Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Christless Christianity

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending yet another conference, packed with wonderful speakers. Grace Church hosted Ligonier Ministries' West Coast Conference, entitled Christless Christianity. The title of the conference came from Michael Horton's book title in which he discusses the "Alternative gospel of the American church." You can read more about the conference here. I just wanted to relay a couple thoughts/quotes from Michael Horton's first talk.

In decrying the consumerism that has crept into the Church -- both in evangelicalism and the new religious paganism that characterizes guys like Joel Osteen and movements like Word-Faith and Emergent -- Horton offered that we are exalting our methods over God's means of grace, and our contract over God's covenant. We really have taken our philosophy of ministry from secular marketing: the customer is king. Those who listen to the Gospel have become more important than the Gospel itself!

This was just great: "God is not about improving our life in Adam. He's about killing us and making us alive in Christ." So good. Don't sell Jesus to people as the one who will deliver your best life now. Stop appealing to people on the basis of what the natural man already wants. If you offer to people what they already want as natural people, then they don't have to be converted to believe your Gospel. Stop trying to make the Gospel more acceptable, and preach the eternal message we've been entrusted to guard.

Horton continued, and puts it this way: "Stop trying to climb the down escalator!" Referring to Romans 10:6-8, he reminded us that we don't have to reinvent the wheel trying to figure out what it is we're supposed to preach! The Word is on our hearts! And the power is in the Gospel itself. So many are wondering how to make the Gospel relevant, palatable, acceptable, etc., that they empty the cross of its power (1Cor 1:17). We chase our tails with all these methods of evangelism and attempts at attracting unbelievers to our churches when it is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).

The rest of the conference was absolutely awesome. I encourage you to visit Ligonier's blog to read up on it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Solomon: "Don't Waste Your Life"

Perhaps the most memorable -- and potentially confusing -- theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon's insistence on proclaiming the vanity, or futility, of life. The Hebrew word hevel appears 38 times in the relatively short book, and it denotes at least three things:
  1. Transience: the name Abel is a transliteration of this word, and interestingly Abel's life was very transient, as he was murdered at a young age by his brother Cain;
  2. An incomprehensibility, referring to frustration over life’s unanswered questions; and
  3. A futility described as “striving after the wind” (Eccl 1:14; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 16; 6:9), being of “no advantage” (Eccl 3:19; cf. 1:3; 5:11, 16; 6:8, 11), and of “no profit” (Eccl 2:11; 3:9).

Indeed, his exclamations of the emptiness of the various occupations of man’s life may leave the reader thinking that the book is nothing more than the skeptical-cynical musings and complaints of a jaded pessimist, and anything but godly wisdom from the wisest king in the world (1Ki 4:29-34; 2Chr 9:22).

However, Solomon’s great focus on the futility of life must be considered through the lens which he intended. Besides futility, another oft-repeated phrase throughout the book is “under the sun” (Eccl 1:9; 2:17-20; 3:16; 4:1; 5:18; 6:1; 8:9; 9:11; 10:5). Solomon is referring to the way things appear to be on this side of heaven; that is, from the perspective ‘under the sun’ as opposed to the eternal perspective ‘beyond the sun.’

He is speaking of life from the human perspective, and so his conclusions about the emptiness, futility, and incomprehensibility of life make sense. Because the Word of God tells us specifically that world we live in ‘under the sun’ has itself been subjected to futility. Paul tells us that in Romans 8:20, where he uses the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, hevel, mentioned above. He goes on to say that this creation which was subjected to futility is in slavery to corruption (Rom 8:21) because it is under the curse of sin (Gen 3:17-19). Therefore, Solomon’s apparent pessimism is actually a wise incredulity, because it is indeed appropriate to be pessimistic about this world. We simply cannot make sense of life from a merely human, or naturalistic, perspective.

So how are we to live in this cursed world, filled with futility and brokenness? The answer is the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes, and is presented most succinctly at the end of all Solomon’s ruminations: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl 12:13). Though life seems incomprehensible while ‘under the sun,’ there is a God in heaven whose perspective is greater than ours. He is the one who makes sense of life and gives it meaning. That which gives this seemingly inscrutable and fleeting life meaning is the fear of God.

That phrase, which in Solomon's mind is the key to all of life, is distributed fairly evenly throughout the book (Eccl 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13). It is the unifying thread that ties all of the apparently random discourses together. But what does it mean, exactly, to fear God?

Well, the one who wisely fears the Lord worships Him in all things. He regards God and His Word as supreme in all the occupations of his everyday life, and considers all he does in the light of who God is and what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. And such worship of Yahweh is precisely what He elsewhere in Scripture declares is His ultimate purpose in all He does (Is 42:8; 43:7, 25; 48:11; Ezek 36:22-23; Eph 1:11-12). All of life is to be lived for the glory of God (1Cor 10:31).

It's interesting, then, that Solomon consistently exhorts his readers to enjoy life as a gift of God (Eccl 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8-9). You can pursue your greatest pleasure apart from the fear of God, but at the end of your pursuit, you, like Solomon, will find that none of those pursuits satisfy your soul. You'll find that your striving after pleasure is like “striving after the wind.”

But the one who pursues his greatest pleasure according to the fear of God – that is, pursuing his pleasure in God Himself – will find that the enjoyments of this life are gifts from a gracious and beneficent Father (Jas 1:17), and will thus give glory and praise to Him as the giver of all good things. In this way he will worship God, because he will be living his life the way the Creator of life intended it to be lived. This way, and only this way, he will not waste this one fleeting life he has under the sun.

Heed Solomon's word to us. Don't waste your life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


So the plan has been to post every Tuesday and Friday, and here it is Tuesday and Friday's post is still headlining. Well, I'm just having an extraordinarily busy week with some car trouble, a couple of big assignments due soon, and shifting my schedule to be able to attend the Ligonier Conference at Grace Church this weekend. So, no new post this morning.

I actually do have another comment or two to make about Friday's post, which, in the absence of something new, I'll encourage you to read or even re-read while you wait. But if you can't wait, I'm including some of the prayers of the Bible that I find particularly encouraging, and will ask you to pray them for me during this busy time.

Thank you again to all of you who read For Our Benefit.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.

Friday, March 19, 2010

God's Love is a Means to His Glory

One thing that I've been thinking about over these last couple days was spawned from listening to a recording of a Sunday School class that I taught on the Second Greatest Commandment. (It was actually out of the study that I did for that lesson that gave birth to For Our Benefit; see here, and here.)

In the lesson, I was speaking on how the essence of our love for our neighbor must be defined by, controlled by, and flow out of our love for God. A person in attendance asked if the gist of what I was saying undermined at all the notion that God created us for His glory. As I understood him at the moment, I answered, "What I'm saying doesn't undermine that at all. It actually establishes that very thing."

The Problem

Then he made a comment which, upon hearing it again, leads me to believe that even though it sounded like we were agreeing and saying the same thing, we really believed two different things about the subject. We spoke the same words, but meant different things by them. The comment he appended to "God created us for His glory," was "...because of His love."

Now, at the time, even as he said that, I offered hearty agreement. And I've actually listened to that recording a couple of times since then and haven't thought anything of it; it never occurred to me that I would have -- or even should have -- responded differently on second thought. But as I listened to that recording again a couple of days ago, and as I've mulled it over since, I think there is indeed something very wrong with that, that is, with saying: "God created us for His glory because of His love for us."

The Confusion

Put simply, it confuses the end and the means. Specifically, it makes God's pursuit of His glory subordinate to His love. In reality, His love is subordinate to His purpose to glorify Himself. It makes God's love the ground for the pursuit of His glory. Biblically, however, God's pursuit of His glory is the ground of all His acts of love. The error makes God's love His ultimate end and the pursuit of His glory the means of achieving the end of being loving. The truth is that God's glory is His ultimate end and loving undeserving people is a means to achieving that glory. God did not create us for His glory in order to love us. Rather, it is Biblical to say that God loved us in order to glorify Himself.

The Doctrine

I keep saying, "Biblically," and "Biblical," so I'd better back that up, right? I'll do it by turning to one of my favorite passages in the Bible: 2 Corinthians 4:4, and 4:6. They say:

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. ... For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

There is a parallelism in these two verses which sheds glorious light on the concept I'm trying to explain. Let's note the parallels before going any further:

Verse 4: The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Verse 6: The Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

So we see there's a correspondence. Each verse is teaching the same thing. The question is, what are they teaching, and what does it have to do with what I'm talking about?

These verses present three levels of the redemptive work of God. At level one, there is light. This is speaking of the Divine work of regeneration, when God gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to believe. Regeneration is not the end, but the means to something more ultimate, namely, level two. At level two there is the knowledge of the Gospel. This is where God's love is consummately expressed: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The love of God expressed in the Gospel is level two. But even that is not the end, but is itself the means to something more ultimate, namely, level three. At level three, there is the glory of Christ who is the image of God, or the glory of God in the face of Christ. The Gospel -- the Good News -- is the Good News of God's glory!

The Good News is not merely that Jesus died for us! The Good News is that Jesus died for us in order to bring us to God (1Pet 3:18)! The loving, atoning work of Christ in the Gospel is a means to a greater end: that the people God has created would finally glorify Him by enjoying and being satisfied by His glory, for which they were created.

2 Corinthians 4:4 and 4:6 teach us that God did not open our eyes to see the glory of the gospel.
He opened our eyes to see the gospel of the glory.

So, when my commenter in Sunday School remarked that "God created us for His glory because of His love for us," he was subtly, yet extremely importantly, mistaken. God did not create us for His glory because He loved us. He loved us because it is by loving us that He achieves His greatest glory.

What Difference Could that Possibly Make?

A reasonable, yet frustrated objector might ask what in the world this has to do with anything. Is it just religious philosophy? Is it just argument for argument's sake? Is this just an entirely impractical seminary discussion?

I don't think so. I think that the position you take on this very issue defines who your God is, because it defines most fundamentally what your God is about. It defines what your God's ultimate purpose is in all that He does.

A God who submits the pursuit of His glory to a greater desire to "love" implies that He regards the objects of His love more highly than He regards Himself. While that might sound noble and selfless to man's reasoning (because of our man-centered view of love), it either (1) makes for a pitifully weak and small God -- because He is not worthy of His own chief regard -- or (2) it makes for an unrighteous God -- because even though He is worthy of His own chief regard He regards more highly something that is less worthy. This God is neither worthy of worship, nor able to save.

However, a God who is unwaveringly committed to upholding and displaying the glory of His name demonstrates a chief regard to Himself. In His own perfect judgment, there is nothing that deserves His allegiance more than Himself. This God then determines and defines His love by His ultimate purpose to bring glory to Himself. "Love," then, comes to mean benefiting the object of love by presenting to them what satisfies them most fully, namely, the glory of God which deserves unwavering allegiance. This God is absolutely worthy of all worship from all creatures. And it is out of such sufficiency that He is able to save freely.

Amazing, isn't it, the difference one little phrase can make?

UPDATE: See a follow-up post, where I answer an anticipated objection, here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Glory of God and Preaching

One of my many privileges as a student at The Master's Seminary is sitting under excellent preaching on a fairly regular basis. Last week I was -- get this -- required to attend the Shepherds' Conference. (Those are the kinds of requirements I can deal with!) At the conference, Al Mohler preached a message on John chapter 9, where the man born blind is healed by Jesus. And he taught us that the entire chapter hinges upon Jesus' response to the disciples' question about why the man was born blind, namely: It was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Dr. Mohler went on to emphasize that that is the very reason that everything is the way it is. When people say, "Everything happens for a reason," this is that reason. The answer to the question, "Why?" is in John 9:3. And then he specifically related that to pastoral ministry. I pray you'll be as benefited as I was.

Everything is as it is on purpose. And that purpose is that the works of God might be displayed. Our God is about putting Himself on display!

There are no little texts because everything exists to display the glory of God. God does everything to His own glory, and therefore God says everything to His own glory. This ought to shape how you read your Bible and how you preach to your congregation! (Or, if you're not a preacher, it should shape how you handle Scripture in general, how you speak truth to your neighbor [Eph 4:25], how you counsel people, how you encourage people, how you evangelize.)

"The reason the cosmos exists -- everything that exists -- all the billions of stars, all the infinitude of expanding space, all that we can measure and all that is immeasurable -- it all exists for one purpose alone!" And that is that God determined to magnify His work and His worth by saving a people through the blood of His Son!

What explains all that is and ever has been? The answer is that the works of God might be displayed. That God might display Himself.

If you don't know that everything exists to display the glory of God, including every text of the Bible, then you cannot have any grasp of authorial intent, which is the cornerstone of our exegesis. In every passage of Scripture, God's authorial intent is to display the glory of His majesty, the beauty of His manifold perfections. If you don't know that, if you don't believe that, if you don't love that, well then like Dr. Mohler says: don't preach.

This knowledge of God's ultimate purpose in all that He does in all of history is what drives our ministry. "Because we know," he says, "we preach." Because it has been given to us to know that the most glorious Being in the universe has so acted as to display the beauty of that glory most fully in everything that happens -- and supremely in the sacrifice of His own Son for sinners -- we can't help but open our mouths and tell people about it! We believe, therefore we speak (2Cor 4:13)!

He goes on to give the implications of this truth for pastoral ministry. He says:
  • We are to stake our lives on this truth
  • We are to establish our ministries on this truth
  • Believing this truth demands that we will have a high view of God
  • Believing this truth will ensure that we preach a God-centered Gospel
  • This truth will drive our conviction
  • This truth will fuel our passion
  • This truth is as life unto us
  • And that will affect our preaching!
For the love of God, brothers, preach, speak, teach, live, act, counsel, minister like you know that God's purpose in everything that He does is to display His glory! Look at every single person that you minister to in your church, look at every single circumstance of your life, and recognize that they are there so that the works of God might be displayed in Jesus Christ to His glory in all things!

Do we believe this or not?

Dear Jesus, open our eyes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Glorious Morning Meditation

I'm very thankful for the requirement to pray for an hour a day for my prayer class. I pray that it's building in me a taste for the discipline of prayer for the rest of my life. I really enjoy the time of meditating on God's Word and on the glory of Christ. It truly does become a devotional time; that is, it is a time of sincere worship of God my Savior.

I wanted to share with you one such meditation from a recent morning. The night before I was reading a (I guess you could call it a) biography on Jonathan Edwards called A God Entranced Vision of All Things. So when I woke up the next morning, my mind was still considering the God-centeredness of God. I wasn't particularly captivated by the rightness of our God-centeredness, but what particularly thrilled me that morning was God's own God-centeredness, His "self-centeredness."

I considered how glorious it is that for my God, it is loving for Him to be self-seeking, for Him to be selfish, for Him to magnify and make much of Himself… and how opposite of loving it would be for anyone else to do that. When I pursue my own glory and my own desires, I am functionally hating those around me, because I’m making much of myself, and I am not worthy to be made much of. The exaltation of me in the hearts and minds of those around me will not do them good. There is no benefit there. But for my God, when He exalts Himself in the minds of those in His presence, He Himself is so delightful and pleasant and worthy and beautiful that His self-exaltation is love to those people. When He magnifies Himself, He is infinitely benefiting those in whose sight He is magnified.

Dear friends, I love this God!

...and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.

- John 14:21 -

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.
- Psalm 73:28 -

One thing I have asked from Yahweh, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of Yahweh
And to meditate in His temple.
- Psalm 27:4 -

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More on the Minister as Waiter

As I spent some more time meditating on what it means to minister the Word of God, I considered some more of the parallels between the minister and the waiter.

When you go to a restaurant, you don’t want the waiter to bring you food he made at home and brought to work in his pocket, you want what the gourmet chef prepared – what you ordered. Similarly, a Biblical minister of the Word will not bring you the fruit of his special recipes, concoctions, and culinary experiments. He is not to present to the people of God his own opinions, ideas, or interpretations. He is to proclaim the Word of God. Scripture interpreted by Scripture and applied with Scripture. As Al Martin has said, "Give me Scripture, sixteen ounces to the pound!"

And you don’t want a lazy and negligent waiter, who delays to bring you what you ask, whom you’ve got to importune to get a refill of your water. You want a waiter who is prompt and attentive to your needs. Accordingly, a Biblical minister is diligent in his labor over the souls the Chief Shepherd has entrusted into his care. He makes time for his people. He is attentive to the state of their souls and cares for their needs. He is available and comes when is called. And, like an especially good waiter who sees your water running low and refills it without you asking, an especially tender shepherd will minister in a preventive way if at all possible. The sheep will not only see him when there is a problem.

Neither do you want an impure waiter, one who goes in the back and handles all kinds of gross and unsanitary things and then touches your food without cleansing himself. In the same way, a Biblical minister must flee immorality. He must be diligent to keep clean hands and a pure heart before God, for only then can he ascend to His holy mountain. The Biblical minister keeps short accounts with his God, often confessing sin and ever clinging to the shed blood of Christ as his only plea for forgiveness and only hope to stand before the Throne of God. He also does not dabble in the corrosive decay of false doctrine, but seeks to guard the treasure of the pure, unadulterated Gospel entrusted to him.

You don’t want a harsh waiter who gives you a hard time all the time, but one who is understanding and who seeks to meet your needs. Similarly, a Biblical minister is not heavy-handed, but tenderly cares for his sheep. He is aware that he too is beset with weakness, and so can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided (Heb 5:2).

Nor do you want an overbearing waiter who is always hanging around your table and bugging you about how everything is going, or who takes the food and shoves it down your throat; you want someone who prepares you to eat, but lets you yourself actually do the eating.
Similarly, a Biblical minister does not ram doctrines down the throats of his people, but leads them and teaches them to understand and interpret Scripture for themselves. Among his greatest desires is for the faith of the people of God to rest on God's Word and not at all on him. He never creates an atmosphere of, "Well, just take my word for it," but always strives to make clear God's Word on the subject and exhorts the people to take His Word for it.

And there are more connections, I'm sure. (Feel free to share some, if you can think of any.)

Again, I pray for grace to be such a waiter. May God get what He is worthy of in His people.

But the one who is the greatest among you
must become like the youngest,
and the leader like the servant.
For who is greater,
the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves?
Is it not the one who reclines at the table?
But I am among you as the one who serves.
- Luke 22:26-27 -

To Him be the glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
to all generations
forever and ever.
- Ephesians 3:21 -

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ministry of the Word

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that in my Pastoral Counseling class, we answered the questions in the exam for the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors as a class assignment. The following is an adapted answer from that assignment, which asked us what it meant to "minister the Word" (cf. Ac 6:4) in counseling. I think the answer has beneficial implications for all of pastoral ministry.

The Greek word translated “minister” in the New Testament is diakonéō, and essentially means to serve. In Acts 6, the famous passage in which the Apostles designate the priorities of the Christian ministry, the twelve make it known to the congregation that they will devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry (diakonía) of the word” (Ac 6:4). Interestingly, the same word is used in Acts 6:1, where we are told of the problem that prompted the Apostles’ response: the widows of the Hellenistic Jews “were being overlooked in the daily serving (diakonía) of food.” The word takes on this connotation frequently throughout Scripture. Peter’s mother-in-law began ministering (diakonéō) to Jesus after He healed her. What was her ministry? The NASB says, “…she got up and waited on Him” (Mt 8:15)
. Similarly, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary leaving her “to do all the serving (diakonéō) alone” (Lk 10:40). Here again, ministry takes on this connotation of waiter- or waitress-like service (see also Luke 12:37; 17:8).

This, then, must be the attitude that the Biblical counselor (or Biblical preacher, or Biblical missionary) adopts as he seeks to minister the Scriptures in the various contexts of Christian ministry. He is to be a servant, a waiter who supplies the food of the Word of God appropriately according to the various hunger pangs that the people of God experience as a result of their personal sin. “As a calling he must be a pastor/teacher who faithfully leads God’s flock in the paths of righteousness and feeds them upon ‘every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Adams, The Christian Counselor's Manual, p. 11). He is not the chef; that is, he does not seek to advance his own ideas and theories as sufficient to meet the needs of his counselees. Rather, he recognizes that the Word of God alone is the true food that will satisfy the people of God.

May God be gracious and make me into a faithful waiter to serve His people the delicacies of His Word.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Piper on What Preaching Is

As I've been thinking about the themes of Friday's post on what it means to do practice Biblical ministry, I was reminded of the following video clip. John Piper takes a few moments at the beginning of a sermon to tell those new to his church what he believes preaching is and thus what they can expect as they come week to week. As he explains that preaching is expository exultation, he is effectively commenting on the "proclaim," from "Him we proclaim" (Col 1:28) from Friday's post. I believe he really captures the solemnity of Paul's charge to Timothy to preach the Word (2Tim 4:2), and thus presents the foundation for a Biblical philosophy of ministry.

Do you mean that by 'preaching'? Is that what you, dear pastor, commit yourself to do each week for your flock? Is that what you, dear Christian, commit yourself to sitting under and diligently listening to each week? Is that what you do when you seek to minister the Gospel to your friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Do you preach the Gospel? Do you proclaim the Word of God?

Preach the Word. This is the foundation of our entire ministry.

Him we proclaim.

And He ordered us to preach to the people,
and solemnly to testify
that this is the One who has been appointed by God
as Judge of the living and the dead.

- Acts 10:42 -

And we
preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers.
- Acts 13:32 -

We ...
preach the gospel to you
that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.
- Acts 14:15 -

Woe is me if I do not
preach the gospel.
- 1 Corinthians 9:16 -