One Step Evangelism

By Justin Poythress

Aren’t you due for a fresh round of evangelism penance? Chances are your church is already offering a healthy assortment of channels through which you can merit some level of atonement for your recent oversight in this area. You could at least take a minute out of your day to savor, like a bitter mint, some good and necessary guilt for your failure to use these means. Maybe there’s somebody in your church who has invited you to help them pass out tracts? Or you have that evangelism training program or Christianity explored course – you could have done one of those. And exactly how many neighbors have you invited to your small group? After all, your evangelism credit from that short term missions trip you did in high school has a shelf life of ten years or less. As a rule of thumb, you should be stirring up any stagnating guilt and shame over this issue on a bi-monthly basis.

If you’ve missed the boat on the latest evangelism book or program, never fear: the next break-through craze is scheduled sweep across American Evangelicalism within five to seven years. In the meantime, try the following basic steps (which are sure to have you counting commitment cards, and bragging about baptisms in 24 hours). Joking aside, this really is the best and most biblical evangelistic program:

Step 1: Get excited about Jesus.

Step 2: There are no other steps. (Okay, it would be good to go back to step 1, and make sure you read all the instructions).

It’s not that evangelism training is useless, it’s just that graduating from the latest training program can be a bit like completing one year of med school. Suddenly, you discover you have eight diseases you didn’t even know existed, and you’re offering unsolicited diagnoses to every person who coughs.

In Acts 4:20, shortly after God used Peter and John to convert over five thousand in one day, the elders and the scribes tell them to stop talking about this Jesus character. Their response: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Ever wonder why new believers often tend to be the best evangelists?

Effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel comes from the degree to which God’s Spirit has enabled the speaker to see and hear Christ. The more we are consumed by the power and wonder of God, and the salvation we have received freely by grace, the more our actions and words will look different. It is through our own personal communion with God, and ensuing excitement about this infinite, merciful God that will bring us to the point where we struggle to keep our mouths shut about Him. We’ll want to bring God into everything. We’ll want to relate everything back to Him.

The response can come: “If we make evangelism simply about loving God more yourself than no one will go out and evangelize.” But this strikes the same fearful note as the objection that ‘teaching salvation by faith alone will preclude the doing of good deeds.’ Evangelism, like all facets of the Christian’s walk, begins and ends with a growing faith in a living Christ.

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The Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting The Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Little Eternal Beings

When God gives us children, He entrusts to our care little eternal beings. Each one of them will spend eternity in either heaven or in hell. There is an unparalleled sobriety that rightly accompanies such delegated responsibility. We often fail to properly prioritize our responsibilities. Our jobs are not eternal; our houses are not eternal; our cars are not eternal; our bank accounts are not eternal; our health is not eternal; but, our children are eternal. The time that we have with them is short. My wife reminded me the other day that we only have so many years left before our oldest will be out of the house. I remember holding him in the hospital right after she delivered him like it was yesterday. God only gives them so many years in our homes. It is for this reason that God charges Christian parents to take seriously His call for us to spiritually instruct, nurture, admonish, discipline, protect, provide for, prepare and bring our children up to be among those who will know, love, fear and follow the Triune God (Eph. 6:1-4). To that end, here are several practices that we can put into place to help ensure that we are moving in the right direction of being faithful stewards of these little eternal beings. 

1. Have your children in weekly, Lord’s Day worship at a theologically solid church. Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your children is take them to the most biblically faithful church you can find (within close proximity to your home, of course). Have them in weekly Lord’s Day worship with you from their earliest of ages. Don’t be quick to shove them off to a church that will keep them out of the corporate worship service until they are fifteen. Having them in the weekly worship services, teaches them to love expository preaching, singing praises, public prayer, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, the sacraments, fellowship, church discipline, etc. Having them in the gathered Assembly helps them breath the air of these things on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. If you choose to “do church at home,” go golfing on the Lord’s Day, lounge around because you need a day to yourself, etc. you can be sure that the little eternal beings God has entrusted to your care will follow suit. 

Living the Christian life with your children in the local church is also the best way to teach them where God’s Kingdom is primarily manifested in this world. It is in the local church that the kingly rule of Christ is most fully made known. It is in the local church that the men God has called to shepherd the flock will come alongside you in His call to bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. It is in the local church that your children will learn to love other believers as God commands us. It is in the local church that your children will see the glorious work of the Gospel in the lives of new converts, the wayward, those with broken marriages, rebellious children and in the lives of the leadership. Your children will have plenty of opportunities to see how messy lives can be in the local church. They will, however, also see how gracious God is and how powerful the Gospel is in the same situations. It is in the local church that we learn to love and serve others on a daily basis. The church is a community of blood-bought people trying to learn to love one another as we have been loved by God. There are lessons to be learned in a solid local church that your children will not learn anywhere else in the world. 

2. Teach your children to know and love God’s word. Memorize Scripture with your children. Repetition is everything. Start when they are very young. We underestimate what our 2 and 3 year olds can learn by memorization. I have often heard people say, “But, what good will it do if they don’t understand what they are memorizing?” You are teaching them to listen to, love and be filled with the word of God. Don’t ever let someone trick you with the devilish response, “Well, I don’t want my kids to hate God because we made them memorize His word.” Your children already hate God by nature. We all do. We learn to love the Lord by learning about His love for us in Scripture. God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “Is not My word like a fire? And like a hammer that breaks the heart to pieces?” God’s word is the seed by which He brings His people to saving faith. God’s word is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. During all my years of deep and dark rebellion, the Lord would bring to my mind the Scripture that my parents had faithfully taught me. It was the fact that it was in my mind from my childhood, that enabled it to work in my heart during my time of wandering. 

Redeem the time that you have with your children by memorizing chapters of Scripture–not simply verses. Again, it takes days upon days of repetition to help them lastingly memorize. I try to make use of 5 minutes a day on our drives to school. Sometimes, we do it at the dinner table. You don’t have to wear your children out in order to help them learn large portions of God’s word. Make it fun. Tell them that you will take them to do something special if they reach a goal. 

As far as a manageable procedure is concerned, take one verse until they’ve mastered it. Then, on subsequent days, work on a second and third verse together. Then, go back and work on those first three verses together. Keep working on those verses until they have mastered them. Then, add a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and so on. You will find that within weeks and months, you and your children will have memorized large portions of Scripture. I like to encourage people to start with the first chapters of the New Testament letters (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, 1 John, 1 Peter, etc.). Skip the introductions of the letters and go right into the main content. There is a reason why most of the strongest theology in Scripture is found in the opening chapters of the Epistles. Obviously, the Psalms are also excellent for memorization and instruction. 

Family worship is another vital means by which we teach our children God’s word. Knowing that many are struggle to know how to carry out family worshio, I did a short three part series for our congregation, years ago, that you can find here, here and here

3. Teach your children to sing God’s praises. One of the most discouraging things that I see in the church today is how little people know, love and sing together to the Lord. God commands us to “teach one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The mighty works of God are almost always accompanied by the singing of His praises. I have the advantage of having grown up in a musical home. I grew up learning the great (as well as the not-so-great) hymns and songs of the faith. I can pick up a guitar and accompany psalms, hymns and spiritual songs–and not everyone has this luxury. However, we live in a day when every single recording of just about every Psalm, hymn and spiritual song in the history of the church is readily available online. Make use of iTunes, Bandcamp and Spotify. Sing along to the great hymns recorded for you on such albums as Together for the Gospel I, II, and III. Hymns are mini-sermons for the soul. Just as the Lord brought the truth of His word to bear on my during the years of my rebellion, there were many times that He brought the words of many of the grat hymns to mind. 

One of the most precious memories that I will ever have is singing hymns over my mom–together with my dad, sister, wife and sons–as she was dying. We had just taught our sons the first two verses of Guide Me, O, Thou Great Jehovah. I leaned over to my mom–who was in a comma–and said, “Mom, we just taught the boys this hymn. Can we sing it to you? I saw tears well up in her eyes. I truly believe that she heard us sing it together around her. It was an extremely powerful moment for me, as a testimony to God’s grace in the way that she and my dad had taught us to sing praises to God. 

4. Teach your children to call on God in prayers. There is something beautiful about the prayers of little children. The Psalmist said, “Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, to silence the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). Matthew noted that this was exemplified in the children singing Jesus’ praises in the Temple (Matt. 21:16). Whenever our sons first started praying, they would pray that the Lord would give us “clean hearts.” They had listened to what we taught them in family worship and then, spontaneously, incorporated it into their prayers. What better prayer could any of us pray at any age! Fathers should model prayer for the family. The father at the table should teach his children about the Father in heaven, but calling on Him as the Father of the whole family in heaven and on earth. Parents should purposefully and lovingly instruct (not guilt) their children to pray. Mothers should pray with their children when they are alone with them. There is never a time when we should not be praying with and for our children. We will teach them more than we realize with our prayers. 

That being said, on a daily basis, I feel my many failures, shortcomings and weaknesses in these areas. I see my complacency and selfishness. I always feel as though I could do better. That is not, in my opinion, a bad thing to acknowledge. Sometimes people will slide into hyper-Calvinism mode and say things like, “Well, don’t worry about it so much. God is ultimately in control.” There is no doubt about it. God make straight lines with crooked sticks. There is no such thing as perfect parenting. No matter how well we may seek to parent our children, we won’t ever have the ability to change their hearts. Changed behavior is not changed hearts. I wholeheartedly agree, defend and promote those parallel truths. The Triune God is Lord of heaven and earth and must change their hearts by His sovereign grace and the free working of His Spirit (John 3). Nevertheless, He has entrusted them to us and commands us to be diligent in using every means that He has appointed to bring them up in His nurture and admonition. May He give us the grace to see our children for what they are–little eternal beings–and faithfully bring them up to be what He would have them be–faithful followers of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Weeping While We Work

When you are part of a church for any length of time, you inevitably experience the ups and downs of church life. I attended the same church for two decades and saw leadership change many times over, membership rise and fall, and the life of the church thrive in some seasons and shrivel in others. In the midst of all the changes, there were times when it was hard to keep pushing forward and to continue in my labors for the church. There were many disappointments, sorrows, and griefs to endure. At times, it was tempting to give up all together.

Whether we are called to full-time work in the church or serve as a lay-person participating in the life of church ministry, our labor is hard. There are battles we face from within and without. The work is exhausting and unending. We deal with the “shoulds” of how things ought to be, were meant to be, and wonder if our labors are even worth it.

Working to Build

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell us about what happened with God’s people when they returned home after decades in captivity. A new ruler took over the empire and decreed that the Israelites could return to their homeland. While not everyone returned, many did.

Ezra 3 tells us that after their return, the Israelites went about rebuilding the altar to make sacrifices to the Lord. Then they began the work of rebuilding the temple. When King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem, he burned down the temple Solomon had built. Needless to say, they had to start over. Not only did they have a large task ahead of them, but people in the surrounding area did not want the temple to be rebuilt because it meant that the nation was regaining their power and status. They went to great lengths to prevent the building efforts. The corresponding, but later account in Nehemiah, tells us the locals also attempted to thwart the rebuilding of the city wall around Jerusalem as well.

As they laid the foundation for the temple, Ezra 3 says, “when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets…And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of father’s houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy” (3:10, 11-12).

The old men remembered the temple in its glory days, before they were taken away into captivity. They remembered the beauty of what it had been. In looking at the foundation they just built, they knew it would never be the same. So they wept in lament.

Yet in their grief, they worked.

Working in the Church Today

What does the account in Ezra have to do with us today? The actual temple in Jerusalem is long gone, destroyed again in AD 70 by the Romans. The temple in the Old Testament was never meant to last forever. It served a purpose until it came to fulfillment in Christ. He is the new temple and we work to build his body, the church (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Like those old men in Ezra, we might look at our labors for the church and remember what once was. We might grieve that the church is not what it should be. Whether we remember times of great revival in church history, or strong leadership, or church purity, we remember those times and grieve. We also grieve because we know what God calls the church to do and be but sometimes what we see in reality pales in comparison. We long to see the church grow and thrive and spread throughout the world. Instead, we hear accounts of false prophets and abuse. We see massive congregations made up of people with little faith. We see the influence of the world creep into every crevice of church life. Like the old men in Ezra’s day, we ought to weep. We ought to cry out to God in lament and pray for a spiritual renewal and awakening in the church.

It’s easy to look at our work for the church as resembling a crumbling foundation— like the Israelites faced— and respond with cynicism. We can say, “Why bother, it’ll only get torn down again.” We can look at the people around us in our churches and think, “They don’t care. Why should I?” We can look at the church’s place in the world and think that the world’s influence is too big and too strong to resist. And in our cynicism, we shrug our shoulders and cease our labors.

Or we can find ourselves useless in the church, merely bodies taking up space, checking off the boxes but giving little to the work of building the Kingdom. We can slink in the back row just as the pastor starts preaching and leave before the benediction. We can make up excuses to stay out of church life. We can hoard our time, gifts, and resources and keep them for ourselves rather than use them to build the church.

There are still others who may look at the work of the church and give up altogether. They may think the foundation is so weak, the work so shoddy, it’s not even worth the effort. Like many in today’s church, they simply walk away.

It’s true, our labors for the church is hard work. Like the work the Israelites faced in Ezra and Nehemiah, it may seem an impossible task. We face countless barriers and enemies who don’t want us to succeed. Our own sin often waylays us (as it did for the Israelites in Ezra 9). But we must remember that our efforts for the church are not wasted. The work we do is not on a physical building, as it was in the case of Ezra; rather, we work for an eternal Kingdom. The work we do to spread the gospel, build unity among brothers and sisters, speak truth in love, serve those who are in need, disciple and teach, and use our gifts to keep the church body functioning— all such labor is an investment in a lasting building, one that cannot be demolished or destroyed. Our efforts are not for our own church but for Christ’s church, of which he is the head. Just as God ruled and reigned over the events that took place in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, He rules and reigns over His church today. He will complete the work He began. God went to great lengths to redeem and create the church; nothing will keep Him from perfecting it.

When we look at the rubble and the work yet to be done in building the church, let us weep. When church life is hard, disappointing, and heartbreaking, let us lament. But while we weep, let us also work. For our labor is not in vain.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Imagining a World of Love

If you’re anything like me, your mind has been drawn heavenward in recent months as you heard the news about the death of such precious saints as R.C. Sproul and Billy Graham. As I recently conducted the funeral service of a longtime church member and elder of the church where I serve, these thoughts again filled my mind. What a joy and privilege to think that believing men and women who have worshipped here on earth now do so in a much more glorious and enhanced manner now in Heaven. With such deaths as these, our hearts and minds should be rightly set on Heaven.

As I was thinking about such a subject, my mind was drawn to Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, a World of Love.” This sermon belongs to a series of sermon that form the content of Edwards’ book, Charity and Its Fruits. In that work, Edwards described the nature and effects of love in the life of the believer from 1 Corinthians 13. The final sermon in this work focuses on the topic of Heaven. Taking verses 8-10 of chapter 13 as his primary text for this particular sermon, he narrows in on that phrase, “Love never ends” (vs.8).

With never-ending love as the theme of this final chapter, Edwards described Heaven as a place of perfect and overflowing love. Describing what may be considered to be “the indescribable” with that aspect of love which we know (at least in part) here on earth, Edwards made several points about Heaven in regard to love. Here are a few:

1. The Cause and Fountain of Love in Heaven.

The Apostle tells us that God is love. And therefore, seeing he is an infinite Being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love.”

The greatest blessing of Heaven will be God himself. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), that characteristic of his nature will be that which we experience in Heaven. Since God is infinite, all-sufficient, inexhaustible, unchangeable, and eternal – so too will be His love for us in Heaven. So, love will fill and even overfill Heaven, even as God Himself fills and overfills that place. Edwards wrote, “This glorious fountain (of love) forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!” We will be the objects of such a deep because the same love in which God loved his only-begotten Son will be poured out upon those for whom Christ has purchased with His blood and righteousness. Heaven is a world of love because we are loved by, and because of, the love in the Beloved.

2. The Manner in which All will Love in Heaven.

“Every soul goes out in love to each other; and among all the blessed inhabitants, love is mutual, and full, and eternal.”

On earth we love because God first loved us, so it follows that in Heaven, since we will be freed from sin and earthly hindrance, we will love with an overabundance of love. Edwards gives ten ways in which this love shall be exercised and expressed by the inhabitants of heaven. Love will be shown by all with a love that is mutual, unjealous, and unhindered; in perfect expression, enjoyment, and unity; delighting always in each other, their prosperity, and advantage; and doing so forever and ever. Edwards noted, “Such will be the sweet and perfect harmony among the heavenly saints, and such the perfect love reigning in every heart toward each other, without limit or alloy, or interruption; and no envy, or malice, or revenge, or contempt, or selfishness shall ever enter there, but all such feelings shall be kept as far away as sin is from holiness, and as hell is from heaven.”

3. The Effects of Such Love in Heaven.

“Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and the sweet scent that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a sweet note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever.”

If God is the source of an infinite, overflowing love, and all the inhabitants of Heaven love with an overabundance of love all the time, then what will the total effects be? Edwards gave two: first, Heaven will be perfect. Since love is the sum of all principles, then all thoughts, words, and actions will be perfect…”holy and divine in matter, and form, and spirit, and purpose.” Second, Heaven will be perfectly peaceful and joyous. No disturbance inwardly or outwardly; only a place of sweetness, happiness, and rest. Edwards explained, “And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this!”

In this sermon, JE brings heaven down to earth in rich, biblical language and imagery. You cannot help but read Edward’s description of Heaven and think, “Can this really be true?” “It seems too good and too wonderful!” But as Edwards himself explained in this sermon, words and descriptions fall far short of the actual reality of heaven. Since these things are true, and better than we can ever describe them, Edward ends by charging us to earnestly seek after Heaven by: 1) not chasing after the things of this world, 2) keeping our meditation on heaven, 3) being willing to pass through the difficulties of earth to get there, 4) keeping our eyes fixed upon Jesus, seated in the Heavenly places, and 5) loving God and man now in our present, yet imperfect state.

“Heaven, a World of Love,” will leave your mind over-flowing, your heart bursting, and your will desiring the God of Heaven, who dwells there with a fullness of love for all the saints.

1. Edwards, Jonathan, and Tryon Edwards. Charity and Its Fruits: Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life. Banner of Truth Trust, 1969.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Nuggets of Truth

When the Lord first redeemed me, I had a little bookshelf in my room with about 20 theological works on it. I carried around those 20 or so books throughout all the years of my rebellion. My parents had given them to me–hoping that I would read them–long before I was converted. After I was converted, I would wake up in the morning, pick up one of those books and begin working through it. I now have somewhere close to 10,000 volumes in my library (Needless to say, I went a little book crazy after I was converted). When people come to my office for the first time, they frequently ask me if I’ve read all the books in my library. Sometimes I jokingly respond by saying, “Shoot, I’ve read some of these twice!” More often than not, however, I explain that I view my library as one enormous table of contents. I have spent countless hours picking through most of the books in my library and can tell you what each book is about and what you should expect to find in any given volume. If someone asks me about a particular book in which I have spent a more substantial amount of time, I like to share with them some of what I consider to be “the gold nuggets.” I learned very early on as a Christian that every theological book and every sermon has gold nuggets in it; and, the goal of the wise man or woman should be to find the nuggets of truth and share them with others. Life is so very short and we only have so much time to spend searching. As Solomon once said, ” Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). In the short time that we have in life, we must learn to search for the gold nuggets of truth that will benefit our own souls and the souls of others.

I am currently preaching a series on the Gospel of Luke on Sunday mornings at New Covenant and working through the book of Acts at home in family worship during the week. Doing so has reminded me that Luke was a master of finding the gold nuggets of truth about Christ and his Church. In both Luke and Acts, the beloved physician gives us what he believed to have been the most wondrous details about the ministry of the Savior and about his ministry through his disciples. In both books, Luke gives us repeated nuggets of truth captured in somewhat pithy statements. Consider the following nuggets of truth just from the first 20 chapters of the book of Acts:

  • “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
  • “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
  • “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24). 
  • “David…being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30).
  • “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
  • “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 
  • “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). 
  • “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:19-21). 
  • “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
  • “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). 
  • “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 
  • “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). 
  • “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31). 
  • “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). 
  • “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). 
  • “As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:59-60). 
  • “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money” (Acts 8:20). 
  • “Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me…Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:30-35). 
  • “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name’” (Acts 9:11-16). 
  • “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15; 11:9). 
  • “God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 11:17). 
  • “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23).
  • “The people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:22-23).
  • “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:46). 
  • “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). 
  • “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22). 
  • “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11). 
  • “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). 
  • “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia…The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). 
  •  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). 
  • “The Jailor…brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household'” (Acts 16:30-31).
  • “He rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34). 
  • “Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'” (Acts 17:2-3). 
  • “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7). 
  • “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). 
  • “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).
  • “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). 
  • “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:26-28). 
  • “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). 
  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). 
  • “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). 
  • “A number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:19-20). 
  • “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
  • “Now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Way They Should Go…

During my early days as a Christian, perhaps my favorite book of the Bible was Proverbs primarily because I felt that Proverbs was written for me – a young and impressionable teenager who was trying to understand life. I read through this book for the first time when I was about 15 years old and now my wife and I are in the position of teaching the book of Proverbs to teenagers at our church. The teenagers at our church are the type of children who grew up memorizing and learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism; however, it was a shock to me that most of them had not read through the entire book of Proverbs. I began to realize that this experience is not unique to our church. Commenting on this matter, Bruce Waltke states:

“But, tragically, the church has practically discarded the book of Proverbs…Of its 930 ancient sayings many Christians know three – to fear the LORD, to trust Him, and to ‘train their children in the way they should go.”

If true, this is deeply discouraging because we live in a world bombarded by foolish speculation, inane cliches, and triviality. As a consequence, the expression of true wisdom is rare and in short supply today. The church stands alone as the “pillar and support of the truth” and we have been given the rich repository of inspired tradition that carries a mandate for a holy life. As the course and bulk of biblical wisdom, the book of Proverbs remains the model for humanity to learn how to live under God and before mankind. As a consequence, this book calls the church to diligent study and application. It calls the fool, both young and old, to turn from their folly and to walk in the path of wisdom given to us from the Scriptures.

Consider the preamble of the book of Proverbs:

“The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice, and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:1-7).

Wisdom vs. Folly

The preamble begins by considering the primary author of the book of Proverbs – King Solomon. He was the last king of united Israel and the Scriptures tell us that the Lord gave Him remarkable wisdom (cf. 2 Chronicles 1). Like most wise individuals today, the sages of Israel (including Solomon) drew their inspiration for coining proverbs by observing and reflecting on nature and human behavior. At times, the sages learned wisdom and proverbs from the surrounding nations, such as ancient Egyptian wisdom literature. However, this was not simply a “copy, paste, repeat” type of learning. In all of their learning (include the insights from foreign nations), everything still had to be considered and filtered through Israel’s worldview, which was based on Israel’s unique covenant relationship with God.

Young men and women, throughout all generations, are bombarded with numerous paths to take in life and we all have spent a tremendous amount of time observing and learning from the society around us. However, very few young men and women have the ability to see beyond the surface of human behavior in our sinful world. This book was written primarily for young people as a compass by which to direct their lives. The sayings of the book of Proverbs aim to give Israel’s youth insight and it emphasizes how important it is to seek, purchase, and learn true wisdom and true understanding. If this was needed during the time of Solomon’s reign, how much more do we need this today!

In the book of Proverbs, young men and women are generally categorized as “naive”, as being easily misled or easily seduced. Wisdom and folly are competing for our attention; yet, it’s important to note that our default position is folly. Many of us have experienced the folly of youth – where we are prone to trust every word and stumble into various misfortunes. Many of us have childhood friends who have walked on the path of folly and their lives ended with destruction. Until a person decides to no longer remain uncommitted to biblical wisdom, he is in a wayward state and if he doesn’t embrace the blessings (and admonitions) of biblical wisdom, then he will walk towards destruction. However, because young people are easily shaped, they can be improved by proper instruction so that they walk in the path of godly wisdom. The hope of this book is that young men and women will join the company of the wise and by so doing avoid the pitfalls associated with a life of folly.

Obtaining Wisdom and Insight

This leads to the most basic question: how does one obtain true wisdom and insight. The preamble of this book states that the foundation of this wisdom is the fear of the Lord. As Waltke notes,

“What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the LORD is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.”

The responsibility to respond to instruction lies squarely on the shoulders of the simple. They must listen to it, accept it, love it, prize it more highly than money, and not let go of it. In order to receive this wisdom, one has to admit that they are truly naive and simple – this is true for both young and old. One must submit himself to instruction in order to quell the innate waywardness and rebellion. This illustrates a very essential theme in the book of proverbs:wisdom cannot be possessed without instruction to correct a moral fault and this instruction is connected to reproof and teaching. The blessing given to the person who submits under this instruction will give him the same testimony as the Psalmist:

“Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed your precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100).

The book of Proverbs enables young people to personally internalize and experience wisdom. This wisdom will produce intellectual discernment in youth; in other words, wisdom trains a person how to think properly in God’s world. The wisdom gained from instruction will protect a person from temptation, enable him to behave wisely and speak well, and avoid unnecessary suffering due to acts of folly.

For those parents who have teenagers in your home, it would be my encouragement to walk through this marvelous book with them. May you use this book to instruct them to forsake the path of folly and destruction and to walk in the ancient paths of the godly.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Many Faces of Legalism

A number of years ago, I defined legalism as, “an attempt to win God’s favor apart from the finished and sufficient work of Christ on behalf of sinners.” This is a doctrinal legalism which undermines the gospel. There also exists a practical legalism that is often ignored or misunderstood—a legal root that is at the heart of every one of our sins (1 Corinthians 15:56). Legalism exists in every heart, and most of the time it’s a subtle way of talking about God and how He relates to His people. Doctrinal legalism distorts the gospel, and practical legalism stands in the way of our communion with God and with one another. Some forms of legalism are more obvious than others, but there are at least five types of legalism to note:

1. Legal-Works

The rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) assumed he could “inherit eternal life” by law keeping, and even assumed that he had done so when Jesus presented him with the second table of the law. “Teacher,” he said, “all these I have kept from my youth” (10:20). The question of what he must do to inherit eternal life, albeit understandable, possesses, in his mind, a necessity to work for his salvation. He did not understand the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. If salvation is based upon work, each man will look to himself and determine that he’s good enough, and if not, he should keep trying harder. Jesus’ point, of course, was to show the young man that he had, in fact, not upheld the law to perfection and indeed, no matter how hard he tried, never would.

This is typically the most blatant form of legalism to identify (doctrinal legalism), and is akin to all other religious systems that exist. Working harder and doing better to earn God’s favor is the default position of all mankind, and it takes an understanding of how free God’s grace truly is to break the chains of self-righteous efforts for salvation.

2. Legal-Holiness

Sanctification is a vital part of the Christian life. Every believer should desire to become more like Christ—to become more holy that we might have a greater enjoyment of life with God. However, the pursuit of holiness can easily become a pursuit to retain salvation or favor with God. By faith, we have been saved, but to maintain our right standing before the Father, we have a lot of work to do! John Owen calls this, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness.”1 There’s no doubt that sanctification comes through the diligent and regular use of the ordinary means of grace. Christians must, in fact, do something to be sanctified. However, to make sanctification all about a list of good deeds and disciplines is to undermine the work of the Holy Spirit in a legalistic attempt at holiness. God’s love for me does not wax and wane based on my daily performance, the strength of my faith, or the depth of my sorrow for sin. It is legalistic to assume that I can do more on my own so that God’s affections for me might increase.

3. Legal-Fences

Every Christian should delight in David’s prayer, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psalm 119:33-35). God’s law is a beautiful, holy representation of God’s immutable character, and should not be despised, but should cause great delight. However, the law has been given as part of “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life…unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (2LBC 1.6, emphasis added). In other words, God’s law stands on its own and does not need man’s help to ensure it is kept.

Building legal-fences is looking at God’s settled law, and then erecting fences around it to make sure everyone not only doesn’t break the law, but that they never even get close. The further the fence can be built from the law, the further we are from breaking it. Legal-fence builders say things like, “Covetousness is a sin; therefore, we shouldn’t watch commercials on television or go window shopping on Main Street.” God never built those fences, the legalist did. Binding a believer’s conscience in ways that God does not is always a wrong and distorted abuse of the law.

The Apostle Paul rebukes legal-fence building in his letter to the Colossians writing, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20–23). Building legal-fences may stop an outward action, but it does nothing to deal with the real issues of the heart.

4. Legal-Interpretation

Our Pharisaical hearts are excellent at defining the letter of the law (especially for other people), but Jesus was constantly rebuking the Pharisees for misunderstanding and misapplying its spirit. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is, in large part, Jesus’ explanation of the significant difference between what one may read in the letter, but ignore in the spirit of every law. It’s easy to feel righteous about not murdering anyone, but it’s quite another thing to be told that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).

The justice system in the West understands this distinction well, at least in theory. The role of a judge and jury are to hear the facts of a case, to consider the applicable law, and determine if the law was intended to prevent the actions from happening that are being tried. Did the defendant murder a victim, or did they kill an assailant in self-defense? While the action may be exactly the same, the spirit of the law dictates very different outcomes, and rightfully so. Spirit and letter distinctions are everywhere in the Bible, and are essential if it is to be rightly understood and utilized.

5. Legal-Words

Sometimes legalism is difficult to detect because it is couched in truthful language. It is possible to so zealously emphasize the importance of expending one’s time and effort in the things of God that the blessings of God to be enjoyed are no longer assumed to be acceptable. One might reason that God has done so much for believers in giving His Son to live a perfect life, die a sinner’s death, and be raised from the dead that we, by faith, might have everlasting life; so, we have a duty to God to do all that we can for His Kingdom, and nothing should stand in the way. It’s hard to argue with that!

However, the subtle tendency is to assume that everything that’s done in life that’s not directly related to loving and serving God is wrong or unprofitable. Our subtle, practical legalism is often discovered in our condemnation of the enjoyments of common grace. Watching the big game? You should have a prayer meeting instead. Playing a round of golf? Bible study would be far more profitable. Eating a fancy dinner with friends? You should spend that money on missions. In the end, God is an overbearing lawgiver who always demands more and more work from his people and never lets them enjoy the good things He has created.

We are all born with a legal-heart, and the Christian life is one of discovering just how legal-hearted we continue to be. It’s not until we understand the right use of God’s law in its intimate union with the gospel that we begin to move away from every form of legalism. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

1. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 7.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

“Join or Die?” The Necessity and Gift of Church Membership

In 1754 Benjamin Franklin published a cartoon called “Join or Die.” It pictured a snake cut into eights representing the British colonies in the New World. Franklin argued that unless the colonies formed one body they would never be able to resist the powerful threat of the French and their Indian allies.

Considering the fierce enemies assaulting believers in every age (1 Pet. 5:8; John 15:19; Gal. 5:19) Franklin’s plea speaks to one of the most basic questions every believer has to answer: “What is the relationship between the Christian and the church?” Increasingly, more people see less of a connection between the two. Sixty percent of Americans who never attend church during the course of a year view themselves as Christians.1 But a sincere perusal of Scripture shows a much tighter relationship between the Christian and the church. In fact, contrary to the practice of most Americans, God not only calls believers to attend church but to bind themselves to a local, Bible-believing congregation in a visible and vital way.

The Question of Attending Church

This question is answered definitively in Hebrews 10:25. “Let us not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but [exhort] one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” This verse requires more than regularly attending worship services, but it doesn’t require less. Believers go to church. In fact, the writer says that church attendance is more important today than it was yesterday!

Salvation is never merely a personal experience. The fall brought individualism; Adam and Eve hid from God and from each other (Gen. 3:7–8). God sought them out to become his worshiping people (v. 9). Redemption creates a new community. The Bible speaks to God’s people in the plural: “Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).

Both Catholics and historic Protestants have maintained that outside of the church there is no salvation. While allowing for exceptions, as a rule the only place God promises to save is in the church (Matt. 16:18–19). No one who disregards the body may claim to be united to the head of the church. At almost no point in the history of the world would someone who neglected corporate worship be regarded as a Christian. Without regular church attendance we cut ourselves off from the means of grace and lose contact with a vital counter-cultural experience.

The more knotty question is, “Must I join a church? Must I pledge to meaningfully belong to a local congregation until for weighty and justifiable reasons I am called elsewhere?”

Necessity of Joining the Church

The difference between attending and joining a church is analogous to the difference between dating and marriage. When it comes to our church life, the Bible clearly steers us toward the latter.

The Old Testament Assumes Membership

God’s threat that covenant breakers be cut off from his people (e.g. Gen. 17:14) is meaningless apart from a robust understanding of membership. Likewise, outsiders could only join the covenant community through membership rites. No non-Israelite could simply say, “I read Torah, go to temple, and tithe, so I’m part of the people of God.” “When a stranger…wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land” (Ex. 12:43, 48). Church membership no longer requires circumcision (thank God!). But the principle of initiation into God’s tangible community (through baptism and membership vows) remains.

Church Analogies Symbolize Membership

The members of the church are living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) which are vitally connected together. The church is a body (1 Cor. 12) which cannot be constituted only intermittently. The church is the family of God (Eph. 3:15), an image that assumes cohesiveness and commitment. The church is the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2–3). Far from an abstract concept, Jesus says the flock can be numbered (Matt. 18:12).

Pastoral Care Requires Membership

Elders are responsible for the souls under their care (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17). Likewise, believers must submit to the oversight of their shepherds (1 Thess. 5:12–13). Such a reciprocal relationship of oversight and submission requires more than church attendance. It calls for a membership commitment.

The Great Commission Implies Church Membership (Matt. 28:18–20).

Baptism, discipling and teaching are all to be done in the context of a visible church with an ordained leader and a duly constituted church body. For this reason, the historic church practiced membership and developed The Apostles’ Creed as a rule for church membership.

Church Discipline Requires Membership

Church discipline is a gift that God gives to the church for the maturity of her members and the purity of her body. Matthew 18 requires that those who refuse to submit to church discipline are to be identified as unbelievers, that is, those who are outside of God’s community of grace (cf. John 9:22). Excommunication assumes communication, a word that implies intimate participation.

Sanctification is Connected to Membership

Sanctification takes place in the context of union with Christ and other believers (Heb. 2:11–12). If you want to grow in grace commit yourself to a healthy Christian community whose members will sometimes disappoint you. Attendees often scatter under duress; mature members stick out church problems and grow. Those who never join a church rarely learn to bow their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; his yoke is not heavy or burdensome, but it does demand submission (Matt. 11:28–30). Your loved ones also benefit from your church membership. Long-term membership in a faithful church conveys a kind of commitment that is rare today.

Expressions of Living in the Church

Assuming the biblical necessity of church membership, what are some of the basic commitments that members make?

Church Members Prioritize Worship (Heb. 10:25)

Corporate worship should never be reduced to a duty. But unless we know our duties we might never learn to delight in them. Regular corporate worship is both a duty and a delight. Yet, some of us skip worship more often than work. Some of us wouldn’t miss an episode of our favorite T.V. show, but aren’t bothered by missing worship. Some of us may be altering our future family tree by attending worship with less frequency than our parents did. We need to learn to say “no” to commitments that conflict with corporate worship.

Prioritizing worship also means that coming to church is more about meeting with God than about meeting with our friends. Suppose all your church friends moved away and were replaced by an entirely different but orthodox congregation. Whether you would retain your membership or not depends on your priorities.

Church Members Maintain the Unity of the Church

Believers must not retreat from the world (John 17:15). We must love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). But our primary commitment is to God’s family. As we cultivate deep friendships among God’s people we will be more likely to handle disagreements with care and more reticent to create unwarranted division.

Church Members Receive and Give Instruction and Discipline

If we want to know God’s will for us the most important thing we can do is go to church. Believers welcome preaching “not as the word of men but as is in truth, the word of God.” Those who carefully hear the preached word find that it “effectively works in them” (1 Thess. 2:13). It also works through them. Church members edify their brothers and sisters through their time, talents, and resources (Rom. 12:4–8), energized by the lively preaching of God’s word.

Church membership is a gift and a duty. It’s sort of like making children eat their dessert. Christ saves and sanctifies sinners in the church. Where else would we want to be?


Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Spiritual Obesity

Have you ever referred to another person’s weight without transgressing taboos, or creating discomfort? It’s a topic without a winning exit strategy. We’re all sensitive about our weight, and you can bet the person you’re speaking to is more conscious of it than you are. I want to suggest, however, there is a sort of fatness we all carry to which we are mostly oblivious, but which nevertheless weighs us down. I’m talking about spiritual fat. The Bible speaks to holidays and rituals of fasting and feasting which help to compose culture and identity. As human beings, and particularly as Americans, we are pretty well experts at the latter. Fasting, on the other hand, is confusing, pointless, and legalistic. Or so we think.

In Deuteronomy 32:25, we read: “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.”

The subsequent verses go on to lay a charge against Israel for their further unfaithfulness. But it all started when they ‘grew fat.’ This is spiritual fatness–and we all have a few pounds to shed in this department. Pampered, comfortable, spoiled, and entitled. Are these attributes we merely complain about seeing in Millennials? Or, can you see how we are all carrying some of that fat? The articles of satiation may differ for us now, compared to the grain, wine, and carved idols of the Israelites; but, it’s doubtful that our American society has progressed to a state of improved spiritual fitness.

We lack for nothing. When was the last time you felt needy, weak, or deprived? Try going twenty-four, or even twelve hours without food. The point is not the feeling–it’s for what or to whom do you look for help. It is God who sustains the entire universe, including our every breath, through and for the glory of Jesus Christ. (Col 1:16) God delights to deliver, to bring up the needy, the downcast, the humble, the afflicted. But we,  like the church in Laodicea, often think to ourselves, “I’ve prospered. I don’t need anything.” In reality, we need everything. We’re utterly dependent creatures; God is the all sustaining Creator. He wants us to look to Him, pray to Him, seek from Him, and thank Him constantly for our daily bread. Going without daily bread for a time reminds us that it’s something we must seek from Him, and that Jesus is the only bread that will enable us to never hunger again.

Justin Poythress is the Assistant Pastor of Student Ministry at Christ Community Church in Carmel, IN. He is the author of “The Grace and Gift of Differentness,” in Redeeming the Life of the Mind (Crossway, 2017). 

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Blessing of Elderly Saints

Recently, a local pastor in the area told me that the median age of his church was somewhere in the mid-20’s and that he had no one over the age of 50. Many would have been impressed by such a fact. However, I was somewhat saddened to hear it–mainly because my friend is missing out on one of the most wonderful group of believers in the church – the elderly saints. Sure, there are always a few (as with any other age group) that are cantankerous and surly; but, as a whole, I am almost more thankful for this group of congregants than I am any other in the churches in which I have pastored.

I have not always felt that way. Like most, when I was in my twenties I was looking for a church that had other twenty-somethings who I could associate and befriend. This is not wrong per se and is typical for most visitors to a church who are looking for others like themselves. But as I became more involved with the life of the church – both as a lay person and then as a minister – I quickly found myself having a growing appreciation, and most surprisingly, many friendships with those much older than myself.

Here are several reasons why I am thankful to God for the elderly saints in the congregation:

1. Love

No other group has loved me and my family better than this age group. Perhaps it reminds them of when they were younger, and they had little kids – but there is a bond and affection that they have for us, and us with them. They are genuinely glad to see us, ask us how we are doing and remember my children’s birthdays with cards and small gifts. Many have become like our children’s adopted grandparents. Sure, my ten-year old son may not like it now when old ladies give him hugs or kiss his cheeks, but I think later in life he will be thankful for the family feeling that our church has provided and the love that he has received from such people.

2. Prayer

Again, no other group in the church is more dedicated to prayer than this particular age group. Those of us younger tend to think that we can solve most problems and issues through our vigor and actions. But I believe this group has learned the truth   of Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (4:6). This leads them to be more fervent in their prayers and dependent upon the Lord. My Grandmother was a prayer warrior – when she passed a few years ago – I missed her prayers for me, my family, and the kingdom of God the most. The same is true in the church. When I have an urgent prayer need I send it to this group because I know that they will pray.

3. Maturity

Something that is constantly demonstrated in our culture is that we are an immature society. Social media tends to not help with this because it usually become shared ignorance. We need some rock-solid people in our life that are able to give us perspective. Again, this often comes from this group. Those that have seen that there is truly “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). During pre-marital counseling with couple I urge them to make friendships (outside of their family) with those that are much older than themselves. A relationship with a couple that has been married for 30, 40, 50 years and have demonstrated the fruits of a good marriage is invaluable. Tell them to look for churches that have a good mix of ages. Also knowing that such churches will be generally speaking the more spiritually mature churches as well.

4. Serving

Usually my most reliable and consistent volunteers come from this group. They know the value of hard-work. Some of this is due to their stage of life (retired and without kids), and some might be generational, or goes back to maturity. But whatever it is – I’m thankful. There is not much more draining in the ministry than trying to recruit volunteers for a project or ministry. So it is refreshing when there are those that naturally volunteer or do small-things behind the scene without being asked or looking for recognition. Surely their good deeds will not go unnoticed by the Lord (Mt. 10:42).

5. Focus on Heaven

Lastly, I am thankful for this group because they help all the members of the church keep our eyes on Heaven and the King of Heaven–the Lord Jesus Christ. They know that their days and years on this earth are few. But they do not look at that as a negative but as a positive. With an eager expectation of what lies ahead, they look forward to being with the Lord and being reunited with loved ones lost. What a joy! What perspective that gives the rest of us in church that this life is indeed fleeting. To enjoy every stage of life and to cherish the time that we have. But the greatest days are yet to come when we are present with the Lord.

This age-group will never be the “target” group for church growth strategists. However, if you want a church that actually does the work of the church and gives back to you as a pastor and to the congregants on the whole – then pray for a group of elderly saints. If you already have them – be thankful for them and foster relationships with them. You might find that you (and the church as a whole) are the recipients of such relationships.  “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31).

Joel Smit is the senior pastor at Smyrna PCA in Atlanta, GA.

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