Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books, Part 2

Though I just began using it last week, Craig Keener's monumental commentary on Matthew is just fantastic. I am preaching on Matthew 1 and 2 for several weeks and his comments and research on the background to Matthew 1:18-25 were immeasurably helpful.

The Reformation Study Bible accompanied me many times this year to Barnes and Noble for my lunch 'n study sessions. The notes are helpful, and in the main do not ignore questions that arise in difficult passages. The RSB and a handful of photocopied articles/book chapters make quality study out of the office a lot easier.

DA Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey is a constant help in choosing books for purchase. It is now in its sixth edition.

I did not read either of these books, but listened instead to the audio versions. If you have an interest in church history, I would highly recommend The Reformation for Armchair Theologians and Calvin for Armchair Theologians. There are several other books available in this well-written, entertaining and often witty series. Up next on my iPod after Stephen Sears' book Landscape Turned Red (about the Battle of Antietam) is Luther for Armchair Theologians.

Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books

I've been preaching through Romans since the beginning of the year, and will finish the book sometime in March. Two superb helps in the process are the commentaries by Douglas Moo (NICOT) and Thomas Schreiner (BECNT). Both commentaries are filled with top-notch analysis, and interact with other sources, but show a spiritual depth that sometimes is lacking in exegetical studies. Moo's commentary is one of three on Romans that he has offered, and each one is of value to the pastor and teacher.

I've also appreciated The Valley of Vision, and have been sharing portions of it with our church as an introduction to our monthly observances of the Lord's Table.

I am privileged to have a, uh, special room in my office. It's small and sparsely furnished. And this has been a helpful friend. I can't discern the meaning of a Hebrew word with it, but I can make a case that Ron Santo, who played 3B for the Cubs in the 60's, should be in the Hall of Fame with no question. :-)

Beginning to Wrap Up 2006

My blog-posting frequency is about one or two times per week, and as we work down through the last 5 weeks of the year, I'd like to focus my comments primarily on some things that encouraged, blessed, instructed, etc. me during the year.

Hands-down the highlight of the year was being able to attend the Together for the Gospel conference in April. There was not a weak message among the lot of them, and the conference left me with a renewed sense of commitment to "stay the course" and build my ministry around the exposition of Scripture as the primary means God uses to birth and build his people.

I am also grateful for the generosity that was displayed, shown by the fantastic selection of books that were given away to each participant.

One way in which the conference benefited our congregation is that it introduced me to some of the fine Sovereign Grace hymns which have become a regular part of the music of our congregation.

Spiritual Gifts

I've been preaching for the last several weeks on the subject of spiritual gifts as I make my way through Romans 12. I appreciated the post that Tim Challies had the other week, as his thoughts paralleled mine in several ways. I think that is a good thing, at least I hope so.

I had come up with a list of four questions about spiritual gifts that I wanted to answer in the course of the series-within-a-series. The first one related to the issue of the continuation of some of the miraculous gifts. I spent a Sunday explaining both the cessationist and continuationist positions and trying to explain the cessationist view that our church has held and the basis for it.

This past week I addressed the issue of the gift of prophecy, as it appears on the list of unusual (if I can use that word) gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, and also on the list of conventional gifts in Romans 12. But what was probably of particular interest - and generally is - to most of our congregation was the discussion of how we know what gifts we have and how they are to be used. I've concluded several things that might be helpful as I've tried to sort through the biblical data on this topic.

We must not treat spiritual gifts as a novelty. Often people are interested in what gifts they have much like they are interested in finding out what type of personality they fit into. It is cool to hear where you fit, but nothing much happens after that. In reality, we will give an account for the use of our gifts, since they have an important place in the life of the church.

We should be careful about splitting hairs when it comes to identifying gifts. There are four (perhaps five) lists of gifts in the New Testament. One is found in Romans, two lists are in 1 Corinthians 12, one is in Ephesians, and then possibly one in 1 Peter. Each list is different, including some gifts that are not found on other lists, and excluding some gifts that are found on other lists. I've seen books and articles that provide very precise definitions of the different gifts, but I'm not so sure we can do that, or that we need to. First of all, many of the gifts are simply mentioned. They are not shown in action, such as might be done in a narrative portion of Scripture where we have an illustration of their use. Therefore there has to be some humble uncertainty about being too fine in our definitions. For example, can anyone make a case that there is a fundamental difference between the gift of leadership (1 Cor 12) and administration (Rom 12), or that serving (Romans 12) is different than helps (1 Cor 12)?

I've encouraged our people to think more broadly, following Peter's discussion in 1 Peter 4. There are those who are gifted in communication and there are those who gifted in hands-on types of ministries. There are certainly more than two gifts, but here is a place to begin.

Many, but not all, of the spiritual gifts have corresponding character qualities. By this I do not mean that a gift is equal to a particular character quality, but rather that some gifts may involve the ability to excel in areas all should be obedient in. In Romans 12 Paul says that some are gifted to serve. Yet he also says in Galatians 5:13 that all of us are to serve each other. He identifies a gift of exhortation, but then tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 & 5:11 that we are all responsible for encouraging each other (same word). There is a gift of giving (contributing), but all of us are to give. There is a gift of doing acts of mercy, but Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful,” speaking about it in a way that applies to all of his followers. How does this relate to our finding out what gifts we have? It may be that as we practice the behavior of a Christian, we discover that there are certain capacities that seem to stand out, or are areas in which we excel.

The use of spiritual gifts requires involvement in more than just Sunday morning. This is a no-brainer, but unless a person is committed to the life of the church, which means that they are in some formal or informal sub-segments of the entire congregation, their gifts will not be able to be used. Most people cannot use their gift on Sunday morning.

Rather than finding out what our gift is through a survey or course of some kind, I'm inclined to suggest to our people that they need to:

1. Believe that they have a spiritual gift (or have gifts).
2. Be committed to serving the Body as servants of God (connecting Romans 12:1-2 with 12:3-8).
3. Participate in the life of the church.
4. Pursue Christlike character.
5. Look for opportunities in which they feel that they can serve and then observe how God blesses their ministry. This includes considering the desires that God places on their hearts.

While this is no magic formula, it seems to make the discovery process subordinate to getting involved in church life and making discovery about giftedness take place in the context of community.

Remember Those in Prison

It can be hard to watch television.

Do you remember the wall? The wall covered with pictures of men and women who disappeared in the span of a few moments when extremists directed two airplanes into the largest targets on the New York City skyline. There’s a picture of a man, sitting on the roof of his home. He’s lost everything but his life and the clothes on his back. There’s a picture of a child, flies buzzing around her face, looking at us through hollow, hungry eyes. Mother and father are gone, the victims of yet another military coup that brought death to streets where she once played. Here’s a woman carrying her dying child, looking in vain for food for herself and her baby, but the ground is dry, even the water is spoiled, and there is no food.

We feel helpless. So helpless. You feel so incredibly helpless that the only way to deal with the helplessness is to turn it off, turn away, try to forget.

This morning I want to show you a picture that I hope you will not forget. I hope that I will not forget. It is a hard picture to look at, but we need not feel helpless nor hopeless.

As the writer of Hebrews closes his letter, he tells his readers to pay attention to several areas of responsibility. In chapter 13, verse 3, he writes this:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

What can we learn from this text that applies to what is going on in our world?

Christians around the world are in prison or suffer mistreatment because of their faith.

There are two special inserts in your bulletin this morning. I would like you to look at the map and note that it represents, as the title says, areas of the world where Christians are persecuted. This means that because a man, woman, boy or girl has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, they are in harm’s way. Look for a moment at that map.

Note that those areas which are highlighted are also earth’s most densely populated. Missionaries have talked to us about the 10-40 window, that area of the world most resistant to the Gospel. If you look at the shaded areas, you’re looking at the 10-40 window. And right at this moment, in those places, we have brothers and sisters in prison and who are undergoing mistreatment for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, persecution of Christians is not new. Persecution began as soon as the excitement of Pentecost had settled down, and we can read about it in Acts 4. Paul wrote several of his letters while in prison. Many of the Apostles died as martyrs, with apparently only John dying of old age, but even he was in prison for his faith.

In addition, there is no reason to expect that persecution will stop. Jesus told his followers that the world would hate them because it hated him (John 15:18-25). Peter wrote to address the difficulties that Christians were facing in 1 Peter 4:12-19.

We need to be fair. People acting under the banner of Christianity have been guilty of persecuting people of other faiths, though in most (but not all) cases this was less a matter of theology and more a matter of power, ambition and nationalism.

Who are we talking about? Who is being persecuted? We’re talking about shopkeepers, fishermen, farmers, mothers, fathers and even children. We’re talking about pastors and church leaders – people whose “crimes” are having faith in Christ and being faithful to him. Owning portions of God’s word. Sharing their faith with others. And their punishment includes being mocked and perhaps even disowned. It could involve being excluded from the business community. It might mean the loss of property, beating, prison, torture and even death. All because of faith in Christ the Lord.

Why? What makes this happen? Simply, the Gospel is a threat. It threatens the power structures of this world because it has room for no ultimate authority other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God the Father. And people hate it.

So what do we do?

We are to remember those who are persecuted

In a first-century context, Roman law used prison as detention until punishment rather than as punishment itself; sometimes prisoners had to depend on outside allies for food.[1] To remember their brothers and sisters, then, meant providing for their sustenance, helping their families, making sure that they were fed and clothed. But we’re half-way around the world from most of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, so what can we do?

Before I answer that question, let me point out the reason that we need to care. The last few words of Hebrews 13:3 tell us that we are to remember these people “since you also are in the body.”

There are two ways to think about this. One way to see this is to acknowledge the fact that we are all vulnerable. And that is true. There is no guarantee that any of us will avoid persecution. So the idea is that we should realize that “there but for the grace of God go I.” But I think that misses something. I think that the best way to see this is that it is a reference to our inclusion in God’s family, as Paul has been telling us in Romans – we are all part of one body. We care because these people are our brothers and sisters. They have the same Father, they are indwelt by the same Spirit, they love the same Savior, they are fed by the same book. They are our family. How can you not care for family?

The question of course is, “What are we supposed to do?” The writer of Hebrews tells us only one thing: remember them. It is a word used only twice in the New Testament – both times in this book. It’s found also in Hebrews 2:6, where it is used in a quotation from Psalm 8, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him.” The word “mindful” and the word “remember” in Hebrews 13:3 come fro the same Greek word. It obviously means more than just “think about.”

So how do we remember? Well, you will notice that this is not the International Day of Protest for the Persecuted Church. Not that such activity is wrong. It is wholly appropriate for us to contact those in authority and urge them to act on behalf of those who are persecuted where possible. The media won’t herald their cause, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t.

I would suggest that we need to remember our brothers and sisters in two ways.

First, we need to remember their needs by making room in our lives to pray for them. If you haven’t already looked at the second insert in your bulletin, do so now. It is two sheets stapled together. This contains requests for 30 – count them, 30 – nations around the globe where Christian people are mistreated. Can you choose one country and pray for it once or twice a week? Can you take one country each day and rotate through this in a month?

What do we pray for?
· That they would be released (the church prayed that way for Peter in Acts 12)
· That they would be faithful to Christ and not deny Him.
· That where parents are in prison, especially fathers who earn the living, families will be provided for.
· That their witness will be effective.
· That the national church would grow strong. There are requests on this sheet for each of these 30 countries.

Second, we need to remember their example. It is simply time for us to wake up.

People are being put in jail and are tortured for the privilege of gathering as a spiritual family, and so many of us are quick to pass on going to church if something more entertaining or exciting comes along. That needs to stop. There may be reasons for you not to be here on a Sunday morning – and that includes staying to learn the Word of God in Sunday School – but there aren’t many good ones.

People are being mistreated because they have been found to have portions of Scripture in their possession. We have multiple Bibles and some of us never even open them up.

I could go on, but you get the point. Why are we so horribly casual with that for which others are willing to die? May God have mercy on them in their suffering, but may he also have mercy on us for our negligence.


I am aware that none of us can pray for and respond to everything. But I also know that more of us can and should be involved in this. I hope that this makes us aware of what is happening in our world, and gives us a desire to join together with these our brothers and sisters and stand with them as they go through their darkness. There may come a day when they stand with us through ours.

[1]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Heb 13:3). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

The Priesthood of All Believers, Part 2

Part 2 – Offering Spiritual Sacrifices

According to what we read in 1 Peter 2, we are a community of priests offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God. What kinds of sacrifices is Peter talking about? Let’s look at four places in the New Testament where this idea appears:

Romans 12:1-2 – the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.

Philippians 4:18 – speaks about the sacrifice of giving.

Hebrews 13:15 – speaks about the sacrifice of praise.

Hebrews 13:16 – speaks about sacrifices of good deeds and sharing. And that’s where this ties in with Romans 12.

Part 3 – Spiritual Gifts and the Priesthood of All Believers

Look back at Romans 12:3-8. It is our privilege and responsibility to minister to each other’s needs according to the way that God has uniquely gifted us. As I said last week, no one is exempt. Rather, we are to acknowledge that, as part of the body, as part of the fellowship of believers, we are to see ourselves as ministers of God.


- We don’t need a human priest to mediate between God and us the work of Christ, our great High Priest, gives us access to God (Hebrews 10:19-22).

- We don’t need a priest to interpret the Bible to us. John writes in 1 John 2:27 – “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” That does not invalidate the need for pastors and teachers and elders who teach and guard the flock. God has gifted people to teach His Word. Nor does it mean that each person can decide for himself or herself what the Bible is saying (as if it means different things to different people). What it does mean is that you as a Christian person are capable of understanding truth because God’s Spirit lives in you and teaches you.

- We don’t need a priest to do the work of ministry. That is assigned to all of us. The gifts belong to the body, not a super-spiritual subset of the body. Some of us function vocationally in ministry responsibilities, but all we are all ministers. That means that while it is appropriate for pastors and elders to visit the sick and care for people’s needs, any of you can perform the same spiritual function. My prayers are no more or less effective than your prayers. Many of you are just as capable if not more so of providing counsel and direction. That’s why Paul says later in Romans (15:14) that “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” That word instruct means warn, admonish, exhort, counsel.

Catch this too – when the writer of Hebrews tells us that we have full and complete access to God on our own, he tells us to do two things. Look at Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Ministry. Believers helping other believers grow toward godliness.

Responding to God’s Word – Your Place in the Priesthood of All Believers

What is the best way to respond to what God says in his Word about our status as priests and ministers to each other?

One response would be gratitude. This is a doctrine that people died for.[1] I am not saying this to inspire guilt or pity, as our parents may have done when they got us to eat our vegetables by reminding us of all of the starving children in the world. But certainly those who died to provide us with the heritage that we have cannot be treated with indifference.

Another response would be prayer. Prayer for what? Prayer that the church would be the church. We should pray that what Paul says about God’s intent for the church would be a reality.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV)

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1988). Be what you are : 12 intriguing pictures of the Christian from the New Testament (67). Wheaton IL: Tyndale House. “The priesthood of the believer is a precious article of the Christian faith, the defense of which has cost many a life.”

If You Want Some Insight as to How the Culture Views Christianity (and some other unrelated stuff).

I read this last night before the election results were in. This forum was open to anyone, regardless of political persuasion. I find it telling. Do you?

I'm connecting this in my mind to Phil Johnson's dead-center, right-on-the-money, hit-the bullseye comments from last week.

Here's a good article on preaching the longer books, especially in the OT.

These two posts are helpful with regard to our devotional reading of the Bible. Old Truth warns against reading one Bible verse. Dan Phillips talks about having devotions from Leviticus.

Rick Phillips reflects on Scot McKnight's recent lecture at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia on the Emerging Church.

The Priesthood of All Believers

At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was a commitment to five key beliefs. We took several weeks last year to look at these doctrines, which are summarized by five Latin phrases:

Sola fide – by faith alone!
Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone!
Solus Christus – Christ alone!
Sola Gratia – through grace alone!
Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone!

The issues surrounding the Reformation were not just about the beliefs of the church – though that was the foundation. They were also about the practices of the church. These were also held up to the scrutiny of Scripture and found wanting.

As it became clear that Rome would not be changed, the Lutheran and later the Reformed movements began to wrestle with questions relating to the Church. The Roman Church service was organized around the Mass. The Protestant churches sought to root their understanding of “doing church” in the example of the New Testament. Church services began to be teaching times, and in addition Luther emphasized the inclusion congregational singing, believing that, as one writer says, “the vigorous singing of simple hymns could open the hearts and minds of God’s people to embrace the Word of God.”[1]

It would now be good for us to read two passages. The first is in 1 Peter 2:4-10. The second is just a few pages away, in Revelation 5:1-10.

Central to the changes that took place in what the church did when it gathered was a recapturing of biblical ideas about what the church was. It was out of the reformers’ understanding of passages such as the two we have just read that a concept known as the priesthood of all believers was taught. And this – like the five “sola” statements we looked at last year, was a radical departure from what Rome had been teaching.

The Priesthood in the Roman Church & The Protestant Response

The Roman church taught that there was a difference in status between those who were part of the church hierarchy and the common person. The priest stood between the people and God, acting as a mediator. He performed the Mass. He acted as confessor. He could proclaim pardon for sin. But Luther protested on the basis of Scripture:

“It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid of it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. Xii), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others.” [2]

Luther went on to say that all Christians are consecrated as priests, and this on the basis of what Peter and John had written in the passages we read earlier.

You can’t imagine how radical this was! And it still remains radical to the mind of the traditional Roman Catholic.[3]

The Implication of the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers

Part 1 – What the Reformers Intended

I need to clarify a few things. Luther’s protest against the division between church hierarchy and the layperson was not intended to introduce a spirit of individualism. In an article on the Priesthood of All Believers, Dr. Timothy George quotes Lutheran Scholar Paul Althaus:

“Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian's freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather he constantly emphasizes the Christian's evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.”

He then comments as follows:

Of course, Luther did believe that all Christians had direct access to God without recourse to "the tin gods and buffoons of this world, the pope with his priests." But for Luther the Priesthood of all believers did not mean, "I am my own Priest." It meant rather: in the community of saints, God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other. We stand before God and intercede for one another, we proclaim God's Word to one another and celebrate His presence among us in worship, praise and fellowship. Moreover, our priestly ministry does not terminate upon ourselves. It propels us into the world in service and witness. It constrains us to "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9).[4]

Luther saw from Scripture that the church was a community, and that while there are those who have specific responsibilities for teaching and oversight of the church, everyone who is truly a believer has a share in the work of the church. I like the way John Piper talks about this:

“The main thing here is that we as a church are meant by Christ to be a corporate dwelling of God in the Spirit. It's true that each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). But there is more of God to be known and enjoyed than any one can know in isolation. We are being fitted together, Paul says, for a temple and for a dwelling of God by his Spirit. There is a presence and power and manifestation of the Spirit of God meant to be known in this gathering of worship that we do not know at any other time in isolation.

“We are not just isolated living stones. We are, verse 5 says, being built (by Christ—"I will build my church") as a spiritual house. The stones are meant to so fit together in this house called Bethlehem that something whole, something more than a collection of individuals comes into being—a temple, a dwelling of God by his Spirit.

“And O how jealous I am to see that happen more than it ever has.”[5]

I echo that feeling. How much good we could do, how much stronger we would be, how much more God would be glorified if all of us recognized our God-given responsibility to function as priests offering sacrifices to God.

(To be continued)

[1] http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/joh_barber/PT.joh_barber.Luther.Calvin.Music.Worship.pdf. Quotation is taken from page 2.
[2] Found quoted in numerous places on the Internet, from the opening paragraphs of Luther’s To the Christian Nobility.
[3] http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Eucharist/Eucharist_022.htm. This article or sermon identifies Luther’s ideas as heresy.
[4]http://www.founders.org/FJ03/article1_fr.html. Source for the quotation from Paul Althaus is found there as well.