Lesson 4: Personal Spiritual GrowthRelated Media
The best measure of a spiritual life is not its ecstasies but its obedience. ― Oswald Chambers
There is a Chinese Proverb that says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials” The Apostle Paul stated: “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).” Paul assures us as Christians that what God started in us he will finish. It will be perfected or matured until the Lord Jesus returns. But how does a disciple of Jesus grow in his or her Christian life? What does it take to mature in the faith? What is God doing in the process? What is our role and what does a well-balanced Christian life look like? How can I make the decisions that God wants me to make? These are some of the questions that this lesson is designed to answer. The purpose of this lesson is to encourage us along the path of spiritual maturity.
There are seven aspects of personal spiritual growth that need to be understood as one goes through the process of growing in an intimate relationship with God and others. They are: 1) the cost of discipleship; 2) the larger picture of what God is doing and being Spirit filled; 3) the role of trials and rewards in spiritual growth; 4) basic Christian disciplines in our relationships with God and people, 5) the importance of good works in growth, 6) biblical decision making, and 7) having an eternal perspective.
The Cost of Discipleship
We can start with the definition of a disciple. A disciple is a learner; a disciple of Jesus is one who learns and lives from the teachings of Jesus himself and those whom Jesus directly taught (the apostles). One discipleship ministry called the Navigators gives this definition: “A disciple continues in the Word, loves others, bears fruit, and puts Christ first.”1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German pastor who ministered in Germany during the difficult days of Adolf Hitler. His ministry and resistance of the Nazi regime eventually led to his execution toward the very end of the European portion of the war. In his work the Cost of Discipleship he writes, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth . . . . The disciple places himself at the Master’s disposal, but at the same time retains the right to dictate his own terms. But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a program of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves.”2 The call to spiritual growth is the call to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s a call to be more like Jesus. It’s a call to submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus. Jesus summarized the cost of discipleship with a vivid metaphor: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). This leads us to the importance of understanding what God has done and is doing in our life.
What is God doing with a disciple’s life? When considering this, one must understand God’s purpose or goal, that he is moving all Christians towards Christlikeness. Paul explains God’s plan: “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”
(Rom 8:29). God is chipping away at the stuff in a Christian’s life that is not like Christ to bring forth an image that is. He is molding us into a perfect piece of pottery so to speak. God is promising every believer in Jesus Christ that he will get him or her to this goal. The theological term for this is sanctification. Sometimes when God chips away and molds his grooves we feel the impact of it. God is using at least three means to propel believers in this direction: 1) the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, 2) trials, and 3) rewards.
The Role of the Holy Spirit. One way that God is conforming believers into the image of Christ is through the work and empowerment or filling of the Holy Spirit. When we were saved we received the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit at which time we were indwelt by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 12:13). This occurs one time. The indwelling Spirit gives us the inner spiritual resources to overcome sin. He gives us the desires and abilities to resist temptation and overcome it. As we submit to God’s commands following the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are “filled” with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). This is a continuous process in which we allow the Spirit to direct and control our actions. On the other hand when we sin we stifle the blessing of the Spirit’s activity in our lives. Paul states, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19; NASB) and again, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30).
The Role of Trials. God uses trials to produce spiritual growth in our lives. James writes: “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (Jas 1:2-4). How can one possibly be joyful in difficulties? It’s because God is testing our faith and using the trial to bring us to maturity. We can rejoice not at the painful experience of the trial but at the opportunity for growth. One of my mentors once well said that trials can make us better or bitter.
The Role of Rewards. The Bible uses rewards as a motivation for our obedience. Paul writes, “The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work. . . For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:8-15). Each one of us has two piles of types of work. One pile is the precious metals and stones; these represent the good works we do that God will reward. The other pile is the pile of materials that is burnable. It represents things we do that are not rewardable, not necessarily bad things but things that God does not give us a reward for. So the question we have to ask ourselves as we live our life is what pile are we building on? Are we building on the pile God rewards or the one that will be burned up in the end?
Basic Christian Disciplines
Dawson Trotman was the founder of the discipleship ministry called the Navigators. One illustration that he developed and this group has long used to explain the disciplines of Christian growth is called the Wheel Illustration.
The Wheel Illustration
At the center or hub of the wheel is Christ. He represents what is powering the wheel. For the wheel to roll the hub must supply the power. For the wheel to run smoothly balance is needed between the spokes. The vertical spokes on the wheel represent our relationship with God through prayer and the Word. The horizontal spokes represent our relationship with people by witnessing to nonchristians and fellowship with Christians. As the Christian is obedient to God’s commands and maintains balance in these Christian disciplines, while relying on the power of Christ, the wheel will roll.
Let’s develop the four Christian disciplines related to this illustration a little more. One of the disciplines related to our relationship with God is the absolutely necessary of the Bible. The Word of God is a catalyst for Christian growth. Peter writes, “And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation” (2 Peter 2:2). The spiritual milk that Peter is talking about is God’s word. How can we get the Word of God more involved in our lives? The more we feed on it, the more we will grow. There are many ways to do this and all of us should be involved in more than one: Quiet time (Just a few minutes each day in the Word and prayer can help us make that personal connection with God), Bible memorization, Bible reading, Bible study, listening to good expository preaching (Sunday morning church, internet posted sermons, Christian radio, etc). D. L. Moody, the 19th century American evangelist once stated, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”
The second Christian discipline related to our relationship with God is prayer. Prayer is our lifeline to God. Paul states, “constantly pray” (1 Thess 5:17). What kind of prayers should we pray: 1) praising God for who he is, 2) praising and thanking God for what he has done, 3) confessing our sins, 4) praying for others in authority or in our circles of relationship, 5) lastly, making requests for ourselves including God’s guidance. One missionary friend of mine was working in a difficult area to share the gospel. He had a plaque over his desk which stated, “Prayer Changes Things.” It was a reminder and encouragement for him to pray every day. E. M. Bounds, Civil War chaplain, pastor, and author summarized the importance of prayer, “Prayer succeeds when all else fails.”
The third Christian discipline, which is related to people, is witnessing or evangelism. We need to share the good news of salvation with others. Paul explains, “I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:14-16). Family, friends, fellow workmates are all people that God has brought into our lives and many of them need exposure to the gospel. Think of the person who shared the gospel with you. Aren’t you glad that they did? Billy Graham stated his goal in life, “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”3
The fourth Christian discipline, also related to people, is fellowship. We need to make a commitment to fellowship with other Christians committed to living out God’s commands. The author of Hebrews emphasizes this. He writes, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). We need to all be involved with a local church. If the church is large, we especially need to be in a small group with a spiritual emphasis.
In one exchange with the Pharisees Jesus was once asked, “What is the most important commandment?” What is interesting is that when Jesus was asked for one commandment he gave them two. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:34-40).4 These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot obey one without the other. We love God by growing in our relationship with him though the Word and prayer. We love our neighbor as ourselves when we share the gospel with the lost and fellowship and grow with other Christians.
The Importance of Good Works
Good works have sometimes been downplayed by Protestant evangelicals due to teachings that have tried to make them as the basis or condition of salvation. While this concern is valid, one should not downplay them in the context of the Christian life, rather they need to be emphasized. While we are not saved by good works we are saved for good works. Paul writes, “We are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them” (Eph 2:10). James adds to this concept pointing out that there is a relationship between faith and works in that good works mature our faith. “You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works . . . . For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”
(Jas 2:22, 26). Years ago, the Salvation Army was holding an international convention and their founder, General William Booth, could not attend because of physical weakness. He cabled his convention message to them. It was one word: “OTHERS.” When we shift our focus of life from our self to others, good works will naturally flow out of a life empowered by God.
Biblical Decision Making
How do I make decisions in my Christian life? Josh McDowell has a helpful pattern for us to follow which can be referred to as the four Cs.5 The first C is 1) Consider the choice. What is right and wrong and who determines this? God is the one who determines what is right and wrong. The Old Testament prophet Micah states, “He [God] has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD really wants from you” (Micah 6:8). Other people may give advice, some of it good and some of it bad, but we have to come to grips with the fact that God alone has the ultimate authority of what is the right course to take. The second C is 2) Compare it to God’s Word. What does the Scripture have to say about what God want you to do? Since the Scripture is God’s revelation to man it is the message that God wants us to follow. In the Psalms we read, “Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path” (Ps 119:105). The third C is 3) Choose the biblical way. Make a commitment that you will follow the biblical way as the way that God wants you to go. “Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose” (Ps 25:12). The fourth and last C is 4) Count on God for protection and provision. As we follow God’s path, we can trust him for the outcome and blessing that he wants for us. Moses wrote, “All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the LORD your God” (Deut 28:2).
Concluding Eternal Perspective
Lastly, Christians need to be able to see beyond the here and now to the reality of what lies ahead. We need to be able to live in view of the light at the end of the tunnel. If we have an eternal perspective, understand what God is doing with us and where we are heading, we will be in a good position to grow in the grace that God has given us being conformed to the image of his Son. Paul writes, “Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
- In its historical context, why do you think Jesus used the concept of “taking up the cross” as a metaphor for discipleship (Matt 16:24)?
- Should we as Christians obey out of love only or is the concept of rewards a good motivation to serve God as well?
- What has worked for you and what has not worked in trying to have a quiet time?
- What has worked for you and what has not worked in trying to have a prayer life?
- Why don’t some Christians go to church?
- In sharing the gospel, have did you ever have a really good experience doing it? Explain or share.
- In sharing the gospel, have you ever have a really bad experience doing it? Explain or share.
- How does focusing on eternity help us in this present life?
1 Church Discipleship, Vol 11, No 1, the Navigators.
2 Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 64, 66.
3 Billy Graham, (Date accessed November 27, 2012).
4 Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matt 22:34-40).
5 Adapted from the 4 C’s from Josh McDowell, “Setting You Free to Make the Right Choices,” Leaders Guide, 9-10.
Lesson 5: The Study of the BibleRelated Media
The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. ―Martin Luther
It is often rightly said that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. Just looking at the distribution of Bible by the United Bible Societies for 2011 they distributed over 32.1 million Bibles.1 This amounts to about 88,000 Bibles per day. The Bible has been translated in whole or in part in over 4800 languages and this work is still ongoing.2 Scribes have spent countless hours over the course of history to bring forth accurate copies of the biblical manuscripts. William Tyndale died by a fiery execution in his efforts to translate the Bible into English. The Bible has had an amazing history and an amazing impact.
What is the nature of the Bible? Is the Bible without error? Is the Bible authoritative and how did Jesus view the Bible? How did we get it? Who decided what books went into the Bible and why? Why are there differences in Bible translations? The theological term for the study of the Bible is referred to as bibliology. This lesson will survey these critical issues surrounding the book that we base our entire faith and salvation on.
The Nature of the Bible
The Bible itself claims to be inspired by God. Paul states, “Every scripture is inspired by God”
(2 Tim 3:16) and also Peter, “No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet 1:20-21). In essence, we can say that the Bible is “God breathed.” Also, sometimes the inspiration is referred to as verbal and plenary. That is, inspiration applies to all the individual words of the entire Bible. One good theological definition of inspiration is articulated like this, “The act of the Holy Spirit in which He superintended the writers of Scripture so that, while writing according to their own styles and personalities, they produced God’s Word, written, authoritative, trustworthy, and free from error in the original writings.”3
There are two implications of the doctrine of inspiration. The first is that the Bible is a human book. The authors used their own language, writing methods, style of writing and literary forms of writing. For example, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. These were the common human languages of the authors. They used writing materials such as scraped animal skins. Also, the human authors wrote to an audience in a specific historical context for a specific purpose. Moses wrote the law for the nation of Israel as they were about to enter the promised land. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to address certain problems in a church in Greece. In addition, the Bible is influenced by the culture in which the author wrote. Jesus is engaging the Jewish culture; Paul largely is dealing with the Roman and Greek cultures on his missionary journeys. The Bible has over 40 authors and was written over a time period of 1500 years.
The second implication of inspiration is that the Bible is a divine book. As such the Bible is inerrant and authoritative. Also, the Bible has unity of a coherent and consistent message and can be compared with itself for proper interpretation. In addition the Bible has an element of mystery. Some passages may be hard to understand. Lastly, the Bible has an interpretation to it that is intended by God.
A good example of the dual authorship of the Bible can be seen in the example of Matthew 1:22-23 who is citing the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel.’” Notice that the Old Testament passage of Isaiah was spoken “by the Lord,” which indicates the divine ultimate source of what was said. This passage was also spoken “through the prophet,” which indicates a human intermediate source in this case Isaiah. It’s by the Lord and though the prophet. In other words the prophet is the human messenger by which God spoke.
Inerrancy and Challenges to It
A theological definition of inerrancy can be stated as follows, “The teaching that since the Scriptures are given by God, they are free from error in all their contents, including doctrinal, historical, scientific, geographical, and other branches of knowledge.”4 The inerrancy of the Bible is derived from Scripture itself. Deductively one can say that if God is true (and he is; Heb 6:18) and the Bible is inspired as God’s word (which it is; Mark 7:13), then this leads to the doctrine of inerrancy which means that the Bible in its entirety is without error.5 Jesus stated himself that the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) and that even the smallest part of it would be fulfilled (Matt 5:18). Paul saw interpretive significance in a singular word as compared to a plural (Gal 3:16).
Despite the view though of many evangelicals, overtime there has been many challenges to inerrancy and these can be divided into three general categories: 1) alleged contradictions of the Bible with science, 2) alleged contradictions of the Bible with history, and 3) alleged contradictions of the Bible with itself. Let’s just take a look at a few examples of these common objections.
Evolution is often stated as a scientific contradiction to the Bible showing that the Bible is not without error in terms of the science of our origins. But while there is natural variation within species, macro-evolution (e.g., one species evolving to another species) is a theory and not a fact. It has never been observed and is not subject to the scientific method. The most that one can say is that the Bible is not consistent with a theory but this does not prove the Bible has an error when it speaks of the world and man’s origins. Some theologians have tried to reconcile the Bible with evolution by arguing for theistic evolution. Theistic evolution views that God created living things through the evolutionary process itself as understood by science. But this is a difficult exercise that is hard to square with all of the biblical data. For example, in the Bible plants are created on the third day but light is created on the fourth day (Gen 1). The existence of plants before light does not fit into any evolutionary scheme.
Another example sometimes given to argue that the Bible is not scientifically accurate is the case of the mustard seed found in Matthew 13:31. “He [Jesus] gave them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.’” The problem that some people have pointed out is that a wild orchid seed is smaller than the mustard seed. The Bible is then said to be inaccurate. What would a response be to this? Well for one thing, if this is true not only would the Bible be in error, but there would be a larger problem that Jesus spoke the error as well. While various solutions to this dilemma have been given, perhaps the simplest is to look at the statement in context and see that Jesus is referring only to sown seeds. Jesus speaks of a seed “sowed in a field.” The wild orchid is not a sown agricultural seed. Also, within the Judean world view and in their context it was the smallest seed.6
Alleged historical discrepancies have also sometimes been cited as an argument against the inerrancy of the Bible. Prior to the advent of the archeological era of the 19th and 20th centuries, critics often called into question the historicity of the Bible especially the Old Testament in terms of places, peoples and events. However, over time archeological discoveries have often silenced specific historical criticism. One can cite three examples of alleged or once alleged historical inaccuracies that have later been validated by archeological finds: 1) the Hittite Empire: In 1876 and later in 1906 evidence of the Hittite capital and language was discovered at Boghazkoy in modern Turkey; 2) the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah: starting in 1924 excavations were done in the area of the Dead Sea and evidence of cities which had been burned is present during the time of the biblical account; and 3) King David: In 1993 at Tel Dan in Northern Israel a 9th century BC inscription was discovered referring to the “King of Israel” and the “House of David.”7
William Albright was a prominent archeologist and professor at John Hopkins University (1930-1958). He stated, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”8 Nelson Glueck, archeologist and President of Hebrew Union College gave his overall perspective: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.”9
The third area that the Bible’s inerrancy has been challenged on is alleged contradictions with itself. In other words if the Bible claims to be the word of God there should be no real factual contradictions in comparing one passage with another because if there were then one of the passages would be in error. But one has to realize that differences in parallel passages do not necessarily mean there are actual contradictions. Harmonization and understanding the nature of historical reporting most often provides good solutions to differences. For example in a football game on a pass interference play one reporter states the cornerback bumped the receiver while another states the receiver bumped into the cornerback. Both statements while different may be true because they are being reported from a different perspective.
Let’s look at a difference in a parallel passage between Matthew 10 and Mark 10. Are there two blind men or one blind man? Matthew writes, “As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed them. Two blind men were sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” (Matt 10:29-30). But Mark writes, “They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
(Mark 10:46-47).’” Can these passages be harmonized? That is, can both of these accounts be reconciled as true or does one have to be false? Matthew writing to a Jewish audience may wish to confirm the testimony of the blind men (Jesus = the son of David = a Messianic title) by the Jewish required number of at least two (Deut 17:6). Mark chooses to focus on one of the blind men naming him. The fact that Mark reports that one blind man was healed does not preclude that another blind man was also healed on the same occasion. Therefore both accounts can be true even though they contain differenes.
How does one explain the following differences in Peter’s confession at Caesarea Phillipi? The question Jesus asks is slightly different: In Matthew 16:13 Jesus states, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” In Mark 8:27 it’s reported as “Who do people say I am?” And in Luke 9:18, “Who do the crowds say I am?” Peter’s answer in Matthew 16:16 is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In Mark 8:29 it’s, “You are the Christ.” And in Luke 9:20 the reply is reported as, “The Christ of God.” Can one reconcile these differences and if so how? Sometimes the Bible’s authors condense or summarize speeches and events. It does not mean the condensation is inaccurate. This is the nature of historical reporting. For example when the President of the United States gives the annual State of the Union address that lasts one hour, there is a verbatim speech of what he gave. But a reporter comes on the TV and gives a five minute accurate summary of what was said. The summary is correct but is condensed from the entire verbatim speech. This practice is considered accurate reporting of what was said. It’s not erroneous.
The Authority of the Bible
If the Bible is God’s word then the implication is that as God has authority over his creation, then his Word would also have authority over us. The term Sola Scriptura comes from the Latin which means, “by Scripture alone.” This was one of the major themes of the Protestant Reformation. Simply it means that the Scripture alone is our supreme authority to all other authorities in matters of faith and practice. The author of Hebrews writes, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12). As Martin Luther said, “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”10 How did Jesus view the Bible? Jesus appealed to the authority of the Bible when he was tempted in the wilderness and in his arguments in citing the Old Testament stated “it is written” (Matt 4:1-11). Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place (Matt 5:18).” And “If those people to whom the word of God (= Old Testament Psalm) came were called `gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken)”(John 10:35). These verses suggest that Jesus believed even the smallest portion of Scripture down to the letter or even the part of a letter would come to pass; none of it can be broken or nullified. The Scripture is what is authoritative in regard to truth and how that truth relates to us.
The Canon of the Bible
The term canon is from the Greek word kanon meaning reed or straight rod thus a “standard.” By the 4th century A.D. for the New Testament, it is what was applied to a list or a collection of books that met a prescribed standard recognized by the church. Now in a theological sense, the canon refers to the closed collection of Jewish and early Christian writings that are divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture for the beliefs and practices of the church.
Principles of the Canonicity of the Bible
The basic guideline for whether a book was included in the Old Testament canon was if it had a prophetic origin (Deut 18). The Old Testament canon is divided between the Law (or Torah), Prophets (or Neviim) and Writings (or Kethuvim). This is referred to as the Tanakh. For the New Testament the basic guideline was and is apostolic origin or association. For the Gospels, Matthew and John were apostles while Mark was an associate with Peter and Luke was an associate with Paul (cf. also Acts). For the Epistles Paul, Peter, Jude, James, John, the author of Hebrews11 and Revelation (John) were either apostles or associates of them. Other factors for New Testament canonicity included universality that is that the writings applied to the whole church (geographical and time); orthodoxy: that the writing in agreement and not conflict with the teaching of Jesus, the apostles and with the rest of the canon; and traditional usage: whether the book was used in the early first century church.
One historical factor that led to a formal list of the canon was heretical writings and groups who were making competing claims for authority. An example is the abridged canon of the heretic Marcion (A.D. 140) who left Jewish elements of the Bible out. He abandoned the Old Testament and only accepted Paul’s writings (except the pastorals letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) and Luke. There was also the expanded Canon of Montanus, who wanted his prophecies to be included and be elevated to canonical status.12 It is best to understand that the church recognized what the canon was as opposed to determining it. In some cases, it took some time for the entire church to recognize the entire collection of books.
What about books written between the Old Testament and New Testament (mostly 250 BC-AD 100) that are referred to as the Apocrypha? There are 15 books in this category: 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh and 1&2 Maccabees. The church father Jerome included them in the Latin Vulgate but separated them from the canon describing them as “Deuterocanonical.” In response to the strong position against these books by the reformers in 1546 the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent declared them all canonical (except the Prayer of Manasseh and 1&2 Esdras). The Apocryphal books should not be part of the canon because: 1) they are not accepted in the New Testament as authoritative as seen by the fact there are no direct quotations from them; 2) they never make the claim to be inspired or say, “Thus says the Lord” like the Old Testament does; 3) they are not part of the Hebrew Bible and the Jews never viewed the books as authoritative or canonical and they wrote them; and 4) the Council of Trent in 1546 was the first official proclamation on the matter for their canonicity and this was 1500 years after the books were written.13
Why the Canon is Closed
Perhaps the strongest argument for the canon’s close is that there is no longer the apostolic office to originate or validate the writings (cf. 1 Cor 9:1–2; 2 Cor 12:11; Eph 2:20). An important criteria to be an apostle is that one had to have seen the resurrected Jesus and been appointed by him. Paul states that these men as well as the prophets formed the foundation for the church, which has already been laid.
How We Received the Bible
Most of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew. It was written over a period of over 1400 years from Moses (and probably before) to the last book of the Old Testament Malachi. The text was transmitted by Jewish scribes, experts in the Old Testament. The Masoretic Text refers to the Hebrew Old Testament text that Jewish scribes14 in the Middle Ages received with consonants only and they added vowels to it. These vowels aided in the pronunciation and interpretation of the text. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained Old Testament biblical manuscripts some of which were 1000 years earlier than other manuscripts that we previously had. Some sections of the Old Testament were originally written in Aramaic (Gen 31:47; Jer 10:11; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26); Dan 2:4b-7:28). The entire New Testament is written in Koine Greek which was a period of Greek language that last from about the time of Alexander the Great (300 BC) to Constantine (300 A.D.). The New Testament text was transmitted by Christian scribes and there are over 5600 Greek manuscripts (2nd to 15th A.D).
An example of a Hebrew Old Testament Verse (Genesis 1:1)
בּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
An example of a Koine Greek New Testament Verse (John 14:6)
λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή· οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι᾿ ἐμοῦ.
Early Bible Translations
The purpose of Bible translation is to get the Bible into a native language that people can understand. There were many early Bible translations that preceded any effort to get one into English. For the Old Testament some of these early translations were the Koine Greek Septuagint (LXX) which was started in the 3rd Century B.C., the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Jewish Targums and the Latin Vulgate done by Jerome 400 A.D. Early translations of the New Testament were also done starting in the second century A.D. in Coptic (Egyptian), Latin, and Syriac.
Brief History of the English Bible
John Wycliffe (1330-1384) is credited as being the first person inspiring the effort toward a complete English translation though his followers did the actual work15. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate. Here is a verse from the Wycliffe translation. Matt 22:37-40: Thou schalt love thi Lord God of al thin herte, and of al thi soule and of al thi mynde, and thi neighebore as thi self, for in these twey comaundements hangith al the lawe and prophetis. The Wycliffe translation was copied by hand as it preceded the development of the printing press. In 1415, Wycliffe was condemned by the church, his followers were jailed and Wycliffe’s bones were dug up, burned and ashes scattered in a river. William Tyndale (1492-1536) was the first to use Greek and Hebrew manuscripts for an English translation. He explained that the reason he did it was for the common man: “I will cause a boy that drives a plow to know more of the Scripture than a learned scholar.”16 Many modern renderings of English Bible phrases can be traced back to Tyndale. John 14:6: “Iesus sayd vnto him: I am the waye verite and lyfe. Noman cometh vnto the father but by me.” He was the first to complete a printed edition of English Bible and six thousand printed copies of the English Bible were smuggled into England. Tyndale was hounded and eventually burned at the stake for the translation and prayed as he was being burned, “Lord open the King’s eyes.”
God answered Tyndale’s prayer and later the English King began to allow the English Bible into the church. Following Tyndale’s translation there was: The Coverdale Bible (1535); Matthew’s Bible (1537); The Tavner Bible (1539); The Great Bible (1539); The Geneva Bible (1560; Bible used by the Pilgrims); The Bishops Bible (1568); The Douai-Rheims Bible (1609-10). These were largely revisions of each other. In 1603 King James I took the throne of England. He was unhappy with the Calvinist notes in Geneva Bible and the anti-protestant notes in the Douay-Rheims Bible. The King wanted to have one standard Bible for the English church. So he supported 50 scholar/translators to complete the King James Bible, which they did in 1611. The King also controlled the English presses which helped to ensure the translation’s widespread use. The King James Version underwent revisions in 1629, 1638, 1762, 1769 (Current KJV), and 1982 (New King James Version (NKJV)).17 Starting with the English Revised Version in 1885, many other English translation followed: 1901 American Standard Version; 1952 Revised Standard Version (RV) (1971; Protestant); 1989 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (Protestant); 1958 The Phillips Bible (Evangelical.); 1960/95 The New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Evangelical.); 1966 Jerusalem Bible (JB); 1985 New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) (Catholic); 1971 The Living Bible (LB) and 1996 New Living Translation (NLT)(Evangelical); 1979 New International Version (NIV) (1984; 2005 TNIV; 2011 (Evangelical); 1993 The Message (Evangelical); 1995 Contemporary English Version (CEV)(Evangelical); 2004 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) (Evangelical); 2005 The NET Bible 2001; and The Evangelical Standard Version (2007, 2011; Evangelical).18
Types of Bible Translations
Many people who read different Bible translations wonder why there are differences in Bible translations. One of the main reasons for these differences is differing translation philosophies. The three major translation philosophies are termed Dynamic Equivalence, Word Equivalence, and Paraphrase. Dynamic Equivalence translations seek to express the meaning of the text in a way that is idiomatic in English. It is more concerned about good stylistic English and willing to forgo some literalness to accomplish this objective. It usually results in translations that are easier to read and understand. These types of translations are also more interpretive to what the translators think the text means. Examples of Dynamic Equivalent translations are: NIV, NLT, CEV, (NET and HCSB in part). Word Equivalence translations are more literal to the language structure of the original text. The translations seek to produce the semantic equivalence of each word and represent it in the translation. This type of translation is usually harder to read. Also, sometimes these may confuse what the author means with an unfamiliar idiom. They are generally less interpretive in translation and allow for more interpretive options translating what text says not what it means necessarily. Examples of Word Equivalent translations are: NASB, NKJV, RSV (NET and HCSB in part). Paraphrases are not translations from the original language, but someone putting something in their own words as to how they would say it. Examples of Paraphrases are the Living Bible and The Message. Below is a comparison of how different types of translations render Psalm 1:1.
Comparison of Ps 1:1
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.
How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers!
How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers.
How well God must like you– you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College
Notice how the word equivalence rendering of the NASB translated the Hebrews words very literally as “walk”, “stand” and “sit”. The NET keeps two of three of these renderings but on the first one translates, “follow” for a more literal “walk.” The HCSB renders all three terms in a dynamic equivalence fashion “follow” for “walk”, “take” for “stand” and “join” for “sit”. The Message speaks for itself.
The Bible has an amazing history of how it came to be and how it came to us. It is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. People, some of them to the point of death, have dedicated themselves to get the Bible into our hands. John Wycliffe states the importance of God’s word: “God’s words will give men new life more than other words that are for pleasure. O marvelous power of the Divine Seed which overpowers strong men in arms, softens hard hearts, and renews and changes into godly men, those men who had been brutalized by sins and departed infinitely far from God.”
- If we as Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God and inerrant how should this affect our interaction with it?
- What challenges to the reliability of the Bible have you encountered? How have you responded?
- What are some questions you have about what books are included in the canon and what books are not? Are you comfortable with it?
- Are there any differences in the Bible that you think are very difficult or cannot be reconciled? What are they?
- What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having so many Bible translations?
- What Bible translation do you like and why?
- How does the fact that Tyndale died to get the English Bible completed and distributed help you appreciate the Bible we have?
1 (Date accessed November 27, 2012).
2 (Date accessed November 27, 2012).
3 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), 715.
4 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 713-714.
5 See Norm Geisler, (Date Accessed Nov 28, 2012).
6 Other less attractive solutions have been to see the statement as proverbial or as seeing the reference to the seed as “very small” as opposed to “smallest”. But in any case the different possibilities are a demonstration that a scientific error what Jesus said cannot be proved.
7 See Patrick Zukeran, (Date accessed Nov 27, 2012).
8 William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956), 176.
9 Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
10 Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, 15.
11 Even though we do not know for sure who wrote Hebrews it seems clear that at least he had an association with the apostles (Heb 2:3-4).
12 James Davis, “Class Notes Critical Issues and Bible Backgrounds – New Testament Portion,” Capital Bible Seminary, 2009; Köstenburger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown (Nashville: Broadman Holman Publishers, 2009) 8-10.
13 Credit is given to Dr. Todd Beall for most of the ideas in this paragraph. Todd Beall, “Class Notes Critical Issues and Bible Backgrounds- Old Testament Portion,” Capital Bible Seminary, 2004.
14 The Jewish scribes of this historical era were called Masoretes which means “tradition.” See .
15 F. F. Bruce, The English Bible A History of Translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), 12-13.
16 F. F. Bruce, The English Bible A History of Translation, 29.
17 Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version in the Great Tradition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993) 9-18.
18 Andreas Köstenburger and David A. Croteau, eds, Which Bible Translation Should I Use? (Nashville: Broadman Holman Publishers, 2012), vi.
19 Peterson notes that the Message was not intended to be a replacement for other translations: “When I’m in a congregation where somebody uses [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, “Hear the Word of God from The Message.” But it surprises me how many do.” Eugene Peterson, “I didn’t Want to Be Cute,” Christianity Today (October 2002) (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/october7/33.107.html?start=2) (Date accessed March 5, 2013).
20 The HCSB editors prefer to term their translation approach as “optimal equivalence” using word equivalence where they can but dynamic equivalence when deemed necessary. Andreas Köstenburger and David A. Croteau, eds, Which Bible Translation Should I Use, 117.
6. Our Fierce Faithfulness (Matthew 25:14-30)Related Media
Jesus and Our Stuff (part six)
The way we define success will explain the direction of our lives. Our world weighs, measures, and counts the wrong things to determine one's level of success. We can sometimes be enticed to chase after the world's success, with the result that our priorities get shuffled. Instead, we should invest our time, our abilities, and our resources in a manner that would please the One who gave us these things in the first place. This perspective helps us properly define success using one very important word: It is required of a steward that he be found "faithful."
Issue 014. 2013 November Bible.org Translator's Newsletter
This last month has been a slow one for translation posting, but we are thankful for the interactions that we have had and for the translations that are currently in process!
If you are not currently working on a translation I would encourage you to consider perusing the site (or our ) to find one that looks interesting and helpful. Just a small commitment each week will result in a resource that millions can use.
Hints and Tips
Tip: have you ever wondered how to handle Greek or Hebrew text that is within an article you are translating?
If there is a downloadable Word document with the article that you are translating, then you can simply copy and paste the Greek or Hebrew into the correct location in your translation. If no Word document is available then simply copying and pasting from the web page will work as well. Sometimes there may be more font or style issues with that kind of cutting/pasting. So please feel free to let us know if it looks like there are any issues that we should keep an extra eye out for in our final formatting.
Know someone else who is bilingual?
If you know of anyone else who would have the time and skills to translate articles for Bible.org please consider recommending this ministry to them. Sometimes the most obvious gifts (like preaching or being a leader) are not the ones with the most impact or need. This is a real opportunity to meet a need and impact thousands and thousands of people with the truth of God’s Word.
Need help, have questions, or prefer to meet in real time?
I am available and would love to answer any questions you might have. We do have a section on our Group page, but you can always send me an email! I can also be available through Skype for a voice or chat conversation. Simply let me know through email that you would like to talk and we will get it worked out.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Related Topics: Administrative and Organization
7. Our Eternal Endowments (Luke 16:1-9)Related Media
Jesus and Our Stuff (part seven)
Jesus taught us to be faithful with all that God has entrusted to us. That involves using our minds while investing wisely with an eternal perspective, knowing that such investments yield the greatest return. Our generosity should extend beyond believers to include those who are lost without the Gospel. We can earn an audience with them by conveying that they are more valuable than our earthly property. Sacrificing our stuff for the sake of another's soul should be an easy decision. Let us seize every opportunity to invest earthly belongings for the sake of the lost that we might be welcomed into their eternal homes one day.
The Net Pastor's Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 9 Fall 2013
Fall 2013 Edition
Produced by ...
Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
“Strengthening the Church in Biblical Preaching and Leadership”
Part I: Preaching: The Preparation Of The Preacher
“The Preacher and the Work of God” Pt. 3
By: Dr. Roger Pascoe
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
In the Spring and Summer 2013 editions of this Pastors Journal (published on this website), we discussed the spiritual and personal preparation of the preacher. We are continuing that subject again in this edition. What we are learning is that before you can preach the Word with power, accuracy, and credibility, you need to be spiritually and personally qualified to do so. The person who is qualified to preach the Word is called a “man of God” by the apostle Paul.
We also noticed that, in order to be qualified for the privilege of serving the Lord in ministry, the four main areas that we need to give priority to are: (1) guarding your moral life; (2) directing your home life; (3) nourishing your inner life; and (4) disciplining your ministry life. Last time we completed our discussion of “Guarding Your Moral Life”. In this edition we are going to look at the other three aspects of being a man of God.
Directing Your Home Life (1 Tim. 3:5)
A man’s true character, values, and lifestyle are shown at home. That’s where he is truly himself. John MacArthur says: “Since the pastor is to be a leader of the Lord’s church and a loving parent to the family of God, what better way can he qualify than by proving his spiritual leadership in his own family?” 1 If a man cannot relate well and properly to his wife and children, and if he cannot “rule” his household well, how can he lead the church? (1 Tim. 3:5). Godly leadership in the home is a pre-requisite for leadership in the church. The same sacrificial, servant leadership you would expect from someone leading the church must be evident at home.
Therefore, your family life must be characterized by balance, happiness, submission to the Word, discipline, obedience, love, spontaneity, service, sacrifice for others, mutual respect etc. So, devote adequate and meaningful time and attention to your spouse and family and take responsibility for the spiritual tone and direction in your home by setting the example of spirituality. You are responsible to set the spiritual priority and focus of your home. Since you preach and counsel the priority of the Scriptures and obedience to God in your ministry life, make sure you are an example of that in your family life.
If you do not set the example for, and command the respect of, your spouse and children at home, how can you do so in the church, or mission agency, or para-church ministry?
So let me encourage you to set aside adequate and appropriate time for your spouse and your children. Don’t put them in second place to your ministry or the church. You would probably criticize someone else in your congregation for doing that, so don’t do it yourself. Show your family that you are prepared to set aside other pressing matters because you value them highly. Be accessible to them, be available to them in your presence, your mind, and your emotions.
Take responsibility for the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental well-being of everyone in your home. If you don’t take this responsibility at home, how can you do it in your ministry with any degree of credibility or success?
So men of God must be loving and faithful husbands and fathers.
1. Be A Loving And Faithful Husband (1 Tim. 3:2; cf. Eph. 5:22-33)
I would encourage you to let your wife develop and establish her own identity, exercise her own gifts, rather than deriving her identity from you and your vocation as a pastor. Nonetheless, she needs to be supportive of you in your role as a pastor and her life must enhance what you do, not detract from it.
There are so many sources of stress for pastors’ wives:
- They sometimes feel like they take second place to their husband’s ministry demands, and this may lead to resentment.
- They may feel isolated, with no close friends in the church, which can lead to loneliness.
- They may see their husbands receiving attention from other women in the church, which may lead to jealousy and suspicion.
- They often feel pressure to appear perfect, which leads to them trying to keep up a false appearance, attempting to please everybody.
- They live in a spiritual “fishbowl” at church, which can lead to spiritual fatigue.
- Sometimes pastors do not earn much money, which can cause their wives to resent the financial pressures.
- Sometimes, there is a breakdown of intimacy and togetherness in the marriage as well as lack of mutual support due to the demands of ministry, which can lead to coldness, anger, anxiety, depression, and sexual withdrawal.
All of these sources of stress can lead to marital difficulties. So let’s be loving, sensitive, supportive, and faithful to our wives.
2. Be A Loving And Faithful Father (1 Tim. 3:4; Eph. 6:4)
Be kind and gentle to your children (cf. 1 Thess. 2:7, 11). By your relationship with their mother and your Christian testimony show your children what it is to be a godly, consistent Christian. If you expect to be used by God to be the spiritual leader of the church, start by being the spiritual leader of your children.
Remember to never use your children as illustrations from the pulpit, not even if they agree to it. Children tend to easily agree to such things but when they are publicly spotlighted they may secretly resent it.
Don’t neglect spending time with your children. There is no such thing as “quality” time that somehow makes up for lack of “quantity” of time. What your children need is your time and attention.
Your family is of paramount importance. It’s a responsibility you are charged with when you have children. You can’t get out of it. So step up and take that responsibility as a godly leader.
Don’t ever let your children feel that they take second place - not even to ministry – or they will quickly resent it. If ministry and family responsibilities are in conflict on a regular basis, simply adjust your ministry schedule.
Give your children space as they grow up to become the individuals God has created them to be. Often, children raised in pastors’ homes feel pressured to be perfect. If your wife feels like she is living in a fishbowl, how much more do your children! So, let’s not add to that pressure by making them conform to other people’s expectations. We can help them deal with that by maintaining privacy in our homes and by helping them live as normal a childhood as possible.
Finally, let’s protect them from becoming cynical by not discussing church problems in front of our children.
Nourishing Your Inner Life
In ministry you expend a tremendous amount of emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical energy. Not only does ministry make its demands on the total personality, but it easily becomes all-absorbing. Before you know it, you have no life or interests outside your ministry. For this reason, you must discipline yourself to take care of your personal well-being, to set aside time for:
1. Spiritual Restoration
If you are a local church pastor, you are giving out to your congregation all the time – encouraging, exhorting, warning, counselling, preaching, teaching. If you do this long enough without being fed spiritually yourself, you will eventually run dry. On one occasion Jesus told his disciples to come apart into a desert place for a period of rest.
You need to be fed spiritually. How can you do this? One way is to have someone else minister to you. Listen to other preachers, read devotional books, attend conferences, or invite guest preachers on a regular basis to preach for you - it’s good for the church and for you. Whatever way you decide to receive spiritual restoration, discipline yourself to engage in it regularly so that your spiritual batteries don’t run down.
2. Mental Rejuvenation
A healthy mental life requires mental relaxation as well as stimulation. Mental relaxation may take different forms such as regular vacations, walks with your spouse, an evening of good fellowship with friends with whom you can relax and be yourself. And don’t forget to schedule time to be alone – solitude is good, especially for mental relaxation.
The opposite is also needed - mental stimulation. The apostle Paul wrote: “Whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). “These things” stimulate your mind with good thoughts and challenging subjects that will edify you.
Don’t become lazy or defiled in your thinking. You can keep your mind alert and stimulated by:
- Reading good books on a variety of subjects
- Associating with like-minded people with intellectual ability and spiritual maturity, who can engage in stimulating conversations about topics that have substance
- Listening to good music that can minister to you
- Listening to or reading good sermons
- Continuously upgrading your professional skills by attending seminars and courses – particularly those on preaching and church leadership
3. Physical Recreation
In 1 Timothy 4:8, the apostle says: “Bodily exercise profits a little” – i.e. it is of some value. Every pastor needs to take time out for manual and physical recreation to compensate for the mental and spiritual demands of preaching. Make no mistake about it, preaching and pastoral ministry are hard work. Spending all day in meetings, counselling, administration, and study means that you must schedule time to do something active.
Physical activity is good not only for your body but also for your mind. Looking after our bodies is a stewardship that is just as important as the stewardship of our money, time, and spiritual gifts. Paul taught that the body is to be dedicated (Rom. 12:1); preserved (1 Thess. 5:23), exercised (1 Tim. 4:8), and disciplined (1 Cor. 9:24-27). And remember, “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Therefore, we must take care how we use it. We must keep it pure for the glory of God. We must maintain its health. And we must “glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
Part of the process of taking care of our body is engaging in some form of physical exercise in order to keep it fit and healthy. Try to discipline yourself to do this. As you get older you will be glad you did.
4. Emotional Recuperation
Pastors are very visible and audible – everyone sees what we do and hears what we say. Some things we say and do will generate:
- Criticism from those whose consciences react to what we say
- Conflict and perhaps condemnation from those who disagree with us
- Concern for those whom we care for physically, emotionally, and spiritually
Conflict and criticism take a great toll on us emotionally. Therefore, from time to time we need to recuperate emotionally. How can we do that? Some suggestions are:
- Enjoy fellowship with friends who encourage you and help you to laugh
- Meet with other pastors who can give you counsel on how to deal with difficult situations
- Read books on pastoral ministry – you’ll find that you are not alone; even the prominent preachers suffer from conflict and criticism
Disciplining Your Ministry Life (2 Tim. 2:1–6, 15)
A godly leader / preacher has the solemn responsibility to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)
This standard for biblical preaching is described earlier in the chapter through three word pictures of disciplined endeavour - the daily discipline and commitment of a soldier, an athlete, a farmer (2 Tim. 2:1-6). The pictures that are drawn in these verses depict discipline, duty, and devotion, which, when displayed, bring reward.
1. Godly Leaders Must Have The “Singular Focus” Of A Soldier (2:3-4)
Firstly, the singular focus of a soldier is to always be willing and ready to suffer (2:3) – to “endure hardship.” Suffering is to be expected in ministry because of spiritual warfare (cf. Eph. 6:1-20) and ill treatment.
Secondly, the singular focus of a soldier is always to be willing and ready to sacrifice (2:4a). You cannot be preoccupied with the “affairs of this life” in order to be always on duty and available. This is a call to sacrifice – to disentangle yourself from any other duties that would distract you from your main task. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the “affairs of this life,” but if they have the tendency to entangle us, they must be cast aside. Anything that would rob us of the necessary time with God (in prayer and the Word) and time for God must be sacrificed.
Thirdly, the singular focus of a soldier is to always be willing and ready for service (2:4b) - “to please him who has enlisted (you) to be a soldier.” As soldiers of Jesus Christ, we must be ready to serve the One who has enlisted us in his service. We are always on duty.
A genuine soldier is marked by wholehearted devotion to duty, complete commitment, nothing held back. A soldier’s reward is the approbation of his superior officer. That’s what we work for – the Lord’s approval.
2. Godly Leaders Must Have The “Strenuous Effort” Of An Athlete (2:5)
An athlete displays strenuous effort in training and competing. In order to win an athlete must strive toward three objectives:
- Strive for excellence. This involves exertion, exercise, effort, training, diligence, commitment, competition, doing it well. Preachers need to do their task with excellence and diligence.
- Strive lawfully. This refers to obeying the rules, honesty. Knowing the rules and following them, even when no one is looking. Preachers must have such integrity.
- Strive to win. The reward is to be crowned, to be victorious, seeking only the Lord’s approval. The preacher’s reward is the Lord’s approbation now and his crown then. An athlete must have wholehearted discipline in order to compete and win lawfully. And the reward is to be “crowned” the victor.
3. Godly Leaders Must Have The “Steady Perseverance” Of A Farmer (2:6)
The farmer labours long and hard without any sign or assurance of success. This takes great self-discipline, steadfastness. After preparing the soil and planting the seed, then he must wait for the crop. This takes trust – trust in God, for only God can make a seed grow and produce a harvest. Farmers need wholehearted labour and dependence.
Godly preachers can prepare the best of sermons and Bible lessons and deliver them with great fervour but the results belong to God to bring to life those who were dead (Eph. 2:1).
Only through hard work, wholehearted commitment, and self-discipline can we present ourselves “approved to God” workers who do “not need to be ashamed” (2:15). It is so easy in ministry to become lazy, lose commitment, and become discouraged.
Let’s discipline ourselves to put in the time and the energy necessary to get the job done well. Let’s conduct ourselves so that people see that we are committed to our Christian testimony and ministry. Don’t be half-hearted about your Christian life or satisfied with mediocrity in your ministry. Preaching and church leadership are hard work! All that we do must be done for God’s glory and that means we do it with all our might and with excellence.
At a personal level, the measure of Christian ministry for the man of God means on the one hand, being diligent to present yourself approved to God, and on the other hand, being a workman who does not need to be ashamed.
At a practical level, the measure of Christian ministry for the man of God means accurate, appropriate, and authoritative preaching and teaching – rightly dividing the word of truth.
Part II. Leadership: Being A Godly Role Model
“Your Personal Holiness”
By: Dr. Roger Pascoe
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
We continue the topic of personal holiness from our last edition of the NET Pastors Journal. Last time we discussed purity in our social lives. In this edition, we are going to look at purity in our thoughts, motives, and words.
Purity In Thought (2 Cor. 10:5)
Our thoughts can be so subtle and sinful, can’t they? Sometimes you wonder where certain thoughts come from. Undoubtedly they spring from our sinful nature, prompted by Satan and the temptations he puts in our way.
To maintain purity in our thoughts we must be careful what we think about. We need to discipline our minds in order to control the thoughts that we entertain. When our thoughts are uncontrolled, fantasies can so easily take over. And fantasies that are uncontrolled tend to become reality. The Bible says, “As a man thinks, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Our thoughts shape our character and our behaviour. Every action or habit begins with a thought.
So, let’s be careful what we think about. If you find yourself thinking unhealthy or sinful thoughts, pray for God to banish them from your mind. It works! God delivers us from evil, for the power of God is greater than Satan or any earthly temptation.
Our thoughts are often generated by things we have read or seen. So be careful what you look at, because what you look at enters your heart and impacts your desires. “When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full-grown, it brings forth death” (James 1:15). That’s the pattern if our thoughts go unchecked.
Probably what goes on in the mind is the most dangerous of all (more so than even outward actions) because nobody can see your thoughts. No one can hold you accountable for what you are thinking because they don’t know. But remember what Jesus said: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:18-20). What goes into your mind will come out – whether good thoughts or bad. And those thoughts will form the basis of who you are and what you do.
Purity In Motive
Impure motives are when we do the right things for the wrong reasons - doing something to achieve a desired result but for the wrong reason. So, let’s ask ourselves: Why do we do ministry? What is our motivation? We must do the right things and for the right reasons.
In Rev. 2:2-3 the church at Ephesus did the right things but with an impure motive - namely, they were not doing it out of love for Christ. The warning is that if they would not repent of their impure motives, God would remove their lamp-stand (their public testimony as a church). What do we do ministry for? What are we living for?
Do we do ministry for our own self-glory like those who “commend themselves,” who, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12)?
Are we living for our own personal gain, like those who “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5)?
Are we seeking our own self-promotion? Jesus said “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27). Paul said that he had “served the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials” (Acts 20:19).
In his book, “Shepherding the Church,” Joe Stowell writes: “Those who serve for His glory and His gain find their greatest joy not in the affirmation that may come at the door after the sermon, but in a life that, over time, is functionally changed through the ministry of proclamation. In a life that now brings more glory to God than in days gone by. In a life that gives credit to God – not us – for what God has done in their lives through us.” 2 Yes!
Pure motives cause us to serve for Christ’s glory and the benefit of his kingdom. Paul’s motive for ministry was that “Christ be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die gain” (Phil. 1:20). Paul said, “I am the last of the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9). John the Baptist’s motive was that Jesus Christ “must increase but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
Let’s check our own hearts for what our motives are as leaders of God’s people.
Purity In Word (1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7)
Our speech is an area that can be the most dangerous and the one most easily slipped up on. What we say (the words and phrases we use) and how we say it (body language, tone of voice) can either empower our leadership role or immobilize it. You can give totally different meaning to the words you use just through emphasis on different words or body language.
We need to be careful about our choice of words. I’m noticing more and more inappropriate secular words and expressions coming from Christians (and preachers), that once would never have been used by believers. I have heard pastors and Christian leaders say things that make me cringe. Sometimes they use expressions that are common in our society but which ought not to be part of our communication. I hear leaders in the church using slang words all the time that are derivatives from curse words (and I don’t think they even know it).
Words slip out so easily and they cannot be retracted. When they come out, they are like water spilled on the ground – it can’t be gathered back up (2 Sam. 14:14). When the wrong words are said, it’s too late, the damage is done.
Words are the stock-in-trade for Christian leaders. Our craft revolves around the use of words. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to be experts in their use – not only in the pulpit but in all our interactions. We are to be wordsmiths, carefully choosing the words we use so that they accurately convey what we want to say.
But accuracy and truthfulness are not sufficient. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). “Be slow to speak and swift to hear” (James 1:19).
So, try to avoid vernacular or slang – it will get you into trouble. Don’t use harsh or coarse words (Eph. 5:4) – it’s not Christ-like. Try not to use words with double meanings. Wherever possible, be conscious to use polite, positive, constructive, well-chosen words.
Beware of gossip, slander, lying, deceit, inferences, innuendos, seduction, murmuring, complaining, boasting, exaggeration. They all stem from the wrong use or application of words (cf. Eph. 4:25, 29, 31; 5:4; Col. 3:8-9; 4:6; Matt. 15:11, 17-20). Stay away from words that can have impure connotations.
Let us use “sound speech”(Tit. 2:8) that is a testimony to others of the “gracious words” that proceeded out to the Lord’s mouth, of the purity of speech that we want others to adopt, and of the kind of words that point others to Christ.
Teachers used to say to us: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” - not true! Words spoken in anger, jest, teasing, criticism can hurt a lot longer than physical hurts and cause untold hurt in Christian relationships. The words we use are important, so choose them carefully.
Part III. Devotional Thoughts
“The Ministry of Earthen Vessels, Pt. 2: The Motivation for Ministry” (2 Cor. 4:16-5:9)
By: Dr. Roger Pascoe
The Institute for Biblical Preaching
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
In the Summer edition of this journal, we began studying the subject of “The Ministry of Earthen Vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7-5:21). We looked at 2 Corinthians 4:7-16, which deals with the topic of “The Nature of Ministry.” Now we continue with the next section, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8, which deals with the topic of “The Motivation for Ministry.” The apostle points out three motivations for ministry: (1) the motivation of future transformation (4:15-5:8); (2) the motivation of accountability to God (5:10-13); and (3) the motivation of Christ’s love (5:14-17). In this edition of this Pastors Journal, we will cover only The Motivation Of Future Transformation (4:16-5:9).
The apostle develops this subject of the ministry of earthen vessels around four paradoxes of ministry. Last time we noticed the first paradox of ministry: the weak messenger vs. the powerful message. Now, in connection with the motivation for ministry (specifically, the motivation of future transformation) we have the next three paradoxes.
The second paradox of ministry is: outward decay vs. inward renewal (4:16-17). For the Christian the paradox is that “Even though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day” (16b). There is a difference between the outward and the inward – the outward is decaying and the inward is being renewed. On the one hand, we suffer from the progressive decay of our physical being. Our “outward man” (i.e. what is visible - our physical body and faculties) is “decaying” (i.e. steadily and irreversibly heading toward death). On the other hand, our inner being is progressively being renewed in God’s image. Our “inward man” (i.e. what is invisible - our new life in Christ, our spiritual being, our Christ-likeness) “is being renewed day by day” (i.e. being sanctified, transformed into Christ’s image).
The reality for the non-Christian is petrifying. They experience only outward decay without any inner renewal, because they have no spiritual life. “For” introduces the explanation of this paradox of outward decay vs. inner renewal “our light affliction which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (17). Note the contrasting elements of the Christian paradox:
- Present suffering for Jesus’ sake = light and momentary troubles
- Future glory in Jesus’ presence = an eternal glory that far outweighs all our present suffering or troubles
Paul is not teaching that physical suffering is rewarded with spiritual merit. He is not endorsing asceticism. Rather, Paul is still dealing with the issue of how the glory and power of God are displayed in earthen vessels (7); the issue of spiritually (and perhaps physically) dying with Jesus (10a); the issue of the life of Jesus manifested in us (10b); the issue of being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake that the life of Jesus may be manifested in us (11).
“Paul’s theme throughout this epistle is that the frailty of the human frame and the affliction which it sustains in the cause of the gospel magnify, by reason of the astonishing contrast, and provide the opportunity for experiencing, the all-transcending glory and power and grace of Almighty God.” 3 No matter how severe our physical suffering may be “for Jesus’ sake” (i.e. suffering that is endured and incurred for Jesus’ sake in the cause of the gospel), it is “light” and “momentary” compared to the “eternal glory” which is reserved for us in heaven.
The third paradox of ministry in this passage is: the visible vs. the invisible (4:18). The eye of faith is not preoccupied with what is seen but with what is not seen. “We do not look at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen.” We do not focus on our human weakness, suffering, dying (i.e. the decay of our outward, physical existence), and difficult circumstances, but rather, we look at “the things which are not seen.” The non-Christian is focused on the physical, the outward, and the present (treasures on earth, perishable things), but the Christian is focused on the spiritual, the inward, and the eternal. We are focused on spiritual realities (e.g. truth, life in Christ). We are focused on inner power, the renewal of the Holy Spirit. We are focused on eternal glory – a future, heavenly perspective, when we will be fully and finally like Christ. We are pressing forward not looking back (Phil. 3:14). We endure the present in the assurance of the future. We know that the transient will give place to the permanent. We look for the temporal afflictions to be replaced by eternal glory.
The fourth paradox of ministry is: our earthly tent vs. our heavenly building (5:1-8). The explanation for the previous paradox now follows: “For we know…” The basis of our perspective on present suffering and decay is our knowledge of future glorification, the redemption of our bodies as well as our souls, the certain hope of glory. The only uncertainty is whether we will die before Jesus comes – “…if our earthly house, this tent (lit. our tent-dwelling on earth) is destroyed…” (5:1).
The body in which we now live is temporary and transient, not our permanent dwelling place. But even if it is destroyed in death, “…we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The imagery of a “tent” vs. a “building” is an allusion to the Israelites’ tabernacle in the wilderness vs. the permanent temple in Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 11:8ff.). Like them in the wilderness, we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, just passing through - our citizenship is in heaven. And when we get to heaven, we will have bodies suited to that heavenly existence - “not made with hands” (not this-world, earth-bound creations), not temporary, not subject to decay, not affected by sin, but permanent, eternal, glorified, resurrection bodies like Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21).
“For” (explanation of v. 1) “in this (body) we groan (cf. Rom. 8:23) earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven...” (2). In our present earthly tent-dwelling we groan (because it is subject to decay, suffering, pain). That’s why we long for our glorified bodies (our habitation which is from heaven), which are viewed as being put on like clothes over our earthly bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53) so that there is both continuity and transformation – our earthly bodies will be covered and changed by our glorified bodies. What we really long for is the possibility (“...if indeed”, v. 3) of receiving our glorified bodies without dying (“...having been clothed”) - to be alive at Christ’s coming so that, “having already been clothed” with our glorified bodies, “we shall not be found naked” (3). The hope expressed here is that we shall not be stripped of our bodies at death, that we never experience a disembodied state at all, that we do not die before we receive our glorified bodies, “clothed with our habitation (dwelling) which is from heaven” (2b).
“For” (further explanation) we who are in this tent (this temporary, decaying physical existence) groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but (because we want to be) further clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (4). We groan because of the burden of our present bodies, not because we want to die (i.e. be unclothed and our bodies go back to dust) but because we want to be further clothed by our glorified bodies (bodies suited to glory), so that our mortal bodies (our present, decaying bodies) may be swallowed up by (taken over by, absorbed in, clothed with) eternal life at Christ’s return, so that we never die and experience corruption.
This is what will happen to those who are alive at Christ’s coming. We will not be “unclothed” (naked, disembodied) but “further clothed” by putting on our glorified bodies over our mortal bodies. When that happens, our mortal, earth-bound bodies will be instantly absorbed by and transformed into our glorified state, so that our mortal flesh (our living, earthly but mortal bodies) will be “swallowed up” (disappear inside, absorbed, integrated into, digested) “by (what will be really) life.”
So, the imagery in 5:1-4 is that our mortal bodies are like a garment that covers the soul, which at death becomes naked because it will be separated from the body. On the other hand, our immortal bodies are likened at Christ’s coming to a garment that re-clothes (or covers) our souls, or, for those who are alive at that time, “further clothes” us - i.e. is put on over top of our mortal bodies.
“Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God” (5a). God himself has fashioned us for the reception (clothing) of our glorified bodies. This final transformation into our glorified state is entirely and solely the work of God. This gives us assurance because it is not dependent on us but God and thus it will surely come to pass. What God has begun, He will complete (Phil. 1:6), for He “…also has given us His Spirit as a guarantee” (5b). Not only do we have the apostle’s instruction on this future certainty that God will accomplish our final transformation, but right now we have the internal deposit (the down payment) of the Spirit as the guarantee that God will surely do it (cf. Eph. 1:14; cf. Rom. 8:11ff.). The Holy Spirit constantly and continuously reassures us that the power that raised Christ from the dead will raise us up in glory (Eph. 1:9-20).
What confidence and motivation this gives us, particularly in suffering and old age! Our outward bodies are decaying, we suffer from our mortality, but more specifically for Jesus’ sake. But all that is lost in the assurance and hope of our future transformation into Christ’s likeness, for it does not compare to the glory which shall be. “So” (as a result of this assurance that God will do it and has given us his Spirit as our guarantee), “we are always confident…” (6a) – our confidence in God’s fulfillment of our transformation is unshakeable and constant – “...knowing that (confidence is based on knowledge) while we are at home in the body…” (living in this earthly tent) “…we are absent from the (presence of the) Lord. For (because) we walk by faith, not by sight (cf. Heb. 11:1). We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body (i.e. to die) and to be present with the Lord” (6b-8) – i.e. when sight will replace faith. Though death is our final enemy, it does not cause us to fear. Rather, we are full of confidence and motivation.
God is in control both in life and in death. The Spirit of God gives us inner assurance that God will complete our transformation. Our temporal life is our constant reminder that we are not yet in the presence of the Lord – indeed, in this state we live by faith not sight. Our desire is to leave our present earthly life and be with the Lord even though we would enter a period of nakedness, waiting to be clothed with our new bodies. This is not a death wish but an expression that the desire to be with Christ overshadows the obstacle of death (cf. Phil. 1:21).
But the best of all circumstances would be to be alive at his coming, transformed and translated to be with Christ without death (cf. Phil. 1:21-13).
Conclusion: “Therefore, we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (9). No matter what happens, whether we are here at home in the body at the time Christ comes or absent from the body at the time Christ comes, our aim and the motivation for our ministry is to be well-pleasing to the Lord.
Part IV. Sermon Outlines
John 4:19-42, Jesus’ Dialogue With The Samaritan Woman, Pt. 2
Title: The Master’s Approach to Evangelism, Pt. 2
Subject: Overcoming spiritual and social barriers in evangelism
(Continued from point #3 in the last edition of this journal...)
Point #4: Point the person to God (4:19-24)
1. Through an awakened response (19-20)
a) About who Jesus is (19)
b) About finding God (20)
2. Through an enlightening reply (21-24)
a) About where God is found (21)
b) About how God is worshipped (22-24)
Point #5: Reveal Jesus’ Deity (4:25-26)
1. By finding out what they know about him (25)
a) About his coming again
b) About his revelation of truth
2. By revealing what they don't know about him (26)
Point #6: Develop faith in others (4:27-38)
1. Develop faith in others through your personal testimony (28-30)
a) By demonstrating that God changes lives (28)
b) By inviting others to see for themselves (29a)
c) By declaring what Christ has done (29b)
d) By pointing to who Christ is (29c-30)
2. Develop faith in others through a proper theology (31-42)
a) That God’s work in the world is Christ’s mission (31-34)
- to do God’s will
- to finish God’s work
b) That God’s work in the world is an “unlikely” mission (35)
- spiritual harvest spring up at the most unlikely times
- spiritual harvests spring up in the most unlikely places
c) That God’s work in the world is a team mission (36-38)
- God’s team is composed of sowers and reapers
- all members of God’s team are equally important
- all members of God’s team labour for the same result
Point #7: Conclusions - the results (4:39-42)
1. Some will believe through your personal testimony (39-40)
2. Many more will believe through God’s word (41-42)
1 John A. MacArthur, Rediscovering Pastoral Leadership (Dallas: Word, 1995), 91.
2 Joseph Stowell, Shepherding the Church, 233.
3 Philip Hughes, 2 Corinthians in “The New International Commentary on the New Testament,” 157.
Related Topics: Pastors
8. Our Soul Owner (Mark 8:34-35, 12:13-17)Related Media
Jesus and Our Stuff (part eight)
God owns it all. We've learned that. But that means that He owns more than just our stuff. He also has a rightful claim on our very lives. This proves to be an unpopular message in a world preoccupied with their entitlements and rights. It probably sounds shocking to many people that we do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God. In addition to giving an account of our faithful stewardship of our stuff, we're also going to be asked to give an account of our lives. Do you live your life for the One who gave His life for you?
Jesus Christ: God Revealed
In a world where there are many competing voices for making claims about Jesus and God this series goes back to Scripture. There we can see both who Jesus is and how He reveals God to mankind.
This 9 part audio series also contains lightly edited manuscripts of the original messages.
Lesson 1: Introduction To “Jesus Christ: God Revealed” (Hebrews 1:2-3)Related Media
Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.
During the height of the DaVinci Code media craze, about 10 percent of the books on Amazon.com’s bestseller list were dedicated in full or in part to disproving commonly held beliefs about Jesus Christ and Christianity. More books are still being released embellishing Dan Brown’s theme. One came out recently where the author claims that she is a descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Fortunately, Christian scholars have written some excellent books proving the DaVinci Code to be full of inaccuracies and outright lies. But, if we are honest, would each of us really be able to answer the question. What do we really know about Jesus? Who is Jesus anyway?
Why is this such an important question? Because the answer determines life on earth and life in eternity.
God has always been the eternal mystery. God created the human heart with an inner longing to know God, even though it cannot always identify that longing. Pascal called it a God shaped vacuum. But how can a person come to know God? Does the universe give us any evidence that God really exists?
Rom. 1:19-20 tells us that God has revealed His existence, divine power and His divine nature through His created world. And Rom. 2 tells us that He has revealed His moral nature through the conscience that all people have that sense of right and wrong. So just from this evidence every person on earth can believe that there is a great and powerful God who has righteous moral standards.
But we still do not really know Him, do we? What is He like? What does He think? How does He feel about people? Is He distant and unreachable? Is He sitting up there waiting to zap us when we sin? Is it possible to know Him personally? God knew our need and the impossibility of our reaching Him through human reason or human effort, so He revealed Himself in two powerful ways.
Heb. 1:1-3 tells us the lengths God went to so that we might not only know He exists but that we may have a personal relationship with Him.
God spoke verbally to men in OT times, either directly or through visions and dreams. He gave these prophets His message to give to His people. Over a period of about 1500 years His Words were written down by about 40 human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit, the divine Author. The Bible is God’s written revelation, inerrant in the original manuscripts. It is our only source for the true knowledge of God
The central message of the OT is that God created men and women for a relationship with Himself. But our sin separated us from God. So God promised to come Himself to redeem His fallen creatures and make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him. God promised that a divine Savior would come to earth and reveal God’s glory to us.
The NT tells us that He kept his promise and the Savior came. He not only spoke God’s Word to us but He revealed God’s nature.
The Son of God is God’s final revelation to us. He is the fullest revelation of God that we will ever have here on earth. Do you not see why Satan has tried through the centuries to distort and deny who Jesus really is? The book, The DaVinci Code is just a warmed over version of the Gnostic heresy of the first 3 centuries that both Paul and John combated so strongly in the NT. But the controversy and the questions it has raised are not unimportant. The authors of a new book, Reinventing Jesus put it this way:
“Attempts to reinvent Jesus are nothing new. The vines of radical skepticism toward the biblical Christ have been creeping up the walls of the ivory tower for two centuries. But only in recent years has such intense cynicism sprouted at the grassroots. And it has spread quickly. The media’s assault on the biblical Jesus, postmodernism’s laissez-faire attitude toward truth, and America’s collective ignorance of Scripture have joined to create a culture of cynicism. In short, society has been conditioned to doubt.”
We in God’s family must examine ourselves to answer honestly 2 questions:
Do I believe the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative Word of God and totally true?
Do I believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ, that He was the fully human and fully divine Son of God?
John 1:1 calls the Son of God, the Word for good reason. Words reveal our invisible thoughts. In the same way Jesus made the invisible God visible. How did He do it?
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth....No one has ever seen God but God, the One and Only, who is at the Fathers side, has made him known. John 1:14, 18 (NIV)
When did the Word become flesh? When did God become a human being? God the Son left heaven for a few short years to become a man. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and placed in her womb the Holy one who was the Son of God. When Jesus Christ was born 2000 years ago, God entered this physical world and lived among us. No one has ever seen God’s essence but God the Son has made him visible and knowable. He said Himself, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9.
The Son revealed that we have a heavenly Father. And what do we see when we see Jesus? The glory of a God who is full of grace and truth. Our God is not a cosmic ogre waiting to destroy us but a merciful, gracious Father who welcomes us into His family.
This is the distinctive difference between the OT and the NT. The almighty, sovereign God of the OT is the personal heavenly Father of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. In the NT God is called Father over 240 times as compared to a small handful of times in the OT.
“You sum up the whole of the New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. Father is the Christian name for God.” (J. I. Packer)
This is hard for some of us. If you had a loving, caring earthly father, it is easy to transfer that image to a heavenly Father, just multiply it by a million. But if you had a distant, absent or abusive father, you will have a problem. You will have to disconnect everything you experienced with your earthly father and learn how wonderful your heavenly Father is and choose to believe it.
That is why Jesus spoke so often of God as our heavenly Father. Then His life showed us what the Father is like. But why was Jesus Christ able to reveal the invisible God? Because of who He is. We cannot disconnect Jesus from God. He was not just a perfect man or an ideal example. He was God in a human body. Immanuel, God with us.
Let us look at each of these phrases separately.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory
Radiance means outshining of the brightness of God’s glory. You cannot separate the brilliance of the sun from the sun itself. And you cannot separate the glory of the Son from His deity. He is God. The disciples saw His glory when he was transfigured before them on the mountain.
Representation is the word, “charakter,” only here in NT. It means a mark stamped on something, like an image on a coin. When we see Jesus we see what God’s nature really is like.
Col. 1:15 (NIV) says “He is the image of the invisible God.”
Sustaining all things by His powerful word.
Col. 1:17 (NIV) says, “in Him all things hold together.”
Scientists have never been able to discover the force that keeps the protons and electrons in the atom spinning in perfect order. What keeps the planets and stars in orbit? The Bible says that God the Son is not only the Creator, but the Sustainer of this immense universe.
THINK: If He cares about the atom and the stars, how much more do you think He must care about sustaining our lives, of holding our lives together. We are the ones for whom He came to die. The next statement brings us to that.
After he had provided purification for sins:
Seven words, but what a story they tell.
How did the Son make it possible for us to be forgiven and cleansed from our sins?
He, God in human form, suffered and died on the cross to satisfy God’s justice. He himself took the penalty for the sins of his fallen creation, so that those who believe on Him might have eternal life and fellowship with God. Then He rose from the dead to prove that He was truly the Son of God and to prove that all the sins of everyone who has ever lived were paid for. 40 days after his resurrection he went back to heaven and
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This is a very important statement. He sat down because the work of redemption was finished. Do you remember He said precisely that when He hung on the cross?
“It is finished” meant penalty for sin was paid in full.
There were no chairs in the OT tabernacle. The priests never finished their work because there were always sacrifices to be made for sins. Animal blood could not pay for people’s sins. Every animal slain on every altar in the OT just pointed to the future One who would be the one sacrifice for all sins forever, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Heb. 10:11-12 gives us the contrast.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (NIV)
It is absolutely essential for your spiritual life that you understand that when you study the Bible it is not for the purpose of just learning all kinds of facts about the Bible. You can go to seminary or any other kind of study and learn the facts and stories from the Bible. But if that is all you do you miss the point entirely.
“Suppose a friend had a hotel room in Acapulco overlooking the ocean on his vacation. He comes back and tells you about the wonderful window in his room. It had one large pane of glass, and 4 smaller panes on either side. It was 6 feet long and 4 feet high. Its framework was made of steel that resists corrosion. In fact, he even had the glass analyzed chemically. Would you not think he had missed the point? The window was there for him to see the ocean, not to study the window.”
The Bible is a window. We look through it to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And when we see Him we see God in His essential nature. We see our heavenly Father.
Have you realized before today that the One who died in your place on the cross is really God the Son, your Creator and Sustainer? Have you put your faith in Him alone to forgive your sins, give you eternal life and make you a child of God.
Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NIV)
You may, with an act of your will, put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today, right where you are sitting. Just tell God:
I know I am a sinner. I believe that your Son died for me and rose again. I put my faith in Him alone to forgive my sins, bring me to God and give me eternal life.
I would love to talk to anyone who did this or wants to after class.
Our Heavenly Father revealed in Jesus
Our studies this fall will emphasize what Jesus revealed about our heavenly Father while He was here on earth, both in His words and His works. I want you to be constantly thinking that was his purpose as you do the questions at home and during our lessons here:
Jesus is God the Son. He revealed the nature of the invisible God to us. He spoke God’s words, thought God’s thoughts, felt and expressed God’s emotions, did God’s works.
Malachi 3:6 (NIV) I the Lord do not change.
Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The loving, gracious, righteous, compassionate God Jesus Christ revealed is the same today. He is our heavenly Father if we have trusted His Son Jesus Christ.
What he thought then, He thinks now.
What He felt then, He feels now.
What he did then, He would do now.
Maybe you are thinking, So What? What does this mean to me?
It means that your heavenly Father still has compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the helpless and the sorrowing. Your heavenly Father cares for you in the situation you are in right now. Your heavenly Father knows your heart is aching because of the failure of your marriage or the disappointment of children who have turned from the truth and bought the world’s lies. Your heavenly Father knows that your husband has been without a job for a long time. Your heavenly Father knows your needs and He cares. Your heavenly Father knows what sickness has done to your family and He cares. Your heavenly Father knows the difficulties in caring for an aged parent and He cares for both of you. He may not bring relief in the spectacular ways Jesus did while here on earth, but He does give strength, the ability to endure, moment by moment. And that is a quiet miracle, is it not?
Your heavenly Father does send provision for material needs in many unexpected ways, does not He? The anonymous gift of money, the friends who bring meals, who come and relieve you from the constant care of a loved one, the people who pray for you, who drive you to the doctor, who babysit your children. These are just a few of the ways your heavenly Father meets your needs today.
His heart is the same, His power is the same, but his method is different. Instead of Jesus Christ living in one human body on earth as He did 2000 years ago, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in each one of us who have trusted Him as our Lord and Savior. He lives in millions of human bodies. We together are His body on earth.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (Not an option)
He lives in us and through us to touch the hurting world around us.
He said that we would be the light of the world when He went back to heaven. How can people see God revealed in our lives today? How can we let God’s glory shine through our bodies?
Matthew 5:16 (NIV) Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Is it really possible to live in such a way at home and in the community that other people will see our heavenly Father in our everyday actions? That is precisely the reason for which we have been saved. We were not saved to just go on living self-centered, self-serving lives. We have been given a new motivation, a new reason for living and a new power to live.
2 Corinthians 5:15 (NIV) And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
How do we live for Him in practical ways? How can our lives reveal our heavenly Father to others? By doing what Jesus did.
- By showing compassion
- By actively relieving the distress of those around us, first in God’s family, then the community.
- By helping those widowed by death or divorce. Caring for orphans.
- By visiting the sick and sorrowing.
- By showing love and mercy for the aged.
- By feeding the hungry, listening to the confused, sharing our material possessions with the needy.
- By praying for the deliverance of those in bondage.
- By moving out of our own tight circle of friends who buy their clothes at the same shops, drive the same kind of cars and become friends with people out of your social class.
- By helping an unwed mother go through with her pregnancy, providing emotional, spiritual and practical support. It is not enough just to be against abortion.
Most of all, by bringing the good news of the Gospel to those who dont know Jesus Christ, the only way to God the Father. Jesus is the Bridge from earth to heaven, the giver of eternal life.
In His prayer just before his death in John 17, Jesus said to His Father, I have revealed you to those you gave me out of the world. Jesus revealed that we have a good, gracious, strong, merciful heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally.
Let us be willing to lay aside all the distorted conceptions we have of fatherhood and realize that our great God is everything a Father should be times a million.
Let us come with confidence into His presence, knowing we are welcome because Jesus escorts us to His Father’s throne.
Let us begin living as though we believed this is true.
Lesson 2: Miracle At Cana (John 1:32-2:11)Related Media
Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.
God was here! Walking this planet. He lived in an obscure village in a tiny country on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. From the age of 12 till Jesus was about 30 there are no incidents recorded about Him in the Bible. So any stories you hear about the miracles he supposedly performed as a child are the product of someone’s imagination. But there are things we can know about his family life.
Mark 6:3 tells us that Mary and Joseph had at least 6 other children, 4 sons and 2 daughters. Jesus knew what it was to live in a large family and be the only half-brother. Joseph taught him the trade of carpentry and he supported his family by working as a carpenter, because by the time he began his public ministry, Joseph was dead. Jesus knew what it was to work with his hands to earn his daily bread. All the time Jesus lived on earth He never used his power to make life easy for himself.
But now the time had come to begin his public ministry. For months John the Baptist had been preaching that the Messiah was coming and people were being baptized to indicate that they repented of their sins and were waiting for the Messiah (Christ) Jesus started his ministry by going to John to baptize him.
When he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
Now John knew for sure that Jesus was the promised Christ. That was the sign he had been told to look for. After his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness and successfully endured 40 days and nights of fasting while Satan tempted him. He proved his qualifications to be our sinless Savior when he defeated Satan and would not sin.
John 1:19-21 gives us a rapid sequence of events that took place just before the occasion we are studying today.
When Jesus returned from the wilderness John pointed his own disciples to Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God. So these men followed Jesus and brought others. By the time the chapter ends Jesus had about 5 men with him who believed on Him because of John’s testimony and their own experience. These 5 were the first of that special group of 12 ordinary men who lived with Him and were trained by him for over 3 years.
In John 1 we have many titles and names for Jesus:
The Word, the Light, the One and Only from the Father, God, the One and Only, Lord, Lamb of God, Son of God, Messiah or Christ, the Prophet like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, King of Israel, Rabbi, Son of Man.
Theses titles had tremendous significance for the Jews familiar with OT promises about the coming Messiah. They meant that Jesus was the one they had been eagerly waiting for. What spectacular thing would Jesus use to reveal who he was? Where would he start? Can you imagine what Hollywood would do with an opportunity like that? But Jesus revealed His glory for the first time in a very strange but meaningful way.
Cana was a village in the hills of Galilee. Its location is not certain, but scholars believe it was located about nine miles north of Nazareth. I think it is worth noticing that the human race began with God officiating at a wedding between a man and a woman and the ministry of Jesus, God on earth began with His presence at a wedding. This tells us something about God’s view of marriage which we need to hear in a day when marriage is being avoided or destroyed by abuse, infidelity, lack of commitment and divorce. Actually, when it is in danger of being redefined to allow same sex marriage to be equally normal.
Jesus obviously was not a recluse. He was a social person. He was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to share in the joy of others. This was not just going to a ceremony and reception for a few ours. The wedding celebration lasted seven days. In that day a couple would become betrothed, usually for about a year. This betrothal was as binding as a marriage and could only be broken by divorce. The wedding was celebrated when the bridegroom came to take his bride and escort her to his home, where there would be a great time of feasting, singing, dancing and general rejoicing for a week. At the end of the week the bride would be escorted by her parents to the nuptial chamber and marriage would be consummated. This was obviously a time of great joy.
God wants us to enjoy life, to share other people’s joy, to smell the flowers along the way. He has given us all things richly to enjoy and Jesus modeled that for us.
Mary must have been visiting with their hosts or helping out when she was in on an embarrassing discovery. The wine had run out! Lavish hospitality in the east was a sacred duty. Either they had underestimated the number of guests or they had been skimpy in their provisions. This was not just an embarrassment, it was a disgrace. It was a never-to-be-forgotten social faux pas.
Mary knew where to go for help. She depended upon her oldest Son and he had never failed her yet. This request tells us a little about Mary. She was concerned about other people’s problems. She was not aloof or quick to pass judgment. She wanted to help her friends. Maybe she also thought this would be a super time for Jesus to do something spectacular to reveal who he really was. After all, she of all people knew where He came from. So she simply came to him and stated the problem. His answer seems strange to us.
Jesus knew His timetable. There is a sense of order and destiny in the measured way He moves through the Gospel records. He was not going to do the showy, spectacular miracle to draw attention to himself. He also in a gentle way let his mother know that he was no longer under her authority. Mary did not question him or go away disappointed. She just left it to him to do as he pleased. She trusted him to solve the problem and the next verse records the only command she ever gives in the Bible.
Do whatever he tells you. (NIV)
These words are as relevant to us today as they were to the servants then. You will notice that Mary never focused on herself, but on Jesus. He is the one we come, He is the one who has the power to help, He is the one to obey.
These large stone water jars were used for the ceremonial washing required by religious Jews. Their religion had become almost entirely external with very little impact on their spiritual lives. Can you imagine what the servants must have thought when a guest told them to fill all six water jars with water. That is from 120-180 gallons of water that had to be drawn from the well. But they filled them to the brim and came back for further instructions.
What do you think they thought? They knew these just were just filled with water. How could they take them to the master of the feast as wine? But the lady had said to do whatever this man said and they just obeyed. We would do well to follow their example. Jesus speaks to us today through the Bible. We have in our hands the written record of what he expects his followers to do. It is not necessary for us to know ahead of time just how everything will work out. Our responsibility is to simply do what He says to do.
You may say, “But how can I not be anxious? This is a situation to worry about. My resources are depleted financially, emotionally, spiritually. What am I going to do? I have nowhere left to go.”
Jesus says, “Come to me. Trust me. Tell me what you need and let me provide for you in my own way. I will protect your heart and your mind with my peace. I know it is hard to understand that even in the midst of overwhelming circumstances I can give you peace, but I can and I will. Just keep on believing that I will bring you through and let me take care of you.” Do not be ashamed of feeling inadequate. We were designed to be inadequate so that we will learn to rely on God.
The master of the banquet knew nothing about what had transpired outside. He only knew that the wine had run out and this was a new supply. But it was the best wine he had ever tasted. A wonderful wedding present for the bridal couple. What an unobtrusive miracle. Who knew about it? The servants, the disciples and surely Mary. How did Jesus do it? What did he use? He used what was there, just as would do many other times. The servants, the water jars, the water! He will use just what we are and have to accomplish his purposes in our lives today.
Maybe we should better say a little about wine in that culture. Wine was not to be drunk unless it was mixed with water. The ratio could increase to as much as 12 parts water to 1 part wine. It was one of the methods of purifying water which was not always safe to drink. This miracle is not to be construed as an unlimited license to drink alcoholic beverages. The Scripture has much to say about not drinking new wine, strong drink and mixed drinks. Drunkenness is strongly denounced.
This was the first miracle Jesus performed. Another reason to disbelieve the childhood miracles attributed to him. John uses an interesting word to describe this miracle. He calls it a sign and uses this word 17 times in his gospel. When applied to a miracle this word implies that the miracle is an indication of some power or meaning behind it to which the miracle is secondary in importance. What hidden meaning is there behind this miracle?
First, it proved that Jesus had supernatural power and could use it any way he chose. He could speak, touch, or just simply will it to be done as he did here. His miracles authenticated his person and his message.
He revealed that He is God the Creator. He simply accelerated the process in which rain causes the vine to produce grapes which are then crushed and fermented into wine.
Second, this unique miracle was a sign pointing to what he came to do. The Jewish religion had deteriorated to just being concerned with external cleansing. But it could not provide for internal cleansing. This miracle is a picture of conversion. Jesus changed the water into wine. He changed its nature. He came to change sinners into saints, to give us a new nature. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
Third, wine is a symbol of joy in the Bible.
Ps. 104:15 (NIV) Wine that gladdens the heart of man.
Ps. 4:7 (NIV) You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
Joy is what Jesus came to give us.
We can have joy because we know that Jesus loves us. We can trust His love and prove it by obeying His Word.
We can have joy because Jesus has given us free access into the Father’s presence and answered prayer through his death and resurrection.
We can have joy in a hostile world because Jesus prayed for the Father to protect us while we live in it.
Does this mean that we are guaranteed happiness? What do you mean by happiness… enough money, no sickness, no difficult circumstances, a perfect job, a lot of friends, a perfect marriage? We usually base happiness on our circumstances. If you are looking for happiness in money, things, status, pleasure, people or accomplishments, there is an important lesson here.
The world’s joy always runs out, but the joy Jesus gives flows forever.
That is why I think He made such an abundant supply: 120-180 gallons of wine. He wants us to know that he gives us abundant joy, a joy that comes from within. It is that settled state of the heart that can rejoice in the Lord in spite of difficult circumstances. Joy comes from being forgiven. Joy comes from answered prayer. Joy comes from knowing you do not have to make it on your own. You have a heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and will take you through whatever your situation. Joy comes from the realization that this life on earth is not all there is to life. There is all of eternity in God’s presence in our future. And this life is just a waiting room where we grow and mature and learn to trust our heavenly Father.
Habakkuk, that bewildered prophet, saw his world collapsing around his ears and questioned God about it. God’s answer was, “It’s just going to get worse!”
Habakkuk came to the conclusion we all have to reach if we are going to mature.
Hab. 3:17 (NIV) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
What were the immediate results of this miracle of the wine?
Jesus thus revealed His glory. His glory was the glory of the Father.
What do we learn from Jesus about our Heavenly Father?
How many ways can God say “I love you?”
He cares about our everyday problems. He has solutions we would never imagine. God will never turn us away, no matter how unimportant we think something is. God wants to be involved in our lives, not just the spiritual part, but in every area, your job, your homemaking, your relationships, your dating, your money management; everything.
The second result was that the disciples put their faith in Him.
They had already believed, now they believed even more. This is what will happen to each of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith should not remain static. It grows and matures. Our love increases as we know Him more. And the result of loving Him more should be to live for Him more and more.
2 Corinthians 5:15
Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Do you realize who He really is? God in human form. He came to reveal the invisible God to us. He came to make the way for us to come to God by dying in our place so our sins might be forgiven and we might have eternal life. You may put your faith in Him right there where you are sitting.
John 3:36 (NIV) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.
For those of us who already know Him, my prayer for us is this:
Rom. 15:13 (NIV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.