It has been a great joy for me to devote a lot of mental energy to studying, teaching, and writing about the Sermon on the Mount. Even though I’m done writing my new book on the sermon, this famous biblical text continues to teach me new things every day.
Here are three things I’ve learned about the sermon that most people probably don’t know.Jesus’s sermon is radical but not entirely new
Out of respect for Jesus, we often assume his message was a lightning bolt of novel and wonderful things never heard by humanity before.
The Sermon on the Mount is a lightning bolt. It’s direct revelation from God, coming from the mouth of the incarnate Word himself. But this doesn’t mean Jesus’s teachings were entirely new.
When we understand the sermon in the cultural context of the first-century Mediterranean world, we can discern as much continuity as there is difference. This is a good thing. Jesus wasn’t speaking Mars-based gibberish, but revealing God’s kingdom to real people in real cultures.
There are two slices of Jesus’s cultural context that both illuminate what Jesus is saying and also show that the sermon isn’t entirely new. In the Jewish context, Jesus is presented as a prophet, just like those in the Old Testament. Jesus is calling people to reconsider who God is and what he desires for his creatures. Jesus’s message in the sermon is that God is our Father who sees and cares about the heart, not just external righteous deeds and religion.
This teaching is rooted in and resonates with the prophetic tradition, particularly Isaiah and Jeremiah, with a healthy dash of Daniel and the minor prophets thrown in for good measure. There is deep continuity between Jesus’s words and the rest of the Bible.
The other context operative in the sermon is the world of Greek and Roman philosophy. Jesus isn’t only a prophet, but also a sage — a wise philosopher who calls people to re-orient their lives according to a virtuous vision of the world.
As a philosopher, Jesus invites people into ways of being in the world that promise the good life (or human flourishing). He is a teacher who gathers and instructs disciples; his teachings are gathered together into memorable epitomes; he offers a series of macarisms (beatitudes) that promise true life; and he emphasizes virtuous wholeness (see especially Matt 5:48). Certainly there are differences between the content of what Jesus said and what other philosophers taught, but the form and feel of the sermon would be familiar to hearers in the first century.
At the end of the sermon the crowds are amazed, but this isn’t so much because the content is new but because of the clarity, strength, and authority with which Jesus teaches. His teachings are radical, but not out of the blue.Jesus’s sermon isn’t an impossible ideal to show your need for grace
A common reading of the sermon, especially within Protestantism, is that its high ethical demands are meant to show us the impossibility of being good, thus creating a crisis that makes us flee to Christ for his grace and imputed righteousness. Jesus’s call to never lust or hate, turn the other cheek when attacked, do pious acts with perfect God-centered motives, not worry about the future, and never judge others—all of these are impossible to do perfectly. This shows us our desperate need for Christ’s saving work in our lives, so the story goes.
While the impossibility of earning salvation and the need for radical grace are true from a whole-Bible perspective, this misses the genre, point, and goal of the sermon. The sermon is not — to use Luther’s overly reductionistic categories — “law” that makes us see our need for “gospel.” Rather, it is wisdom from the Father, inviting us through faith to re-orient our values, vision, and habits from the ways of external righteousness to whole-heartedness toward God. This isn’t “law,” but rather “gospel.” Jesus is inviting us into life in God’s kingdom both now and in the future age. This is grace.
No one can perfectly perform the vision of the sermon (except Jesus), but this doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to our lives. By faith and through grace, Jesus invites us into a life of discipleship. We participate in and (imperfectly) imitate his Father-trusting, kingdom-awaiting way of being in the world.
The sermon isn’t all that we need to know or all that is true of the gospel. The end-game of the gospel story is the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Through his faithfulness, he brings about a new covenant between God and humanity. On this basis alone, empowered by the Spirit, we’re made alive. All of this is by grace. This is essential. In this, Luther — and Christians of any stripe — are right.
Now standing in this grace, believers respond to Jesus’s invitation in the sermon. Our habits and ways of being are deconstructed and reformed through his teachings and model. Being a disciple is the appropriate and necessary response to God’s amazing grace, and the sermon plays a crucial role in that.Jesus’s sermon is meant to be memorized and to serve as a source for constant meditation
In the modern Western world, we are flush with Bibles. Literacy rates are remarkably high. As a result, most Americans and Europeans interested in Jesus and the sermon can easily find a copy and read it. Google “Sermon on the Mount” and you can easily find countless translations and explanations. This is good.
However, this isn’t how the sermon was originally received, nor the kind of pedagogical context in which it was intentionally produced. Rather, the sermon comes from a time and culture that concentrated on the ear more than the eye. The sermon (for both Jesus’s original speaking and Matthew’s writing) is designed as an aural, memorizable meditation device.
It’s one of Matthew’s five teaching blocks that gather together Jesus’s teachings on various themes, present them in a memorable thematic structure (usually in sets of three) — with vivid images and poetic language — so that would-be disciples can easily hear, memorize, and thereby meditate on what the Master has said. To be a disciple is to memorize the Teacher’s sayings and to model one’s life on his.
I haven’t yet memorized the entirety of the sermon (much to my regret), but I regularly take long walks and recall and recite the portions that I have memorized. I’m always amazed at the fresh power, the new insights, and the cross-canonical connections that flood my mind—things that I never noticed despite multiple readings and thorough literary study. This is why the sermon was written. Try it.
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Classical liberals often say that Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. Have you ever heard anyone say that? People sometimes say: It doesn’t really matter what you believe. What matters is that you love other people. What matters is that you do good in the world, rescue the oppressed, care for the sick and poor, and help those in need. As long as you love and do good in the world, it doesn’t matter what doctrines you believe. Doctrines cause divisions, conflicts and wars. So, let people believe whatever they want. What really matters is that we love our fellow human beings.
In his magnificent treatise, Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen argues that this liberal idea is not true. It is the very opposite of biblical Christianity. Christianity does not begin by telling us to love other people. It begins with the great biblical doctrines of God, man, Christ, and the gospel. Christianity doesn’t begin with a command to love God or others. It begins with the sweet doctrine of God’s love. Christianity begins by proclaiming that God is holy, but we are sinners in need of salvation. And God lovingly looked down upon this broken world, and he graciously sent his only Son, Jesus, into this world to die for poor sinners and to rise again on the third day.Love God, Love neighbor
Now, it’s important to understand that if you believe the gospel, you will most certainly love other people. The Bible never minimizes the importance of love. The Ten Commandments are all about how we should love God and love others. Jesus set an example of love and taught us to love. We must preach that true faith in Christ and repentance of sin leads to love for God and love for others. But here is the Christian distinctive that is different from liberalism: God commands us to love because he first loved us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. That is a doctrine, not a life of love.
Machen proves that according to the Bible, sound doctrine is more fundamental to Christianity than our love for others.
Consider Philippians 1:15-18. Paul says, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed and in that I rejoice.”
Now isn’t this an interesting passage? On the one hand, you have preachers who preach the gospel in love and sincerity (v. 16). On the other hand, you have preachers who preach the gospel with bad and unloving motives (v. 17). And what does Paul say? He says he’s thankful for both kinds of preachers because they both preach the true doctrine of the gospel. Certainly all preachers should love others. It’s very important to understand that. An unloving preacher is a contradiction. Paul is not condoning unloving preaching.
But Paul says that if an unloving preacher preaches the true gospel, he rejoices that the gospel is preached. So, according to Paul, orthodox doctrine takes precedence over love for others. Paul is saying that you can’t have Christianity at all without the orthodox doctrine of the gospel.
Now consider Galatians 1:6-9. You remember the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians? Some false teachers had crept into the Galatian churches. They were teaching that Christians need to observe the Jewish law. They were very particular about following the old covenant laws of God. They were probably very outwardly moral in many ways.
But in Galatians 1:6-9, Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but that there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”No doctrine, no Christianity
So, Paul condemns preachers who preach a different gospel, even if they are very rigorous about the law of love. This is because without the doctrine of the gospel, there can be no Christianity at all.
And that is what theological liberals fail to grasp. They think that our love for others is the essence of Christianity. But in reality, God’s saving love for his people in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the essence of Christianity.
Machen says, “Here is found the most fundamental difference between Liberalism and Christianity – Liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; Liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”
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As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be engaging the lost. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there are times when I fall into a subconscious pattern of thinking that I only need to spend enough time with lost people to share the gospel with them. Or even worse, I start to think: I need to get to know some lost people so they can come to my church.
Have you ever thought like this? As a pastor, tangible measures of success can be very tempting. Before I even realize it, I can begin to treat people like faceless data. There are certainly godly motives for caring about numbers in our churches (which I wrote about in my previous post), but in general, this mindset is deeply flawed for three reasons.It’s sniffable
I bet you’ve done this before. You come into your church’s sanctuary on a Sunday morning, and as you sit in your normal spot, you notice someone new sitting a few rows away. It’s a young family with a few toddlers — just the kind of people you are hoping to add to your congregation! Reluctantly you go up and thrust a hand in their direction, offering a firm handshake and your heartiest “Welcome to our church!” After asking their names and where they are from, you quickly say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do! Thanks for coming!” and you retreat to your seat.
Let’s admit it. The only reason we greeted them was in hopes that they would come back the next week. In that moment of interaction, we have allowed this thought to worm into our brain: So what if they come back? Are we just trying to get as many people to sit next to each other inside a building one day a week?
It is fantastic to invite people to church, and there are God-glorifying reasons to want people to continue to come to church. However, when we have conversations with non-Christians and our primary goal is to get them to come to our church, they can sniff us out. When we are just trying to boost our Sunday attendance, they can tell.
So, quit. In a world where everyone is working an angle, let us stand out. When non-Christians talk with us, may they smell the aroma of Christ. Let us be men and women “of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God [speaking] in Christ” with heartfelt compassion, genuine interest, and humble concern (2 Cor. 2:17).It’s not enough
If we think the only responsibility of the Christian to the lost world is to get a greater number of them into church, we have misunderstood the mission of Christ. The kingdom of heaven is the stone of Daniel 2:35 that “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” The rule of Christ must bleed into every area of our lives. His healing and live-giving blood has to reach into the deepest parts of human existence.
I have a feeling that we like inviting someone to church because it is so clean. But when we see Jesus, he’s constantly getting dirty: touching lepers, putting mud on the eyes of the blind, allowing prostitutes to wash his feet, washing his disciples’ feet, sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, and having conversations with loose women. Here was his motive: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt. 9:37).
We have to capture this compassion and make it our own. The people of your city are not prospective church attendees, they are sheep without a shepherd. They are harassed and helpless. They have dirty lives full of problems and issues. We have to be willing to bring the love of Christ into their very particular and sticky situations—”For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Like Jesus, we must refuse to be satisfied with merely shake hands with sinners on Sundays. We must allow our lives to become entangled with the problems, sins, and struggles of people who need Christ’s love through us.It’s degrading
Your neighbor is not just an opportunity for you to tally your conversions chart. Your co-worker is not just a chance to boost your church’s baptisms record. Your waitress is not merely a number to add to your Sunday attendance. She is a person made in the image of God dying in a dark and hateful world without anyone to care for her. What she needs is not another person trying to use her, but someone who treats her like creature of such value that the Almighty Son of God would stoop to dying on a cross to rescue her.
Every group on earth is trying to boost their ranks, improve their attendance, and grow their influence. Jesus calls us to value every single person, to love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love is motivated, shaped by, and empowered through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are sent to shine the light of the cross and the warmth of reconciliation that comes through repenting and believing in Jesus. This is a love-soaked message. It must be accompanied by actual genuine love.How do we test our love?
Here’s a simple way to discern your motives. Anytime you feel the impulse to engage a lost person, ask yourself this question: How will I respond if they refuse the gospel? Will you move on to the next one? If you immediately begin to feel that a relationship with that person is a waste of time because they won’t come to your church or immediately become a Christian, you have your answer.
We have to be willing to build relationships with the lost in order to show them the love of Christ. Faithfully share the gospel with them. Allow them time to see that the gospel is not merely a set of beliefs, but a life-changing relationship with the savior, King Jesus. Walk with them through what repentance and forgiveness look like. Show them the value of brotherly love in the church. And plead to God for them. If you do these things, you can be satisfied the numbers will take care of themselves.
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Aren’t we all tired of churches that seem to care too much about numbers? We all know the ones. They always want to compare Sunday morning attendance figures with you. They structure their ministry goals like a corporation trying to boost third-quarter figures. Some of them seem willing to use any form of manipulation to coerce people into snap decisions just so that they can dunk them in the baptismal pool. It can be sickening.
But what if numbers are actually very important? Could I convince you that how many people gathered Sunday at your sanctuary should be a big deal? In fact, I would argue that the number of people who come to Christ and join your church should be of great concern. I believe you should care how many people are on your membership list — down to the very last one.
Three reasons why.The Glory of God
In the Ten Commandments, God forbids making, serving, and worshipping idols because “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:3-5). Later in the same book, he reiterates his unwillingness to share his glory with other gods: “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34:14). God’s plan, his purposes, and his work of salvation are all centered around bringing glory to his name through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As his people, we are to be filled with the same zealous desire for his name to be praised among all peoples and nations. The psalmist puts it this way: “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Ps. 86:9). Nearly every epistle of the New Testament contains some sort of doxology shouting forth “to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!” (1 Tim. 1:17). We live to see our saving King glorified by every man, woman, child, rock, tree, fox, and star. We want everything that has breath to praise the Lord (Ps. 150:6) we want the entire creation to burst forth with God’s glory (Isa. 55:12-13).
What does this have to do with numbers? Well, if we are truly jealous for God’s glory, then every person who chooses not to gather with God’s people to worship God is choosing to give glory to false gods. This should be unacceptable. Every empty seat in your sanctuary is another person who is choosing to give what belongs to God to something less than God. We should not be satisfied until every tongue in our city cries forth his glorious praise.The salvation of man
Every face you see is the face of a man or woman in need of the cleansing power of Jesus. Every person walking the sidewalks, riding the subways, or shopping in the grocery is a person who was designed to worship and commune with God. Every single one of them is a sinner justly deserving God’s wrath and in need of a Savior. Every single one.
Our churches should care about the number of individuals who are being saved because we should care about every individual. Every person who finds forgiveness of sins at the cross is one more brother, one more sister, one more person who is no longer separated from God.
We cannot simply content ourselves, saying, “We won’t worry about the numbers. God will take care of the numbers.” It’s true, God will take care of the numbers. However, until every man and woman is saved from the wages of their sin, we should never be content. Our hearts should throb with the desire of our God who does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This passion for the salvation of men was the fuel for Paul’s evangelistic mission: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14).The health of the church
Your church should care about the number of members at the church—not so you can throw your ecclesiological heft around or so you can pat yourselves on the back. The number of members should matter because members are not just names on a page. They are the precious sheep of Jesus’s flock. He is not willing to lose even one (John 10:27-30).
How many of our churches see people fall off the grid every year? We might be tempted to argue that 1 John 2:19 leaves us guiltless; perhaps they left because they weren’t truly believers. That is certainly possible in some cases. But I suspect something else might be afoot. Ask yourself: How hard is my church trying to make sure to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13)? Could it be that our churches are shirking their Spirit-empowered duty to be the means of perseverance for the saints?Go hard after them
We’re all familiar with the story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out the one wandering sheep. In Matthew 18, Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the necessity of church discipline. Church discipline is all about the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep. It’s an unwillingness of the church to say numbers don’t matter. We will chase every last sheep who wanders away from her Savior and into sin if it kills us!
Which of us wants to be the one to explain to the Good Shepherd why we allowed one of his to go astray, and we chose not to chase after that invaluable sheep? Numbers matter because we want to see every single one of our brothers and sisters persevere to the end. As a member of your church, you have a covenant responsibility to every name on that membership to be pursuing them in love. Your church should be about the numbers. Down to the very last sheep.
What should you look for in a Christian college? Common sense suggests you should know what kind of person you are, or aspire to be, and look for the school that aligns with that. But I fear too many students are asking the question in the wrong way and they are looking at the wrong criteria when forming their assessments.
Instead, I suggest you look at your experience in a campus community as a symbiotic relationship, one where you should not only expect to receive but to give. That’s a profoundly Christian vision, not just for college, but for life. Are you actively looking for opportunities where you will be able to serve, to give of yourself for others? Those opportunities are everywhere if you know where to look and are asking the right questions.
Thankfully, there are many excellent options out there for young Christians who want to find a distinctly Christian college or university. Let me suggest three distinctives you should look for in measuring how seriously Christian an institution is.The Formation of a Biblical Worldview
Every school, including a Christian college, will rightly aim for academic rigor. And every school should understand that education is more than a commodity to be bought and sold, more than the mere transfer of information. But a Christian vision for education frames that aspiration within the broader formation of a Christian worldview.
A Christian college should, shaped by its confessional identity, mobilize its curriculum, faculty, and programming to help students develop the skill of thinking critically according to God’s revelation.
Your worldview includes your conscious intellectual commitments; those propositions you believe to be true. But it also extends much more broadly into your heart and mind, encompassing those deep beliefs and assumptions you carry about yourself, others, the world, and the God who made it all. You’re likely aware of many of these beliefs, but there are many others you carry around of which you may not always be aware. And to be human means you also carry around a contradicting mix of these in your worldview.
So the question isn’t whether you have a worldview, but whether it’s true. And while many colleges and universities would be reluctant to assert that there can be any singularly authoritatively true worldview, a Christian college should be driven to ensure that the entire institution teaches God’s truth and upholds the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
This affects what happens in the classroom, for sure. But it shapes what happens in chapel. It informs the structuring of curriculum and the hiring of faculty. It means that every major helps students understand how biblical truth collides with the values and systems of this world and calls them to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom 12:2). At Boyce College, this shapes every degree program we launch and the substance of our core curriculum. It’s why our new program in Communication looks the way it does, with a classical theological core of classes as well as courses that introduce students to the most current scholarship in the field.The Pursuit of a Life of Discipleship
While a Christian worldview is essential, it isn’t enough. A Christian college isn’t about less than your worldview, but it should aim for far more.
Let me explain. The Christian life is not fundamentally about getting the “right worldview.” It’s about loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s about living in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1).
Being a disciple of Jesus involves daily picking up our cross and following him. That means we call ourselves, and one another, to repent of our sins and to lay claim by grace to the promises of the gospel every single day. It calls on us to be peacemakers in our relationships, to kill the pride that distorts our own hearts and lives, and to pursue purity and holiness in our public and private lives. And a Christian college campus should be a wonderful place to do this.
You can discern something about how a Christian college approaches this by how they speak of and relate to the local church. God did not design your Christian college to be a church. In his perfect wisdom, the community he has ordained to be the human instrument in your growth as a disciple is the local church. So if a college presents itself as a one-stop-shop for your Christian life, run the other way. You need a church family, which you not only attend, but where you are a covenant member. You need a church where you not only fill up a seat on Sundays, but you give of yourself in service. You need a church where you not only go to be fed God’s Word, but you are mobilized to reach out to your community with the saving news of the gospel. And you need this during your college years!The Call to the Nations
A Christian whose worldview is reshaped and conformed to biblical truth will, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, grow in their discipleship and devotion to Jesus Christ. And when that happens, they will grow passionate about the things that matter most to God.
From the Bible, we understand that God’s great mission in the world is to magnify his glory among all peoples as men and women from every tribe are reconciled to him through the saving work of Jesus Christ.
That means that every single degree program, every major, must be leveraged for the Great Commission (Matt 28:28). You will either be called to go, or you will be called to stay, send, and support. Every single Christian has a part to play in this global cause.
So if at a Christian college global missions is only talked about in one major, if the urgency of getting the gospel to unreached people groups is only felt in one department, if the universal calling we all share to participate in God’s mission in the world is only articulated in one corner of campus, then we are missing it.So What To Do?
Without question, the best way for you to assess the culture and commitments of a Christian college or university is by visiting the campus. You can learn a lot by reputation and word of mouth. You can gather immensely useful information from the school’s web site. But there’s no substitute for being on the campus, seeing firsthand what they are all about, sitting in on classes, meeting faculty and staff, and getting a small taste of the community. Schools like mine regularly host Preview Days for this very purpose. Make attending one a priority.
The college decision can feel overwhelming at times. So pray about it. Seek wise counsel. Ask yourself what values and aspirations are shaping your decision and then test those by God’s Word. But if you’re a Christian, you can also rest in the assurance that your Heavenly Father’s providential care for you is trustworthy and good. He has wonderful plans for you, including where you’ll spend your college years.
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise, also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:8–14)An exhortation for men
It is significant that Paul addresses men in verse 8 before addressing women in verse 9. Paul views men as leaders of their homes—and some of them as leaders of the church. He is making clear that they have a particular role to play “in every place” where the church gathers, including at Ephesus. Men are supposed to pray. Paul has already made clear what he wants them to pray for (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1–7). The issue that he focuses on here is how they are supposed to pray, zeroing in on two things, one positive and one negative. On the positive side, they are to pray while “lifting holy hands.”
This is a common posture for prayer in the OT (1 Kings 8:22; Ps. 28:2; 63:4). Jesus himself prayed with lifted hands (Luke 24:50). A reference in Isaiah to the lifting of the hands informs our understanding of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:8:
When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil. (Isa. 1:15–16)
Isaiah is clear that lifting hands is not merely a posture for prayer. A person’s hands represent his deeds, which can be either pure or defiled. In the Isaiah text, his hearers’ “hands” are covered with blood, so God will not hear them.
This is why Paul calls on these men to pray while lifting “holy hands.” Their public expressions of worship must flow from a life marked by holiness. In other words, God is looking for worshipers who will worship him in spirit and in truth, not in hypocrisy. God cares very little for a man’s religious performance at worship if such a man is living like the Devil elsewhere. And so Paul says that men are to raise “holy hands.”
Negatively, Paul asserts that public expressions of worship must grow out of a life that is without “anger” or “quarreling.” Anger and quarreling, therefore, are the specific sins in view that render a man’s “hands” unholy. “Anger” refers to an inner disposition of wrath and indignation, while “quarreling” refers to unholy disputes and arguments produced by such an angry spirit. “Lifting holy hands” requires a transformation of both heart and deeds.An exhortation for women
“Likewise” indicates a correspondence between Paul’s exhortation to men in verse 8 and his exhortation to women in verse 9. George Knight explains the connection this way: “Just as Christian men needed to be warned that their interest in vigor and discussion should not produce strife and dissension (v. 8), so Christian women needed to be warned that their interest in beauty and adornment should not produce immodesty and indiscretion.”(1)
There is nothing new under the sun. Women in Paul’s day were concerned about their appearance just as some women in our day are. There is evidence from antiquity that these particular adornments—elaborate braiding of hair, gold, pearls, expensive clothing—while not evil in themselves, could be marks of sinful motives: “It is the excess and sensuality that the items connote that Paul forbids (cf. Jas. 5:1–6), not braids, gold, pearls, or even costly garments in and of themselves.”(2) It is not that all braids and gold and pearls and clothing were wrong. It is only those that express seduction or ostentation (cf. 1 Pet. 3:3–4, where Peter is not forbidding wearing “clothing” per se).
Learning was not generally encouraged for women by Jewish men in the first century, yet, in spite of that patriarchal norm, Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that he desires women to “learn” (i.e., to be instructed in the faith). This command for women to “learn” is the only imperative in this entire text. However, the accent is not on the command itself (Paul seems to assume that women will be learning) but on the manner in which women are to do so: literally, they are to learn “quietly” and “with all submissiveness.”
“Quietly” does not mean that women are never to utter a word when the church gathers for worship. This would completely contradict what Paul says about women in 1 Corinthians 11, where he tells the women how to pray and prophesy in church. His assumption is that they will pray and prophesy, which means his assumption is that they will speak during church services. We may note that the term for “quietly” in verse 11 is similar to the term for “quiet” in verse 2. When Christians are commanded to pray for a “peaceful and quiet life,” that phrase does not describe a life in which no one talks. It aims rather at a life “without turmoil” (cf. BDAG, s.v. ἡσυχία). Likewise here, “quietly” does not mean complete silence. It means instead that women are to be “without turmoil.” The term requires women to have a “quiet demeanor and spirit that is peaceable instead of argumentative.”(3)What is allowed?
This verse is one of the most controversial texts in all of the NT, mainly because there is such a difference of opinion over what it is that Paul is disallowing. The literature on this verse is voluminous, and adjudicating all the competing interpretations would be beyond the scope of this commentary.(4) Nevertheless, we can simplify the discussion by dividing interpretive options into two groups.
One stream of interpretation posits that Paul is prohibiting one thing—a certain kind of teaching. On this view, such interpreters translate the statement as “I do not allow a woman to teach with authority,” or perhaps, “I do not allow a woman to teach with an intent to dominate.” In either case, it is only a certain kind of teaching that Paul prohibits. As long as women do not teach with authority—teaching with pastoral authority—then it is permissible for women to teach men in the gathered assembly of the church. Or, as long as female teachers do not seek to dominate, they are allowed to teach the gathered assembly of God’s people. Paul rules out for women not church-wide teaching per se but only a certain kind of teaching—the kind that wrongly assumes authority or exercises authority in a harsh or sinful way.
But neither of those interpretations makes sense of the actual wording of the text. Thus another stream of interpretation holds that Paul is prohibiting two things, not one.(5) According to this view, Paul is saying that women should not teach or exercise authority within the gathered assembly of the church. Paul is disallowing both activities. Paul is not prohibiting all teaching by women—as if a woman must refrain from teaching subjects like geometry or science. The word translated as “teach” refers specifically to teaching Christian doctrine. Thus the prohibition applies narrowly to those who would teach and preach the Bible.
Nor is Paul saying that women are incapable of being gifted Bible teachers. There are many women who are very gifted teachers. He is simply saying that the exercise of their teaching gifts must be kept within certain parameters. They are not allowed to teach men. Nor are they allowed to “exercise authority,” which means that women are not to be pastors.6 As the following chapter of 1 Timothy makes clear, the pastorate is reserved only for qualified men—not all men, but only those who meet certain qualifications, with the result that they are recognized as elders by the rest of the church.
The average person with modern sensibilities begins to feel an objection welling up: “Why would Paul put gender parameters on who can teach and be an elder? This sounds sexist.” As if he were anticipating this objection, Paul answers it in the next verse.Order of creation
The word “for” introduces the reason for the prohibition in verse 12: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” This is a clear reference to the Genesis 2 account of creation. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam from the ground and afterward creates Eve from Adam’s rib. Paul is teaching that the reason for the prohibition has something to do with how God made the first man and the first woman.
Some interpreters have suggested that the first woman had an intellect and discernment inferior to the man’s. They argue, therefore, that women are prohibited from teaching because they are not quite “up to snuff” intellectually. Such an interpretation is unpersuasive, for various reasons.
First of all, Paul calls for women to teach other women (Titus 2:3–5). If women are intellectually inferior to men, then Paul would not have let them teach at all. But because Paul wants women to teach other women in the church, he obviously believes that at least some women are fully capable of doing so.
Second, the text does not say that women are prohibited from teaching because they are more gullible than men. Notice in verse 13 that Paul uses the word “first” to emphasize the sequence of the creation of the man and the woman: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” This means that the reason for the prohibition of verse 12 is found in the order of creation.
Note too that verses 13 and 14 use passive verbs: “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived.” The implicit agents are God in verse 13 and Satan in verse 14. In this way Paul highlights not what Adam and Eve did in the garden but what was done to them. Verse 13 specifies that God made Adam first and then Eve. In contrast, verse 14 specifies that Satan first deceived Eve, not Adam. In the original order of creation, God spoke his word to Adam, Adam spoke God’s word to Eve, and Adam and Eve were to rule over the beasts of the ground. In the fall, the Serpent spoke his word to Eve, Eve influenced Adam to follow her, and both Adam and Eve evaded God. So verse 13 tells us what God has done, and verse 14 tells us what Satan has done. God established an order of creation, and Satan subverted that order.
Paul appeals to this agency and order in creation and the fall to show that Adam’s leadership in the first marriage was established in part on the basis that God created him first—a principle of primogeniture very common in the ancient world. Because this ordering is a part of God’s original creation and is deemed by God to be “good,” Paul views it as the paradigm for all marriages to follow. God intends a certain order in the husband-wife relationship. The order of creation establishes the husband as leader in the first marriage and in all marriages to follow.
The pattern for leadership in marriage is the basis for an all-male eldership. The gender norms of the eldership must follow the gender norms for marriage.
The order in marriage has wider implications for church leadership, which is the point Paul is pressing in 1 Timothy 2:12ff. Paul appeals to the nature of marriage to establish a point about leadership within the church. This is not an accident, and it corresponds with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3–16 concerning marriage, “headship,” and order within the gathered assembly. The pattern for leadership in marriage is the basis for an all-male eldership. The gender norms of the eldership must follow the gender norms for marriage. If this were not the case, the church’s leadership structure would be at odds with the leadership structure God has established for marriages within the church.
Sin came into the world when the Serpent strove to assault God’s order. Likewise, to subvert the headship principle that God established at the very beginning would be to subvert God’s design. This is why he prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority within the gathered assembly. The prohibition is not because of deficiency of intellect among women. Nor is it due to some situation specific to the Ephesian church. Because this prohibition is rooted in the order of creation, it is a transcultural principle to be observed for all times and ages. Male headship in marriage is not a result of the fall but is a part of the order of creation. So also, then, is male eldership in the church.
Editors’ note: This article is adapted from ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon(Volume 11 edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar. It was originally published at the Crossway blog.
- George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 136
- Thomas R. Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15: A Dialogue with Scholarship,” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 186.
- For an extended discussion of this verse in English translation, see Denny Burk, “New and Old Departures in the Translation of Αὐθεντεῖν,” in Women in the Church, 279–296.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger, “A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 117–161
- “Authority” does not have an inherently negative connotation. See Al Wolters, “The Meaning of Αὐθεντέω,” in Women in the Church, 65–115.
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This is a collection of audio and video author interviews at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Having touched on what constitutes evangelism in the last post, we want to take our discussion a little deeper. Because some wrong thinking concerning evangelism may have pervaded many of our churches, it is critical to establish clarity by way of contrast. In this section, we are going to examine a few common ways Christians mistake the practice of evangelism for other important aspects of the Christian life.
Before we launch into these common mistakes, however, it is important to recognize that all of the practices listed below are legitimate—even necessary—activities for a Christian, and may serve as a way to build relationships with others for the sake of sharing the gospel. There are times when talking to someone about social issues will naturally lead to speaking to your conversation partner about the gospel. Conducting our lives in holiness and purity will also be vital as we proclaim the gospel. Our point in this section is to help you identify the ways you might be prone to mistake evangelism for something else so that you can make genuine progress in your efforts to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Having a conversation about God and religion
In various contexts, you might find it fitting to talk with others about God and the broader category of religion. Given the fact that God and religion are often topics of interest in the media and the larger culture, it is likely that there will be times to engage these important areas with unbelievers.
You might talk about the existence of God or the idea of a Supreme Being from a philosophical perspective. But these subjects, at most, are only ice-breakers to lead to evangelism and cannot be considered evangelism in and of themselves. And, as we will see in subsequent posts, it is not necessary to begin with such topics in order to move to talking about the gospel.
Talking about the Bible
Similarly, evangelism is not merely talking to someone about the Bible. Is it good to talk to unbelievers about the Bible? Absolutely! In fact, we will see in later posts that one of our primary aims in evangelism should be to get people into the Bible for themselves. But we can be tempted to mistake discussions about the Proverbs or the literary diversity and beauty of Scripture for evangelism. Again, these are useful topics (any topic involving God’s Word is!), and they may often lead to sharing the gospel, but we have not obeyed the calling to evangelize until we talk specifically about the person and work of Jesus Christ and the necessity to believe in him.
Defending the Christian faith
The practice of defending the faith against unbelieving arguments is usually referred to as apologetics. When someone engages in apologetics, they are not “apologizing” for the Christian faith; they are defending the truth of Christianity through specific argumentation, usually through appeals to evidence from the areas of history, philosophy, or science.
For example, a Christian might argue for the historical reliability of the gospels by providing an unbeliever with several sources outside the Bible that support the Bible’s historic claims. Or, a Christian might defend the reasonableness of Christianity by arguing that only the Christian worldview adequately explains reality, while all other worldviews are in sufficient to explain what we see, feel, and experience. A Christian might address the problems inherent in an evolutionary view of the origin of life. These are useful and important activities and may often intertwine with our evangelistic efforts. But until we have explained a person’s plight before a holy God and offered them the grace found in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have not evangelized.
Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him.
Offering solid evidence for the reliability of the Bible in the areas of history, science, and philosophy, and geology is sometimes useful to defend the truth against attack. But we must keep in mind, as Dever observes, that when we do make such defenses, we are answering the unbeliever according to their agenda. They have questions about the reliability of the Bible and the truthfulness of the Christian faith, and they are presently making those questions the centerpiece of the conversation. We may engage those questions in order demonstrate the durable nature of biblical truth and the self-refuting nature of unbelief, but will be doing so from a defensive posture rather than an offensive one.
When we preach the gospel, however, we are addressing the unbeliever according to Christ’s agenda by positively proclaiming the nature of man’s dire situation and the glorious solution provided in Christ. We may muster a load of evidence for the truth of the Bible, but until we have told people that that they face God’s judgment and can be saved by repentance and faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have not evangelized.
Discussing important social issues
There are many of cultural issues about which Christians should be concerned. And walking faithfully to Christ will often require us to engage others on what they believe about, say, abortion and the sanctity of life. We may find warm agreement or sharp disagreement with unbelievers over various social issues and find these discussions intellectually and emotionally stimulating. But our conversations about these matters, even though we may be defending the biblical position, cannot be considered evangelism until we have explained the reality of sin and the meaning of the cross. Again, finding common ground on or engaging in mentally invigorating debate on these kinds of may be a means by which you move a conversation to the gospel, but they are not the gospel. As important is the abortion issue is, a person does not escape eternal judgment by becoming pro-life.
Telling someone they are a sinner
Because evangelism involves explaining to an unbeliever that they are sinners by nature and by personal choice, it might be easy to conclude that we have evangelized once we have told someone about their spiritual condition before God. Some so-called Christian groups have formalized this error in the way they conduct their “outreach” ministries by only telling people that they are worthy of God’s judgment. But telling someone that God is going to punish sin is not yet evangelism. Until we have offered Christ and his death on the cross as the only way to avoid this punishment, we have not shared the good news.
Doing good deeds
The Christian life must be a life fully of good works (Matt. 5:16). Jesus Christ died for the express purpose of creating a people that are “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Believers are to be rich in good works and constantly engaged in providing for other people’s needs in practical, concrete ways (Titus 3:14). But providing food, shelter, clothing, and financial help is not evangelism. These good works adorn our evangelism and demonstrate that Christ is concerned about the whole person, not just the soul. But we have not yet evangelized until we tell those to whom we offer these earthly provisions about their sin and the solution God has provided in Jesus Christ.
Living a holy life
When we come to Christ, we immediately embark on a life of holiness (2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:24). God gives us new desires for holiness and purity, and we begin to walk in fresh patterns of life. Our interests change, our entertainment habits change, our lifestyle begins to change, and our time and energy is now stewarded differently. Sexual purity becomes a priority, integrity a non-negotiable, and we seek to guard our mind and heart from temptation. But we cannot mistake personal holiness for evangelism. Yes, it is important that people see a difference in our lives, but our holiness of life, in and of itself, cannot save someone. Granted, a holy life will adorn our words with authenticity, and a compromised, hypocritical lifestyle may hinder someone from believing the gospel, but our lives, by themselves, can save no one. Until we speak the truth about our sin and the goodness of Christ, we have not evangelized.
Those of us who have been Christians for many years or who have grown up in Christian homes may count the word “evangelism” a regular part of our vocabulary. We may not use it much in our daily conversations, but it’s familiar to us and we’ve heard it often among the members of our church community. Some of us may even say that evangelism is a vital part of our walk with Christ and something in which we participate on a regular to semi-regular basis.
Wherever we are on this spectrum, it is essential for us to visit, or, for some of us, revisit the topic of evangelism. Why do I say “essential?” For now, it is enough to say that we should reflect carefully on how to define this term for one simple reason: evangelism is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian. Whether you have been a Christian for a few months or a few years, Jesus Christ calls you, through his Word, to practice evangelism for his glory, your neighbor’s salvation, and your joy.Four essential elements
What is evangelism? In order to help us navigate this important topic, I’ll provide a basic definition at the beginning of our discussion.
Evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the gospel (i.e., good news) through which we invite unbelievers to repent from their sin and believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, full pardon and justification from God, and entrance into a new life of holiness.
Note that evangelism includes four essential components.
- Evangelism is verbal proclamation.
We cannot say that we have evangelized if we have not used words. Perhaps you have heard this popular quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” St. Francis never actually said those words, but this fact hasn’t stopped people from using this phrase or attributing it this friar from the 13th century.
Regardless of its origin, however, this statement—or, at least, the thinking reflected in this statement—can be found among many Christians today. The idea that the gospel is something we do rather than something we tell is more common among Christians than you might expect. In order to re-calibrate our thinking according to God’s Word, we must first say that true evangelism will always involve verbal proclamation. If we don’t use words, we haven’t evangelized.
- Evangelism will always include the gospel.
In the New Testament, the word translated “gospel” is the Greek word, euaggélion. To evangelize, then, is simply to proclaim the “evangel,” the good news. What is important to note here is that our conversations and proclamations must include a specific content or else we cannot call it evangelism. Understanding in greater depth the content of the gospel will be the aim of a later post.
- Evangelism must include truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin.
We may talk to our friends or fellow students about the Bible or religion or important social issues, but until we have told them about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin, we have not evangelized.
- Evangelism must include an invitation to repent and believe in Christ.
In order to say that we have shared the gospel, we must be able to say that we have told people how to receive the riches promised in the gospel. Without inviting a person to repent of their sin and believe in Christ, we haven’t given them everything they need. What use is the best news in the universe if a person doesn’t know how to apply it to themselves?
We don’t want to press this point too far, however. In our efforts to evangelize, there may be times when we are faithfully presenting the whole gospel to someone and, because of the circumstances surrounding our conversation or a person’s responsiveness there may be times when we are unable to offer an invitation to repent and believe. Nevertheless, faithful evangelism will include, on the whole, a call to repent and believe.
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Pastoring sometimes feels like riding an emotional roller coaster full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Day after day, you watch people you love make decisions that bring you joy and make you cry — sometimes in the same day. Anxiety increases as you hear the clack, clack, clack dragging you slowly up the peak of conflict only to be pushed over the top into the free-fall of relational chaos, knowing only that a sharp turn is just ahead. No one blames you if you feel overwhelmed and want to get off the ride. You’re not alone.
If we’re to endure faithfully in pastoral ministry, we need to remember that we’re leading the church in a time of tension — between the already and the not-yet. We’re called to shepherd the flock of God among us to the celestial city, laboring to point them to Christ and his glorious promises and warning them of the dangers of this present evil world, the temptations of our flesh, and the schemes of the Devil. If we’re to do this well, we must understand what Christ has gained for us already in these last days and what we have yet to gain on the Last Day. When we fail to recognize this tension, we’ll punch our ticket to the emotional roller coaster of pastoral ministry—a ride that often leads to disappointment, discouragement, and perhaps even pastoral burnout.Perils of an under-realized eschatology
When we don’t appreciate what Christ has accomplished for us, when we don’t account for what’s already ours through our union with him, as D. A. Carson puts it, we’ll be tempted toward pessimistic defeatism. Imagine doubting God’s forgiveness or questioning your standing before God. Such a perspective will eventually lead to despair as you’re left to your own devices to try and earn acceptance before God. It will be difficult—nearly impossible—to lead a church while dealing with such nagging doubts. Rather than run to Christ and rest in what he has accomplished, you may be tempted to leave the ministry altogether.
But I suspect the majority of us who continue in pastoral ministry have learned to preach the gospel to ourselves. We may not doubt our standing before God, but if we tend toward pessimistic defeatism, we may functionally doubt others’ standing before God. Just think about how this under-realized eschatology might affect your ministry:
Culture: Are you tempted to view this world as so irredeemable that you don’t associate with unbelievers? Are you tempted to believe that things are so bad “out there” that you should avoid it altogether and encourage your church to do likewise?
Evangelism: Do you view some unbelievers as beyond the grace of God? Are there unbelievers in your life that you’re convinced will never come to Christ, causing you to think, “Why even try?”
Discipleship: Are you so frustrated with church members who seem to struggle with the same sins again and again that you’re ready to give up on them?
Preaching: Have you come to the place where you feel it doesn’t matter how much you prepare or how faithfully you preach because it won’t hardly make a difference?
Leadership: Have you thrown in the towel in trying to raise up leaders in the church because you believe no one will rise to the biblical standards?
It’s no shock that such pessimistic defeatism will lead to burn out. When we don’t rest in the work that Christ has accomplished for us and for our people, we’ll be tempted to step into his sandals and rescue people ourselves. We’ll be tempted to think it’s finally up to us to change the culture; to convince unbelievers into the kingdom; to work out our people’s sanctification; to preach sermons that transform lives; to raise up biblical leaders.
But it’s not. We’re not the Savior of the world, and we’re not the Sanctifier of the Church. If an under-realized eschatology ever causes us to forget this, then burnout is inevitable.Perils of an over-realized eschatology
On the other hand, if we mistakenly believe that Christ’s finished work guarantees for us now promises that won’t be fulfilled until the consummation of all things, then we’ll be tempted toward overly optimistic triumphalism. While we may not actually believe this world is fully restored and the saints are fully sanctified, we may functionally hold to a sort of prosperity theology in which we expect a substantial down payment on our future inheritance now. This inevitably leads to disappointment and doubt when Christ doesn’t deliver what we mistakenly expect of him.
Think also about how an over-realized eschatology affects our ministry:
Culture: Do you believe that because Jesus is King (Eph. 1:19–23), we can go into our communities and redeem the culture so that we can cultivate a slice of heaven here on earth?
Evangelism: Are you under the impression that because in this new age sower and reaper are working together (John 4:35–38), that you should expect to experience a fruitful evangelistic ministry in your church?
Discipleship: Do you expect that because we all have the Spirit that all your church will equally love God’s Word, one another, and you? Do you think that because we’re all to be maturing in Christ, your church will never face conflict?
Preaching: Have you become convinced that because God promises that his Word will never return empty that every sermon you preach will have lasting impact on your congregation?
Leadership: Are you expecting every man who desires to be an elder to be qualified to serve such that you don’t need to put processes in place to raise up leaders?
Surprisingly, even optimistic triumphalism will also lead to burn out. Why? Because when we assume we have more of the future blessings now than we really do, we set ourselves up for disappointment and discouragement. And disappointment and discouragement lead toward doubt and eventual burnout.
So, where do we go from here?Tension must remain
If we’re to keep the tension between the already and the not-yet, then we must renew our minds and root our thinking in the gospel. In his first letter, Peter reminds the defeated Christians in Asia Minor that, because of Christ’s work (1:2), they already possess a future inheritance that awaits them at the consummation (1:3–4). Already, he writes, these Christians are living in a privileged time, the age of salvation the prophets longed to see (1:10–12). But until the consummation, he assures them that they will face suffering that God will use to strengthen their faith (1:5–9).
So with a right perspective, the suffering Christians in Asia Minor can live amid suffering by looking forward to the blessings that await them in the final salvation.
As for the triumphalistic Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:8–13), Paul admonishes them as his beloved children (4:14), exposing their spiritual immaturity (3:1–4) and calling them to love one another (13:1–13). Like Peter, Paul also grounds the Corinthians’ identity and standing in Christ. Because of Christ’s work, they’re no longer what they used to be. So, by faith, they are to live as those who have been washed, sanctified, and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (6:11).Embrace the journey
It’s true that sometimes pastoral ministry feels like an emotional roller coaster ride and we’re just hanging on for dear life. But it’s also true that sometimes the reason for that feeling is confused expectations that lead to an inability to live by faith in the tension of the already and the not-yet.
Instead, we should consider the Christian life a journey. Jesus has already blazed the trail for us; he’s reached the final destination (Heb. 12:2). We’ve not yet arrived, but Christ has given us everything we need. Let us, then, fix our eyes on Jesus and run the race that he set before us (Heb. 12:1), knowing that as we follow in his steps, we’re not only following him into suffering, shame, and death, but also into victory, glory, and eternal life.
Editors’ note: This article was originally publishedat 9Marks.
“Should I join a church?” I’ve been asked this question many times — not just through my Practical Shepherding website, but also in my own church by visitors. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get find your new residence and job. You get the kids enrolled in school. Where you settle in a local church often becomes a longer, more drawn-out task.
After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?
This is the first question that needs to be asked. Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but will this church preach and teach in such a way that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished? In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation? This approach does not automatically answer this question, but it is a great place to start and evaluate.Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?
Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members? In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis. Ask the pastors. Ask other church members. It will not take much investigation on whether this work is a priority of the leadership of the church.Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?
To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leaders. Yet you must have a realistic expectation since you are not yet a member, and so you should not expect to be treated like one.Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?
It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are. Some needs can be filled by your simple presence and commitment. Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations.
You should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process. If you can answer in the affirmative to all four of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church. At that point, I would encourage you not to delay but to pursue membership.Final element
One final element is the key to persevering with the zeal required in this search. You and your family should feel a sense of persistent unease knowing that you are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls. The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.
In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
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