Have You Already Had Your Reward?

Blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, and the internet generally have changed our lives in dramatic ways. Wise believers have embraced our new technologies and have used them to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways inconceivable just ten years ago. Much of what we do here at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies would be impossible without these new tools.

Some creative believers, however, have also found new and inventive ways to use the internet to dishonor both Christ and themselves. Consider our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount—

Be careful not to do your righteous acts in front of people, so that you will be seen by them. Otherwise you will have no reward from your Father Who is in the heavens. Therefore, when you give to charity, don’t blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be praised by people. Let me assure you, they have their reward.

Today, there is a growing trend to replace trumpeting with tweeting and the streets with the digital highway. Facebook and Twitter have become places for many to advertise their good works and promote their own spirituality. This past week I have read reports of how may counseling sessions a particular counselor has conducted (and how many overwhelmed pastors he has bailed out by his wisdom), how many tracts one individual has passed out, how much time one person has spent in prayer, and how many hours a pastor spent in sermon preparation for one sermon (which caused me to wonder about his sermon preparation skills). This morning I just defriended an individual who thought all his friends would appreciate knowing how much he loves the people in his church, the unique worship experience he feels only when he is with these wonderful people, and how much of this is caused by the ministry he is having there.

What about you? Do you use the internet and the many new social networking tools to communicate effectively and profitably with friends and family, or is it a means to promote your own personal piety?

Peace of Heart

“Having peace about a matter” is what many people think is the deciding factor about whether it is wrong or right to do something. And they base their opinion on Colossians 3:15,

let Christ’s peace have final say in your hearts . . .

Is that a fair understanding and application of the verse? Is it the way to determine what is right in answer to questions about which you need guidance? Are those who say, “I have peace about it,” right in concluding that God sends peace if a decision is correct, and that He sends a disturbed heart if it isn’t? That’s what many have been taught.

But “peace” can come from a conscience that has been seared so as to no longer effectively warn about what is wrong. So, how could you distinguish between the two? Moreover, we have all known those who said that they had peace about a matter, and the “peace” turned out to be the wrong way to go.

Well, the fact of the matter is this: the idea that this verse is speaking of guidance is wrong. Paul is not talking about some subjective peace that you have in your heart. Rather, in the context (see v. 14, and the rest of verse 15), Paul is talking about believers in the “body” (the church) getting along by showing love for one another. The peace, therefore, is an objective peace that you should promote among your brothers ands sisters in Christ.

Peace among the members of the body ought to have final say in your actions. If what you want to do or say will upset that peace, then don’t do it, even if it seemed right (of course, he’s not speaking of matters of clear biblical obligation). If what you are thinking of doing promotes peace among the members of the body, then do it. That is the true force of the passage.

It is not peace in your hearts, but that which you determine in your hearts will promote peace among the brothers. That ought to determine whether or not your should do something or other. That it will assure peace should be the determining factor in your heart (the place where such decisions are made).

So, let’s be careful about the way that the verse is used. Otherwise, “having peace about” something may cause disturbance among other believers—exactly what the verse is intended to avoid.

How to Get Him to Think Straight

The difficulty in attempting to explain the meaning of a passage of Scripture to one who has his mind made up already is a task greater than a human being possesses. Aren’t you glad that it’s the Holy Spirit Who illumines believers’ minds—and not you?

Of course, He does so—interestingly—not apart from but, through the Word itself.

It is, therefore, crucial when dealing with pig-headed Christians, who think they are accomplished exegetes, but can’t tell the difference between the meaning of a verse from a child’s jingle, to remember this and to do what you can do.

“What’s that?”

The first profitable thing to do is to refrain from argument, reason or trying to beat the truth into his head by pure repetition.

“I understand that—but what can I do?”

The thing to do—at all costs—is to get him to read (rather, study) the Bible.

“How will that help, if his mind is made up?”

Since, as Paul said, the truth is “spiritually discerned,” that is where your hope lies. When he gets serious about learning what God says from the Bible, you can expect things to happen. For truth to be spiritually discerned means, to have the Spirit working in him to enable him to understand His Word.

And that’s exactly what you want—isn’t it? Not what you think, but what the Spirit teaches from His Book.

So, don’t argue. Instead give him helps that will encourage him to study the Scriptures—concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries—whatever it takes to get him into serious study of the Bible.

If you succeed in persuading him do so, you’ve won twice over: in time he may soon come to see the truth about what you said, and—of greater importance—he will become a student the Word of God. Even if it takes time, humility, or even repentance for the former to occur, in the meantime you can rejoice in the latter.

ANTHROPOMORPHISMS

Commenting on Genesis 6:7, where God says that He repents that He made man, Reformer, Henry Bullinger (successor to Zwingli in Zurich) wrote,

. . . repentance is figuratively attributed to God, like to the affection of mortal men: as when he saith, “I repent me that I Have made man.” For God in his own nature doth not repent as men do, so that he should be touched with grief, and that the thing should now mislike him which he before did like of. (Decade Four; Sermon two).

Anthropomorphic language is that which God frequently used to explain something to us in terms we can understand. He says, for instance, that his arm is not shortened, that he cannot save. He is using a figure of speech to say that he has all the power he needs to save. So when he speaks of repenting, God is saying something more about us and our wickedness than about Himself. To let us know that He doesn’t miss anything that we do He also speaks of His eyes and ears.  But He has no body. So, He is saying that, if He were a man, He would have to change His mind about making man because he has become so sinful. How do we know this? Because elsewhere, when actually speaking of God’s nature Scripture says, “God is not a man that He should repent” (I Samuel 15:29). There is no contradiction—one passage speaks of His actual being; the other speaks in human terms (anthropomorphically) as if He were a man in order to help us understand what he is saying.

God uses other figures of speech to help us thick-headed humans.  God is not a Rock, though the Scripture calls Him such, or a Fortress as, again, we are told in the Bible that He is. He is not a cosmic chicken, even though we are protected “under His wings.” We’re not chicks. All these figurative terms are for our benefit. We are so dull, we need to hear truth in such a manner.

So, when reading about God grieving—as Bullinger notes—understand: God isn’t sitting in the heavens weeping over a mistake He made. He stoops to our level to speak in terms we can understand for our benefit. Moreover, such figures of speech are usually more graphic and, therefore, striking, and memorable.

A concluding note: The word “Anthropomorphic” is composed of two Greek loan words, anthropos (meaning , “man”), and morphe (meaning “likeness, form”). God speaks in such passages as Genesis 6 as if he were man-like.

Open Door—Open Mind

For we are not to despair of anyone so long as the patience of God leads the ungodly to repentance, and does not seize him out of this life . . .
Augustine, Sermon LXXI, xiii, 21.

Have you given up on the conversion of your husband? Your child? Your relative? Your neighbor?

You must not do so. You do not know that God has done so. He/she may yet be converted. Perhaps on the death bed; perhaps before. But it is your task not to make a final judgment about anyone. God, alone, knows the heart.

Your task is, however, to keep on praying for him, to keep on witnessing to him, to keep on living a godly life before him.

Yes, I know it seems unlikely that he or she would ever believe. But didn’t it seem even more unlikely that Saul of Tarsus would become the apostle Paul?

Who are you to judge that the eternal destination of another will not be heaven—while the door to it still stands open? While the door stands open, your mind must as well.

No. If you have given up hope, it is time to renew it. Talk to the Lord about the matter. Tell Him you believe that His power is greater than any the evil one exerts over your unsaved friend. Beg Him to save him. Then tell Him you will be satisfied with the outcome.

Today?

But as he reasoned with him about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment, Felix became alarmed and replied, “Go away for now; when I have time later on I’ll send for you.”         Acts 24:25

Ah, for a modern day Paul to stand before some of our government officials and do the same!

Are any three topics more appropriate to discuss with a number of them than these three?

Where is righteousness in government? God’s standard of right and wrong—the Bible—totally dismissed. How, then, can they even know what is right?

How many have demonstrated an out of control lifestyle! Can you even count the number over the last ten years in national and local governments who have exhibited an utter lack of self-control?

And the judgment to come—they have for the large part forgotten (or don’t believe) that, sooner than they might think, they must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for what they have done.

Ah, for someone with the opportunity and intestinal fortitude to do so. Perhaps we should all pray that God will raise him up. Perhaps they too would try to evade the issues the way Felix did. Perhaps, not. But it would be good to know that a number of them were faced with these matters.

Mental Illness

Folks let’s get this straight. The mind is not a physical organ. It cannot have a disease, illness, or injury in anything other than a metaphorical sense such as a sick economy or a sick joke.

Typhoid fever — disease
Spring fever — not a disease
Scarlet fever — disease
Bieber fever — not a disease

Two Failures

There are two outstanding failures that one can detect in counseling when he has an opportunity to watch it.

  1. Many counselors use too much Scripture.  They throw verse after verse at counselees, piling them up for him, presumably to take home. A person can digest only so much material in a counseling session or during the week following. He needs to drive home one or two verses, plainly explained, if he wants to see biblical results.
  2. Not any verse will do.  Not only must a verse be explained as to its meaning, but also counselors must show how it is appropriate to the counselee, and how he may apply it to his situation. These are key factors at which one must not fail!

Hating Preachers

Is it surprising that some preachers are hated? Well, it shouldn’t be. For people to hate them is nothing new. Listen to this passage:

Jehoshaphat asked, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here any more?  Let’s ask him.” The king of Israel said . . . “There is one man . . . but I hate him because he never prophesies good about me, but only disaster” ( 1 Kings 22:8, HCSB).

The king of Judah was right in seeking God’s will through a prophet; the king pf Israel was wrong in hating the prophet.  What a contrast!

Why did the latter hate the prophet? Because he did his job—he told the truth about the sins of the king and his people, and predicted God’s judgment upon them apart from repentance.

Today, we have no prophets (contrary to the views of a popular theological writer), but we have preachers who are as close to being prophets as anyone.  When they do their job (fulfill their calling from God) they will frequently have to warn about the consequences of sin against God. When they do, they are often disliked (or possibly even hated) by those who listen. But they are as foolish for doing so as king Ahab, who lost his life as a result (v. 37).

Fools don’t listen. Will you listen—or will you too prove yourself a fool? There are still some preachers who will preach the truth, even though not appreciated for it. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your congregation, listen to him; don’t hate him for telling you the truth. Obey the Word of God as he proclaims it from the Scriptures!

Paying the Pastor

Your Pastor is NOT going to get into this with you. He does not want to sound self-serving and he is going to trust God to provide for his needs. I believe it is a mistake many pastors make. We are commanded to teach “the whole counsel of God.” Every subject the Bible addresses should be taught by the pastor, including this one. If he does not, who will? Not many pastors have a guy like me blogging about such things. Hear what Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:7-14

Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Paul’s logic is clear. Even though he had made a personal decision not to accept support from the churches in which he ministered, they still had a responsibility to support those who were to have a continuing ministry to them as their pastors.

“But Donn,” you complain, “No one thinks a pastor should not be paid. What’s your point?”

Stay with me here. I wanted to begin by establishing the basic fact that God requires us to pay our pastor. How much we should pay him is the more controversial question. Did you know the Bible answers that for us as well? No, it does not give us a dollar amount but listen to this:

The elders (pastors) who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay, especially those who are laboring at preaching and teaching.  (1 Timothy 5:17)

Paul is prescribing an attitude, not a figure. A mind-set, not a number. When it comes time to vote on a budget, and when the various committees meet to decide upon a salary package, how should they approach their decisions? Will it be “How much does our pastor need to get by?” or will it be “How generous can we afford to be?”

Paul urges you to consider your pastor to be worthy of twice the pay. No, you will probably not be able to afford to pay him double, but you should aspire to do so. Remember, your pastor will probably be one of the best educated people in your church. How many people in your church have a Master’s degree in whatever it is they do? He will have paid for his education himself. If the pastor receives a higher income than you do would you be jealous or would you be thankful?

Your pastor has many burdens, paying his bills should not be one of them. He should be paid well enough that he can purchase a home in the same kind of neighborhood you live in. He should be able to purchase a vehicle that is dependable and comfortable. He should be provided life insurance, health insurance, and a generous pension. His wife should be free to work outside the home if she desires, but she should not HAVE to work for the family to survive.

“But Donn,” you say, “we can’t pay him more than we have. All these things will bust our church budget.”

Well, I will admit I am not familiar with your church’s finances. All I am doing is pleading for a biblical mind set as you make decisions. There are many good and worthy ways a church can spend money. Of course you have to pay the utility bills, purchase insurance, and do maintenance on your buildings. But of all the other things in your budget, only one is commanded in the Scriptures—paying the pastor.

The cooperative fund, missions, convention agencies, camps, schools, and benevolence are all good and worthy things. But if a church cannot obey Christ in paying their pastor because they are supporting these other things, then ultimately, it is the pastor, not the church that is supporting them. Only one budget item is prescribed in the Word. All others come in second to that priority.

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