Women at Each Other’s Throats?

In the church at Philippi there was a division. This was headed up by two women—the worst sort of split any church can have! There’s always the possibility that it can become a real shin-kicker and hair puller!

Their names might easily have been Odious and Soon-touchy, if they were anything like what we find in churches today. Their actual names are found in Philippians 4:2.

Before Paul mentions any names, he makes clear two principles that must be at work when bringing unity to a divided church. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he sets these forth:

  1. Get rid of selfishness or vane thinking about your own worth, while at the same time considering others better than your self.
  2. Instead of being all—fired concerned with your own interests, for once in your life begin to put the interests of other before your own!

You can always find some way in which others are better than you—if you’re willing to prayerfully take an honest look (of course, as his words indicate, Paul would have you to look away from yourself in order to do so).

And, if you are concerned about furthering others’ concerns rather than your own, again, you’ll find ways of doing so.

The two principles are not hard to understand-just hard for quarreling people to follow. Repentance may be in order to be able to do so.

On those two points, he goes further in the verses that follow to show how that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He selflessly put us first, going so far as to put our interests (salvation) before His manifested glory as the second Person of the Trinity. He was willing to stoop to becoming a man, to becoming a slave, to becoming a criminal who died on the cross—all for our sakes.

Think of His condescension the next time your foot gets stepped on, the next time someone disagrees with you, the next time you’ve been insulted, the next time . . . simply the next time! It isn’t a matter of who is right. The point is—how are you handling the relationship? Follow these two principles, and you will certainly be doing much to bring about unity. In unity, you can work out the differences!

Assurance

John Calvin’s emphasis was upon certainty. He abhorred the way in which Romanism kept people wondering whether or not they were saved. In his Defense of the Reformed faith, p. 256; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids (1958), he wrote:

Thus nothing is left but constant disquietude, and slow torture, and perplexing doubts, which will wear out the soul not less effectively than open murder.

In speaking of Roman confession, he also said,

The Apostles did not discharge their office of binding and loosing by hearing Confessions, but by preaching the gospel . . . And the reason why they strongly urge Confession is, because they wish to make the world obsequious to them, and to hold it in subjection . . . yet to color Confession, and hold it forth as a thing necessary to salvation, is neither expedient nor lawful. Conscience cannot be squeezed by the chains of such laws, without being strangled. (Ibid., p. 257, 258).

He was concerned about poor, wretched people, deluded by the traditions of men, who were enslaved to a system purporting to be Christian, but in reality, anything but.

There is salvation neither in works of penitence, nor in any other ceremony or human action. Salvation—with the assurance it brings—is in Christ alone. It is because by His death and resurrection He satisfied God once for all, that those who believe can have assurance of salvation. In what are you trusting—that which brings certainty or that which brings confusion and terror?

Ready to Enter

According to the writer of Hebrews the saints listed in chapter 11 among the faithful all died in faith

 “without receiving the things that were promised.”

As the last verse in the chapter makes clear, this is the point of the words written about them. They believed, their faith led to extraordinary works, they went to be with Christ (which is far better than anything they knew here), but they still were waiting—waiting for the coming of the One Who would finally die, once for all, that they might be assured of life eternal. God was waiting for us to arrive on the scene—and believe. How wonderful that He and they patiently waited for us.

But patience is one of the great biblical virtues; it is not merely another piece of the Spirit’s fruit.  How good God has been to us (as He was to them) to postpone the fulfillment of the promises so that we too could cash in on them. The day when we rise to meet the Lord in the air, and all that occurs subsequently, is yet in the future, but we have come right up to it. We could not be closer without being inside enjoying the festivities of Hebrews 13:22-24! It’s as if we were standing in the vestibule looking through the glass doors at the joyous gathering inside. As we die, the door opens and we join the crowd!

THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL PICTURE OF THAT DAY FOUND IN THIS CHAPTER!

Living Right?

Christians often wonder about their lives—“Am I living the sort of life that pleases God?” some ask themselves (sometimes every day!). They think “I know that I still sin frequently; I haven’t by any Scriptural standard become all that God wants me to be.”  They wonder, “How does God see me when He sees my heart and my works?”

There are a number of indices by which you may begin to find answers to your questions (see especially 1 John), but there is one in particular that I wish to mention. Listen to Psalm 97:10:

You who love the Lord, hate evil.

How strongly do you hate? If there is no hatred in your life, there is something dead wrong.  Hatred for evil is a determining factor in whether or not you love God as you should. In some ways, the strength of your love for God is your hatred for evil—especially in yourself!

If evil doesn’t disturb you, and you have become cavalier about it, so that when you encounter evil not even the slightest bit of anger whelms up within—then something is wrong: dead wrong! You’d better begin examining your true love in terms of a true hatred—for sin and its effects.

Your love for God is determined by your hatred for evil (in part) because God hates evil. If you are not moved to anger, let alone hatred, over evil, it is time to do something about it.

“How can I change?” you ask. By beginning to think God’s thoughts after Him.  Until you think as He does about sin in His world, you will not love Him as you ought. How can you begin to think His thoughts? By studying the Bible—more and more to discover How He thinks!

There Are Options

There is a sort of legalistic view that misunderstands and, therefore, misapplies the doctrine of predestination by failing to allow for human agency. It turns out to be very close to fatalism.

I’m talking about the sort of teaching that says, “Well you’ve got to find the right girl (fellow)—the one God has for you. If you don’t, you’ll be in misery the rest of your life for having missed out on “God’s perfect will” for you. You will be saddled with a second rate existence as the result.”

You see, there just isn’t any such thing in Scripture as “missing out on God’s perfect will.”

God’s decretive will is always accomplished. And it is established by the use of responsible, human agency. Sure, many Christians make bad choices about their life companions—and some do live in misery. But they are not “stuck” in some lesser-than-best situation about which nothing can be done to remedy it!

No genuine Christian is doomed to live on some sort of a second level existence. There is always the possibility for change through repentance, sanctification, and the blessings that accrue from it. If I didn’t believe in such possibility for radical change, so as to turn bad choices into good outcomes by the grace of God, I wouldn’t have counseled anyone. There is no perfect one for you—the options are always there so long as the other persons considered are genuine believers.

But even then—if one happens to be married to an unbeliever (not a legitimate option) God, according to 1 Corinthians 7, can save and transform the unbeliever. And if He doesn’t, a repentant believer, living according to the Word of God, can lead a joyous life.

Tulipburger

Some time ago, I wrote an article for RC Sproul’s little monthly magazine Table Talk. In it I wanted to stress some aspects of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism.” As you know, the word T-U-L-I-P is used as a means of remembering each of the points. T stands for total depravity; U for unconditional election, L for limited atonement, I for irresistible grace, and P for perseverance of the saints.

Now, many people find no difficulty in accepting four of the five points, notably, the first and last two in the word. I wanted to stress the fact that in leaving out the L, they not only mess up the word TULIP, but their own theology, and at the same time, miss what is, in many respects, the main doctrine of the five. So, I devised the TULIPBURGER.

Let me explain. The T and the P are like the two pieces of bun that hold a burger together—absolutely essential, but, in themselves, hardly a burger at all. I liken the U and the I to the lettuce and the tomato. Better, but still not a burger. Lastly, I suggest that the L is like the meat in the center. Truly, the idea of limited atonement is the “meat” of Calvinism. To hold to the fact that Jesus didn’t die for “mankind,” or, as that means, persons in general—but for persons in particular, is essential to having a “Personal Savior.” I’m delighted, that with the apostle I can say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” I agree with Luther who, when commenting on the first verse of the 23rd Psalm said, “Thank God for personal pronouns.”

To realize that Jesus’ death was 100% effective; that He didn’t die for people in general, but that He knew His sheep, and called them by name, and gave His life for each one of them individually is a blessed truth, not to be omitted from the burger. Because He did, therefore, every one of them will have eternal life. It is a rich doctrine not to be lost by focusing on buns, lettuce and tomato alone, while forgetting the meat.

Jesus didn’t come to make salvation possible—He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” God was satisfied with His death for everyone for whom He died. He didn’t die needlessly for millions who would reject Him. He knew all that the Father had given Him, and said that not one of them would be lost. They would all be saved. After all, if Jesus’ death for sin really did satisfy God’s justice for any, it would also do so for all. So, if He died for all—all would be saved. Of course, we know that isn’t true. Yet, if universal atonement were true, then God could hardly punish men and women for eternity for whom Christ had already suffered the punishment. There is no double jeopardy. And therefore, there is no burger unless it is a TULIPBURGER!

Buy Now!

Several weeks ago I explained what was happening with a number of Jay Adams’ book titles. Today I have an update you will want to hear. Our friends at Timeless Texts have made good progress in selling down much of their inventory but they have a significant overstock on 14 titles. That is great news for you! For a limited time they are offering an unheard of 75% discount on these books. Now is the time to buy!

One of my favorite books is The Grand Demonstration which features Jay’s careful exegesis of Romans 9 and makes clear the nature of God’s sovereign grace in lives of His people. I have given away scores of these books over the years and now I will be stocking up again. Your counselee, your bible study group, and your family need to hear the message of this book. At this price, you can order 20 copies and give them away.

Another important book included in this great deal is Winning the War Within. In recent years some confusing teaching has come forward on the subject of sanctification and it has even infected some corners of the biblical counseling movement. This book is the solution. At this great price you can buy one or two dozen and give them to counselees and others who may be confused on this important theological issue.

You should own every one of these books but let me highlight another. A Thirst for Wholeness is easily the bestselling of these 14 titles—for good reason. This is a topical study of the book of James. Countless small groups have used this book and now, yours can too at a price you will never see again.

One of the most astonishing and grievous charges leveled against Jay Adams personally, and Nouthetic counseling generally, is that it is somehow dispassionate and unconcerned with the suffering of God’s people. Those who level this charge are either uninformed and therefore careless in their accusations or they are dishonest. Jay’s book Compassionate Counseling gives lie to this canard. This is a must read book.

These books and more are now available to you at 75% off. Go to the Timeless Texts website, grab these deals now, and fill in the holes on your Jay Adams shelf. And, even more unbelievably, if you spend over $50 they will ship for free!

 

Drive Away?

Then, there’s the elder who, by his words and actions, has driven off the last three pastors.

It seems that he’s as actively at it in his old age as he was when he was young. Age hasn’t mellowed him; it has just provided him time to dream up new and more effective ways of doing what he does best.

Now, you come as pastor to the church. Rapidly, you discover the fact that the last two men remained as ministers of the church for only two years; the one before them leaving after two months. The word is out that elder so-and-so “drove them off.” You have a problem on your hands. Because you won’t encourage gossip, you seek no more information. Rather, you have decided to deal with any problems that may be forth-coming if and when they happen.

It isn’t long before elder S&S provides you with your first opportunity. It really isn’t important to go into the matter in any depth. The details of the issue are not important to the present discussion. What we want to focus on is the dynamics of the interchange that brought them to a head—and what occurred thereafter.

Elder S&S was opposed. The fact, in itself isn’t all that important; he was often opposed to much that the pastor and other elders wanted to do. Sometimes, the group allowed him to stifle ideas and suggestions; less often, they stood up for their views—especially when little was at stake! He’d become angered, but not hot-headed over such matters. But the issue at hand was, on the occasion in view, one in which much was at stake. The future growth of the congregation seemed to inseparably bound up in it. As pastor, you are anxious to see it happen for the welfare of all concerned—including elder S&S. Most of the seven other elders agree with your judgment. But four of them are weak and unwilling to stand for what they believe if it comes to a fight. They just “don’t have the stomach for it,” they say. Yet, they believe the project is necessary for the church’s welfare.

But old S&S doesn’t see it that way.

And, it isn’t long into the meeting before he lets everyone know it. Characteristically, he expresses his will in such a way that there could be no doubt where he stands. That’s OK. But, then, in addition, he begins to berate the pastor—you—who presented the matter to the board. Without elaborating upon the offensive manner in which he does so, what he says is, “This simply won’t happen! I’ll see to that. If a young, newly manufactured seminary product thinks he can come into this church and change things, he’ll find out differently.” All of the other elders freeze and look at you. How will you respond?

You say (calmly, but firmly), “Elder S&S, you are certainly welcome to your opinion—and I’m glad that you express it so strongly—but you are not going to get away with insulting anyone here—including me! I expect you to ask for forgiveness before we go any further. You know, I’m sure, what Paul said to Timothy: “Don’t let anybody despise your youth. . . “ (I Timothy 4:12). I have been ordained by the church of Jesus Christ—just as you have—and we must both respect that authority. I have not mentioned the fact that you are an aged elder, though that too is a fact. Indeed, I should respect your gray head, as the Scriptures indicate, and I intend to do so. Now, I’m ready to forgive you as soon as you ask for it.”

I shall not continue the scenario, although that would be of interest. The question is, will you, when faced with such an insult and challenge to your authority—as the three previous pastors did—allow the church to be run by one man who, by insults and threats, has dominated the scene so forcefully that not only pastors, but over the years, elders and members as well, have found more congenial quarters elsewhere. If you were to submit to the domination of elder S&S, you too would be out of there before you know it. It is time for someone to stand toe-to-toe and eye to eye with such a person. And that somebody is YOU.

 

The Preacher’s Library

You used to be able to tell a lot about a preacher—and about his preaching—simply by walking into his library. If it was filled with catchy titles, how-to manuals, frothy experience-oriented fluff, as well as second-rate commentaries, you could know that isn’t the place to hang your hat as a church member. But things have changed. Now, a man can have an entire library on a computer’s disc that includes volumes that were once inaccessible, and with translations galore at his fingertips. It has become very hard to judge a man by his books (unless he‘s an old foggy like some of us), because all of the good stuff can be hidden away on a hard drive.

But, were you to be able to become aware of what he has on shelves and on disks—and how frequently the good stuff is used—you’d know what you used to know from visiting his library.

Preacher, we can’t tell anymore. That may be a blessing to all. But one thing is true: you know what your library (of both books and computer programs) is like, and of greater importance, you know how often you use the resources at your disposal. We don’t know, until we hear you preach. Then, over a period of time, we can surmise what kind of sources you are using and how hard you are working at exegesis.

What a preacher focuses on will determine what kind of ministry he has. Is it an exegetically-based ministry, or is a ministry of the popularization of modern themes? Do you really feed hungry sheep the bread of life, or do you hand over hand-me-downs from other preachers? Do you focus on sensational topics? Are you a prophecy hound? Do you always avoid the tough passages? Are your people being entertained—or are they learning? Do your people go away challenged, convicted, caring? Does your preaching edify? These should be matters of deep concern.

It has been historically true, and doubtless is and will continue to be true, that a man who is well read, who has good sources and uses them well, is more likely to have a fruitful and longer ministry than the one who doesn’t. He will tend to become a better exegete, he will be well-read in biblical and church history, he will be able to draw upon a wealth of systematic and practical theology, and his congregation will become the better for it. How does your library look, pastor?

Speaking of exegesis, how do you do it? Do you cobble together bits and pieces from various commentaries into some explanation of the preaching portion? Or do you do the hard work of figuring out for yourself what the passage says, using various commentaries to help you? Between these two approaches to the text, there is a large difference. That for which you have worked will come through in your preaching as authentic. That which has been cribbed from some commentator who did the work, will come through as inauthentic (unless, of course, you are an astute actor). Hard work requires using a goodly number of sources to help you come to valid decisions about a passage. But it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying. Are you guilty of this sin, preacher? If so, repent, and begin to do the right thing that you know, down deep, you ought to be doing. Rightly handling the Word of God is not only work, but a great responsibility.

There Are Ways

There are ways and then there are ways! How something is done can make all the difference. Sometimes, when people read books about counseling, the cold print seems to indicate coldness of attitude on the part of the counselor. Especially can this be true when it is necessary to hold a counselee to his responsibilities before God. But it is important to know that the “necessity” just mentioned is two-fold.

  1. It is for the counselee’s benefit
  2. God requires it

Now, as I said, in making that point, it all depends on how you do so. There is a firm, rigorous adherence to the Scriptures that is absolutely essential to good counseling. There can be no compromise about this: what God requires, must be insisted upon. That is on the one hand. However, that insistence can be made in a spirit of loving care and concern, or in the spirit of the proverbial schoolmarm, using the hickory stick.

Granted, with recalcitrant counselees, verbal hickory sticks may be appropriate on rare occasions. But only when one digs in his heels and refuses to do what he knows that God requires. But even then, there is no need for the counselor to be harsh. Indeed, if he has half a heart, he will be crestfallen, will even plead, and will grieve if the counselee turns away from the truth.

He knows also that God’s people are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That means he will bend over backwards to be certain that every counselee knows precisely what God’s word teaches about his situation. He would have no one walk away from counseling ignorant of the biblical facts. This is not because he wants to cram the Scriptures down throats, but because he knows that in that book lies all the hope that one could ever have for solving his problems.

At every turn, in every situation, then, he is to exercise patience. His is to be a shepherdly care, at all times exhibited in honoring the Lord by ministering to His sheep. Whenever he fails to understand this and, instead, develops a cold, professional, white-coated manner, he has departed from his God-given role. Neither rudeness, roughness, austerity, nor complacency becomes a shepherd. He goes to length to save and restore all who stray.

So—let’ have no more of this effrontery! Let’s have no more false accusations hurled! Let’s have a true picture presented—please?

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