A Spiritual Brotherhood

A number of years ago, Sinclair Ferguson made the observation that “the Puritan movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries…underlines for us the significance of spiritual brotherhood in the movements of the Holy Spirit.” The more we study the writings of the great pastors/theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the more we find a close interconnectedness–not to mention a mutual sharpening–that existed among the Puritan pastors/theologians. Perhaps, this has been one of the most overlooked aspects of the Puritan movement as a whole. In the same lecture in which he made that observation, Ferguson went on to make an application of that fact for pastoral ministry in our day. He suggested:

“We need a spiritual brotherhood of brothers in the ministry, spread throughout the nation and the world. Yes, one the spiritual father of another, and another the spiritual brother of another-no hierarchy, no formal supremacy, not seeking to establish their own kingdoms in this world, but bound together by the gospel to establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ in a world that is in such desperate need. I dare say that God ordinarily does great things when ordinary ministers of the gospel are bound together as blood brothers, to live and die together. Then God has in His hands the kind of vessels He is pleased to use as vessels of honor for his glory.”1

During my time in the pastoral ministry, I have certainly been on the receiving end of the blessing that comes from such an interconnectedness and collective brotherhood. The Lord has graciously surrounded me with some incredibly gifted, wise and godly ministers. While I can, in no objective way whatsoever, measure the end result of such friendships and ministerial fruit, I can observe tangible ways in which the Lord has used this spiritual brotherhood. Here are a few:

1. The Impartation of Experiential Wisdom Through Counsel. There have been countless times when I have reached out to one of the ministers with whom I stay in contact on a regular or semi-regular basis in order to get counsel about a particular situation in which I find myself. I have also been on the receiving end of the request for counsel from one of these brothers. Just as Christians cannot live the Christian life without one another, Gospel ministers cannot carry out Gospel ministry with care and skill without the aid of other Gospel ministers. I can only imagine how many mistakes have been avoided on account of such mutual counsel. It almost always proves to be the case that when I am facing a particularly challenging pastoral case, one of the men with whom I stay in contact has already been through that same case–or some case that is similar in nature. The old adage about not reinventing the wheel holds true here. Why try to pull yourself through difficult situations without seeking counsel from those who have more biblical, practical and experiential experience than you have? This is one of the greatest benefits of a spiritual brotherhood between ministers.

2. The Exchange of Valuable Theological Resources. Following closely on the heals of the first tangible benefit of a spiritual brotherhood is the exponential increase of knowledge through the sharing of theological resources. Over the years brothers in ministry have shared a seemingly immeasurable number of books, articles, sermons, essays, and blog posts with me. It is quite likely that I would not have come across a number of these resources if it were not for the intentionality with which others have shared them with me. I have sought to make it my practice to pass along those same resources–as well as others that I have come across–to fellow ministers who I sense might benefit from them at the stage of ministry in which they find themselves.

3. The Extension of Ministerial Outreach and Visitation. A young girl in our congregation was recently scheduled to have heart surgery out of town. While it is my desire and practice to be with members when they are in the hospital or scheduled to have a particular surgery, I could not drive out of town on this occasion to be with the girl’s mother. The day prior to the surgery–that was scheduled on something of a short notice–I called two fellow PCA ministers in the city where the surgery occurred. I asked if one of them could go by and sit with the mother and pray with her–if only for a few minutes–on the morning of the surgery. Both men–who have full schedules, no doubt–made it a priority to go by and pray with this girl’s mother. I realized anew the great privilege that we have when we are interconnected as brothers in ministry.

In the realm of evangelism, this often holds true as well. There have been many times when a pastor has called and asked me to reach out to one of their family members or former church members who have moved to our town. When we are living in loving spiritual fellowship with other men in ministry, we have the opportunity to share in the work of the Kingdom of God with them–even when we are separated by geographical limitations.

There are many others ways in which “God does great things when ordinary ministers of the gospel are bound together as blood brothers, to live and die together.” If Gospel ministers would ask God to increase in their hearts and minds a desire to intentionally integrate themselves into such spiritual brotherhoods, I am certain that we would be encouraged and astonished by what great things God will do through them.

1. An excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson’s lecture “The Puritans: Can They Teach Us Anything Today?” delivered at the dedication of the Purtian Research Center at PRTS on October 20, 2005.

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Preparing to Entertain

The first Sunday on which I invited guests for lunch after church, the oven settings failed. We all arrived at the house, anticipating the mouthwatering aroma of baked ham and instead opened the door to . . . nothing. The oven was cold, the ham even chillier, and my smile of welcome instantly froze on my lips.

This was not at all what I had envisioned. As I hurriedly microwaved slices of ham on a dinner plate, I felt disappointed. I wanted my guests to come into my home and find rest and nourishment for both body and soul. I wanted them to sit at the table and enjoy themselves. I wanted the ham to be delicious.

And I don’t think my disappointment was wrong. With regularity, I see articles on hospitality that assert some version of this statement: “It is not about your house or your meal; it is about the Christ-centered fellowship that takes place at your house over your meal.” Christians frequently speak as if hospitality is good, but anything that resembles “entertaining” is bad. We disparage well-ironed linens and beautifully arranged flowers; like the austere guests in Babette’s Feast, we view a sumptuous meal with deliberate skepticism.

I can agree with the basic premise of these sentiments: Christians should not reduce hospitality to Instagram-worthy tableaux. If we are motivated in our hospitality by a desire to impress others—or to use them for our own social advancement (Luke 14:12)—we sin. God abhors pride (Amos 6:8), sending his Son to die because of it and his Spirit to kill it where it yet festers in our hearts (Col. 3:5-13). Self-promotion disguised as a dinner invitation is not true hospitality.

But I’m not convinced that inviting people to a delicious and carefully presented meal necessarily makes biblical hospitality into something worldly and inferior. In fact, folding linen napkins, making a complicated new recipe, lighting some candles, or queuing a playlist of beautiful music can be acts of love toward the neighbors we welcome.

Hospitality—welcoming others to share our homes and lives—can take place in the space of five minutes with little prior preparation. It can be practiced over McDonald’s coffee or PB&J or no food at all. It can happen in an untidy house or at the neighborhood pool. Whenever we invite someone into our life for the good of her body and soul, we practice hospitality. Hospitality is more than entertaining. But it does not have to be less.

God himself welcomed the first people into a garden containing “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). And throughout Scripture, hosts honor their guests with extraordinarily time- and effort-consuming hospitality. Abraham fed his angelic guests meat that was “tender and good” with cakes made from “fine flour” (1 Sam. 18:6-7). Jesus rescued the near-disaster at Cana by providing the guests with abundant “good wine” (John 2:10). And the consummation of Christ’s kingdom is described in Revelation as a marriage supper—a feast of blessing for every guest (Rev. 19:9).

In The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer writes, “Food should be chosen to give pleasure, and to cheer up people after a hard day’s work, to comfort them when they feel down for some reason, to amuse them when things feel a bit dull, or to open up conversation when they feel silent and uncommunicative . . . There is no occasion when meals should become totally unimportant” (p. 120, 123). Carefully-chosen food, lovingly prepared and beautifully presented demonstrates honor toward our guests. It is an act of self-sacrificing love—serving the needs and desires of others at cost to ourselves.

Schaeffer goes on to tell the story of a homeless man who stopped by her house one day asking for a cup of coffee and some bread. Rather than simply giving him the bare essentials he requested, Schaeffer went inside and prepared soup and two different kinds of sandwiches, which she cut into triangles and arranged on her best china plate. She brought this food out to the waiting man with a copy of the Gospel of John and a bouquet of flowers entwined with ivy on a tray.

When her children questioned her efforts to make such a beautiful and tasty presentation for a transient man who had only requested a crust of bread, Schaeffer replied, “Who knows, perhaps he’ll do a lot of thinking and someday, believe. Anyway, he may realize that we care something about him as a person, and that’s important” (p. 130, emphasis original).

These days, I have my oven settings figured out, and the food is usually ready on schedule after church. I iron the damask napkins from my husband’s grandmother and stack the plates from our wedding registry, and then I serve the men and women and children who join me around the table. Who knows? Perhaps each guest will realize that I care about him or her as a person. And I think that is important.

Megan Hill is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches. She lives in Massachusetts and is a member of West Springfield Covenant Community Church (PCA) where her husband serves as pastor.

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Conflict in the Church

Conflict regularly occurs in the church. If experience doesn’t teach this reality, then we only need turn to the pages of the New Testament for verification. Paul and Barnabas separate (Acts 15:36-41), divisions arise in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17), accusations are hurled at apostles (2 Corinthians 10), pride disrupts (Galatians 2:11-14), personal disagreement festers (Philippians 4:2-3), sin abounds (James 2), etc. The church consists entirely of sinners, this side of glory; therefore, church life often includes conflict, this side of glory.

Yet, I think much of our conflict could be minimized or even dissolved by practicing a remedy we witness the Apostle Paul employing in the New Testament. Many of our conflicts would benefit from seeing them in light of eternity.

Paul often takes this tack in addressing Christians. He says to Euodia and Syntyche, “Agree in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2) In a similar way, he reminds Philemon that Onesimus was his slave in the flesh—that is the temporal world—but now he is a beloved brother, “in the Lord” (Philemon v. 15). He focuses Euodia, Synthyche, and Philemon on the eternal. In effect, he is making the case that they enjoy a relationship that is greater, deeper and fuller than the conflict itself. In fact, their relationship shall endure without end, whereas the reason for the conflict will end.

Paul offers an interesting comment to Philemon in this regard. He allows his apostolic mind to run a little. He suggest that Onesimus may have been predestined to run away from Philemon so that Philemon might have him back not just for this life but for all of eternity (v. 15). He doesn’t speak definitively about God’s providence, but he is willing to guess. “Maybe,” Paul is suggesting, “just maybe Onesimus’ running away was actually for your eternal benefit, Philemon. That you might have another brother for all eternity.” It minimizes the sting of the offense, when we see it against the backdrop of eternity.

We have all watched as two small children sit on the floor and a fight between the two suddently erupts. Tears flow, screaming ensues, sometimes a hit or even a bite will be employed. Why? Because both children desire the same toy. It could be a doll or a whistle or ball. It really doesn’t matter. Because once the stronger child possesses it, it is but played with for a few minutes. The newness wears off, the joy dissipates, or something else captures the attention. As an adult watching this scene, we can’t help but shake our heads. “If only they knew,” we say to ourselves. The fight is not worth having. The tears didn’t need to be shed. The offense surely did not need to be offered. The joy in that toy is fleeting, the reason for anger was trivial, the object secured so inconsequential. So it is with many of our conflicts in the body of Christ. When eternity is kept in view, the reason for the conflict seldom proves worth it. Maybe this is why Paul begins speaking about love with noting that it is “patient and kind.” Patience takes a long-view and kindness tends to flow with such a view in mind.

How many of our disagreements, misunderstandings, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness in the Body of Christ would disappear if we but looked at our conflict in light of eternity? If we but lived in light of eternity?

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Pictures of Jesus

Why does God give us so many pictures of believing in Jesus? Why not just some philosophical treatise on faith, or some systematic theology of faith? Why illustrations? And why so many?

First, because faith is so hard. Unbelief comes naturally to us; faith is unnatural. Faith is so hard it has to be given us by God. And he gives it to us partly by multiplying the pictures of faith to maximize our understanding and exercising of it.

Second, because people are so different. Because of our different backgrounds, personalities, needs, etc., if God had only given us one picture of faith, it might not have suited everyone. He gave us ten (more than ten, in fact) to ensure that everyone could have a picture of faith that would suit them.

Third, because God’s desire for faith is so strong. Take these ten pictures as a vivid expression of Christ’s passionate yearning for us to believe in him. Read these ten pictures of faith and try to still believe that he really doesn’t want you to believe in him:

  1. Believing in Jesus (Acts 16:31): Instead of being pessimistic cynics who doubt and question Jesus and his Word, we become optimistic believers who put full confidence in him and all that he says.
  2. Coming to Jesus (Matt. 11:28): Instead of hiding from Jesus like outlaws trying to evade the Sherriff, we move towards him as friends to our BFF.
  3. Trusting in Jesus (Prov. 3:5): Instead of fearing Jesus as our Judge and trembling to even think of him, we put all our confidence in him as our Savior.
  4. Looking to Jesus (Isa. 45:22): Instead of shutting our eyes to Jesus, we see him and his beauty in and through his Word.
  5. Resting in Jesus (Heb. 4:10,11):Instead of laboring and sweating to build our own little shack, we give up all our trying and doing, and walk through the open door of the palace of salvation he has already built and there relax in perfect peace.
  6. Receiving Jesus (John 1:12):Instead of trying to give Jesus our best efforts, we become a receiver of his perfect work.
  7. Calling upon Jesus (Rom. 10:13):Instead of ignoring or refusing to pick up his call (or perhaps even cursing on the line), we start calling upon his Name for everything.
  8. Turning to Jesus (1 Thess. 1:9):Instead of following our own GPS over the cliff of idolatry, we turn in the opposite direction and start following his GPS.
  9. Obeying Jesus (2 Thess. 1:8):Instead of fighting against Jesus and his Gospel, we run up the white flag of surrender, hand over our weapons of rebellion, and say “YES” to the Gospel.
  10. Eating and drinking Jesus (John 6:44-58): Instead of feasting on the world’s sinful pleasures, we feed with deep satisfaction on Jesus by thinking about him and communing with him.

When God supplies so many rich and varied pictures of believing in Christ, I dare you to still believe that he doesn’t want you to believe!

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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.

War of the Worlds: The Threat of Sexual Sin

H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds opens with these words:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied… With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs … Yet across the gulf of space… intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

This is an apt description of the threat faced by many Christians in the 21st century, especially concerning the area of sexual morality and sin. We are busying ourselves, serene in the assurance we are masters over ourselves, without giving too much thought to the fact that another world is examining us, drawing its plans against us, seeking to overcome us and ultimately destroy us.

Preaching through Proverbs has been a weekly reminder of this narrative: there are two ways, paths, even worlds, which can never join forces and are ultimately opposed to each other. Proverbs 1-9 is the opening section of Proverbs, all written by Solomon. It covers many subjects, but one dominates the pages of the opening 9 chapters: sexual sin / adultery. With increasing frequency, the subject of adultery dominates the latter chapters 5-9. There is a clear crescendo of warning and instruction on the subject: chapter 2 contains 3 verses on the subject; chapter 5 – 14 verses; chapter 6 – 15 verses; chapter 7 – 27 verses and finally in chapter 9, 6 verses. Clearly adultery is a significant theme in these chapters.

But we might ask ourselves, why is adultery the main theme/sin in chapters 5-9? I think there are a number of reasons:

  • Adultery / sexual immorality is a common sin. Whether by heart or hand the lure of sexual immorality is significant, especially in today’s culture.
  • Adultery / sexual immorality is a powerful sin. It sinks its hooks deep into the human soul.
  • Adultery / sexual immorality perfectly describes the temptation techniques of the world, flesh and the devil. That is to say, adultery in Proverbs, is something of a representative sin – it stands for all the world will throw at the Christian, and the manner in which it will tempt him.

This theme climaxes in chapters 6:20 – 9:18 in a presentation of two worlds at war. These worlds, are ultimately epitomized by Woman Wisdom (Ch 8:1-9:12) and Woman Folly (the forbidden woman, the foreign woman, the adulteress) in 6:20-727 and 9:13-18. They are clearly set in opposition to each other – both seeking to gain followers – Woman Wisdom leading people to life, Woman Folly leading people to their death.

But what is perhaps most informative, and surely this warns us all, is the manner in which the world seeks to wage this war. Throughout Scripture, from Satan in the garden to the anti-Christ of the new covenant era, we observe sin dressing itself up as virtue. That is one of sin’s most powerful techniques – that it looks like something positive or moral, and thus allures the simple into sin. Woman folly sets about her task of luring men and women to their death (7:22-24; 9:17-18), through sexual sin, in a manner which parallels the techniques of Woman Wisdom. In other words, the manner of Satan and sin’s appeal is strikingly similar to that of the call of Wisdom, which is of course, the call of Christ. The following chart makes this clear:

Woman Wisdom Woman Folly
1. She calls, cries out and teaches: “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice” 8:1 1. She calls, cries out: “her lips drip with honey and her speech is smoother than oil” 5:3; “she sits at the door of her house… calling to those who pass by” 9:14
2. Location: “on the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand, beside the gates in front of the town” 8:2-3 2. Location: “her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market and ate very corner she lies in wait” 7:11-12; “she sits at the door of her house, she take a seat on the highest places of town” 9:14
3. Prepares a feast: “Come eat of my bread, drink of my wine” 9:5 3. Prepares a feast: “Stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” 9:17
4. To whom does she call? “O simple ones learn prudence, O fools learn sense” 8:5; “Whoever is simple let him turn in here! To him who lacks sense she says ‘Come eat of my bread’” 9:4-5 4. To whom does she call? “Whoever is simple let him turn in here! And to him who lacks sense she says ‘stolen water is sweet’” (9:17-18)
5. Her message: “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and live and walk in the way of insight” 9:5-6 5. Her message: “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning, let us delight ourselves with love” 7:18
6. Her attraction: “Take my instruction instead of silver and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels and all that you may desire cannot compare with her” 9:10-11 6. Her attraction: “I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh and aloes and cinnamon”.

Comparison 6 is completed when acknowledge that the adulteress is perfuming her bed linens with the same spices that the Messiah is beautified in Psalm 45:8. What conclusions should we draw from these observations?

  • Sin mimics that which is good in order to gain our confidence. It is a counterfeit and cannot give what it promises, and hides what it actually delivers (death).
  • Sin is cunning; well Satan is cunning and sin follows suit. Do not expect the issues of discerning and avoiding sin to be easy.
  • Adultery in Proverbs is both physical and spiritual (as it is in the rest of the Old Testament). It therefore is a “representative” sin, which captures the way in which people are drawn away from God.

Finally, this ought to be a clarion call for all men (and women) in the church to examine themselves with regard to their desires and practices. Sin lies in wait at the door. Keep it outside your houses.

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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 Patient God

Augustine once said, “God has promised forgiveness to the repentant, but He has not promised tomorrow to those who delay repentance.” This is a sobering truth–a much needed reminder that we are called to repent of our sin as soon as God has convicted us of it. It is also a sobering truth in so much as it relays the fact that God does not owe us life or forgiveness. He can do with us whatever He wants at any time (Deut. 32:39). When we come to terms with this fact, we fall on our faces and cry out with the Psalmist, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous” (Ps. 143:2). We cling to Christ crucified and risen and cry out with the Psalmist, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps. 130:3-4). This is not something that must happen just one time in our life. We must do this throughout the totality of our short lives until we are with Christ in glory. 

Sadly, we so often act just like the Israelites–seeing God’s glorious works and yet rebelling against Him time and time again. In Numbers 14, we have one of the most instructive examples of Israel’s rebellion and God’s mercy. The people were murmuring against Moses and Aaron (i.e. God’s appointed ministers)–though they were really complaining against the Lord. The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people reject Me” (Num. 14:11)? Moses then interceded on behalf of the people based on the name’s sake of the Lord, His attributes and His covenant promises (Num. 14:15-19). The Lord then granted Moses his request, saying, “I have pardoned according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num. 14:20-21). However, He brought the following charge against the people: “All these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, have put Me to the test these ten times, and have not heeded my voice” (Num. 14:22). 

What is gloriously highlighted in the account above is the great longsuffering and patience of God. The God who should wipe us all out, in a moment, for our sin and rebellion (not to mention for the sin of our federal representative, Adam), bears long with us in order to encourage us to repent. This is what Peter marvelously sums up in his second epistle, where he writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The longsuffering of God is meant to encourage our repentance. Everytime that we think of the patience and the longsuffering of God (and think of that truth in light of what He has done for us in Christ crucified) the proper response is repentance and gratitude. The patience of God is one of His most formidable attributes–yet, one that is not frequently highlighted. In the Old Testament, whenever the name and attributes of the Lord are declared, the Holy Spirit highlights the fact that He is “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15; Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2). 

There is, however, a wrong way for us to respond to the longsuffering of the Lord. In Psalm 50, God sets out the wicked deeds of the ungodly. He then says, “I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; but, I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes” (Ps. 50:21). Here, we find that many who experience God’s longsuffering and patience, rather than repenting, convince themselves that God is just like them. John Gerstner once told the story of two little boys who were playing outside in the mud. When both boys headed back home, one said to the other, “Come on inside and play.” The other little boy said, “But won’t your mommy be angry that we are tracking mud inside the house.” His friend responded, “Oh no. My mommy doesn’t care if we bring mud inside the house.” To which, the other boy said, “Oh, I wish I had a nice, dirty mommy like you!” Many people take the patience of God and essentially say, “He’s a nice, dirty God like me.” 

Everytime we wake up, breathe God’s air, eat God’s food, enjoy health, friendship, provision and protection from God’s hand, we should turn from our sin and to God in Christ. We must remember the mercy of God in Christ, as we acknowledge, hate and turn from our sin and rebellion to Him who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness”–to the God who “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” May God give us grace to see that His patience is part of His goodness and that His goodness leads to repentance. 

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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.

Promises Made, Promises Kept

Most believers have a favorite promise in Scripture that they have memorized and cling to during hard times–often even more than one. Personally. I have always been partial to Isaiah 40, in which we read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (v. 10). I remind myself, on a regular basis, of this biblical promise as well: “…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

The promises that God gives us are almost too numerous to count. He promises to provide our needs (Philippians 4:19), forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), produce fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), grant eternal life in Christ (John 11:25-26), and to be with us always (Matthew 28:20). Some Christians look at such promises and say that we must claim them in order for them to be true for us. We must believe them with all our heart and they will come to pass. As though we can click our heels three times, squeeze our eyes shut, and recite a verse over and over and the next thing we know, God’s promises are delivered into our hands.

God’s promises are not true because we believe in them. They don’t come to pass because our faith is great. God’s promises will come to pass simply because God said them.

The Power of God’s Word

When God speaks, things happen. At the beginning of the world, God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). He merely spoke and light entered the world. When Jesus was on the boat with the disciples and a ferocious storm rose up, Mark tells us, “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (4:39). There was chaos and then there was calm—an immediate response to the powerful word of God. We cannot speak and make anything happen. If we want light, we have to turn on a switch or a flashlight. If there’s a storm outside, we have to take shelter and wait for it to pass. Only God can speak and cause the creation to respond at just the sound of his voice.

His word also does all that he wills it to. Whatever he says is going to happen; it will take place and nothing and no one can stop it. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). We can make plans and say what we hope will happen tomorrow but only God can ensure that his plans come to fruition. In fact, our own plans are governed by and submissive to God’s plans, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

God’s written word is just as powerful as his spoken word. It is truth which sanctifies (John 17:17). It gets down deep in our heart and reveals our thoughts and motives, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Faith comes through hearing the word of God preached, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). God’s word is our very life, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:47). “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25).

The Word Made Flesh

For centuries, God’s people heard Him speak through His chosen mediators: prophets, priests, and kings. But then one day, God the Son left the throne room of heaven, stepped into human flesh and became the Word incarnate. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:1, 4). Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, is God’s message to us in the flesh. Who Jesus was and what he came to do is the very truth of God. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

It is in Jesus, the Word, in which all of God’s promises are met, carried out, and fulfilled. The meta-promise of all God’s promises—“I will be their God and they will be my people”—was met in Christ when he came to earth, lived a perfect life, and bore the punishment for our sins. In fact, his death is a marker for us, a sign post and reminder of God’s faithfulness to keep his promises. As Paul asked in Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

For those who are in Christ, who are united to him by faith, God’s promises are ours. “For all the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). All God’s promises are yes in Christ—from the temporal promises of meeting our daily needs to the eternal promises of glory in heaven and every promise in between.

The truth is, God is not anxiously waiting for us to claim his promises or try with all our might to believe they are true. They will come to pass because God said them. There is no need to name them and say they are ours for they already are—in and through the Word made flesh. So learn them, memorize them, and post them around the house, marveling at the grace of our God whose powerful word always comes to pass.

Christina Fox is the editor for enCourage, a women’s ministry blog for the PCA. She is also the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer than a Sister. You can find her at www.christinafox.com@christinarfox and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ChristinaFoxAuthor.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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.

Discovering Christ in the Psalms

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

While theologians have taken a variety of approaches–in an attempt to teach principles of biblical interpretation regarding Christ in the Psalms–one of the most helpful approaches is that which we find in William Binnie’s Pathway to the Psalter. In his chapter, “A Classifications of the Messianic Psalms” (pp. 178-196), Binnie suggested that all of the Psalms fall under one of the following categories of Messianic interpretation: 

1. Typical Messianic Psalms Binnie noted that David’s “history from first to last, was a kind of acted parable of the sufferings and glory of Christ.” In this way David was a type of Christ. It is not hard for us to see this in the narrative of the life and ministry of David. He was a shepherd from Bethlehem, chosen by God to be King of Israel. He was first cast into an experience of humiliation (when Saul sought to destroy him) prior to entering into a period of exaltation as King. David, like the Son of David, had a betrayer who–when he discovered that his plot had been uncovered–went and hung himself. David faced off (and defeated by himself), as a federal representative of his people, the seemingly unbeatable enemy of the OT church; Jesus faced off (and defeated by Himself), in federal representation of His people, Satan–the great enemy of the church. The covenantal typology that exists between David and Jesus is so great that Ezekiel prophecies 4 times of the Messiah using David’s name synonymously with that of the coming Messiah: “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd…” (Ez. 34:23, 24; 37:24, 25). Clearly Ezekiel does not have David in view–rather, he is referring to David’s greater Son. All of this is organically bound together in the Covenant promises that God gives to David (2 Sam. 7). Some of the Psalms speak of the typological nature of David and some of other Old Testament figures. For instance, Psalm 110 says that Jesus was “a Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” One hardly need to investigate this, as Melchizedek is plainly set out as a type of Christ in the book of Hebrews. There are times that the Tabernacle, Temple, sacrifices, Priests et al are referred to in the Psalms. As was true of Melchizedek, the book of Hebrews explains that all of these things we typical of Christ and the heavenly realities that Christ bought into this world in His first coming. Since a type is any person, place, thing or event that points beyond itself to a greater and more full anti-type, we see that the Psalms are full of typology. When the Psalmist speaks of the altar (Ps. 26:6; 43:4; 51:19; 84:3; and 118:27) how can we not see this as a reference to that which was typical of the cross (i.e. the altar) where our Lord Jesus was sacrificed for us (Heb. 9-10)? 

2. Directly Predictive (Prophetic) Psalms. The second category of Messianic Psalms that Binnie sets out are those which he considers to be directly (and exclusively) predictive of Christ. While discussing Psalm 22, Binnie explained: “The only adequate and natural interpretation of the psalm is that which sees in it a lyrical prediction of the Sufferings of Messiah and the Glory that was to follow. No Sufferer but One could, without presumption, have expected his griefs to result in the conversion of nations to God.” While I have read many commentators who attempt to see this first and foremost about David, I have always tended to agree with Binnie that this Psalm is exclusively about the sufferings of Christ. No different than Isaiah 53, this Psalm is directly predictive of Christ. Though David suffered often throughout his life, it is hard to see how the details of this Psalm–that includes at least 5 references to the 7 sayings of Christ at Calvary–as having reference to David. The Psalm is divided into two very clear parts–the sufferings of Christ (vv. 1-20) and the glories that followed (vv. 22-31). What seals the exclusively Messianic nature of this Psalm is the fact that the benefits of the sufferings of Christ are set out in vv. 26-31. In addition, the writer of Hebrews cites v. 22 in Heb. 2 and tells us that  that was speaking of Christ as the Mediator and heavenly worship leader of His church. All attempts to make this partially about David (or even typologically about David) are vain.

3. Mystically Messianic Psalms. Recognizing that there are Psalms in which David is clearly speaking of his personal Christian experience, Binnie suggested that there are many Psalms that would be classified as “Mystically Messianic Psalms.” The two examples of mystically Psalms that Binnie gives are Psalm 16 and 40. By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he shares in similar experiences and benefits from the saving work of Christ. Though Peter tells us that those famous words of Psalm 16:10 could only be understood at that point in redemptive-history as referring to Jesus in the resurrection (Acts 2:23-33), they will also be shown to be true of all those united to Jesus by faith in the day of their own resurrection. This class of Psalms is not always easy to interpret, precisely because some of what is written in the Psalm may only be true of Jesus in redemptive-history, and yet will be applied to believers in the consummation–while other parts of the Psalm are true of the believer and of Christ in the days of their earthly pilgrimage here. I would add to Binnie’s three categories two others:

4. Psalms of Trust in Christ. There are many other Psalms in which David is found confessing sin, crying out for deliverance and speaking of his own trust in God through trials. Clearly we cannot apply to Christ those parts in which David confesses sin. Some may suggest that because Jesus becomes the sin-bearer by imputation we can see this as typological of Christ (as is true of His being circumcised and undergoing a baptism of repentance); however, this seems somewhat unnatural at this point in redemptive-history. Rather, we should see David’s experience in the confession of sin, the cry for salvation and the trust he professes in God as possible only because of the work of the coming Redeemer to whom David looked by faith (Acts 2:30-31). There could be no evangelical repentance without the Gospel of the Old Testament. David was one of the saints of the Old Covenant that understood that the promises, types, shadows and ordinances pointed beyond themselves to the coming Christ. In this way, we must speak of “Psalms of Trust in Christ.”

5. Creation/New Creation Messianic Psalms. One final category of Messianic Psalms is discovered in the pages of the New Testament. When working through the book of Hebrews we find references to several “Messianic Psalms of Creation/New Creation.” For instance, Hebrews 1:10-12 provides for us the hermeneutical principle for this category. The writer sees in Psalm 102:25-26 a statement of creation and new creation–then explicitly applies it to Christ. Jesus Christ is both the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2; etc.) and the One who secures the new creation through His atoning death and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews develops the idea found in Heb. 1:10-12 when he cites Psalm 8 in Heb. 2:5-9. Here again, we see how the goal of the creation that Christ created finds its consummation and restoration in the saving work of Christ. When approaching other “Creation/New Creation” Psalms we must look for clues in the exegesis of the Psalm. For instance, Psalm 104 is clearly a Psalm of creation. At first glance it does not seem to having anything explicitly Messianic about it; but when we start to consider the flow of the Psalm, and the details contained in it, we see something striking surface. After setting out God’s glory and providence in creation (vv. 1-30), the Psalmist puts his own redemptive praise to God in it (vv. 31-34). Finally, he cries out, “May sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more.” The Psalmist understands that the way of this fallen world is not the way of God’s original or ultimate design for creation. The world that is full of God’s glory and care should be filled with righteousness. The solution to the problem is only to be found in the saving work of Christ. One day, the wicked will be consumed from the earth.” Jesus cleansed His own people from their wickedness and will banish the unbelieving from this world. In that day, only those who have been redeemed by Christ will dwell in the “new heavens and the new earth wherein righteousness dwells.”

*This is an adaptation of a post that first appeared at Feeding on Christ

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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 Aesthetics of Worship

In my last post, I set out a series of questions–including the following–regarding the content of music in worship:

Is there (or should there be) a palpable difference between the aesthetics of worship and other opportunities for singing together? Does the context of a coffee house, campfire, concert hall, stadium, living room, or sanctuary change our expectations and practice of making music?

At the heart of these questions lies the issue of purpose. Why do we sing in church, in our living room, at a concert, etc.? How is this singing led?

For example, if you are a popular music artist on tour in front of 15,000 people in a stadium you will necessarily lead/perform/sing differently than in the intimate setting of a coffeehouse or house concert. The environment of the venue and the purpose of the music serve different functions in different settings. Imagine a country or pop artist jumping up and down around your living room in front of a dozen people—it’s a little incongruent.

I once went to a Christmas concert starring several well-known artists. This was the first year that the concert had moved from a smaller setting to a large arena. However, the artists had not made the mental shift in their own heads as to what that meant for the show. The intimacy of interacting with the audience was lost when you have thousands of people in a large space on multiple levels. Also a bit unusual were the vendors walking up and down the stairs in the nosebleed sections selling beer during a Christmas concert. The arena treated the event as a concert; the artists were in the frame of mind of a hometown Christmas concert/sing-a-long. The venue won and the audience was perplexed.

The same idea about the difference of purpose holds true in the type of music that one uses. Matching bands do not play lullabies at pep rallies; mothers do not put babies to sleep with heavy metal; grocery stores do not encourage shopping by playing show tunes. Particular settings are more suited to certain types of music.

I believe that in the Christian life and in the Christian community there are appropriate times for campfires, concert halls, coffee houses, living rooms, and sanctuaries. One area in which we are deficient in the Church is not providing these occasions as a regular part of our life together. Because we do not have these communal opportunities, we tend to blur the lines and bring music appropriate for some of these other settings into the sanctuary instead of the venues and purposes that best suit that particular music.

Remember, the question is about the palpable difference between the aesthetics of worship and the aesthetics of other times of singing. The primary focus of worship is God, the Three-in-One, Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos. The primary focus of a musical artist in a concert setting (coffeehouse, arena or symphonic concert hall) is too often themselves (or their art, their fans having a good time, the music, etc. = themselves). Before we borrow too many of the forms and feel of an antithetical aesthetic and bring them into worship, we should first make sure that it fits the purpose of worship in the context of a worship space and the reflected beauty of our transcendent God.

Gregory Wilbur is Chief Musician at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN where he also serves as a Ruling Elder. In addition to his work at the church, Greg serves as Dean and Senior Fellow of New College Franklin—a Christian liberal arts college that he helped to start. You can find many of his compositions at www.wilburmusic.com.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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 Scent of the Gospel

I’ve often heard that the sense of smell is the sense most closely related to the memory. A particular smell has a powerful way of effecting our recollection of a vivid memory. Every now and then, I’ll smell something and in my mind I’m instantly sitting at the round table in my grandmother’s kitchen. I’m not a doctor–nor do I play one on TV–but, I have read that the olfactory bulb (i.e. the part of the brain that processes smells) is closely connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus (i.e. the parts of the brain that handle memories). So there is a physiological reason why our sense of smell is so powerful.

Perhaps there is something more than just physiology that makes our sense of smell so powerful. Perhaps our sense of smell is so powerful because it is something we see described frequently in God. There are scents that God finds to be pleasing. And there are scents that God finds to be displeasing. We who are made in the image of God then reflect that quality in our bodies. Put simply, a pleasing aroma has the ability to transport us back to a pleasant memory. It can delight our minds. It can make our mouths water. It can bring joy. The scent of my wife’s pillow brings comfort to me when she is traveling. A fragrant aroma is a delight.

A foul stench, however, can have the equal but opposite reaction. One of my general life rules is that if someone says, “Smell this,” the answer is always, “No.” After Hurricane Katrina, I took teams of college students to Mississippi and Louisiana for recovery work. At one house we had to remove a fridge full of shrimp. Mind you, this was 6 weeks after the hurricane. In the summer heat. And there had been no electricity since the storm. We had to move that fridge out of the house and to the street. When that fridge door got jarred a little loose, the putrid odor hit us and made us all retch and gag. A foul stench is odious.

What are some of the odors that God finds pleasing? When the Flood had subsided and everyone and everything exited the ark, Noah built an altar. He made a sacrifice on that altar. And “when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man” (Gen 8:21). The proper sacrifice of Noah was a pleasing aroma. In fact, all the proper sacrifices and offerings of God’s people were a pleasing aroma to God (Exod 29:18, 25, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9; 3:5, 16; 4:31; 6:15, 21; 8:21, 28; 17:6; 23:13, Num 15:3, 7, 10, 13, 14, 24; 18:17; 28:2, 6, 8, 13, 24, 27; 29:2, 6, 8, 13, 36). The proper worship of God’s people results in a pleasing aroma and God delights in it.

While these proper sacrifices are pleasing aromas to God, not all sacrifices and offerings will be received that way. In Isaiah 2:22-4:1, the city of Jerusalem had rejected God by worshiping idols. Part of the judgment that came was that “instead of perfume there will be rottenness” (Isa 3:24). What was previously a pleasing scent became a putrid one. The prophet Ezekiel warns that sacrifices made to idols may produce an aroma that is pleasing to the worshiper, but it will be rejected by God (Ezek 6:13; 20:28). We should take note that our enjoyment of worship seems to have little bearing on the appropriateness of worship. Leviticus, likewise, makes clear that the result of covenantal disobedience is that God “will not smell your pleasing aromas” (Lev 26:31). A rejection of that fragrance was a rejection of their apostate worship. A sacrifice in and of itself is not pleasing to God, but rather the pleasure of the aroma comes in a sacrifice properly made to cleanse and remove the defilement of the people. A form of worship without the presence of God leads to estrangement from God, alienation, and eventually death. And death stinks (Exod 7:18, 21; Eccl 10:1; Isa 50:2; Amos 4:10; John 11:39).

Jesus Christ, as the perfect sacrifice (Heb 10:14), is able to make the ultimate offering. Paul notes that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). Jesus was the perfect sacrifice and offering for our sins, and one of the signs that God received it was that it was a pleasing aroma, a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Jesus was the proper sacrifice made to cleanse and remove the defilement of the people. And now those who are in Christ carry that same aroma. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one the fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:15, 16). To the elect of God, the smell is delightful and calls them to joy and life in Christ. To the reprobate, the smell is putrid and calls them to a life of judgment, wrath, and death.

There are a number of ways for us to apply this truth. The first and simplest way is that we should thank God for things that smell good. A pleasing aroma is a reason to delight in the Lord and a call us to thankfulness for his blessings. But beyond the blessings of common grace in our sense of smell, it should also remind us of the sacrifice of Christ. The most perfect and pleasing of all aromas is the fragrance of the accepted sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. But we should be careful. There is such a thing as olfactory fatigue. This is the condition where we become accustomed to certain odors and forget them. When you visit a friend’s home, there is a smell to it. But your friend doesn’t smell it because they have gotten used to it. There is a danger that we’ll experience fatigue with respect to the pleasing aroma of Christ. We can forget or assume Christ without being delighted by the fragrant aroma. We have to fight this olfactory fatigue in our spiritual lives and keep that pleasing aroma fresh. We must remind ourselves anew of the pleasures of Christ through God’s Word. We should delight in the grace he has given us. And we should rejoice that the aroma of Christ is one of life and not death.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

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.