Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.
— Proverbs 26:4-5
This passage creates cognitive dissonance for readers pining for a single, solidifying principle to answering challenging people; and, unfortunately, no matter the exegetical application, there is no clear “If the person does this, then it is appropriate to say or do that.” This passage confronts the person who has pat answers to assumed questions, for this passage demands one to be fully present when addressing a person.
Jesus offers great illustrations of how to address challenging people without resorting to biting sarcasm, patronizing irony, or indifferent scorn. For example, when Jesus received Nicodemus’ questions, he answered according to his (Nicodemus’) folly while remaining fully present with him. Nicodemus’ questions were not questions leading to transformation but simple debate. Jesus did not just respond to Nicodemus’ superfluous questions—“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4)—with disdain but called him to be aware of God’s present work of redemption (3:8).
Jesus encountered people not just to answer their questions, but for the sake of transformation, without competing for power to gain an advantage over them. In all of Nicodemus’ questions, Jesus remained present with him, not shrinking back to indifference or frustration.
Similarly, as Jesus approached the woman at the well, he answered questions that she did not ask. Jesus did not entertain “How is it that you … ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman”; rather, He responded to her—her as a person, not a question. Because Jesus was fully present, He discerned what was beyond her questions. Jesus responded to the woman, speaking of God’s gifts, eternal satisfaction, repentance, eschatological fulfillment, and proper theology. Jesus did not offer pat answers to assumed questions; He encountered her beyond what was naturally heard, addressing the person and not just her questions.
Jesus listened for the opportunity to confound the true seeker, the one who genuinely desires transformation. With Nicodemus, Jesus answered him with enough information that later wooed him to return without fear or consequence. It should not be a surprise that when we encounter Nicodemus later in John’s narrative, we see him defending Jesus (7:50) and later following Him (19:39).
These two episodes offer many applications; however, there cannot be an application that suggests a solidified foundation that allows easy answers. In both of these meetings, Jesus allows Himself to be interrupted, offering Nicodemus and the woman at the well a face-to-face encounter. He does not begin with “Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews and deserves more/less attention”; or, “The woman at the well is an imprudent strumpet and will continue just as she did in the past.” So, Jesus did not leave room for sarcasm, scorn, or patronization. Jesus offers the seeker a personal encounter, a face-to-face event, and His full involvement, hearing what is not said and answering what is not asked.
These texts demand readers to elevate the person in their presence more than the principle or predetermined answer in their back pockets. Jesus leads His reader to listen with discerning ears and respond with carful lips. These two examples offer a way for people to communicate genuinely without manipulation, elevating the other in a way that offers transformation. This kind of response takes purposeful prayer, discerning ears, and patient lips.
These two encounters offer many obvious applications for the believer and nonbeliever’s interactions; but, can these passages offer applications for the husband and wife, or the parent and child? Absolutely!
As I sit here writing this article, I realize that this challenge is difficult, especially since I have six kids, varying in ages from 7 to 18, and have been married to my wonderful wife for more than 20 years. This way of thinking and acting demands more than I would like to give. It demands me to listen patiently, allowing my children to interrupt me, giving them the space for a personal event to occur, a face-to-face encounter different from other events or encounters. I cannot retreat to all the previous events and previous answers the same way as I did before. I have to be prayerfully patient and courageous without retorting, “This is the same thing your sister did or the same situation your brother was in when….” I must allow each event to take me, which demands my full involvement to hear what is not said, and answer what is not asked. This is challenging because pat answers are not allowed, but the elevation of the one asking the question is. This way of acting allows the child to be heard and respected in a transformational way (not necessarily their transformation—perhaps mine).
More than just my encounters with my children, this way of acting demands my full involvement with my wife, especially when she has a personal challenge or a vision that scares me out of my comforting shackles. Perhaps I might desire to manipulate her questions in order to abscond from my responsibilities or my involvement in the challenge or vision before me. Perhaps I may have an answer before the question is articulated; this is neither prayerful nor courageous. She may be asking me a surface-level question, but I am to hear prayerfully and courageously, allowing an encounter to interrupt me for a transformational encounter.
Proverbs demands one to seek wisdom, the kind of wisdom that transforms. This kind of wisdom begins in an imbalance, forcing me to encounter challenging people with courage, leaving no room for pat answers, sarcasm, indifference, or manipulation; demanding me to listen to people without becoming immune to their needs.
The flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey damaged approximately 35,000 square feet at our church in Houston. Relief efforts focused first on those outside the church, but after about a week, the church asked for volunteers to help remove the damaged carpet. People started meeting at 2 p.m., but after an attempt to find masks at the hardware store, my wife, oldest daughter, and I didn’t arrive until about 2:20. We walked in eager to help, but as we searched room after room for a place to work, it seemed there was nothing left to do. Within a few minutes, one of the leaders called everyone together. Much to his surprise, all of the carpet had been removed in very short order; 35,000 square feet in less than half an hour. He decided to go ahead and begin the next stage, tearing out the sheetrock halfway up the walls. Even without all the proper tools (we were planning to tear out carpet), within two more hours, almost all the work was done. We had to stop because the dumpsters were full.
I never heard a number, but I would guess that there were 200-300 volunteers that afternoon. Since our church has several thousand people who attend each week, acquiring 200-300 volunteers is not a shocking number. In many churches within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), however, there are not even 200 people total. Were those churches to attempt such a mammoth task by themselves, it would be impossible within the same time frame. But there’s more to the story.
The SBC has long understood the power of cooperation. What would be impossible for one church becomes possible when churches work together. Churches from all over the country have sent teams to help flood victims, and those who couldn’t come in person have sent funds or supplies. But it doesn’t stop there. Long before Harvey was even a thought, many churches, perhaps even your church, set aside funds to help in a time of disaster by giving to the Cooperative Program.
As necessary as it is to tear out wet carpet and sheetrock, there are other tasks that are far more important. Who is going to share the Gospel with people around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus? Who is going to train the missionaries? Who is going to teach people to share God’s unchanging Word in an increasingly complex world? Who is going to speak to world leaders about issues of justice from a biblical perspective? You are. You’re not going to do it by yourself, and you may not yet be the one in the trenches, but if your church participates in the Cooperative Program, you are sharing the load.
Southern Baptists understand the power of cooperation. Indeed, this is one of the most admired facets of the SBC. Far better than asking missionaries to raise their own support, the Cooperative Program allows churches from all over the country to work together in missions and evangelism. More than 73 percent of the 2016-17 CP budget supports missions, a small portion of which goes to disaster relief through the North American Mission Board. The Cooperative Program also supports theological education, designating slightly more than 22 percent of the budget to this task. Just as few would dare take their car to an untrained mechanic or entrust their bodies to a doctor without medical training, supporting theological education affirms the training of ministers who are speaking to issues of everlasting significance. And in the spirit of cooperation, the seminaries gladly declare that it’s not the seminary or the church. It’s both. Together. Cooperating.
Just under 3 percent of the budget covers operating expenses of the convention (compare that to other organizations), and the final 1.65 percent of the budget supports ethics and religious liberty issues. Rather than sitting on our hands to see how fallen people will influence governing leaders, the Cooperative Program helps people who believe God’s Word to seek the welfare of our country.
It’s not just small churches who need to cooperate. Even very large churches do not have all of the resources necessary to accomplish the wide array of tasks that have been assigned by God. Even if they did, could they not accomplish them much more effectively by working together?
As we join together to accomplish God-given tasks, we imitate the pattern of the early church. What distinguishes us is not just the spirit of cooperation (the world has that in a time of crisis), but cooperation in the name of Jesus directed by Jesus to accomplish tasks that were given to us by Jesus.
Does your church support the Cooperative Program? Why don’t you find out this week? Has its giving taken an inward turn, or does it still place a large focus on these shared ministries?
By cooperating together in our work and our giving, we can accomplish great tasks for our great God. May God give us a spirit of cooperation.
To learn more about the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention, visit sbc.net/cp.
Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.
The time frame for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months, as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.
The Marriage Alternatives
Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.
Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically, this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.
Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.” Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex, the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.
Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects, this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.
The Battle Ahead
Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy. The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory. NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.” Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.
From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.
The Christian Response
In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.
Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.
Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress….” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition, the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.
Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).
Chuck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).
Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).
Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is and What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).
Harvey and Irma. These are the names given to the two hurricanes that have consumed our news media, prayer time and conversations. Since Aug. 25, we have witnessed the devastation and destruction of homes, land and human life.
Some meteorologists report that as a result of Harvey, somewhere between 25 to 30 trillion gallons of water were dumped on Southeast Texas and Southern Louisiana. It is difficult to imagine that amount of water falling in such a relatively short period of time. Additionally, when experts showed the image of Irma overlaying the Sunshine State, it blew me away. This dynamic duo, namely, Harvey and Irma, will be spoken about for years and decades to come.
My hope, however, is that the primary conversation that rises above the rhetoric of the storms will focus on something that was more powerful than Harvey and mightier than Irma. I am referring to the help people gave each other regardless of race or skin color.
Let me quickly acknowledge that I am intentionally treading very lightly when writing about “silver linings” with Harvey and Irma. I do not want to be perceived as being insensitive or as totally spiritualizing these two hurricanes that ravaged property and resulted in the loss of lives. In addition, however, we must not overlook how people treated others with dignity and respect and helped each other regardless of race.
If you were an African-American and you saw Asians who needed help, race and ethnicity didn’t matter—you just helped them. If you were White and you saw Hispanics or Latinos who needed help, race and ethnicity didn’t matter—you just helped them. Everyone, including those who were not in the direct path of the storms, was in rescue mode.
Though these storms were destructive, I hope some (if not all) can find comfort in knowing that Harvey and Irma did not sneak up on God. Even before these hurricanes were way less than a category 0.1, God knew they were coming. God is omniscient, and nothing sneaks up on Him or takes Him by surprise. The psalmist says, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5), and Matthew reminds us that God has numbered “the very hairs” of our heads (Matthew 10:30). He is all-knowing.
God knew that the storms were coming, and He also knew that race wouldn’t matter when people needed rescuing. Just as the winds from the storms caused abnormal surges that rose some 6-12 feet above sea level, we saw humanity rise above racial divisions.
I’m not a pessimist when it comes to believing that race relations can and will get better. However, my best guess is that before the flood waters completely dry up, and before the nails are driven into the wood for roof and home repairs, conflict along racial lines will surge again.
How can we continue to be light that shines in the storms of racial division?
- Communicate about race without becoming angry. This is easier said than done. Nevertheless, it must be done if we are going to grow in our understanding of one another. We have to be willing to intentionally listen without being defensive. James is correct, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Next time you are in a conversation about race, racism or anything in that vein that can potentially be “stormy,” intentionally listen even if you disagree. This will help move the conversation forward, as mutual respect will obviously be present.
- Develop cross-racial or cross-cultural relationships. If you do not have such a relationship, ask the Lord to bring someone from another race into your life who will become a good friend. For 30 years, I have had the privilege of providing pastoral and ministerial care not only to African-Americans (which is the racial majority at the current church where I serve) but also to other races and people from other cultures. One thing I have learned is that we have more in common than we may realize. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). If any group of people should be an example of racial unity, it should be the Body of Christ.
- “Carefront” people publicly and privately. One need not be afraid of speaking directly to those who oppose racial unity. You do not have to be mean-spirited; just be filled with the Spirit and the love of God. Avoid embarrassing and humiliating people, but never compromise your convictions by just “going along to get along.” At times, you may have to do what Paul did. He writes, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11-12). Use your influence to steer people in the right direction.
- Forgive people. Forgiveness is like a category 5 hurricane that does great damage to those who oppose racial unity. When someone asks for forgiveness, forgive him. Give that person a new start as if the offense never occurred. Remember to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- Share the Gospel in both word and deed. 1 John 4:10-11 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In other words, because of the Gospel, because of what God did for us in sending His Son to die for our sins, we should love one another. The Gospel is the cure for racial tensions; the Gospel unites us. So let us declare the Gospel with our mouths, but let us also declare it with our hands—“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
Just as sustained hurricane winds are put into categories that can cause damage ranging from “some damage” to “catastrophic damage,” let us sustain our effort to build unity across racial lines. By doing so, we will cause catastrophic damage to the kingdom of darkness.
The mass shooting in Las Vegas elicits many appropriate biblical responses – anger over the evil actions, grief over the assailant’s lost soul, compassion for the dead and surviving victims, and urgent prayer. There is one additional reaction that has gripped me the most – namely reflection, taking inventory of my life responsibilities.
See, I and anyone of you reading this could be one of the approximately 60 dead or over 500 injured. Like the incident in Las Vegas, we also can suffer from the consequences of someone’s sin. We live in a fallen world, and James 4:14 states, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” I do not know when “my time is up” for this side of eternity. I do not know if I will die of natural causes or disease, personal negligence, or the consequence of someone else’s sin. Ephesians 5:16 exhorts us to make the most of our time on earth, because the days are evil. This is reiterated in Colossians 4:5, albeit in a different but related context.
There are three life responsibilities that I have reflected upon to ensure I do not leave behind a spiritual massacre:
- Ministering to My Wife: In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the role of the husband and relates marriage to the Christ-Church relationship. Jesus sacrificed so that the Church may be holy and blameless (v. 27). Have I done this for my wife? Specifically, have I sacrificially provided a means where she is spiritually edified and more like Christ today than yesterday? Have I prayed for and with my wife, ensured she has time away from the children to study God’s Word and fellowship with other ladies, and fostered an environment for her to flourish in using her God-given gifts and talents? Husbands, have you properly stewarded your God-given assets to provide for your wife if you were a victim in a mass shooting (i.e., do you have a will)?
- Preparing My Children: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 clearly places the authority of teaching my children about God on my shoulders. Have I abdicated this authority or been a passive father? Have I taken advantage of every teachable moment, or have I been distracted by life? Do I recall that we are in a spiritual war and Satan wants to devour my children (1 Peter 5:8)? Have I prayed on a consistent basis for and with my children? If I died today in a mass shooting, would I have prepared them to be arrows that can be shot into the world and hit the mark (Ps 127:4)?
- Reaching the Lost: Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:9 clearly exhort all believers to share the Gospel. This is not a part-time job for believers, but is a 24-7 responsibility as we do life. Have I failed to hear the Holy Spirit urging me to share the Gospel with someone? The consequences are dire, for both the lost person and me. Ezekiel 33:1-7 sums this up pointedly:
 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  “Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman,  and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people,  then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head.  He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.’
 “Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand.  But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.
If I fail to share the Gospel, the blood of the lost is on my hand. If I die today in a mass shooting, have I missed opportunities to share salvation through Jesus with the lost around me?
October 1 marks the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. If you (as a believer) and I were one of the dead, we would be face to face with our risen Savior. However, the more pertinent question for us is who do we leave behind? Do we leave behind a spiritually mature and provided for spouse, saved and spiritually prepared children, and new professions of faith, or do we leave behind a spiritual massacre?
In 1972, at the height of the Jesus Movement, the Southern Baptist Convention baptized more teenagers than ever before. From that point, baptisms of teenagers have dropped every year. If McDonalds does everything well except sell fast food, something is amiss. If the church does everything well except evangelize and disciple the lost, it is time for some soul searching.
Senior pastors, youth pastors, professors, and denominational leaders have ideas about the drop in new teenage believers. Each of their thoughts deserves attention. But youth ministry professor Mark Cannister has articulated a factor that may be one of the most telling of all. Writing recently in YouthWorker Journal, Cannister suggests three developments that have brought us to where we are today.
Cannister suggests that everything started to go wrong when the church stopped calling out and equipping parents to disciple their own children. Parents are busy and easily distracted. When they stopped hearing a prophetic call to spiritually impact their own children, and when they stopped receiving specific training for doing just that, they moved on to other matters.
The great majority of church parents now believe taxi driving is their part in discipling their children. They believe their role is to drive children to church to be discipled by professionals. Fewer than 10 percent of active church families read the Bible together during a typical week or pray together apart from mealtime.
Is that a change? Absolutely. Family ministry expert Rob Rienow reports: “We fail to realize that Sunday school and youth groups did not exist until the late 1800s. For the first nineteen centuries of Christianity it was understood that parents were called by God to disciple their children, and that the home was the primary place for this to happen.”
Scripture makes clear that the home provides the environment for the greatest spiritual impact. The best research simply supports that truth from Scripture. Predictably, teenagers not being led spiritually at home became weak. Some have remained in the church, though spiritually lethargic. Many others have wandered away from the church. The exodus begins around age 16. But the bombshell announcement that has sent shockwaves through the church is that half of church youth leave after high school graduation.
Cannister believes this loss of the church’s own students has created both subtle and overt pressure on youth leaders to save the day. In essence, the church now presses youth leaders to create discipling ministries to make up for the vacuum of spiritual leadership in the home. Youth leaders, whether consciously or unconsciously, have responded to this new pressure by shifting almost all their attention from teenagers in the community to teenagers in the church.
Youth leaders preoccupied with the youth group have somewhat lost focus on taking the Gospel to those apart from Christ. Those leaders may be pleased when lost students show up at church, but they are spending less and less time reaching the lost in the community. This shift may be a major factor in the precipitous drop in youth baptisms.
Addressing the Issue
Perhaps you care that many parents in your church are not leading at home. Perhaps you are concerned this might lead to youth leaders who have lost a focus on unreached teenagers. How you respond to these concerns may depend on your position in the church.
Layperson—Your vocational ministers likely are working hard, seeking to fulfill all the expectations others have of them. Hearing an additional responsibility they should shoulder might seem suffocating. Consider a different approach. Tell your ministers you have a passion for spiritually alive homes. Tell them Christ has called you to have a role in your church’s parents becoming spiritual leaders at home. Ask your ministers how you can partner with them to see parents move toward more biblical parenting.
Vocational Minister—You likely are working hard, seeking to fulfill all the expectations others have of you. You may feel that adding one more role—impacting parents as spiritual leaders—is over the top. But you may not need to make this a solo task. Preach and teach about God’s design for parents. Then ask people to come to you if they are sensing a call to be a part of an expanded ministry to and with parents. By sharing this ministry (and perhaps dropping some duty that is far less vital), you may be able to move forward without exhaustion.
If church leaders begin calling out and equipping parents to spiritually lead, and if parents respond to that leadership, then we may begin to see parents more intentional about spiritual leadership at home. And that may lead to teenagers showing signs of transformation even before they arrive at church. And that might lead to youth leaders who can turn more of their attention from the sheep in the fold to those who are lost.
Editor’s Note: Ross gives extensive attention to evangelizing teenagers and equipping parents to spiritually lead in his newest book, Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime, available at seminaryhillpress.com.
George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2007), 31.
Rob Rienow, Visionary Parenting (Nashville: Randall House, 2009), 96.
It seems as though every year from about mid-August until late September, the East Coast, the Florida Coast and the Gulf Coast are pelted with tropical storms and hurricanes. This year is no different. The city of Houston and the surrounding Gulf Coast areas are facing the task of cleanup and recovery after historic rainfall and flooding left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Even now, three more hurricanes are churning toward landfall of the American and Mexican coastlines.
Another year, another storm, and yet the task of the pastor remains the same—preach the Word, in season and out! In his responsibility of proclamation, the pastor must be a model of consistency and endurance. To put it another way, the pastor’s role as servant-leader is to model the biblical principle of perseverance.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:36). Yet, it seems as though endurance, perseverance and consistency in the life of the minister, much less the child of God, have been eradicated by the politically correct, consumer-oriented, tech-savvy, selfie-driven mindset of the American culture. This mindset of the most prosperous country in the world demands a comfortable life that should be pain-free, opposition-free and trouble-free.
Even among evangelicals, the idea prevails that the Christian life should be stress-free, trouble-free and free of any type of opposition or struggle. As a result, many in the church today have forgotten that the Calvary road was a dusty road. It was a hard road, but it was down such a road that Jesus reminded His disciples they must walk when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). For the believer of the 21st century church, persecution, disappointment, conflict, danger and stress will be the normal lifestyle, not the exception. Therefore, every effective pastor must model a heart of faithful, humble servant leadership.
Many biblical examples abound for the saint of God to emulate, but one such pastor from church history who stands out as a worthy model of perseverance is the Anglican pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, Charles Simeon (1759-1836). Born the son of a non-believing wealthy aristocratic English lawyer, Simeon was educated at the Royal College of Eton, an elite boarding school for the upper class. He was known as an athletic show-off who looked more like a momma’s boy in his fanciful daily attire. The mindset he developed at this premier educational setting was pain-free, stress-free and opposition-free. Thus, upon his enrollment to the King’s College, Cambridge, in the spring term of 1779, a new spiritual reality set in at his conversion to Christ on Easter Sunday. His understanding of the Christ-life led him to choose a life of celibacy along with the spiritual discipline of rising every morning at 4 a.m. to spend the first four hours of his day in prayer and meditation. Yet, such a life of selflessness and sacrifice did not eliminate the years of persecution, conflict and pain rendered by the hands of his own parishioners at Holy Trinity Church as well as those at his own school of Cambridge.
Charles Simeon served as vicar of Trinity Church from his appointment in 1782 until his death in November 1836. For 54 years, Simeon gave of himself tirelessly and selflessly in his preaching and service to the community, in his study and training of Anglican ministers at Cambridge, and for the ultimate glory of the cross of Christ and His Kingdom. For the first 12 years of his pulpit ministry, his associate pastor was favored and compensated at a greater annual rate; yet, Simeon persevered. After nearly 30 years of preaching and teaching, he was criticized by his students and parishioners for requiring too high a standard for holiness of life; yet, Simeon persevered. For more than 13 years of his life, from the age of 47 to 60, he experienced poor health; yet, Simeon persevered. Despite the conflict and struggles, he renewed his call to his ministry of the Word, which lasted another 17 years. Charles Simeon persevered.
What kept Simeon faithful to the end? How did he continue in the face of constant opposition as well as his waning health condition? The answer is the same for every minister of the Gospel for today’s church—a humility of heart for the gift of salvation and a reminder of the responsibility of the call to preach the Word.
Another year, another storm, another reminder: pastors must reflect the biblical trait of endurance. Preach the Word!
An increasingly popular trend is for some within the church today to call themselves “apostles.” Pentecostals and Charismatics have used the designation for years because they want to be apostolic. Recently, however, some church planters have also used the title. They use the label because they see themselves as “those sent out” on mission. However, their use of the title for themselves is confusing and inapplicable because all Christians are “sent out” on mission.
No apostles are extant today in the way the term is overwhelmingly used in Scripture, viz., as “apostles of Jesus Christ.” I make this point for two reasons. First, after a while, it becomes historically impossible to be an “apostle of Jesus Christ.” Second, the “apostles of Jesus Christ” carried a unique and normative authority. The apostles were called and commissioned as Christ’s plenipotentiary representatives, who preached the Gospel in ways fundamental to its spread, prescribed normative teaching, and issued commands on God’s behalf. Their authority in the church seems indisputable.
To Be an Apostle of Jesus Christ Today is Impossible
After a while, it became historically impossible to meet the criteria to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. When the apostles sought to fill the vacancy created when Judas, one of the 12 apostles, died (Acts 1:12–26), the criteria Peter put forth for the replacement were (1) he had to have accompanied the Lord Jesus during the entirety of His earthly ministry (cf. Acts 1:2; 10:39–42), and (2) he had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21–22). They prayed to God and selected Matthias, who was added to the 11 (Acts 1:23–26).
No other biblical evidence shows that any other apostles were replaced when they died. For example, when James the brother of John was killed (Acts 12:1–2), his vacancy was never filled. Apostles did foundational work in the church, and foundations are laid once, not repeatedly.
The Apostle Paul was a special case. He did not meet the first criterion but was converted and commissioned by the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1–19). In Galatians, he emphasized his parity with the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:7–8), and James, Cephas and John recognized that Paul had apostolic status (Galatians 2:9).
The Apostles’ Authority in Patristic Writings
That the apostles of Jesus Christ carried a unique and normative authority is evident in patristic writings. For example, in the second century, an early church Father named Serapion, bishop of Antioch (c. A.D. 190), made a statement that is fairly representative of the early church’s attitude toward apostles in general: “We receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ.” That is, the “apostles of Jesus Christ” were received by the second-century church as though they were Christ Himself. The church saw the apostles as Christ’s plenipotentiary ministers who possessed authority over the churches, and who were personally commissioned and sent by Jesus to make God’s will known. Other texts that show the unique and normative authority of the apostles of Jesus Christ can be found in the earlier Apostolic Fathers: for example, 1 Clement 44:1–2; 2 Clement 14.2; Ignatius’ Romans 4:3 (cf. also Trallians 2:2; 7:1; Magnesians 13:1; Smyrnaens 8:1); and Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians 6.3.
The Apostles’ Authority in the New Testament
The unique and normative authority of the “apostles of Jesus Christ” is also found in the New Testament. Their authority is seen in Jesus’ statements to them like, “The one who receives you receives Me, and the one who receives Me receives the One who sent me” (Matt 10:40). Moreover, apostolic authority is manifest in certain Pauline texts that clearly indicate that his unique status and high authority were connected with his divine commission and having seen the Lord.
In 1 Corinthians 9:1–3, Paul excluded the apostles from the judgments of pneumatics who examined the revelations of others, and he placed the apostles’ gift above that of the prophets. In 1 Corinthians 14:37–38, he claimed that his words were equated with the Lord’s command.
In 2 Corinthians 10-13, Paul described his authority in terms approximate to that of the Old Testament prophets. When false teachers in the Corinthian church tried to attain for themselves the apostolic status that Paul believed was reserved only for a certain few, he rebuked them, calling them “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13; cf. 12:11–12).
In Galatians 1:1 and 1:11–2:10, Paul contended that he was called and commissioned directly by Christ. He described his call with prophetic language, which indicates that he had authority on par with the Old Testament prophets. Paul stressed his parity with the Apostle Peter, who clearly was seen by the letter’s recipients as authoritative. James, Cephas and John also recognized Paul’s apostolic status.
Paul wrote to Philemon to ask him to forgive and receive back the runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. In verses 8–9, Paul’s ability to command Philemon to take the proper action strongly indicates that his apostolic status enabled him to enforce such obedience, but instead he appealed to him out of love.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul might have had in mind a forgery written in his name. The reference to a “letter as from us” shows that works falsely written under an apostle’s name were frowned upon, but also the authority that an apostle’s name carried.
Next to Jesus Himself, the apostles were the primary authority in the early church because they were Christ’s authoritative representatives through whom He laid the foundations of the early church. They were conduits of divine revelation who spread God’s Gospel. Their authority approximates that of the Old Testament prophets.
No one today meets the qualifications to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. No one now carries the authority they possessed. The title “apostle of Jesus Christ” was reserved for Christ’s authoritative representatives, who got the church “off the ground,” so to speak. That authority today is found in God’s Word, i.e., in the writings of the apostles and the prophets, the Lord’s authoritative spokesmen.
This designation primarily describes Christ’s 12 apostles and the Apostle Paul. On the distinction between “apostles of Jesus Christ” and “apostles (= messengers) of the churches” (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:23; Phil 2:25), see E. Earle Ellis, Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society, Repr. ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005), 66, 89–91.
E.g., Matthew 10:40 (cf. John 13:20); John 20:21; Galatians 4:14.
They recognized “the grace” that God had given to Paul. This is surely a reference to Paul’s apostleship.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.12 (emphasis mine). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.
E. Earle Ellis, “Pseudonymity and Canoncity of New Testament Documents,” in Worship, Theology and Ministry in the Early Church: Essays in Honor of Ralph P. Martin (ed. Michael J. Wilkins and Terence Paige; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 219.
For example, Paul equates his words with a command of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37–38) and uses Old Testament prophetic language and imagery to describe his apostolic authority and calling (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10 with Jeremiah 1:9–10; and Galatians 1:15–16 with Jeremiah 1:5 and Isaiah 49:1, 5, 6).
If you’re old enough to remember the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, you remember where you were when you heard the news. Driving down Coulter Drive in Bryan, Texas, I was on my way to a staff meeting at church. The radio broadcaster interrupted to report the shocking news that American Airlines Flight 11 had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
This seemed inconceivable. Unfortunately, it was true, and within minutes, the awful reality of terrorism was verified when United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower.
When I got to the office, we watched in horror as the two towers came crashing down. The images of people covered in ash running for their lives were devastating. Seeing others plummeting hundreds of feet to their deaths was ghastly. The tragedy continued as American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Due to the bravery of the passengers of United Flight 93, which was headed to Washington, D.C., that plane was taken down before it could cause further damage.
We didn’t have our staff meeting; we prayed—intensely. Sixteen years later, these images are still horrifying to watch.
The number of people who suffered this evil is incalculable: 3,000 people died that day, including more than 300 firefighters and 70 law enforcement officers; thousands more were injured; and the residents of New York City, as well as those working at the Pentagon, suffered greatly. In defiance, the response of the American people to all of this devastation surpassed the evil that caused it. For one of the few times that I can remember, the rancor of politics was dropped, and the nation actually resembled “one nation under God.” Support came from across the country, prayer was earnest, and people were more open to Christ than any time in recent memory.
Amid all of this support and care (though largely unreported) were thousands of Christ’s people, many with churches and Christian organizations; they comforted, cared for, and counseled the hurting, meeting spiritual needs along with physical needs. The reason for such a response among God’s people is simple: God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5).
Suffering is reality, and no one wants it. Ironically, believers in Christ are at their best when giving comfort to the afflicted.
I’ve seen the power of God’s people comforting the afflicted many times. I remember it when I took a group to Turkey in 1999 following the devastating earthquake in Izmit and the surrounding area, which killed 17,000 and left more than 300,000 homeless. The largest presence of any aid group was Christians from all over the world, working as one to care for the needs of the people and finding ways to share Christ with them. We set up shelters, organized food and clothing distribution, and simply sat down to listen to people, cry with them, love them, and show Jesus Christ to them. Most of this was never reported—but, if you were there, you saw it firsthand.
As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has just overwhelmed the Texas Gulf Coast, causing destruction from Corpus Christi to Orange. Houston has been devastated. As in previous disasters, the response to the suffering has been spectacular: emergency workers, government agencies, and businesses have given and done so much. These organizations should be recognized and thanked for all they’ve done. Volunteers with boats, trucks, and any other means of rescuing people have just shown up to help—truly remarkable.
Among these are thousands of Christians. One news broadcaster said he had never seen so many churches and Christian organizations doing so much to help in so many ways.
Southwestern Seminary is putting together plans for faculty and students to go down to help in the relief efforts. The effort will take months, even years, to accomplish. Prepared to meet the physical and emotional needs of those who are suffering, we will also be prepared with the Gospel. And be there we will—serving in the midst of suffering is what Christ’s people do best.
We know what it means to suffer spiritual poverty and affliction; most of us also know other forms of suffering. Because we know the comfort of God in Jesus Christ, we will comfort the afflicted, not for recognition, but for the Kingdom of God, so that those who suffer will also come to know the abundant comfort of Jesus Christ.
After hosting nearly 100 episodes of a church leadership podcast that focuses on church growth and writing more than 1,000 articles on the topic, I’ve learned that the most important trait for church growth is an undergirding of prayer and biblical fidelity. Lead the church you serve to have a dynamic prayer emphasis combined with constant Bible teaching, preaching and overall DNA, and you’ll be ready to follow through with practical strategies. If you don’t have this foundation, then you will fall into pragmatism and failure.
But preaching and teaching the Bible, as well as praying, does not automatically result in the growth of a church. There are plenty of churches with this foundation that still lack practical strategy. So what are the keys to church growth?
1. Implement the right systems.
How do you move people from where they are to where God wants them? Systems!
Have clear processes for how you handle the following areas of the church:
- Corporate worship service planning
- Assimilation of first-time guests into members who attend, give, and serve
- Small groups
- Lay leadership development
- Staff development
- Generosity and stewardship
- Evaluative measures
2. Build the right team.
You need to have the right people on the bus and have them in the right seats. They need to be people of character, competence, and chemistry.
Character. It doesn’t matter how talented the people are, if they are not men and women of God, they have no place on your staff team. For pastoral staff members, the Bible has made it crystal clear what kind of character they should possess (Titus 1:5–9; 1 Timothy 3:1–7; 1 Peter 5:1–4).
Competence. There are some people who are extremely godly, nice and sweet but simply don’t have the skillset needed to excel in the church you lead. These are the hardest team members to handle because if they have character and chemistry but are incompetent, you won’t experience growth in their area of leadership.
Chemistry. If the people love God and are really sharp, but you simply don’t get along with them, or if it is awkward being around them, it will not work in the long-term.
3. Develop the right culture.
In order for the church to have a healthy culture, it must have exegeted its community properly, then reverse-engineered how to see a healthy New Testament ministry grow there. The culture should be one of excellence, warmth, energy and enthusiasm. How is that culture developed? Through intentionality.
I conclude with a frustrating story. From ages 11 to 15, I mowed lawns and saved money to buy my first car. The day I turned 16, I opened up the classifieds section of the newspaper (before the days of Craigslist), found a car within my budget, and called the number.
I met with the guy who was selling the Chevy Corsica. It wasn’t the coolest car I had ever seen, but during the test drive, it was smooth.
Two days later, a substance was flying out from the side of the car, and then a rod was thrown in the engine. The seller put sawdust in there and conned me into buying a bad car. The cylinders in the engine weren’t clicking together, and it ruined the entire car.
Friend, you can make some tweaks here and there to make the church you lead experience some growth for a short season. You can throw proverbial sawdust under the hood of the church you serve.
But if you want things to click on all cylinders for the long haul, focus on the foundation of prayer and biblical fidelity, then implement the right systems, build the right team, and develop the right culture. Church growth isn’t guaranteed to come as a result of all of this, but the odds will definitely be in your favor.
With awed wonderment, millions of faces were turned skyward on Aug. 21 to observe the awe-inspiring first total solar eclipse since 1918. If you lived in the narrow swath of the sun’s 60-mile-wide arc of trajectory from Lincoln, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., from 1:15 to 2:48 p.m. EDT, you experienced 120 seconds of darkness over the land.
When the eclipse was occurring, my mind turned to Hebrews 1:1-3: “God … has spoken to us in His Son … through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory … and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
Who created that stupendous, splendid sun and that magnificent moon and intersected their orbits to create a rare total eclipse? According to Hebrews 1:2, the Son did—“through whom [God] made the world.”
Before sun, moon, stars or planets ever existed, the Son was eternally one with the Father. The Son is distinct from creation itself and exists apart from it. He is not dependent upon it, but it is dependent on Him. When God stepped out from behind the curtain of nowhere onto the platform of nothingness and spoke a universe into existence, the Son was His agent of creation. The Son is not only God’s agent in creation, He is the basis of the independent existence of all created reality—including you and me! From the Son we learn the final purpose of creation—creation is the preamble to salvation!
How could our tiny, little ol’ moon eclipse the titanic hulk of the sun? It seems impossible! The sun’s diameter is 400 times wider than the moon and is so huge that 64 million moons could fit inside it! But the sun is also 400 times farther away. The result: the sun and the moon appear to be the same size from our perspective, and when they line up just right, the moon obscures the sun’s entire surface. Presto! A total solar eclipse.
But the Son cannot be eclipsed! He radiates the brightness of God’s glory according to Hebrews 1:3. “Glory” could be described as the manifestation of God’s divine attributes—divine nature in either its invisibility or its perceptible manifestation. Glory is the divine “mode of being.” Glory is as essential to the Son as light is to the sun. You don’t make the sun light; it is light!
The pre-incarnate Son shared in the divine glory because He is “God of very God,” as Nicaea put it. The incarnate Son reveals the divine glory because He is the embodied revelation of God’s essential glory. The Son does not reveal something other than Himself, nor does He reveal something other than God the Father. As one of the Sons of Thunder put it in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” Think of it! This Son is the unique God-man; the only one who has a heavenly Father but no heavenly mother; who has an earthly mother but no earthly father; who is older than His mother and who is as old as His Father!
Get out your telescope. Train it on the night sky. Astrophysicists estimate the size of the universe to be 93 million light years across, or 28.5 gigaparsecs if you prefer. It is home to more than 170 billion galaxies. Our tiny little Milky Way galaxy, being just 100,000 light years in breadth (remember, light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second), is home to only 100 billion stars, including the low-rent solar system containing planet Earth. Compared to the Milky Way, our solar system proportionally would be the size of a quarter relative to the North American continent. If you could proportionally reduce our solar system to the size of a football field, the sun would be on the 50-yard line; Earth would be 93 million miles away … on the 46-yard line. Pluto would be on the goal line.
Who sustains this macrocosm called a universe? Who keeps galaxies rotating and solar systems careening at break-neck speeds yet with flawless accuracy? Hebrews 1:3 says there is one Cosmic Cop, whose badge is deity and whose whistle is omnipotence. He directs galactic traffic … because He is the Son who “upholds all things by the word of His power”!
When the moon eclipsed the sun on Aug. 21 for an hour and 43 minutes, most never knew it, but the Cosmic Cop was directing the traffic. Oh yes, by the way, He has a name. His name is Jesus, and He is God’s final revelation to us, who has made “purification of sins” according to Hebrews 1:3. The total eclipse we all experienced last week was a reminder of the unbelievable magnificence and power of the universe. But though the universe declares the glory of God, it can never tell you of God’s love for us. To us, the universe, along with our little lives in it, are all one great undecipherable hieroglyph until we discover God’s Rosetta Stone—Jesus! Amazing as it seems, the Son cares about every life on this third rock from the sun.
Because the Son came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died a substitutionary death for us all, there is an answer to your question, a solution to your problem, hope for your future, forgiveness for your sins, and salvation for your soul. Here is the Son, whose glory and whose love for you can never be eclipsed!
Sunday, August 13, 2017. As I spoke with friends that morning after the senior adult Sunday School class I teach, a newer member and his wife approached me. He looked into my eyes and thanked me for condemning racism in all its forms so clearly. Just the day before was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and drawing from the Book of Obadiah, we had agreed that in creation, there is no superiority of birth, nor of rank or position or blessing. All that we are and have is from our Lord, and it is just the same for every person of every race and place in the world, all for whom Jesus died.
That someone in this class would be glad to hear biblical truth was not surprising. What was surprising was his next statement: “I am from Germany. I fought in the war [World War II]. And I am very glad to hear you say these things.”
His English is fluent, but his accent is still thick. He told me he spent more time as a prisoner of war than in combat, having been captured early in his assignment.
The rest of his story I do not know because he came to the class while I was away in ministry, and we have only spoken briefly once or twice so far. I look forward to hearing more. Coincidentally, I am reading a historical work on World War I, a war that was also fought over race, though perhaps not as overtly as its continuation, which we call World War II.
Racism is in the news in America. In June this year, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention passed another resolution against racism, this one specifically mentioning the alt-right.
But America is not the only place with racial issues. Later in June, I was in Kenya and preached at a long-term refugee camp/village. The refugees in this camp are members of one large tribe. These particular members had lived as minorities in various villages and towns dominated by another tribe. Several years ago, they were violently expelled from their villages by the dominant tribe and since have survived day by day in this camp that has become a small village of its own. They were forced, sometimes brutally, from their homes with nothing and after all this time, still have little to show except for the love demonstrated by various Christian and humanitarian organizations.
I have some experience with racism. I grew up in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed there. My father was a pastor who preached against racism and welcomed people, whatever race, into his churches. This was not always popular. My first pastorate was in Mississippi, in a very small town in which blacks and whites lived on separate sides of railroad tracks. My son and I supported the Baptist church across the tracks with its Vacation Bible School, and by the great kindness of a godly deacon, I received the best jar of homemade barbecue sauce I have ever tasted!
I am no race relations hero, but I have thought much about just what racism is. You see, the racism of the world wars was not a “racism” of color, but of breeding. Germans fought Anglos and French. And Americans, often of some German descent, called Germans by the derogatory slang, “Krauts.”
Racism is not essentially about color, though that has been much of America’s experience. Racism is one of the many sinful expressions of human arrogance, “exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.”
The world is filled with racism because the world is filled with arrogance. All have turned from God. We all want to think we are more than we are, and in so doing, we assert that God is less than He is and that His creation, including other people, is less important still.
Adam and Eve were of this mind. The serpent suggested that they were superior to, wiser than, worth more than God, and they readily agreed, going their own way. The roots of racism were laid.
Racism is ancient. It is a form of this arrogance that exaggerates the value of the group with which an individual is most closely aligned. Though ostensibly about the racial group, racists always have been willing to protect members of other races who agree and submit to their thinking while castigating and seeking to destroy those of their own race who disagree. And racism is not confined to those who are in the more powerful position, though the application of racism through power is egregiously wicked before God.
Of all people, the people of God, of Christ, should be free of racism because we have become a different sort of race, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” a race of all the races, the very Kingdom of Heaven. The remedy for racism of all varieties, including Nazi or alt-right or tribalism or in one’s own heart, is in our Lord. His great gift of love is our great command to love.
Even what we claim to know, the wisdom we speak, arises from our fear of this just yet loving God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. And the fear of the Lord who loves us and who died for us is the end of racism.
Isaiah 53:6b: “Each of us has turned to his own way.”
Proverbs 1:7; Deuteronomy 10:12; Psalm 111:10.
This week, Southwestern Seminary begins its 110th fall semester. More than 45,000 graduates have matriculated through Southwestern’s hallowed halls. These students have either traversed their educational journey well or they have struggled. In my 27 years employed in higher education, with the past 9.5 years at Southwestern Seminary, I have witnessed students who needlessly struggled. The following 10 tips are offered to students who desire to have a successful semester and educational experience.
1. Worship God personally. This may seem like a strange statement to make to seminary students. However, it is all too easy to begin to substitute class assignments for your personal devotion time with God. Every class at Southwestern uses God’s infallible, inerrant Word as a textbook (this is a good thing!). Yet, translating Greek and Hebrew, reading the Old and New Testament, writing a systematic theology paper, or preparing for a sermon or Sunday School class cannot, and must not, substitute for your devotional time. You need to have a time where you let God speak to you and you respond in worship, through prayer, singing and meditation. Jesus modeled it (Matthew 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16) and James 4:8 exhorts us to do it. You must always put God first—this is discipleship 101.
2. Don’t let family become collateral damage. You have been called to become equipped to do ministry. However, pursuit of the calling never should come at the expense of one’s family. I instruct my Christian Home class, “If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.” I can give countless evidence for this in Scripture and in life. There will naturally be periods of study that will consume large portions of your time; agree about those times with your spouse. To make time to study may mean that you must sacrifice something personal to ensure your family remains your primary ministry (after all, husbands, aren’t we called to sacrifice in Ephesians 5:25ff?).
Here’s an example rubric I generally followed during my M.Div. studies that may be helpful to you. This rubric gave me 17.5 hours of study time each week while working full-time, taking a full-time course load, and teaching Sunday School.
- When I got home, I spent time with family until our four kids were placed in bed by 8 p.m.
- The time between 8-9:30 p.m. was dedicated to my wife. We, of course, ensured we had periodic dates, as well.
- I studied from 10 p.m. – midnight each weeknight and during the day when I ate my lunch (30 minutes). Occasionally, during exams or research paper editing, the night study period would extend to 2 a.m.
- On Saturdays, I got up early and studied 6-11 a.m. The remainder of the day was for family and house tasks.
3. Practice time management. Time management is a life skill that means more than just showing up to class on time. It also means more than just avoiding procrastination. Time management is a spiritual discipline. Brian Edgar states, “We tend to take space and time for granted, as basic categories of human existence.” Yet, we know that God created time. Wenthe reminds us, “Time is the context in which God reveals [H]imself … Although God is beyond time, yet Christ entered time. He came in the fullness of time (Gal 4:2) and promises to be with us till the end of time (Matt 28:20) … We live in a short stretch of time that moves from Christ to Christ (Col 1:15-20).” God commands us to steward our time properly for three reasons:
- The days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).
- Time is short (Proverbs 27:1, Mark 13:33-37, James 4:13-15, 1 John 2:17).
- We are held accountable (Matthew 6:19, Romans 14:12, Galatians 6:7-8).
Time management requires that you prioritize and plan your tasks, without sacrificing time with God (see tip 1) or your family (see tip 2), so that you can do all things well (see tip 5). So, after the first week, take all your syllabi, schedules for work and church, and a calendar and place them on a table. On the calendar, map out all your assignment due dates, assigning them to have an earlier due date if they conflict with an already scheduled family, church or work commitment. For writing assignments, make sure you have them due one week ahead of time to permit time for your papers to “marinate”—you can’t find holes in your arguments, missing support for your thesis, and grammar mistakes at the last minute. If you are going to use the Writing Center, schedule additional time to complete your writing assignments.
4. Use social media appropriately. Social media is not evil; technology is inherently neutral. However, how one uses technology can be morally good or evil. There are three inappropriate uses of social media:
- Don’t let social media become an idol. How much time do you spend on social media? Is it the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before you go to sleep? Do you incessantly check all your social media channels? Is your restroom time extended because you spend it looking at social media?
- Don’t use social media to disagree with another person or an organization. When did we, as Christians, decide it was fine to complain about someone on public social media? This is not biblical. Scripture is quite clear on how to handle a disagreement with someone. Matthew 18:15ff stipulates that we are to handle disagreements one-on-one, not in the public space. I find that the majority of people who complain about someone or an organization are trying to motivate a self-serving action or are promoting an agenda.
- Don’t let social media replace human interaction. God made us for face-to-face human relationships, and He chose humans as the vehicle to proclaim the Gospel through the organ of the church. Only 7 percent of human communication is verbal; the remainder is visual. If all your interaction is on social media via “verbal texting,” you cannot form a relationship with the person.
5. Have integrity. You are to pursue classes with excellence. I hear hallway conversations all the time where students state, “I only need to get a C on the paper,” or, “I can skip that assignment.” These statements grieve me, as they speak to a tremendous heart issue and lack of integrity.
- We are called to do all things with excellence to glorify God and as a testimony to the world (1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 3:23-24, 2 Timothy 2:15). You are being equipped for the Divine, not a degree. Will you be able to stand before God and declare you did your best? Does He deserve any less?
- We are to properly steward what has been given to us. Your tuition is paid in part by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program. Moreover, the buildings in which you live and study were paid for by faithful men and women who supported Southwestern so that the Gospel could be declared to the ends of the earth. You have a responsibility to people in the pews and ministry partners who sacrificially gave to do the best that you can in class.
6. Serve at church. Attending seminary does not excuse you from doing life through church. Find a local church home and be an active member. There was a period when I recommended the expulsion of 13 students from Southwestern over a year’s time. The expelled students all had one thing in common (besides sin): none of them were actively involved in church or part of a small group at church. Serving at church brings accountability, provides discipleship, and allows you to turn the orthodoxy learned in class to orthopraxy. It doesn’t matter if you will only be at a local church home three to six years while you are at seminary—flourish where you are planted.
7. Attend chapel. This is where the esprit de corps of the campus is set. Will you like every speaker or song? No; I don’t either. Just as you do not at church. There are three critical reasons to attend chapel:
- Where else will you have an opportunity to meet pastors from around the world, meet our SBC leaders, and interact with trustees, guest music artists, missionaries, and a black dog named Chayil?
- Chapel is referred to as the president’s classroom. Attend and decipher what Dr. Patterson is trying to teach us.
- Worship together. It is true that Southwestern is not a church, but that does not mean we cannot come together to practice unity of the body and worship God. Don’t do what our people do at church—don’t come together to gripe. Glorify, don’t gripe.
8. Find time to fellowship. Equipping for ministry is not merely about deeply footnoted books and language paradigms. Ministry is ultimately about people. If you allow it, you will make lifelong friends while here. Take time to make cross-cultural friends and learn about doing ministry in a different context. Take advantage of Student Life events and on-campus conferences. Remember the church rule “people not programs” and apply it to seminary.
9. Take care of yourself. Studying is part of your educational journey and it will require countless hours of reading, reflecting, memorizing, writing and praying. However, you will not be optimally effective for ministry if you are stressed out or develop health issues related to not taking care of yourself. You are a clay vessel being shaped by God. Sometimes a vessel on the pottery wheel needs time to set (sleep), to be worked (exercise), or time to add more clay and water (eat well). A misshaped or cracked vessel is useless for its task. Don’t become ineffective or limited in ministry because of your health.
10. Find balance. Your educational journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Theological education is different than other academic degrees because theological training deals with God’s Word. Your education here is about more than increasing in knowledge and skills. Professor Holy Spirit is here helping form you. Your educational journey is a crucible whereby the Holy Spirit will refine you. This takes time, so don’t treat your educational journey as a sprint to graduation day. Jesus spent three years equipping His disciples, and Paul spent three years studying the Scriptures after his encounter with Jesus. Spiritual formation takes time (hopefully none of you will be on the 40-year Moses plan).
Brian Edgar, “Time for God: Christian stewardship and the gift of time,” Evangelical Review of Theology 27(2), 2003, p. 128.
Dean Wenthe, “Redeeming time: Deuteronomy 8:11-18,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 65(2), 2001, pp. 131, 142.
Did Christians in the first few centuries of the church read Scripture regularly outside the formal worship gathering? While this might seem like a straightforward question, the historical complexities of the ancient literary culture make it notoriously difficult to answer.
There is little doubt that the church read Scripture publically. After all, Paul reminds Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13), and as early as Justin Martyr, we find the church gathering and reading long portions of biblical texts.
The question of private Scripture reading, though, is important. I can recall from my earliest days in the church pastors and church leaders exhorting me to “study the Scriptures!” or “take time to read Scripture every day!” They assured me that regular encounters with the Word of God were essential for healthy spiritual growth. But can it be said that the early church shared this same conviction?
These questions surfaced for me while working on a project on patristic exegesis and re-reading the little treatise Bible Reading in the Early Church, composed by the great champion of Protestant Liberalism, Adolf von Harnack. This book is one of the first complete treatments of the topic and, though it suffers from Harnack’s larger Hellenizing thesis, it’s rather helpful for a general survey of private Scripture reading in the first four centuries of the church.
After navigating his way through many allusions to Scripture reading in the early church, Harnack concludes that laypeople not only read texts outside their worship gatherings, but the church actually encouraged them to do so. In Harnack’s words, laypeople in the early church “actually did read Holy Scripture; the presbyters had not to give any permission; the Holy Scriptures were not in their ‘keeping’ but were accessible to all, and were in the hands of many Christians.”
In one sense, Harnack is correct. The patristic exhortations to read Scripture begin very early. The second century apologist Aristides, for example, describes his own encounter with Scripture, saying:
Take, then, their [Christian’s] writings, and read therein, and lo, you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come.
In fact, many of the apologists in the second century, including Justin, Tatian and Theophilus, describe their conversions through personal interactions with Scripture. In another passage, Irenaeus encourages regular contemplation of the Scripture, saying:
A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall plainly under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures.
Other fathers of the church, such as Clement of Alexandria, encourage Christians to read Scripture before meals.
Beginning in the third century, the works of Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen contain references to private Scripture reading. Hippolytus commends his readers to attend worship frequently, but on days when there is no service, they should read Scripture at home. Origen speaks often of reading Scripture privately, and in one sermon, he even challenges those who are so devoted to eating and drinking or other “secular affairs” that they give God only “one hour or two out of the whole day.”
By the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts his catechumen, “What is not read in church is not to be read privately” in order to encourage new converts to avoid pagan writings and dedicate themselves to reading Scripture.
From these few scattered allusions, it’s evident that, whenever possible, the regular encounter with Scripture was encouraged in the early church, at least for those who could acquire to copies and actually read them.
In another sense, though, Harnack falls short. He never really takes up the larger historical questions, such as the extent of literacy in the ancient world (a point that is still hotly debated), the actual availability of copies of different biblical books, and even the cost of purchasing books for private use. These and related questions have been taken up by others.
But the greater problem with Harnack’s work is that while the early church encouraged reading Scripture privately, they also exhorted the church to read the Scripture rightly. Private Scripture reading did not mean that all private interpretations were equally valid.
When the early church exhorted the faithful to pick up and read, they also reminded them that any reading should be faithful to what Christ taught and apostles proclaimed.
Irenaeus, for example, speaks often of the church’s rule of faith as a helpful guide for reading Scripture. He characterizes the rule of faith as that which the church believes, professes and hands down, saying:
… the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.
The one who rejects the church’s faith but still turns to read Scripture will “always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery.”
Like Irenaeus, Tertullian advocates for reading Scripture with the rule of faith. He describes how some heretics even appeal the Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount—“seek and you shall find”—to justify their own private interpretation. Tertullian responds, “Let our ‘seeking,’ therefore be in that which is our own, and from those who are our own: and concerning that which is our own, that, and only that, which can become an object of inquiry without impairing the rule of faith.”
In a similar way, Athanasius also writes about the rule of faith and Scripture, saying, “We may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches to the reading of inspired Scripture.
This is only a sampling, but in the early church, the urging to read Scripture rightly is just as strong as the encouragement to read Scripture privately. This manner of reading Scripture celebrates, rather than ignores, faith in Christ and the way that Christ has fulfilled what was proclaimed through the prophets and apostles.
So did early Christians read Scripture privately? It seems that many did, and they even saw Scripture reading as a vital part of a healthy spiritual life. At the same time, they also insisted that whenever Scripture is opened, it is read with “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).
Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.
Harnack, Bible Reading in the Early Church, 145.
Aristides, Apology, 16.
Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 7, Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 29, Theophilus, To Autolycus, 1.14,
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.10.
Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, 2.10, Stromata 7.7.
Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 41.
Origen, Homilies on Numbers, 2
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical lectures, 4.35.
The best place to start with this topic is Harry Gamble’s work Books and Readers in the Early Church.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.2.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.2.
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 9-12.
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 12.
Athanasius, Against the Arians, 3.28.35.
Turn on your TV. Find your favorite channel. Wait a moment, and you will be confronted with an ad that offers an immediate miracle solution to a nagging problem. Whether you need a perfect pan for your cooking woes, an unkinkable hose for your garden gloom, or a miracle medicine for your many maladies, modern media is loaded with ads and gimmicks promising to heal anything that ails you in just a moment. As a society, we have been conditioned to expect quick fixes and instant successes. We long for solutions simple enough “for dummies.”
When it comes to marriage and family, we are prone to seek out the same solutions: miracle cures and momentary fixes. Book after book, blog after blog, and page after page has been written to instruct us on how to have a better marriage. Certainly, many of these books offer wisdom on how to live with and love your spouse better, but they are short on a practical path for making lasting changes in your marriage. Where these books often fail us, Scripture rewards us.
Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
These words from the Lord provide for Israel and for us a summary of God’s expectation for the life of His children. J.M.P Smith describes this verse as “the finest summary of the content of practical religion to be found in the OT.”
Each of these principles will serve to better not only the lives of God’s children but also the marriages of God’s children. Consider each of these principles individually.
In Micah 6, the Lord requires his children to do justice. This means simply doing what is “right, that which is just, lawful, according to law.” In all times, in all places, and with all people, those who do justice seek to do the right thing. To apply this in the marriage context, the spouse who seeks to do the right thing in every situation will be a spouse who limits the areas of potential conflict in his or her marriage.
The most common martial stressors and causes of divorce are infidelity and financial issues. If, as a spouse, you are always seeking to do right, you would never commit infidelity, as that would be doing wrong by your spouse. The one seeking to do right would also always handle his finances in a way that is right and correct by his family and by those with whom he interacts in financial dealings.
Doing what is right may not be easy, but if this is the desire of both spouses, the points of contention in the marriage will be severely limited. Even when areas of dispute arise, if you can trust that your spouse was ultimately seeking to do right in a situation, you will be much more prone to forgive and forget any wrong that was done.
The second principle required by the Lord is to love kindness. God’s reminder in this passage is centered on Israel loving the kindness, or mercy, that God has shown them as His chosen people.
Just as the people of Israel were to love and cherish the mercy that God had shown, so should modern believers. Consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:7-8a: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” The mercy of God given to us in Christ Jesus is a mercy that not only covers over our sin; it also abounds in its graciousness and goodness toward us.
Loving the mercy of God will help us love showing mercy to others, especially our spouses. When one considers the depth of his own sin and the abundant mercy of God to forgive his sin, he becomes much more prone to show mercy to his spouse, no matter how heinous the offense.
Dave Harvey, in his work When Sinners Say I Do, writes, “And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.” A spouse who is committed to loving mercy will extend mercy to his spouse every time his spouse fails. Cherishing each day the mercy of God makes giving mercy in return much easier.
The third principle required by the Lord is to walk humbly. The figurative use of “walk” here is a reminder of the daily commitment required to walk in humility. The challenge for the Israelites—and for us—is that our natural inclination is to daily walk in our own pride instead of in humility.
Just as gasoline is a poison and an ignition hazard to a field, so pride is to a relationship with God and a relationship with a spouse. Pride seeks to sabotage and sink both of these relationships by telling us that our desires are the best desires and our plans are the best plans with no consideration of God’s will or, in the case of marriage, any concern for the needs of our spouse.
Pride is always a liar. Pride tells us we are in control when the reality is that God Himself is in control. If we want to walk humbly with God, we must eradicate the sin of pride from our lives. Philippians 2:3 states simply, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Humility before God is regarding God’s will above our own. Humility before our spouses is regarding their needs and desires above our own.
This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5, reminds husbands to give themselves up for their wives, and for wives to submit to their husbands. Paul understood that humility is the primary key to the prosperous marriage. Just as pride is like gasoline, humility is like water to a field. Whereas gasoline brings the threat of death and flames, water brings life and refreshment. Humility is life-giving and growth-inducing to a marriage and to a spouse. When you choose to sacrifice your own pride for the needs and desires of your spouse, you will deepen your relationship and commitment to them.
A marriage built on pride is destined to fall. A marriage built daily with humility will be impossible to sink.
Ultimately, the point of Micah 6 is not marriage; its primary concern is how all people should walk rightly with God. All of these principles are life-giving to everyone’s spiritual health, not just those who are married. Anyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior and daily commits to these principles will see growth in his relationship with God and his relationships with others.
That is not to say this will come easy; this is no quick-fix miracle cure. But certainly Psalm 19:8 is true when it says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” The one who follows the Lord in this way will receive joy from the Lord.
Thus, the key to navigating marital strife is spiritual growth. The more we follow the commands and expectations of the Lord, the better our marriages will be. The more we commit to do rightly, the less we will wrong our spouses. The more we commit to love mercy, the more we will forgive our spouses. The more we walk humbly with God, the more we will serve our spouses. Ultimately, the more we follow God’s will and walk in His ways, the better and stronger our marriages will be.
Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, vol. 20, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 113.
Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 520.
Harvey, Dave (2010-12-01). When Sinners Say “I Do” (Kindle Locations 503-504). Shepherd Press. Kindle Edition.
In 2016, approximately 18 million adults in the U.S. were in cohabiting relationships. This represents a 27 percent increase since 2007. While more than half of cohabiters are under 35 years old, the increase is more significant among those older than 50. This demographic has seen a 75 percent increase in cohabitation over the last decade. When the rising rates of cohabitation are coupled with declining marriage rates, the visibility of cohabitation in American culture has seen a marked increase.
The church is also seeing an increase in cohabitation. In recent months, one particular article has struck a chord among many believers by declaring that moving in together before marriage may be acceptable. The author tells the story of how she and her boyfriend have bought a house and moved in together. She’s received a fair amount of criticism, but she explains it away.
Her arguments are no different than those we might hear from other Christians who are contemplating the idea of cohabitation. So let me dispel some of the myths about cohabitation and its connection to biblical teaching.
Myth #1: The Bible doesn’t say anything about cohabitation.
Some people try to justify cohabitation by claiming the Bible gives no clear instruction on this type of relationship. If the Bible doesn’t prohibit this living arrangement, then those making this claim assert that it must be permissible. Let’s examine what God’s Word says.
Scripture is clear in its condemnation of fornication. Fornication and fornicators (as well as adulterers) are described as evil, subject to judgment, and not heirs of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4).
While admonitions against cohabitation, fornication, or pre-marital sex may not be as abundantly clear as the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”), the category of sin remains the same. Jesus used the seventh commandment to draw His listeners’ attention to the broader scope of sexual ethics.
Myth #2: We prayed about it, and God said it was fine.
This myth is common among both those who cohabit and believers in general seeking to justify all sorts of choices. This myth implies that Christianity is a completely privatized faith. The privatization of faith implies that I can proclaim the answer I received from the Lord and no one can question it because it is my answer.
When Paul found himself in Berea, we see the people there sought to confirm what he said with Scripture. We read, “For they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11b, emphasis added).
The people are commended as noble-minded (v. 11a) for evaluating what Paul said and seeking Scripture to confirm Paul’s teaching. When someone proclaims he has received an answer from the Lord in prayer that does not align with Scripture, then we are right to question that answer and challenge it with God’s Word.
Myth #3: Just because we’re living together, doesn’t mean we’re having sex.
In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus references a command against committing adultery and then expands it further against lust. He states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If Scripture forbids even lustful looks, then surely the prohibition would include an illicit sexual relationship between unmarried individuals and even the appearance thereof (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We should never willingly place ourselves in situations to trust our flesh.
Myth #4: Cohabitation is a great way to “test-drive” marriage before settling down.
In the article noted above, the author states, “You see, I’ve always thought it was smart to live together before marriage. I can speak from experience now, and I can say that I have learned so much more about my boyfriend from living with him than I ever did before.” On one level, there is no disputing her claim. Living with another individual will teach you more about that person than you ever thought you could know. However, cohabitation is a recipe for disaster in marriage.
First, cohabitation does not lead to more successful marriages. Cohabitation does not provide any benefit compared to waiting until marriage. Time even goes so far as to report that “cohabitation doesn’t seem to be able to produce that feeling of security [as marriage does]. And so far, cohabitation hasn’t been shown to inoculate couples from divorce.”
Second, cohabitation often leads to children. According to the National Marriage Project, “By the time [women] turn 30, about two-thirds of American women have had a baby, typically out of wedlock.” Having children out of wedlock, even in a cohabiting relationship, puts strain on the relationship and can lead to major disadvantages for these children as they grow older.
Finally, most cohabiting couples are not simply living together to save money or learn each other’s quirks. A sexual relationship is almost always at the center of the arrangement. According to a biblical sexual ethic, God established the sexual relationship in covenant marriage between a man and a woman in Genesis 2. The sexual relationship between a husband and wife demonstrates the exclusive, permanent union of marriage. This intimacy is described in Genesis 2:24 as a “one flesh” union. Those who cohabit participate in the “pleasures” of the relationship without the covenantal commitment. This stands in direct violation of God’s plan for marriage.
How Should the Church Respond?
First, remember that cohabitation is not the unpardonable sin. After Paul gives a vice list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that says certain people, including fornicators and adulterers, will not inherit the Kingdom of God, he states, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). We need to work with cohabiting Christian couples to help them confess and repent of this sin.
Second, we need to help these couples separate from their sinful lifestyle. If a cohabiting couple is heading toward marriage, then we need to encourage them to change their living arrangements. If it means a woman moves back home with her parents, or a man moves in with some friends for a period of a few months, then so be it. If the couple is not willing to do this, then it’s hard to believe they will seek to honor God within their marriage.
Renee Stepler, “Number of U.S. adults cohabiting with a partner continues to rise, especially among those 50 and older,” Pew Research Center, 6 April, 2017.
Sydney Lind Moore, “He Gave Me a House Before a Ring and That’s OK,” The Odyssey Online, 1 May 2017.
A KJV-style word for a pre-marital sexual relationship.
“The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2012,” The National Marriage Project (2012), 76.
Belinda Luscombe, “How Shacking Up Before Marriage Affects a Relationship,” Time, 12 March 2014.
Kay Hymowitz, Jason S. Carroll, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Kelleen Kaye, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” The National Marriage Project (2013), 3.
Immigration, border security and citizen safety currently constitute one of the hottest issues in the American political scene. Certainly, no one can deny that this discussion was a major part of the rhetoric surrounding our last presidential election. Voices on both sides of the isle present compelling, if not emotive, appeals as to what we as a country should do. Depending on who is talking, the responsible thing is either to narrow the opening through which immigrants enter our country for the safety of our citizens or to widen the gate in order to embrace oppressed refugees with open arms. That the issue has become a part of the discussion in our churches and denomination is not surprising. It is a concern we are being asked to address in our spiritual and biblical conversations.
Now, I am going to disappoint you. My point here is not to solve the abovementioned debate or to instruct you on how to engage in this discussion. Allow me to make a much less contentious and more well-known point. Regardless of what immigration laws are created or amended in our country, the position of the pastor, church and believer must be that we leverage every opportunity we have to make disciples of all nations. This is our mission. This is one reason why believers are here and the church exists. It is the command that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ left us.
Leveraging every opportunity to make disciples certainly includes when the nations come to us. Regardless of where you find yourself on the immigration debate, I pray as a believer you can add your “amen” here! Matthew 28:18-20 is crystal clear: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I am quite certain that nothing I have written so far has been novel to you. Quite frankly, I would be concerned if you did not understand that the Great Commission commands believers to share their faith and churches to make disciples of all people. I imagine you have come to grips with this truth. So, we understand that Matthew 28 is an evangelism text and a mission text. Would you be surprised, however, if I argued that the Great Commission is also a homiletics text?
When we think of “preaching” texts—passages that guide the development of our philosophy of preaching—perhaps several obvious ones come to mind. These may include such passages as 2 Timothy 3:16–4:5, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, and Ezekiel 37:1–14. But, do we ever consider the Great Commission when we think about preaching? Should the Great Commission inform our preaching, and inform it in a specific way?
I believe the answer to these questions is “yes”! By this, I do not mean the Great Commission is only a preaching text or that preaching is the only action necessary to make disciples. Nevertheless, the Great Commission has something to say about our preaching. There are at least four implications for preaching from Matthew 28:18–20.
First, the Great Commission should inform the content of our preaching. One of the means Jesus gave for making disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” So what should be the content of our teaching? What should we preach? Certainly not content that originates with us. The Great Commission calls us to fill our sermons with Jesus’ Content, His Word. This lends itself to preaching that communicates the God-intended points of the text and not simply points “from the text.” Every single sermon we preach should strive to have as its main thrust the main thrust of the text. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with expository preaching.
Second, the Great Commission should influence the scope of our preaching. Jesus not only instructed us to teach others to observe what He commanded, but to teach others to observe all that He commanded. I do not have the space to flesh this out here, but if your bibliology leads you to understand that all 66 books of the Bible are inspired and authoritative equally and to recognize every part of both the Old and New Testament as what Christ has commanded at least implicitly, then you must preach and teach all of the Bible if you are going to obey the Great Commission. Therefore, the command to make disciples relates to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible.
Third, the Great Commission should inform the aim of our preaching. If we consider the passage as a whole, at least two objectives for the Christian life exist: evangelism and edification. If we do not evangelize, we will have no one to disciple. What is true of our personal lives would seem also to be true of our corporate gatherings and our pulpit particularly. Also, if the church you pastor is anything like most, on any given Sunday, that someone is sitting in the pews who does not know Jesus as Savior is more likely than not. Therefore, making evangelistic appeals weekly from your pulpit is not only appropriate but also necessary.
Then, what is the ultimate command in this passage? “Make disciples.” At a minimum, a disciple is one who follows Christ and becomes like Christ. So clearly, an aim of an individual Christian should be to lead others to be more Christ-like. Again, if this is true of our personal lives, it would seem also to be true of our public preaching. We should preach with the aim of edifying believers so that they grow into Christ-likeness. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with preaching that evangelizes and edifies.
Finally, the Great Commission should influence the philosophy of our preaching. If we believe a call to teach all of the Bible is imbedded in Jesus’ command, then what is the best way to accomplish the Great Commission in our preaching? What is the most consistent way to approach teaching the Bible holistically in our pulpits? I believe the answer is systematic expository preaching. By systematic expository preaching, I mean preaching through books of the Bible or major portions of biblical books in a series in which we allow the God-intended meaning, structure and emphasis of the passages to drive the main points, outline and thrust of our sermons.
Do other ways potentially exist for accomplishing the same goal? Sure. Hypothetically, you could systemize all the teachings of Jesus and then orderly begin to work through them. However, the simpler way to accomplish the task and obey Jesus is to begin to preach through books of the Bible. Beyond this, systematic text-driven preaching allows us to accomplish the other three suggestions as well. It allows us to preach Jesus’ content. It leads us to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible. And, it is a type of preaching that I believe naturally lends itself to evangelizing the lost and edifying the saints.
Therefore, the Great Commission should drive us toward systematic expository preaching. At a minimum, systematic expository preaching is consistent with the command and call of the Great Commission.
The only real constants in life are death and taxes.
This old adage in the life of American culture reflects the sentiment that some things never change and some things are always changing. For example, those who are 60 years of age or older will vividly remember seeing specific aisles at the grocery store roped off to fulfill the “Sunday Blue Laws” that restricted the purchase of certain items on Sundays. On the other hand, most young people in America have no knowledge of such restrictions but could not fathom a world without social media. There is not a teenager in America who is not connected to social media in some form or fashion. Twenty years ago, no such social media existed. Today, according to the latest Pew report, 68 percent of all Americans utilize Facebook, as do 2 billion other people worldwide.
These changes are known as a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in thinking that results in a change of behavior. This shift reflects the globalized society that has rapidly developed since the turn of the 21st century.
How can this globalized society be properly explained? In recent months, a review of the last days of Princess Diana have flooded the airways with numerous implications; but, this one event is an excellent depiction of the globalized society that has evolved. From this one incident in August 1997, the ethnic diversity of our globalized society is clearly and vividly reflected. What we find is an English Princess with her Egyptian boyfriend in an auto accident in a French tunnel in a German car with a Dutch engine driven by a Belgian chauffeur who was high on Scottish whiskey being chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles with German cameras. The first doctor on the scene was an American.
Such a globalized setting is not unprecedented in history. In the first century, the capital of the province of Achaia was the city of Corinth, and it, too, reflects such globalization. After being destroyed by an invading Roman army in 146 B.C., it was rebuilt in 44 B.C. before Julius Caesar’s death and was established as a Roman colony for retired Roman soldiers.
Located on a four-mile-wide isthmus connecting the Greek Peloponnesian to the mainland, Corinth became a globalized city for numerous reasons:
- It was a city of banking and commerce. Having sea ports on both the east and west sides of the city, Corinth became a gateway of trade, which brought great wealth to its inhabitants.
- It was a religious city that housed the great Pantheon Temple along with numerous altars for the worship of the various Greek gods of the day.
- It was also a city of great entertainment. The Greeks invented athletic contests in honor of their gods. The Isthmian Games were staged every two years in Corinth. The Pythain games took place every four years near Delphi along with the most famous of the games, which were held at Olympia in honor of Zeus.
- Finally, Corinth was known as a city of great evil and debauchery. The term from which the name Corinth is derived was used in the arts and theater to describe a citizen of Corinth who always displayed a life of drunkenness and sinfulness.
These descriptors reflect many of the same aspects of our contemporary American culture. The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the world, consumed only by a desire for more wealth. It lives to be constantly entertained. It is more religious than ever before, yet the level of sin and corruption is at the highest peak in the history of our country. Like Corinth, America needs a moral and spiritual change.
The apostle Paul saw the need of his day as a spiritual need, and his remedy for that globalized self-absorbed society was placing a priority on biblical preaching. What is biblical preaching? Numerous definitions for biblical preaching can be found in the homiletic community today. Some advocate a topical approach to exposition while others prefer the genre of the narrative storytelling method of the new homiletic.
Paul, too, faced a plethora of methods to the task of effective communication, but he reveals his theology of preaching in the first two chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These chapters in 1 Corinthians tell much about the condition of the church of Corinth, but they also express Paul’s theology of preaching.
His theology of preaching involves a deep commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel as explained in the message of the cross of Christ. Paul vividly explains this in the first chapter, verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” In like fashion, verse 21 says, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe”; and also verse 23: “but we preach Christ crucified.”
After Paul’s encounter with the philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus (Acts 17), rather than utilizing the skilled rhetorical tools of the wisdom teachers of his day, Paul’s passion was to simply preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to God. This attitude expresses his understanding of biblical preaching.
At Southwestern Seminary, expository preaching has been refined to a more focused approach expressed as “text-driven” preaching. Rather than rely on the eloquence of man’s speech to enhance a topic or the use of some theatrical endeavor to impress the listener, the effective biblical preacher must be committed to interpreting the substance of a text in the context of the passage and communicate the truths revealed therein under the anointing of the Spirit of God.
This text-driven approach aims at allowing the preacher to simply be a tool in the work of interpretation and proclamation. Biblical, text-driven sermons that flow from the anointing of God to the people of God through the Word of God by the Spirit of God are the need of the hour.
No matter what the whimsical, emotional voice of the ever-changing tide of thought may be, the task and responsibility of the preacher is to be the faithful and passionate in delivering “the faith once delivered to the saints” to the glory of the Lord Jesus and the furtherance of the Kingdom. As Paul faced the folly of his first century cultural thinking and remained steadfast in the preaching of the Gospel, may the mandate of the 21st century preacher be reaffirmed, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” This is why the mandate of Southwestern Seminary is “Preach the Word, Reach the World.”
Pew Research Center, “Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States.” Accessed on June 16, 2017 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media.
Leonard Sweet, “What is Globalization? The Death of Princess Diana.” Accessed on January 14, 2006 from http://www.leonardsweet.org.
John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), vii-viii.
Teen Vogue, a magazine targeting 11- to 17-year-olds girls, recently published a how-to article instructing teens how to perform anal sex. This article is on the heels of a recent article on how to masturbate if you are a male and a similar article on how to masturbate if you are female. All three articles are written by Gigi Engle, a self-proclaimed writer, sex educator and feminist activist. In the “anal 101” article, Engle states that anal sex is a “perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity” and that “there is no wrong way to experience sexuality.” The truth of God’s Word opposes both of these statements.
Obviously, this article promotes a troubling agenda aimed at teenagers that is counter to biblical commands and principles. The four most egregious areas are:
- Promotion of sex outside of marriage. Engle’s article promotes teens having premarital sex. The Bible is quite clear that premarital sex is outside the confines of the biblical covenant of marriage. This distorted form of sexuality (sexual immorality) is referred to as fornication or sin (Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 15:19).
- Promotion of homosexuality. Engle’s article purports it is helping “LGBTQ young people.” God’s Word is clear that homosexuality is a sin. The biblical basis that homosexuality is a sin begins in Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24. Here, God defines the institution of marriage (He’s the only one who can since He created it). He ordains it as a permanent union of one man and one woman. Jesus also reaffirms marriage as a sacred, monogamous and life-long institution joining one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6. Marriage is a covenant relationship and an institution established by God and is not simply a human social construct. ANY sexual behavior outside the husband/wife marriage relationship is sinful, including premarital sex, adultery, bestiality, pornography and homosexuality. The Bible speaks of the immorality of homosexual behavior in Genesis 19:1-27, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:18-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
- Promotion of sex as recreation. Engle’s article promotes a counterfeit sexual morality by promoting sexual activity among teenagers as recreation. God intended so much more for sex. Sex is a coordinating sign of the covenant of marriage, a physical reflection of the one-flesh union (Genesis 2:24). Within the confines of marriage, sex is intended for procreation (Genesis 1:28, 4:1), unity (Genesis 2:23-24), sexual purity (1 Corinthians 7:1-9), and pleasure (Proverbs 5:15-23, Song of Solomon).
- Promotion of being unwise. The Bible calls us to be wise and not foolish (Proverbs 3, Ephesians 5:17). Engle’s article fails to state the wealth of medical evidence that states that anal sex is neither healthy nor safe. Anal sex can lead to tissue damage, including hemorrhoids, damage to sphincter muscles, anal fissures, and colonic perforation. Moreover, there is a high risk of developing fecal incontinence, infection, transmission of STDs, and anal cancer (due to infection by human papilloma virus).
Parents and the church need to counter the culture by teaching teenagers to be in Christ and not in vogue. In the truest sense, we need to teach teenagers to be in the world and not of the world (Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15-17). Parents and pastors cannot be silent on the topics of sex and sexuality with teenagers. The world definitely is having the conversation—and not for teenagers’ eternal good.
 This post focuses on anal sex and teenagers. A natural extension I’m often asked in The Christian Home class I teach at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is whether anal sex is permitted within the confines of marriage. Although the wisdom principle (number 4 above) should apply, I offer the following three-step rubric for married couples to use in evaluating sexual practices: (1) Is a given sexual practice or activity prohibited in Scripture? Does it violate Scriptural moral principles? (2) Is a given sexual practice or activity beneficial or harmful (physically, emotionally and spiritually) (Romans 13:12-14)? (3) Does a given sexual practice or activity involve persons outside the marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4)?
Revivals are sometimes said to be a thing of the past, a holdover from an earlier era of the church that is no longer practical in our postmodern age. Well, the last time I checked, God is still in the business of converting souls, whether it be one at a time or through large-scale awakenings. If He desires, He can again bring about revival, one that outshines anything we have seen before. After all, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
There was a day in America when revivals were commonplace. From 1720 until 1860, a steady stream of revivals dotted the American landscape, a factor that led many pastors and theologians to reflect deeply on the nature of revival and publish works answering numerous questions associated with it:
- What is the nature of salvation?
- Is there a standard sequence one experiences in conversion?
- How are ministers to preach and counsel individuals seeking salvation?
These questions occupied dozens of publications in the period, and together they formed a coherent genre in American theological literature. I have examined these writings in my recent book Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017). Here are several fun facts about the history of revival theology in early America you may not be aware of:
1. Did you know that conversions generally were “longer” in the First Great Awakening than in the Second Great Awakening?
When people experienced conversion during the First Great Awakening (1740s), it was not uncommon for their experience to take days or weeks to be completed. This was because folks understood conversion to include a three-part process that included conviction of sin, conversion (repentance and faith), and consolation (assurance of salvation). Many believed they could only truly believe after they had identified the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, such as a love for Christ and a hearty desire to trust Him for salvation. Because it took time to identify these fruits, one’s conversion experience often took a long time.
By the Second Great Awakening (early 1800s), this situation had changed because revivalists came to associate salvation with an act of the will. After all, they reasoned, a person is converted when one has believed, trusted, or placed his faith in Christ—all acts of the will. This shift was the result of Methodist expansion, which popularized Arminianism, and New England Calvinism, which stressed the sinner’s natural ability to believe (i.e. sinners can believe if they so desire) in spite of his moral inability to do so (he will not trust Christ because an unbeliever does not want to). In short, this shift generally reduced the length of a convert’s conversion experiences.
2. Did you know Charles Finney believed that revival was impossible without the Holy Spirit?
Charles Finney, the influential revivalist of the 1820s and ‘30s, is often portrayed by his critics as a mechanizer of ministry who so over-emphasized the human side of revival that he effectively left the Holy Spirit out of the process. While there were definitely problems with his theology, this specific criticism is not one of them, for he repeatedly stressed the necessity of the Holy Spirit in conversion and revival.
The “truth by itself,” he noted, “will never produce the effect [of salvation], with the Spirit of God.” Elsewhere, he remarked that “unless God interpose the influence of his Spirit, not a man on earth will ever obey the commands of God.”
When Finney described the relationship between the various agents of salvation (God, the preacher, and the convert), he often employed an illustration. Imagine a man walking toward Niagara Falls deep in thought, oblivious to the danger in front of him. Just when he is about to take to final step over the edge, a bystander cries out, “Stop!” disturbing the man’s dreamy state, whereupon he turns aghast, stops walking, and is saved. When we ask, “Who saved this man’s life?” Finney said there are multiple answers: the bystander; the message itself (“Stop!”); the man who stopped walking; and God, who oversaw the process.
The parallels with revival are obvious, but Finney did note there is one big difference between this illustration and revival. In salvation, the Holy Spirit must do far more than merely ensure that the mind hears the message correctly. He must pour a torrent of motives into the soul in order to persuade sinners to turn from their sin: “because no human persuasion,” he preached, “… will cause him to turn; therefore the Spirit of God must interpose [His work] to shake [the sinner’s] preference, and turn him back from hell.”
3. Did you know that Calvinism and activism go together?
Calvinist critics often point out that Calvinism inherently undermines evangelistic activity: If God is infallibly going to save His elect, why try to add to His sovereign work? This reasoning may appear sound at first, until we actually look into history and find activistic language in the sermons of Calvinist evangelists.
Notice, for instance, the repeated language of “choosing” in Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The Excellency of Christ”:
Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion…. Would you choose a friend that is a person of great dignity? … Christ is infinitely above you, and above all the princes of the earth … [yet he] offers himself to you, in the nearest and dearest friendship. Would you choose to have a friend not only great but good? In Christ, infinite greatness and infinite good meet together.
Jonathan Dickinson, a contemporary of Edwards, noted that though sinners cannot save themselves, there is something they can do in seeking salvation. “Labor after a lively impression of your incapacity to produce this grace in yourselves…. And labor to exercise faith in Christ. Though you cannot work this grace in yourselves; yet if ever you obtain it you yourselves must use and exercise it.” In short, activism, both on the part of the minister and the seeker, was inherent in the evangelistic methodology of Calvinist revivalists.
4. Did you know that early Restorationists (Churches of Christ) rejected emotional conversion experiences?
The frontier revivals of the Second Great Awakening were known for their deeply emotional preaching and dramatic conversions, where persons experienced strange “charismatic” phenomena like falling over, the “jerks,” and barking. There was widespread criticism of these revivals. Alexander Campbell, an early leader of the Restoration movement, offered a theological response to them. Campbell argued that the Old Testament moral law no longer applies in this age of the Gospel and therefore preachers should not preach it to generate conviction as a path to conversion. It is not necessary, he wrote, for sinners to experience “some terrible process of terror and despair through which a person must pass, as through the pious Bunyan’s slough of Despond, before he can believe the gospel.” All that is required from the would-be convert is belief in Christ.
Campbell maintained that faith is similar to the process of learning. In both, we intellectually become aware of new ideas and, based upon certain criteria, affirm them to be true. Faith is merely the process of affirming the truthfulness of the apostles’ testimonies; there is no emotional component inherent in it. Thus, Campbell downplayed emotional conversion narratives and put forth what critics called a rationalistic view of faith and salvation.
American revivals are a fascinating topic to study. If we desire to see more of them, we might benefit by tapping into the wisdom of our evangelical forefathers in our efforts to construct a biblically mature revival theology.