The Way

The first name by which the church was known before the word “Christian” became attached to it at Antioch, was the “Way.” You can read about it in Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19: 9, 23; 24: 14, 22 (and possibly 2 Peter 2:2).

“What is the meaning of that title?”

Well, no one is quite sure how it came about. The name just appears in Acts without explanation. As you can see, no point is made about it in the passages above. But many think it came from the words of Jesus When He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 3).

“But, if it came from that verse, what about the other two items—truth and life? ”

That’s a good question, but remember, Jesus went on to say, “Nobody comes to the Father except by Me” (6). And these words all occur in a discussion of the “way” to the place that Jesus was preparing for His followers (v.3). So, it’s quite likely that John 14 is the source of the name.

“OK. I can see that. But, then, our faith would be described, fundamentally, as the way to eternal life or something similar.”

Right. And that wouldn’t be inaccurate. Surely the apostles who later on it seems dropped it, didn’t do so because they thought it was inaccurate. Luke, in Acts, freely described the faith by the term. It is a highly expressive title for our faith. Indeed, it might be interesting to revive it at times in certain circles to get people to think more about a prime objective of Christianity.

“Did the church eventually reject it or substitute the name “Christian” for it?”

There’s no record of its being rejected. It seems that the name “Christian,” in time, became the more popular designation, and the earlier designation just faded out.

“Then, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with using it?”

Not so long as you explained what it means. Otherwise, people might think you were describing some cult (there once was one that went by that name).

“Interesting.”

Quite. I kinda’ like the title. Wish it were more widely known, appreciated, and used.

“Me too.”

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Nehemiah

Nothing adverse is said about Nehemiah in the Scriptures. Like Daniel, Joseph, and Noah, he is set forth only as a man who faithfully served God. Of course, like the rest of us, he still sinned. But his life as a whole remained steadfast to the Lord. It is, therefore, interesting to note some of what God did through him to bless His people.

Here, let’s consider only one item—one that may appear insignificant. But it is often of significance to consider how one handles insignificant matters. It usually tells you much about him.

In Nehemiah 5:15c (HCSB) we read,

I and my associates never ate from the food allotted to the governor.

Here, we see a man who cared. The people who had returned to Jerusalem remained a pitiful lot. They were poor, lived among the ruins of a formerly great city, were outcasts among those who lived in the land; their situation was miserable. Nehemiah recognized the fact and cared. Already burdened beyond belief, to take upon themselves a new responsibility, now that the new governor had arrived, would have been almost beyond their ability. Or, so Nehemiah saw it.

So, on his own, he determined not to place an additional burden upon their shoulders. He was entitled to his share of the food allotment that was to be given to him and his officials. But he chose not to enjoy that entitlement. He understood the needs of others and, in effect, determined to identify with them. Here was no pompous person, gobbling up all he can get from others; rather, here was a servant of the Lord who saw his responsibility in that service to stand with—not above—those he served.

What a difference there would be in government today were our officials to adopt a similar attitude. Of course, it would not take the same form that it did with Nehemiah. But to adopt Nehemiah’s attitude would have significant impact. Of interest, in this regard, can you think of five ways in which our officials could refuse to take advantage of those perks that are rightfully theirs for the taking? It might be a challenge to you as well if you should do so.

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One Way Cults Begin

It’s true that all popular figures are in danger of allowing themselves to gather groups around them who become near-worshippers of them. They can encourage this “groupee” dynamic and gain a following that believes almost anything that they affirm—remember Jim Jones and the Koolaid? This popularity phenomenon is obviously one ripe source for the fostering of cults. Unless this dominant figure discourages such adulation, he may unconsciously allow these followers to become cultic in their attitudes. If the leader sets forth a doctrine or two that deviates from traditional biblical teaching, you have all of the ingredients necessary for establishing a cult. But that’s not the emphasis of this blog.

Rather, as someone has said, “Cults are the unpaid bills of the Church.” What does that mean? Simply this—whenever the church of Jesus Christ fails to emphasize some truth, and becomes imbalanced in one direction or another, it leaves room for a cult to creep in and take over that area of theology which it has neglected. You didn’t pay your bill, so someone else moves in to take possession of what was your God-given responsibility to teach in the first place.

Take the days in which there was little emphasis upon eschatology. The Adventist cults gained favor. The period in which there was little concern for pastoral care led to the beginnings of the healing cults.

The question today is what is the church neglecting, and what will this lead to? Clearly work in systematic theology and the faithful exegesis of the Scriptures is at an all-time low during the current generation. Where are the giant exegetes today? The outstanding systematic theologians? Those whose interest is in biblical theology abound; but where are the commentaries that deal in depth with the text rather than skipping around from place to place attempting to find similarities in various passages?

Moreover, application, as a result, is disappearing from the pulpits of those who are enthralled with the “discoveries” of some biblical-theological devotees. People are beginning to get essays from the pulpit in place of clear, substantive doctrine, proclaimed from well-exegeted passages, and applied to the daily lives of those who listen. There are even those who are questioning the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone!

It’s time for preachers to wake up. We could easily have a new sort of cult emerging right before our eyes— one whose adherents look down their noses on “mere” exegetes and systematic theologians, and dismiss practical preachers of the truths of the Scriptures. Take heed!

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Sing a New Song

The Bible has a lot to say about music. God is pleased to be praised in song. He even inspired some songs to help us do so. Indeed, he gave us an entire songbook, the Psalter.

But singing also serves other purposes, as this hymnbook demonstrates. We not only praise, but pray generally, petition specifically and witness to others in song. It is interesting to note that Jesus did that very thing according to Hebrews 2:12:

I will announce Your Name to My brothers;
In the midst of the church, I will sing a hymn to You.

Bible songs refer to a vast range of human/divine concerns and how God relates to us in them. In them, we also express suffering, doubts, sorrow, fear, joy, thanksgiving, and just about every other human response to life and God. The Psalms, in particular, provide means by which we may rightly give voice to our emotions and meditations.

Some hymns are “objective,” as their proponents call them; as if they were superior to others that are not. They speak as if there were a divine commandment to avoid those of a more “subjective” sort. But hymns are rightly outlets for all emotions as well as for thought. It is precisely in biblical singing that emotions of every sort are encouraged and brought forth by the words of the Psalm or song. Subjective songs are not discouraged in the Bible; rather, God is concerned with the whole man and how His truth impacts every aspect of his life.

Some have problems with the kinds of music sung in churches today. That’s understandable, for many reasons that there isn’t space to discuss here. Let it suffice to say that there are but two criteria for determining whether or not a hymn or Scripture song is proper for worship:

  1. Is it true to God’s Word?
  2. Is it singable?

Beyond those criteria, there are no biblical limitations.

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What About a Minister’s Salary?

There are ministers all over the country suffering from a lack of financial support from their congregations.  Whose fault is it?  “Congregations,” you answer!  Well, often that is the reason for the inadequate compensation given to those who preach the Word.  A significant share of the blame lies at the feet of niggardly board members and penurious members.  But deficient salaries are not caused merely by parsimonious parishioners.  Preachers, themselves, are guilty in the matter.  They are responsible to instruct their members about providing support for themselves as much as for instructing them about anything else.  And many have failed to assume that responsibility.

“It’s too sensitive,” they say (when their wives tell them they ought to ask for a raise).  “I don’t want them to think that I am complaining,” is another common response.  And, one more: “I’ll pray about it; God will have to provide an answer.”  But such responses will not do.  Basic instruction (and exhortation) is necessary.

Many members (even some board members) may be perplexed, confused about the standard for payment.  It is time to proclaim the biblical standard from pulpits rather than whisper about it behind closed doors.  “But God didn’t speak on that subject,” you say.  Oh?  Do you think that He would have left so important a matter to sinners to determine?  No.  In the Scriptures He has very clearly set forth His standard for the payment of ministerial services.  Indeed, He reveals the basic requirement as well as that which is appropriate in exceptional cases.  Let’s take a look at both.

First, listen to Paul as he sets for the base salary for a minister: “Now let him who is instructed in the Word share everything good that he has with the one who instructs him” (Galatians 6: 6).  In that command (note, it is not optional for congregations to do or not do so) you find the fundamental principle of payment – the minister of the Word is to receive a salary commensurate with that of the members of his congregation.  He is not to live on less than they do.  Put positively, as Paul does, he is to enjoy all the good things that they do. While, as we shall see, he may be paid more than the average of his members’ earnings, congregations must not pay him less — without sin.  And, until they consider this question as an issue of sin, some Christians will go on disobeying God’s command.

Now, I will not go into the matter deeply but notice the two verses that follow Galatians 6:6: “Don’t be deceived, God isn’t snubbed; whatever a person sows, that is exactly what he will reap” (Galatians 6:7).  There are congregations who try to snub God in the matter; they think that they can get by without living up to the base salary that God has set.  But it can’t be done.  He will not be turned off so easily.  He declares that He will respond negatively to their negative response to Him.  If they give sparingly, He says, they will receive sparingly.

Now, what does that mean?  Paul goes on: “The one who sows for his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows for the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (v. 8).  If one spends the money that he owes his pastor on fleshly things, that is what he will reap rather than the things at pertain to eternal life – just like those unbelievers who ignore God and ultimately receive eternal death rather than eternal life.  In other words, the fundamental principle of sowing that has to do with salvation is mentioned here to demonstrate how this principle also relates to accepting or rejecting God’s standard for  one’s giving.  Congregations that will not obey Galatians 6:6 will lose the spiritual blessings that they might otherwise have had.  How this will happen in each case is hard to say.  Perhaps the way in which the reaping takes place will differ from place to place.  God may call a fine minister of the Word away from a congregation to a place where his work will be recompensed properly.  Thus, the congregation will be impoverished spiritually.  He may harden hearts so that people fail to appropriate the spiritual blessings that they might otherwise receive from their minister.  There is any number of ways in which God may do so.  If a congregation can’t – or won’t – pay a minister a good living wage according to God’s scale for giving, it should not call a minister until it is able to.

So, pastor, what can you do?  Well, you must instruct your congregation about this matter.  If you fail to do so both you and they will suffer.

But there is also more to be learned about payment.  In I Timothy 5: 17 Paul wrote: “The elders who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay, especially those who are laboring at preaching and teaching.”  Now, in that verse another problem appears: all elders (not just the preachers) should be paid.  I’ll leave that discussion to another time because it might take us too far afield.  “Whoa!” someone says.  “It says ‘honor’ in my version.”  Well, that’s a shame; there is no excuse for obscuring Paul’s meaning.  The original Greek word, time can mean both “honor” and “pay.”  That the second rendering must be given to the term in this context is clear from verse 18, in which Paul buttresses his command (note, again, this is not an optional matter) with a quotation that has to do with earning one’s living by his work (just as the ox earns his food).

Now, all elders manage the congregation, but some, in addition to this task, also preach and teach.  They are the ministers of the church.  Note what Paul commands.  The elders who manage well ought to be given double pay, starting with those who minister God’s Word.

From time to time, I have asked groups of ministers what the Bible says about the salary that they ought to receive only to get blank stares in return.  Evidently, teaching about this is not widespread.  It is about time, then, that we begin remedying the situation.  How?  Well, it must begin with you, pastor.  Are you afraid to tackle the matter?  That’s unworthy of you!  How best to do it?  That’s a worthy question.  Let me give you three or four suggestions:

  1. Preach through Galatians and when you come to the sixth chapter nail the subject emphatically! “That would take too long,” you say, “I’d probably starve by the fifth chapter!” Well, then, preach chapters 5 and 6, which form a very practical unit.
  2. Another suggestion. Sit down with your board (authority bunch) and instruct them in the matter. Try to enlist them in beginning to see and follow God’s provision for His servants. If they come along, then have them request you to preach on Galatians 6 and I Timothy 5 (and make that fact known in the church bulletin).
  3. If, after all sorts of efforts have been made over a sufficient period of time you are able to effect no change (notice I didn’t say right away), consider changing pastorates. When you decide to do so, explain to the congregation the reason why you are leaving. Perhaps God will use that to awaken them to their sin. But, on the other hand, make sure that the congregation to which you move isn’t also as ignorant of (or resistant to) the matter as the previous one. In candidating, therefore, make a point of discussing the question with the elders.
  4. You may find it helpful to hand a copy of this editorial to your board of elders to get the discussion going. You may find that this is a good way to break the ice.

Well, blessings to you.  If more of you would preach the whole counsel of God – which includes his provisions for His servants — then the church would be greatly edified.  Consider becoming one who will do so and enjoy the blessings.


Traveling on a plane in Europe, the flight attendant offered me a choice of newspapers in various languages.  I chose the Greek one.  There, hitting me right in the face on the masthead was the word Time, which was followed by a specified number of drachmas.  Even today, then, the word carries the idea of payment or cost.

Going Back?

In Mt 24: 18  Jesus warned that his disciples would not return from the field to get something he left indoors.  This is supposed to happen at the second coming of Christ, according to many interpreters. But if that were so, how silly the warning would be. Why? Because here would be people with glorified bodies, able to rise into the air to meet the Lord as He comes.  Who would care about any such things? He would be so transformed that his interest would be in the Lord, his new body, resurrected people, etc.  Obviously, then, the passage doesn’t speak of the second coming, but of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Speaking God’s Words

One thing that you ought to know about those petty politicians (and others) who quote the Scriptures out of context, to impress people, or for any sort of personal gain, is what God thinks about it. Here are His Words:

But God says to the wicked: “what right do you have to recite My statutes; and to take My covenant on your lips?”                   Psalm 50:16 (HCSB)

Who is the sort of “wicked “person He has in mind? God goes on to tell us:

You hate instruction and turn your back on My words. When you see a thief, you make friends with him, and you associate with adulterers, you unleash your mouth for evil.

Know anyone like that? I’ll bet you could name quite a few!

But be sure the verse doesn’t also refer to you!

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Studies or Sermons

Everyone recognizes that, with all-too-few exceptions, preaching needs improvement. There are many reason for this. Today, I want to address only one change—one that you can incorporate into your preaching with but a little thought and practice.

Unfortunately, in our time several “schools” of preaching have developed in order to rectify some of the problems. These center around one concern which then, tends to be the all-in-all of preaching. Each has its chief proponents and a host of followers. I’m going to take up the views of two of these schools which are (or are becoming) most prominent. I shall refer to them as The Biblical-Theological School and the Exegetical-Expository School. In each, the problem is that, rather than preach a sermon, the preacher has brought his studies into the pulpit.

The Biblical-Theological School

More and more we are becoming aware of biblical-theological “preaching” since many seminaries have become enamored with it. The text chosen (if there is one—some of these “sermons” are more topical that textual) becomes a source for showing how it fits into the history of redemption. In doing so, excessive typological (and even allegory of sorts) often prevails. Every passage is interpreted in the light of how Jesus Christ may be seen in it. The listener comes away saying something like, “Isn’t Jesus Christ wonderful!”

“Well, what could be wrong with that?” you ask. Jesus is wonderful, of course, and I have no intention of taking anything away from that fundamental truth. And it is essential to relate the cross to every preaching portion. Moreover, there must be no moralism. The grace of God must be apparent in all we say. And above all, self-help must be eschewed!

“So, then where’s the problem? Those are all things that are emphasized by this school. It would seem that the Biblical-Theological view is a valid method—if not the only method that properly proclaims Christ. Right?”

Wrong!

“Wrong? How can it be wrong for preachers to declare the grace of God and exalt Christ?”

Well, exalting Christ, is itself, is to be commended. We should do so in all of our preaching. But, when that and that alone, becomes the thrust of message after message, so that the listener leaves with nothing more, somehow a good—even “wonderful”—truth has been misused. Marriages fall apart, people make wrong decisions in life. What is there about it that’s wrong? Well, this marvelous message of God’s grace in Christ has become the all-in-all, whereas the Scriptures deal with much more. Indeed, some (perhaps much) of what is decried in Biblical-Theological circles as “Moralistic Preaching,” may not be so at all. If Jesus is all-in-all (and He certainly is) He must be preached as the all-in-all of one’s marriage, family and child training. He must be proclaimed as the all-in-all of a believer’s job, social life, and so on (including all the matters that the Scriptures are concerned with). It is not possible to preach the whole counsel (plan) of God in the biblical-theological mode so often adopted by some of its proponents. Some, despite scriptural data to the contrary, even decry all exhortation in sermons!

The Exegetical-Expository School

On the other hand—as carried on by some—at the opposite extreme—is Exegetical-Expository preaching. In this approach one seeks to make clear the meaning of the passage by ticking off one fact after another about verses as he “preaches” through a given portion of the Scriptures.

“Again, what could be wrong with explaining the meaning of Scripture? Don’t people need a much greater understanding of biblical truth? Are many not like the Ethiopian Eunuch who said he couldn’t understand Isaiah 53 unless there was someone who could teach him its meaning? In this day of unparalleled ignorance of God’s Word—not to mention the cults and other false teachers who abound confusing many—isn’t exposition exactly what is needed?”

Certainly. There is great need for exposition—for the opening of the Scriptures to those to whom much is a closed book through neglect, muddled interpretation, and so on. And every Christian—however much he knows already—needs to know much more of God’s truth from His Word.

“What then is the problem with exposition?”

The answer? Well, it’s wrong for exactly the same reason that much Biblical-Theological preaching is. As unlikely as it may seem both begin at the same wrong starting point. Each school thinks that explaining the process,  and reaching conclusions about the text is preaching. In the true sense of the word, neither preach. When true to their presuppositions (which, fortunately, isn’t  what they always do) they talk about the text and about Jesus Christ, but they fail to adequately take the listener into consideration. After all, preaching is the proclamation of God’s truth about Christ to His people so that they may understand not merely what passages mean, but from these passages what He and has done for them, and requires of them in such a way that by grace they do (or believe) what He commands. When a person from each of these schools understands this, he may actually merge the separate views of these two schools, sharing what is best in each.

The basic problem is that they mistake studies for sermons. The studies that both do are necessary for good preaching, but are not, in themselves, preaching. Vos’ Grace and Glory, held by some as the epitome of Biblical-Theological preaching, for instance, contains no sermons, but is a compilation of marvelous essays. Numerous verse-by-verse expositions, exegetically sound, with a bit of exhortation tacked on to the end (if time allows) abound, but are not messages either. They are commentaries in verbal form.

The best of each school, as I said, is essential for good preaching. Work done in the preacher’s study ought to yield a passage’s place in the history of redemption—and how Jesus Christ is in it (so as to show how He is deeply involved in whatever is enjoined on God’s people). And this biblical-theological insight ought to emerge not from “clever” speculation, but from careful exegetical study that places it in the context of the lives of God’s people in one or another of their relationships to Him. The general purpose of the sermon ought to be to honor Christ. But becoming faithful to its specific purpose, the preacher should always talk to the listener about how God expects him to carry out those things that the preaching portion enjoins upon him, so as to honor Jesus Christ as he goes about his life day by day.

A sermon, properly prepared and preached, therefore, will embody the results of the work done in the preacher’s study. There will be careful exegesis of passages; there will be full consideration of their places in the history of redemption. But these materials, in raw form, are for the pastor’s study! He should no more attempt to preach a “Biblical-Theological” sermon (as they are sometimes called) than he would attempt to preach a “Systematic-Theological” sermon! Both studies are tools for preparation of a sermon. The message should no more be an theological treatise than a verse-by-verse commentary on the text. All of this work is done in preparation for making a sermon. It, in the end, should be a Christ-honoring expository message that faithfully applies the purpose of the preaching portion to the particular congregation to which it is delivered.

Exegesis and Biblical Theology are two of the vital tasks in which every true preacher of the Word must engage in the preparation of a message. But what is done in the study should stay in the study. However, all of the work done should be appropriately incorporated into his sermon. Studies—no matter how exciting to the preacher—are not enough. They must be put in preaching form with preaching content. Choosing one of these schools of “preaching” over the other is where the error lies. They should never be placed in opposition. Harmony between what is right in each ought to prevail. This thinking may involve a large paradigm change for you, but I urge you think about to making it. It’ll be worth it! Trust Me!

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Lecture

Since teachers in seminary lecture on their subject matter, that’s the model of communication that is set forth over three years for future preachers. But lecturing (though there may be a small unit of a sermon that might be such) isn’t preaching. A preacher must explain the text, but not take the entire time doing so. Having make it clear, his third person speaking ought to turn quickly to second person (“you”). When it does, and a Scripture is properly applied, he begins to preach. Do you preach or merely lecture about the text?

Wisdom

Where will you find it?  In the Bible, yes.  The whole book of Proverbs is a “wisdom” book.  But will all who study it—or other wisdom teachings in the Scriptures—understand it and how to apply it to daily living? Don’t think so.

“Why do you say that?”

Because of verses like I Corinthians 2:6.

“What does it say?”

Just this,

But we speak wisdom to those who are telios persons.

“What is a telios person?”

It us a person who is “complete”— whole and entire are the words James used about him. That is to say, he isn’t lopsided in his faith and life. He is growing equally (or nearly so) in all aspects of the Christian belief and daily living.  He knows and lives Christianity in its entirety. He has by no means reached perfection, but is headed in that direction in all aspects of Christianity. Paul’s words are like those of Jesus who said to those who have more will be given.

“Oh.”

So if you want to become wiser, be sure you don’t neglect any part of the faith in you application of truth. Otherwise, wisdom will not begin knocking at your door.