shoot them at each other.  For those who are new to the faith, you may wonder, “What in the world are you talking about?”  But for those who may have been in Baptist world for any amount of time know how contentious this topic can be.

But it doesn’t have to be.  A few years ago, I was talking to a pastor of an evangelical church in Trinidad & Tobago who never shied away from preaching on this topic.  I’ll never forget what He said:  “Our people need to see God’s side of salvation as well.”  I never forgot that.  The Father wants us to see that!  Christ explicitly spoke of this.  The Spirit inspired the writers to talk about this.  So let’s not shy away from what God has spoken.  We didn’t last week—nor should we this week.

Turn with me to Ephesians 1:3-14:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightmaking known[b] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

We as Americans trumpet freedom.  So when we see that God chooses or predestines or elects, what happens in our hearts when we hear this?  If you’re like most Americans or even Western Europeans, you feel this is God infringing upon your autonomy and upon your freedom.  Yet, other countries who have a monarch and who endure much persecution have little trouble with this doctrine of predestination.

My aim is to show you that the doctrine of predestination is not only biblical, but is necessary for us to have any hope of holiness, comfort, and perseverance.  For the Apostle Paul and all other writers of Scripture, preaching and teaching on this topic was not simply a theological exercise, but a pastoral exhortation.  It extols the sovereignty of God—His rule and reign over all things in His creation—including us. Every part of our spiritual lives revolves around two words:  “in him” or “in Christ.”

Let’s take a look at this and numerous other passages.

The greatest spiritual blessing He gives:  “in Christ.”

Verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Paul starts this off with a prayer:  “Blessed be… .”   All prayer is grounded in a belief in the sovereignty of God.

So, before he mentions His choosing or predestinating believers, we reminds us that, through Christ, the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Yet, none of those blessings would be possible without the greatest spiritual blessing He gave—His chosen Son, Jesus.  And since God rules and reigns over every molecule, every atom, every electron, He is most able to deliver, even when it seems a tall order.

How did He choose us?  In verse 4, it says:  “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”  This speaks to a number of things.  First, we are chosen/predestined in Christ, not in ourselves One, that God did not wait for us to choose Him, but chose us even before we were born—even before the world began.  We even see this in Revelation 13:8 as the beast who would come and many would worship.  But who would worship him?  “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  God has called out a spiritual blessing in Christ for protection and a maintenance of a witness in the world.

It was not based on our obedience.  Look with me at Deuteronomy 7:7-8:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

It’s not due to numbers.  Were chosen not because of how obedient we were or how many we were.  In fact, that’s where free will comes in.    We were chosen in spite of our disobedience and in spite of our lack of number.  He did this because he resolved before one ray of light broke through the darkness of the universe.  And as we read through the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, we see that God did not choose them due to their obedience.  Repeatedly, God gave spoke of how “stiffnecked and stubborn” they were, but they remained His people through the covenant He made through Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So us being predestined in Him brings about a great comfort to us.  We are chosen in him, therefore, His calling and choosing are what keeps us.  This is where the free will comes in.  What do we mean by free will?  What we usually mean is that we are autonomous individuals who make our own choices and decisions without any coercion from anyone—even God.  God may nudge, but ultimately it’s our decision.

I believe that’s how we process it.  But we need to turn to the Scriptures and look at Romans 3:9-10:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

The Bible tells us three chapters later in Romans 6 that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.  So if we talk about free will in any sense at all like what was up top, how is our will free?  It’s not.  It’s either coerced by sin and self, or it’s coerced by the Spirit.  Who has free will?  It’s here we find our greatest spiritual comfort.

The greatest spiritual comfort He gives:  “according to the purpose of His will.”

This is first found in verse 5:  “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.  What affects God’s will? Nothing at all.  This is a big God we serve, dear Christian!

In James 1:17-18:

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

God’s nature, will, and his purpose do not change.  He is the only truly free being.   And His will

The next place is in v. 9 where he makes known to us the purpose of His will.  Set forth in Christ as far as how and when the fullness of time would occur.  So God even predestined how long the world would last.  He ordained when he would let us know the fullness of his will through Christ.

Lastly in verse 11:  Then our inheritance that we have obtained because it was “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

So you say, how is this comforting?  In the same way that so many find comfort in Romans 8:28:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  That’s right: purpose.  And what’s the purpose?  Romans 8:29-30:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Through all of what God intends for us is found in verse 29 that also connects with Ephesians 1:4:  The purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son (the “in him”).  When we go back to Ephesians 1:4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Through God’s work, he seeks to work in us and move in us.  Even as we are not righteous, not seeking after him, after all of us going astray—God worked before the foundation of the world to set apart a people (holy), to purchase the sins of those people whom God called out, and then the Father by the Spirit moves in us to conform us to the image of His Son! It’s all of grace!  It’s all of God.

  1. The greatest spiritual response we give:  “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

We’ve spent much time talking about God predestining, choosing, and electing.  So am I saying that there’s no need for us to respond?  No, no, and no!  In Ephesians 1:13-14, we read this:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

 So much of the NT, we see that when belief and response come, it’s from the work that God already has done in our hearts.

For instance: Jesus said in John 6:37:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  All that the Father gives to me will come to me, which means there’s a certain number that God has called out—and they will respond.  Seven verses later in John 6:44, we again see Jesus say, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  God is the great initiator—and give us the gift of faith and belief!

In Matthew 11:28, we read of how Jesus tells us to, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.”  But what about Matthew 11:25-27:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding andrevealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Folks come and say, “What about John 3:16?”  “Whosover believes.”  That is absolutely true!  Whosover believes.  But who are the ‘whosoever’?  Earlier, Jesus said that one had to be ‘born of the Spirit’ or ‘born again.”  In John 3:5-8:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

So is the ‘whosoever’ in John 3:16 anyone, or those whom God is working and calling?  And those who are born of the Spirit, are sealed by the Spirit—protected and preserved!  No emperor, no unbelief, no Satan can take them out of his hand.

In John 1:12-13:  “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So one may say, “Then why should we share the gospel if God is working and saving without our aid?”  For one, he commands us.  For two, it fuels our evangelism to know that we aren’t the ones doing the saving—that’s God’s job.  We are called to plant the seeds for which God will bring the growth (1 Corinthians 3:8).  When someone asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election and predestination with preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance, he said in the way only Spurgeon could:

“I never have to reconcile friends. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility have never had a falling out with each other. I do not need to reconcile what God has joined together. Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both.”

Do you understand it?  Probably not!  Do I understand it?  I still struggle with it.  But I’m not called to preach and teach and embrace that which I understand, but also that which I do not completely comprehend!  But God has revealed it in His Word.  He has spoken, and we must listen.  What a big God we serve to send Christ to continue and complete a work that took place before anything was around, to have a purpose put forth and completed, and to have a big God in Christ worthy of our praise!  This is the goal:  total glorification and satisfaction in Him!  Are we satisfied?

Categories: 2008 Presidential Election, Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Ephesians 1:3-14, free will, Paul, predestination, Romans 6, sermons, sovereignty of God | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

What Hath Suffering to Do with Christianity?

One of the characteristics of human beings that plagues us is that of lust. Lust and its cousin, impatience, linger in the hearts on all sorts of levels, every day, every hour, every second. Oswald Chambers defines lust as this: “I must have it now.” Men see an attractive woman and begin lusting after body. We see someone with something we want, and we begin lusting after that possession.

Someone once said, “I’ve learned that if you give a pig and a boy everything they want, you’ll get a good pig and a bad boy.” The worst thing that can happen to us is for us to have what we want, when we want it. But that’s what happens in our natural hearts. What makes this all the more tragic is this happening, but with a Christian spin to it. It’s no wonder so many chase after this—it’s Christianizing a very natural and a very dangerous mindset, even to the point of making God subservient to us.

In last night’s session, we ended with this verse: “If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). That word ‘provided’ is an interesting pivot. We will be fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him.

As we read Romans 8:18-25, we see a longing and an expectation on two fronts: the created order and followers of Christ. In fact, you will notice that this particular longing is described as a “groaning”! Take a look:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The word ‘groan’ (stenazo) refers to the expression of “a person who is caught in a dreadful situation and has no immediate prospect of deliverance.” There’s that tension we spoke of earlier — and amidst the tension of this world in our longing for the next, we await for the resolution to glory! Creation groans (v. 22), but not just creation—we as believers groan inwardly (v. 23). In this passage, we positionally are adopted as His children, but one day that full reality will come in the “redemption of our bodies.”

Our sonship with Christ is connected with our identity with Him (provided we suffer with him).

We as Christians know that Christ suffered. In theology books, it’s called his “humiliation.” Christ served as our mediator—He served His Father by keeping His law perfectly and never sinning; He served His church by paying for the sins of His people (Matthew 1:21). In this aspect, Christ took on the office of mediator. The Westminster Confession of Faith says this:

The office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.[i]

Christ suffered and for a good purpose—and God tells us from his Word that our identity with Christ will bring suffering in this life, not end it.  The suffering now galvanizes the hope and reward thereafter.

One preacher said on this passage that the prosperity gospel is off regarding priority and timing. When we suffer for Christ now, even if we do not have all the material possessions we want, we “exult in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Every single thing in this life will pass away. None of the worldly trimmings that we long for, either inside or outside the church, will last. All will stand before the judgment seat of God (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The priority is that Jesus isn’t sufficient, but what He will do for us, what He will give us becomes the priority. Yes, he gives salvation—but ultimately that salvation will bring prosperity in this life—and here is the timing. Theologians call this a realized eschatology. In other words, all the blessings that God promises in the hereafter, we should and would receive here.

Paris Reidhead puts an incredibly poignant question before us: “Is God for us an end, or is He a means?”

The creation, here speaking of that which was created in the first five days, was tainted with the decision that Adam and Eve made. How did this happen? How did creation become “subject to futility.” Through the Fall, when man and God were separated and the curse of sin infiltrated the entire world. That curse takes away our fellowship with the Lord, and we begin looking to self for satisfaction.

Creation is looking and longing for the revealing of the sons of God. When? When the ‘hope’ is realized—the resurrection of our bodies. Creation and our bodies are in bondage and decay, but one day we shall “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” John Stott is right: “Suffering and glory are inseparable, since suffering is the way to glory (see verse 17), but they are not comparable. They need to be contrasted, not compared.”[i] We look at the ‘weight’ of the issue.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, we read:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We avoid try to avoid the suffering, the groaning, the longing for God’s full redemption to come to full fruition. Yet, this is the only way we can get to glory. The suffering is a ‘light and momentary affliction” which is—look at that word—preparing a weight of glory. The suffering serves as the preparation for the glory. The suffering is light—the weight of glory is ‘beyond all comparison.’

In Mark 8:34-37, we read:

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Following the Spirit of God will not always lead to health, wealth, or prosperity. You may lose your health (your life), your wealth (your money and position) and your happiness (unless you enjoy being charred to a crisp). But the hope we have in Christ is through identifying with him in his suffering. Their hope was in God through Christ! That was enough for them. Nothing would make them compromise.

Is Jesus enough for you?

[i]John R.W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 237.

[i]Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, Paragraph 4. Quoted in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1184.

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Why Did Saul’s Name Change to Paul in the Scriptures?

If you read through the book of Acts, you’re introduced to a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 7:58, where he appears during the execution of Stephen.  In Saul’s zeal, he sought to exterminate all believers of “The Way”—that is, Christians.  “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (Acts 8:3).

Christ transformed Saul in Acts 9, then after a number of episodes with the Apostle Peter (Acts 10-12), Saul reemerges with his friend, Barnabus, in Acts 12:25:

And Barnabus and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Soon, the church at Antioch commissioned them by the Holy Spirit, were sent off to minister to the Gentiles, to which Christ called him as well (Acts 9:15-16).

It’s in the next scene that we see an interesting verse:  “But Saul, who was also called Paul . . .” (Acts 13:9). 

I’ve heard over the years that Saul was his pre-Christian name, but Paul served as his ‘Christian’ name.  Yet, Luke (the author of Acts) used Saul’s name after his conversion—so much for that theory. 

The truth is, since Saul was a Roman citizen, he possessed a Roman name as well—Paul.  So, Paul used this name for his ministry to the Gentiles, who would receive him

So, for what it’s worth, that’s the short answer. Paul is not his ‘Christian’ name, but his Roman name. He was still ‘Saul’ when he returned to synagogue in his hometown.

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Paul Gets a Thorn, They Get a Book Deal: Beware of the ‘Been-to-Heaven-and-Back’ Books

Our bookstores are lined with books of accounts the authors or their children and their experiences in heaven.  Type in the word ‘heaven’ on and you’ll come up with a variety of books about experiences in heaven or the ‘afterlife.’ 

The Apostle Paul went to heaven as well, and wrote about it—fourteen years later:

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Notice some things here:

  1. Paul does not identify himself.  “I know a man who… was caught up to the third heaven….”  The modesty and humility of his experience into the abode of God prevented him from boasting in this journey.  Each of the authors of these ‘been-to-heaven-and-back’ books clearly identify themselves on the book covers—and the royalty checks?
  2. Paul did not have specifics about his trip to heaven.  “Whether in the body or out, I do not know….”  Why?  The point of the experience was not his trip to heaven, but of the Savior who supplies sufficient grace in time of weakness.  For in this is Christ-saturated strength. 
  3. He saw things which he could not nor should not utter.  “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (v. 4).  Those who write these books feel more free than the apostle Paul to express what they saw.  According to Paul, he was not permitted to speak on these things—a far different mindset exists with these ‘been-to-heaven-and-back’ authors.
  4. God gave Paul a thorn for his own good—to prevent him from boasting—even a messenger of Satan himself.  God gave Paul this trial to keep him from thinking too highly of himself—Christian publishers provide a book deal.  Something’s amiss.
  5. The point of the experience was not his trip to heaven, but of the Savior who supplies sufficient grace in time of weakness.  For in this is Christ-saturated strength. 

I do not doubt that these ‘been-to-heaven-and-back’ books have encouraged many.  I get it.  We want to know what’s to come. 

But what’s more important is not what’s to come, but whose we are and who is to come.  Paul did not seek to bring light to his experience so he could boast and be boasted in.  He brings a pastoral understanding that regardless of what happens here, Christ’s grace is sufficient.  Weakness in Christ here, is strength in Christ here and the hereafter. 

May we be ever discerning based on the Scriptures!  Heaven is for real—and the Scriptures are sufficient for the description and the purpose of such. 


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Distinctives of the Gospel (from 1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

In the resurrection chapter, also known as 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives a defense of the necessity of the resurrection to not only the church but also the world.  In the first two verses, Paul gives four distinctives of not only how the gospel affects believers as well. 

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

We must understand that the world ‘gospel’ means in essence “good news.”  I’ve been reminded that the gospel is not ‘good advice,’ telling us how we are to live in the future.  It is good news, telling us what has already been accomplished for us in Christ Jesus!

The gospel is preached to us 

Good news is heralded!  Too often, we are looking for a conversation about this in our times of corporate worship—but there are times when we need to stop and listen to what has already been done.  No conversation is necessary as to whether this is true or not.  Truth is absolute—never-changing.  Truth is not relative to the individual (“Well, that’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.”) 

Regardless of what others may say, the gospel is that which is heralded and proclaimed.  Paul says, “Him [being Jesus—see Colossians 1:27] we proclaim.”  There are times to talk about it, to field questions, to engage skeptics, and to strengthen believers in this.  But through it all, we do not waver in the fact that Jesus is alive—this is the essence of the good news!

The gospel is received by us.

When the gospel is received, no indication is given that we receive it based upon anything we do to earn it.   No, it is a gift we receive (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8 ).  This must be the language used when it comes to the gospel.  We hear much about ‘accepting’ the gospel, but this terminology is not found in Scripture.  We receive it as a gift from our Lord Jesus who purchased our salvation and provided forgiveness to God on our behalf.  We were objects of His wrath, “but God made us alive” (Ephesians 2:4). 

The gospel is that in which we stand

The resurrection matters because, without it, we have nothing on which to hang our hope.  The reality of the resurrection is that Christ accomplished that which makes us stand righteous before God—an imputed righteousness granted by Christ on our behalf (Romans 3:24-26).  Without this Good News, we can only rely on good advice to fuel our good works—neither of which will do our fallen selves any good at all. 

The gospel is that by which we are being saved.

The gospel not only justifies, removing the penalty of sin that was against us and putting that penalty on Christ—it sanctifies by progressively removing the power of sin by killing the flesh and empowering the Spirit! 

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Churches Need Servants, Not Celebrities

When Jesus told His disciples, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), he told them this in a specific context. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had followed Jesus for three years. Yet, they approached Jesus and asked him for positions of importance. When Jesus established his kingdom, they desired to sit on his right and left hand. They wanted a choice spot when Jesus set up his political rule. Jesus made it clear that being a part of his kingdom would regard service and sacrifice, as Jesus himself would endure the baptism of suffering and death in service to His Father and His people.

Paul wrote to Titus a distillation of what he wrote in his first letter to young pastor Timothy. Titus had been a disciple of Paul, assisting him on his missionary journeys. In 2 Corinthians, Titus played a crucial role in relaying how the Corinthians church was in their walk with Christ. He was refreshed by their obedience (2 Cor 7:13), and also demonstrated great pastoral care among the church so dear to Paul (2 Cor 8:16). Paul saw great value in Titus, calling him “my partner and fellow worker for your benefit” (8:23). We see in his opening to his letter to Titus that he was “my true child in the common faith” (Titus 1:4).

Paul planted a number of churches on the isle of Crete and, seeing Titus’ pastoral heart and care to the churches of Macedonia, placed him as pastor and overseer of these churches. He invested in Titus due to the prevalence of false teachers and the need for qualified, Spirit-led, God-ordained servants in the church who would willingly sacrifice their all for the truth—truth taught, truth taught, and truth lived out.

In their book The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have a wonderful insight regarding church membership.

In our society, when you join as a ‘member’ of something, it can have connotations of passivity and consumerism. I join a club, and expect certain benefits. The ‘partnership’ language, on the other hand, communicates immediately that we are signing up for active involvement—for being partners together in a great enterprise: the gospel mission of Jesus Christ.”[i]

Paul wanted to instill in Titus, who would instill in other faithful men (2 Tim 2:1-2) this stewardship of the gospel. Paul did this by example. Rather than Paul starting off with the church being a smorgasbord of therapeutic, self-help, five-step understandings, he began his letter, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Paul demonstrated the correct perspective of a Christian specifically, and of a person in general: who we are before God is all that matters, and what God demands of us is all that should matter to us.

How Paul Could Have Described Himself!

You see, in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul gave an example of how he could have described himself:

3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Phil 3:3-6).

This is an impressive resume! And we are impressed with those types of resumes. We look at the resumes of University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the singer Beyonce, the acting of Sir Laurence Olivier (considered the greatest actor of the past 100 years), the director Steven Spielberg—when we see the list of their work and accomplishments, we are impressed! In the circles of first-century Judaism, Paul was that impressive!

He came from great pedigree (“circumcised on the eighth day”—after all, Paul was in no position to do that himself!); from a great heritage, even from the tribe that brought about Saul, Israel’s first king (“of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”); and an enthusiastic, obedient, and intelligent Pharisee (“as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless”). Paul could have used all of these descriptions at the beginning of his letter to Titus—and young Titus certainly would have been impressed and even intimidated.

How do we describe ourselves? Husband? Wife? Parent? Do we brag on our denomination? Flaunt our job title? Identify with our sports teams? Let slip in conversation how much we tithe? Too often, we allow temporary items to define us in ultimate, eternal terms. Sadly, even Christians find themselves

Paul had been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whereas once he was a “persecutor of the church,” he is now a servant of God and His church. Here, he is keeping with the custom of the times in how he crafts his greeting. In our time, we would begin our letter by addressing the one to whom we are writing, then our name would be in the closing. Yet, an epistle began with the name of the one writing it. Since scrolls were in use, the sender needed to have his name right at the beginning of the letter so the reader(s) could easily identify the author as well as the author’s credentials.

How Paul Ultimately Described Himself

A servant of God. Paul stated his credentials as a “servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is the ‘what’ of Paul. By the world’s standards, this designation was minimal and menial. He uses the word doulos which many translations render as ‘servant.’[ii] This translation, while technically correct, does not go far enough to paint the most accurate picture. The New Living Translation and the Message (translations not known for a strict word-for-word translation) are one of the few translations to translate this in the truest form: a slave. Strong’s defines doulos as “a slave, bondman, man of servile condition.”[iii] We must not miss this distinction.

As Westerners, when we think of a servant, we may think of a man or woman who waits on those with considerable means with dignity and distinction, even with a tuxedo and tails. The notion of slavery in the manner in which Paul described himself is disturbing. The 200+ years of slavery in this country from colonial times until the end of the Civil War is a big hypocritical blight on a country whose theme from the beginning was to be the land of the free. The fact that slaves were taken from their homeland in chains to serve at the beckoned call of a master, thus surrendering all that they were and all that they had for they had against their will is reprehensible by our current sensibilities—as it was in Roman times as well!

And yet, Paul used this very moniker to describe his work before the true and living God. He was sought and bought by God himself. God told Ananias moments after Paul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

An apostle of Jesus Christ. He was also an “apostle of Jesus Christ.” What is an apostle?  In general terms, an apostle is one who is sent by another to give a message. In the case of God’s economy, an apostle is also a foundational office that a select few held. In the terms of the New Testament, an apostle was one called by Christ Himself who personally witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry.

By Paul being called an apostle at all was all of grace. Paul did not seek out Christ—but Christ sought him on the Damascus Road. Paul’s servanthood before God and his apostleship were given by Christ Himself.

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:1-8, emphasis added).

Paul did not chase after God, but God had to manifest himself to Paul. “Paul commends his ministry by rehearsing the evidence of God’s work in him as he recounts the many difficulties he experienced in the course of his ministry. His ministry is due to God’s grace, and that grace provides the impetus for his work.”[iv] He knew what being a servant of God entailed.

Consider that Stephen was stoned to death (with the apostle Paul holding the cloaks of those who stoned him). The apostle Philip suffered martyrdom in Phrygia, being scourged, thrown into prison, and crucified in A.D. 54. The apostle Matthew was slain with a halberd in his ministry in Ethiopia in A.D. 60. James, the writer of the epistle, had his brains bashed out at the age of 94. Andrew was crucified. Mark was dragged to pieces in Alexandria, Egypt, in sacrifice to their god. Peter was crucified upside down, because he could not bear to be crucified as Christ was. Jude was crucified. Thomas was run through with a spear. The apostle John was put in a cauldron of boiling oil, but escaped without injury—after which, he was banished to Patmos.[v]

Paul understood that his ministry entailed service and sacrifice—and Titus needed to understand this as well.

[i]Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2009), 66-7.

[ii]Translations of doulos : ‘servant’ (CEV, ESV, KJV, NCV, NIV, NJB), ‘bondservant’ (NAS, NKJV).

[iii]Strong’s Dictionary. From BibleWorks

[iv]Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 43.

[v]John Fox, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, ed. William Byron Forbush, accessed 2 Jan 2010, available at [on-line]; Internet.

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The Foolishness of Preaching

Someone once said that preachers and stand-up comedians were the only two vocations where you had to hold an audience merely by the content and delivery of your message.

As a result, many preachers try many different techniques in order to hold their listeners. Yet, Paul continued to trumpet the “foolishness of preaching” in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. Take time to read over this passage right now:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
[26] For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. [31] Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
[2:1] And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. [2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. [3] And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, [4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

I realize I could have placed that entire passage in bold typeface because it all communicates the same issue: God uses the “foolishness” of preaching to convey His wisdom, strength, power, and righteousness. Since this is His ordained method of conveying His truth, why do so many pastors and teachers look for other methods of men?

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