They Will be Shocked

1 Peter 4:3-5 – 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

What should the church expect from the world? If you listen to some who promote many a modern church growth strategy, you will hear an expectation that the modern church can win the culture through our kindness. There appears to be a belief that the church, if she will only contribute to her community, will be beloved and treasured by civic leadership. The church that cleans up the city park, takes gift baskets to local teachers, and serves meals to families when tragedy strikes will be seen by the city as an indispensable part of the community. And, in fact, the church may be able to gain a better standing in the community and a greater hearing for the gospel for a time. Besides, doing good to all people is a right act of those who follow Jesus.

However, it is not true that the church will be able to stand strong and be beloved by the community perpetually. The word of God is clear that, as we stand on the word of God, as we follow the commands of our Lord, as we speak what the Savior commands and refuse to follow the ways of the world, we will face hardship. See what Peter wrote above. As Believers, we cannot join the lost world in certain acts that are immoral according to the word of God. But what will the world think of us when we refuse to join them? Will the world shrug it off and adopt a live and let live strategy? Nope. That has never been the way of the world.

When we refuse to join the world in affirming or participating in immorality, the world will have two reactions according to Peter. First, they will be surprised. When the world sees someone opposing what the world assumes that everybody knows or everybody does, there is a shock. How could we not go where they go? How could we not do what they do? How can we not join them in affirming and even celebrating their actions? Even worse, how can we call it immoral? You see, as the world embraces sin, the world embraces a mindset that declares that everybody knows that what the world is doing is right. There is a cultural mindset that is adopted that says that every right-thinking person embraces this lifestyle or that agenda.

Second, surprise will move to censure. Peter says that they will malign you. When the world sees the church refuse to embrace something the world loves, eventually the world will move against the church. The world will move from a false tolerance to surprise to ridicule to persecution. The world hated Jesus. Jesus says that the world will hate those who follow him too.

The church needs to gain an understanding that no amount of social improvement strategies will ever win the church the approval of the world. The church may engage in ten positive, community-impacting strategies that are all for the good. But the moment that the church stands against one of the world’s sacred cows, the world will respond first with shock and then with maligning. Again, this is not to say that the church should not do good in the community. Doing good honors Jesus. But we should not expect that our doing of good will persuade society to embrace a church that will not go with society into sin.

Is our mission hopeless? No, not at all. God will grow his church. Christ will see his glory spread all over the globe. All God intends to save will be saved. The church’s mission includes making disciples of all nations. Christ will not fail in his mission. He has never failed once in a single thing that he ever set out to do in the past, and this will not change in the future.

Peter also reminds us in verse 5 that the Lord will judge sin and reign supreme. Peter writes, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” God will judge. God will do justice. We need not fear. Yes, we may suffer in this life. We may be ridiculed, maligned, and persecuted. And we will also see the church grow and the gospel spread all over the globe. We need not lose heart. The Lord will win his people. The Lord will judge those who oppose him and reject the gospel. Let us be faithful to obey the commands of God without giving in to the temptation to compromise for the world’s approval.

Doctrine Plus Mission: Proclaim a True Gospel

Galatians 1:6-9 – 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

We know this passage. It is sobering. It causes us to pay attention. We know that there is one gospel. We know that anyone preaching something other than the one gospel is in serious trouble.

When you think about the urgency and seriousness of this passage, I believe it should cause you to cling to two significant pillars: doctrine and mission. I also believe that, in many a discussion that I have read over the past couple of years, one or both of these is missing. May we be more careful.

In recent days, I have read many people telling other Christians to stop fussing about issues related to doctrine, secondary issues, side issues, tertiary issues. The assumption is that, among the basic group under the banner evangelical or perhaps under the banner of a denomination, everybody already agrees on the gospel and so there should be only focus on mission. So long as we all like the same teacher, sign the same doctrinal statement, or have the same name in our churches, there is no reason to roll up our sleeves and get down to the work of hashing out what is biblical in most issues. Just take the gospel to the world.

On the other hand, there are many other discussions I have read that are all issues. We draw lines in the sand. Are you on my side? If so, you are OK—for now. If not, you are a heretic, even if you agree with me on 99.9% of systematic theology. Perhaps we agree on every doctrine, but we disagree on implementation. It’s time to put you out of the camp.

What should we see from Galatians 1:6-9? First, doctrine matters, a lot. Get the gospel wrong, and it is a damnable offense. If any person suggests that there should be a unity of mission when there is a genuine disunity in significant doctrine, there is a problem. Yes, the gospel is simple. But the gospel is also doctrinally loaded. And we can easily distort the gospel when we also embrace false doctrines that surround it. We would be fools to think that only a basic agreement on the rudiments of the gospel is enough to say that we are doing what we should. Tell people to ignore theological differences on issues, even what you think are secondary issues, and you risk opening the door to them also misunderstanding the gospel or proclaiming a false one.

Second, there is a mission. The genuine gospel needs to be proclaimed. Thus, we cannot spend all our time and energy in polemics. Yes, that group over there may very well be wrong in how they try to accomplish this mission or how they explain that doctrine. Yes, it matters. But if your focus is primarily a focus that makes you angry at other Christians and their folly instead of being a focus that makes you love Jesus more and take his grace to the globe, something is wrong.

So, hear me, proclaim a true gospel. Make sure you know the gospel. Help others know it too. Know it matters. But do not focus so much on fixing others that you stop loving and proclaiming the gospel.

Jesus Judges

Revelation 7:15-17 – 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

God is holy. This is true of God the Father and of God the Son. Jesus, if he is not holy, is not God. While the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, when it comes to the attributes of divine perfection, all that the Father is, the Son is also.

When we think of attributes of divine perfection, we think of things like merciful, gracious, and kind. We think of things like good, faithful, honest, unwavering. And, when we describe God, we understand that the Lord, in his holiness, is both full of love and perfectly just and full of holy wrath against the sin of humanity.

For some, the notion that Jesus would judge with the same wrath as God the Father is tough to understand. Unfortunately, there are those who have painted the Father and the Son as on opposite sides of the love and wrath continuum. This division of the character of the persons of the Godhead distorts our understanding both of the love of the Father and of the wrath of the Son.

How can we know that God the Father is loving? It is from his love that the Father entered into a covenant of redemption with the Son and Spirit to rescue from sin a people. Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God the Father’s love is on display in the death of his only Son for sinners. The Father does not begrudgingly accept us because of the Son’s work. The Father actively sent his Son to rescue us.

Similarly, some fail to see the perfect just wrath of the Son against sin. But we see it quite clearly in Revelation 6. As John, inspired by God, paints a picture of the judgment of God on the rebellious and unrepentant, notice whose wrath is in view. The sinners who fear the judgment they can now not avoid cry out in terror of the wrath of God and of the Lamb. They know that the day of “their” wrath has come.

When God finally judges, Jesus is not an unwilling participant. No, just as the justice of the Father will be fully on display in the final judgment, so too will we see the perfect justice of the Son. Jesus hates sin just as much as God the Father hates sin. Jesus will judge just as perfectly, just as wrathfully, as God the Father.

Why paint this picture? How does it help? It is good not to misunderstand the Father. God is love. It is good not to misunderstand the Son, Jesus is a just judge as well as a gracious Savior. All that God is, Jesus is. All that God is, the Father is. All that God is, the Spirit is. Does God the Father hate and judge sin? So does Jesus. Does Jesus lovingly rescue a people by grace through faith? That is also the heart of God the Father.

It is also helpful for a Christian to see the wrath of the Son when you think of your own salvation. Jesus will judge. Jesus also knew exactly what he was doing when he went to the cross for your sin and mine. Jesus knew that he would bear a perfect, infinite wrath against your sin because that wrath is just as much his wrath as it is the Father’s. Yet Jesus, out of love for you, out of love for the Father, chose to willingly suffer that wrath that you might both be rescued and be a permanent reminder of God’s perfect love and mercy.

Finally, it is good for a non-Christian to see this. Jesus will judge. Do not dare let yourself think, just because Jesus is loving in Scripture, just because Jesus warned us against hypocritical judging, that Jesus will not judge you. Yes, Jesus offers you salvation. You can come to him and be forgiven if you will turn from your sin, bow to his lordship, and entrust your soul to him and his finished work. But, if you refuse this offer of mercy, you will suffer his wrath on the day of judgment, and that will be a wrath you cannot survive.

The Pastor as Counselor — A Review

David Powlison. The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

Every pastor should read David Powlison. I seldom say that every anything should read anyone. Powlison is special. Though this dear saint recently went home to be with his Lord, the strong yet sweet words of a gracious author, teacher, and counselor live on.

The Pastor as Counselor feels to me like a sweet farewell. Published posthumously, this brief work serves as a helpful reminder of what Powlison spent his life teaching. Pastors are called by God to minister the word to people in both public and private settings. Because we have the word of God and the Spirit of God, we have strength and power to draw upon in helping others that therapists often lack. And, because faithful pastors serve people from a place of established relationship rather than weekly appointments, we have opportunities to minister to the hearts of people in ways that others simply cannot match.

This book will not teach you biblical counseling. What it will do is give you a solid argument for why pastors should be counseling in their congregations as well as a solid explanation of the advantages of such counseling. This book from the close of Powlison’s ministry could be a sweet introduction for many to a man whose work is truly valuable to the people of God.

** I Received a free copy of this work in exchange for posting an honest review as part of a reviewers program. **

No Darkness at All

1 John 1:5 – This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

I’ve recently been reading through a lovely work on the holiness of God called Before the Throne by Allen Nelson. As the author reminds his readers of significant components of what it means that God is holy, readers are challenged to think of God as he has revealed himself, as the thrice holy God. And part of what it means that God is holy is that God is endlessly, uncompromisingly perfect.

Here in John’s first epistle, he gives us a simple image for what it means that God is perfect. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. There is no shadow over God’s goodness. There is no hidden flaw. There is no missing piece. God is perfect, complete, utterly good, absolutely right.

Apply this. God is flawless. That means that all that God has ever done or ever commanded is right. Do you cringe at some of God’s laws? Be careful. God is without flaw, without the darkness or stain of sin. Thus, if anything God commands is offensive to you, the offense, the darkness, the stain of sin is in you and not in the act or command of God. Thus, we submit to Scripture knowing that it is inspired by a God who has no darkness at all in him.

Add to this the picture of how far short of absolute perfection we fall. God is 100% perfect. What is your percentage if left to yourself? Are you 50% good? Are you 80% good? Guess what, in comparison to 100% good, your best number is nothing. There is an infinite gap between my goodness and that of the Lord. He has no darkness at all. Any darkness in me is an insurmountable hurdle if God does not bridge the gap for me. This should make you love Jesus more the more you think of it. That God who is perfect would rescue you who are not, that is glorious and stunningly gracious.

God is good. God’s word is good. God’s ways are good. God’s standards are good. All these are perfect, because God is light with not a hint of darkness. All god has ever done is flawless. This is a God worthy of worship, worthy of gratitude, worthy of praise, worthy of angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!”

Submission or Civil Disobedience

2 Peter 2:13-14 – 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Romans 13:1-4 – 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.”

Over the past year, I have heard more and thought more about a Christian response to government than in any prior time. After all, for the most part, Christians in America have lived with a solid amount of religious freedom and little fear of governmental persecution. But, with videos of arrested pastors in Canada and articles about fines and government strongarming in California so prominent this past year, we have to be sure that we know what we will do if, or perhaps more honestly, when the government again seeks to restrict Christian freedom in the United States.

As we discuss the issue of religious freedom, obedience to government, and civil disobedience, the three passages I listed above are front and center. In general, these passages are simple and simply applied. Christians, when all things are equal, when life is going normally, you are supposed to obey the government. God puts leaders in place. Those leaders have a God-given job to do, and you and I are supposed not to get in the way.

But not all things are equal. Not all governments are willing to do their jobs. And we must ask ourselves what we are to do in those settings.

In 1 Peter 2:13, we are called to submit to the government for the Lord’s sake. But what if the government is trying to prevent us from obeying the Lord’s commands? What if the government is leveling an attack on the Lord’s worship or against human beings, the Lord’s image? Do we submit for the Lord’s sake to an attack on the Lord’s glory? I cannot think so.

In verse 14, the Lord shows us exactly what the governing authorities are tasked to do. God raised up human government for this reason, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” So long as the government is punishing the evil and praising the good, we are to follow their lead. But what do we do when the government punishes the good and praises the evil? In such a case, obedient submission cannot be the only option.

How about in Romans 13, the more often quoted passage? We see there that the very same principles are at work. In verse 3, Paul tells us that rulers are to be a terror to bad conduct, never for good conduct. In verse 3, we see that we should receive the government’s approval for good conduct. And, in verse 4, we see that the government has the authority given it by God to bear the sword, to exercise the greatest of punishments, against only the wrongdoer. But should we assume that we are also to submissively respect and obey a government that punishes the good and applauds the wrongdoer?

When, then, do we apply Acts 5:29? When do we refuse to follow the lead of rulers over us? In Acts 5, the apostles would not listen to any law against preaching Jesus, even though the authorities demanded they stop. Why? At that point, the authorities had demanded that the good not be done and that which opposes the Lord be allowed to stand. At that point, faithful followers of Jesus could not submit. Later in Acts, Paul also would not listen to authorities who tried to release him secretly from prison after publicly jailing him wrongly. In fact, Paul repeatedly defied authorities when those authorities tried to stop him from preaching the word when they did not want him to do so.

Christians, it is our job to think clearly and respond faithfully. We are to obey the government eagerly so long as the government is rewarding the good and punishing the evil. We are to oppose it when the government commands the rewarding of evil and the punishing of the good. When the government attempts to reach into areas where the Lord has not given it authority, we are not required to follow. Thus, when the government tries to tell us how to raise our children or when we may or may not sing, we are obligated to go against the rulers who are overreaching their God-given bounds.

I have no judgment for churches who followed their local regulations over the past year, even when those regulations hindered worship. Many of us were caught off guard. Many of us were not ready to know when to submit or when to respectfully disobey. Besides, many of us were dealing with vastly different sources of information and just did not know what was the most loving thing to do for our people. So, as I say, I am not judging anybody here.

What I am doing, however, is reminding you now, get ready. This is not the first time that the government has attempted to reach into the church, and it will not be the last. As you take off a mask and begin to breathe freely, remember that , for a season, the government told you this was not OK. They said that they were looking out for your safety. And, who knows, maybe they were telling us the truth. I’m not worried about that today. What I am thinking about is the next one.

Sometime soon, Christian, the government will have another thing that they will tell us is for our safety. Perhaps the government will say that you are not safe if you do not support their causes. Perhaps they will say that you are not safe if you do not applaud all they say that safe people applaud. Perhaps they will say that safe people do not say that the Bible is perfect, inerrant, and fully sufficient. Perhaps they will say that it is not safe to sing hymns and preach sermons that say that there is only one way to find salvation. Perhaps they will say that Christians who hold to a biblical view of modern issues are not safe for public health including public mental health. Perhaps they will say that those who do not embrace CRT or who do not bow to the LGBTQ+ agenda are not safe for public health.

Christian, do you have enough love for Jesus, enough steel in your spine, enough trust in the word of God to stand when the government comes to you and says that, for your own good and for the public safety, you have to stop following this or that command of the Lord? I’m not fearmongering. I’m telling you that this has been the pattern of the government throughout all of human history. Do not be surprised. Do not give in. Be ready. Obey when you can. Disobey when you must. But submit to Scripture and honor Jesus above all.

Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church — A Review

Matt Smethurst. Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021. 176 pp. $14.99.

Matt Smethurst has given the church a true gift in his work on deacons in the Building Healthy Churches series from 9Marks. The books in this series tend to be short, readable, biblical, and practical. Deacons is no exception.

The role of deacons in any local church is an extremely important though often misunderstood office. God shaped his church perfectly, providing for deacons and elders to serve and shepherd the body. Yet in many cases, what deacons are to do or who deacons are to be is a mystery.

In this valuable resource, the author offers help for anyone involved in the church to aid us in thinking more clearly about God’s plan for deacons. Through these chapters, we learn of mistakes that many of us have experienced as well as the historical background to the office. The author takes his readers through the biblical qualifications for deacons and suggests multiple areas in which they may serve. In a nice closure to this work, Smethurst shows us both what benefits deacons bring to the church as well as the God-honoring beauty of their service. And, in a couple of helpful Appendices, we find a discussion of whether or not the Bible allows for women to serve in the deacon role and a helpful questionnaire that the author uses in his own church for potential deacons.

As an elder in a church with deacons who already serve well, I most certainly believe that this book will be an excellent resource. I believe that it can encourage our deacons and help us to better consider others to potentially serve. I also believe that this work can serve as a helpful source of ideas as we seek to better organize and direct our church’s ministry.

I also believe that this book can be a great tool for pastors and leaders in churches where the idea of the role of the deacon needs to be better understood and defined. Many of the chapters of this book would make excellent small group studies or could be the seed for faithful sermons that would help to teach the body about the gift of godly deacons.

Without reservation, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

—Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self — A Review

Carl R. Trueman. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020. 432 pp. $20.99.

Some books we read are polemics. Some are mere complaints. But, every once-in-a-while, we come across a book that is genuinely enlightening. Such is Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, is a Christian and historian. This work is Trueman’s analysis of the factors that have led us to our present cultural moment. As Trueman explains, his goal is to examine how our culture has come to both understand and even embrace the statement, “I am a woman in a man’s body.” This is not an analysis of basic biblical sexual ethics. Instead, this is a historical look at the forces that have come together over the past centuries to change how our society thinks so that a thought which would have been beyond comprehension to one generation is socially understood, accepted, and applauded by another.

Trueman, after looking at some ways of thinking about any cultural moment, traces the history of individualism beginning with the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He then examines the influence of poets from a few centuries ago such as Wordsworth, Shelley, and Blake. We read the thoughts of important historical figures such as Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Then the author proceeds to more modern social and political influencers to explain how our culture has come to think as it does.

For the Christian thinker, this historical and philosophical timeline is a powerful tool to show us that the present moral and cultural situation is far more than sexual rebellion. Our present moment is tied to a full-fledged rejection of the biblical view of reality. In simple terms, the Bible presents to us reality as a thing external to us, a thing to which we must conform, a thing created and determined by God. But many throughout the centuries have begun to seek to declare that reality is internally formed by the individual and that communities do harm to individuals when forcing them to conform to an external standard. This sort of thinking works itself out in a belief that one’s gender is determined, not by one’s biology, but by one’s perception of oneself. That determination moves forward to expressing that a refusal to accept and applaud a person’s perceived reality will eventually be seen as a hateful attack on the person rather than a simple disagreement about the facts of a situation.

This work is incredibly helpful in explaining our present cultural moment. It is not, however, simple. Trueman is a skilled writer and thinker. He does quite well in presenting complex thoughts. But this book is not easy. Trueman must address the writings of philosophers, poets, and other influencers from the past, thoughts which are not always easy to unpack after a first or even a second reading. Thus, I would not recommend this book to a casual reader. This book would make an outstanding textbook for a college or seminary class. It is excellent for someone who enjoys philosophy. It is a true help to someone wanting to understand why there appears to be no common ground in the thinking of groups which differ on issues of our understanding of sexuality.

While I cannot call this work easy to read, I can say that this work is important. I have read nothing over the past several years that is even close to being as helpful as The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self in explaining how culture presently thinks and the roots that have born this fruit. Trueman is clear, fair, and kind. He does not take cheap shots. Nor does he gloss over important implications of what he sees. Carl Trueman does a true scholar’s work, and he should be commended.

His Commands are not Burdensome

I have a quick challenge for my Christian friends. Are you ready? This one is simple, but I believe it is impactful.

First, I have a question for you: Do you believe the word of God? Stop and consider your doctrine of Scripture. Is the word of God true? Are all the words of God true? Did God say anything in Scripture about himself or his ways which is false? Think it through, as this is where the challenge lies. Do you believe God’s word?

OK, if you believe the word of God, I want to give you a single verse of Scripture. It is not obscure. It is not some sort of odd apologetics challenge. It is not some supposed contradiction. Honestly, it is not even a difficult verse for anybody to understand. I just want you to read this verse and think about whether or not you believe it since you say you believe the word of God. Here goes.

1 John 5:3 – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

I told you it was not hard to understand. But, dear me, I think, if you are honest, it might challenge you to revisit your claim to believe the word. I hope that this verse will challenge you to recommit yourself to that claim to believe the word. And, if you do, this will have implications for your life.

First, take note. If you believe the word of God, then you must believe that obedience to the commands of God is quite certainly connected to whether or not you can say you love God. This is no works-based salvation talk. Nor is this some return to Old Testament rituals. The fact is that John, late in the first century, writing to believers in the risen Lord Jesus, tells them that obeying the commands of God, the word of God, is inseparably linked to a genuine claim to love Jesus.

Does that call to tie your understanding of loving Jesus to obedience bother you? Is it off-putting? Do you feel unhappy with that as a way to talk about loving Jesus? Remember, you said you believe the word of God. God’s word says that love and obedience here are linked.

Let me challenge you even further. You say that you believe the word of God. Do you believe the second part of the verse too? Do you genuinely believe that the commands of the Lord are not burdensome? I hope you do.

I think that part of why many in the church today struggle with connecting love of Jesus to obedience to his commands has to do with the fact that many in the church do not believe the second half of the verse. For some reason—perhaps bad preaching, perhaps fleshliness, perhaps fear of persecution in our culture—many folks think of the commands of God as burdensome. Many think that no kind Savior would really ask people to obey the commands we see in the Bible. The commands are just too hard.

Consider what happens if you fail to believe the word here. What happens if you let yourself believe that the commands of God are burdensome? If you let yourself think God’s commands are burdensome, you will not connect obedience to those commands with the love of Christ. No way would you say to yourself that your failure to obey a burdensome command is you not loving Jesus. You will begin to give yourself a pass on the commands you find burdensome.

Think about how many folks hold a Bible in one hand even as they disobey the commands of the Lord. Husbands are nasty to their wives as if the call to love your wife as Christ loves the church is burdensome. Women fight against the biblical pattern for the structure of the family or the church as if God’s ordering is burdensome. Married couples walk away from their marriages without biblical justification, believing that God’s standards for marriage are just too burdensome. Singles ignore God’s commands for sexual purity as if God’s commands are too burdensome. Some battle against the fact that God created us male and female as if the very idea of creation in the image of God and genuine gender is burdensome. Some churches refuse to preach the word fearing the loss of a crowd as if the word that would be preached is burdensome. Many in seats or pews ignore the study of doctrine, preferring self-help and emotionalism over Scripture, as if the study of the Lord and his true ways is burdensome.

On and on I could go. And, let me be fair, where I refuse to obey the commands of God, when I give myself a pass to vent my cranky spirit or shrink back from the call to seek to make disciples, when I want to be lazy when God’s word calls for action, am I not also pretending that God’s word is just too burdensome for me in that moment? I’m not writing from a position of superiority. But I am writing to challenge both you and me.

God is good. God’s word is true. God’s ways are right. God’s commands are perfect, even those our culture hates. God’s commands are not burdensome. Obeying God’s commands is part of loving God. It is time for us to reset our understanding of Scripture by reminding ourselves that to love Jesus includes obedience to the word, and the word we obey is not, regardless of what our flesh would say, burdensome. No, we do not obey in our own strength. We rely on the Spirit of God. WE remain connected with other believers who will hold us accountable. We gather with believers and are fed by the word, strengthened when we sing the truth, nourished and convicted in Lord’s Supper, and refueled to continue in the process of sanctification. We do not do this alone or by our own strength. But we will, if we love Jesus, regularly recommit ourselves to loving him by obeying his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. Believe that word of God.

Gather for More Than Your Good

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Why gather? Why gather when some find it risky? Why gather when some would prefer we not? What if I do not feel like gathering or do not feel like I’m getting anything out of gathering?

By this time, I think every Christian will have heard someone speak to the verses highlighted above. In a season where gathering together has been avoided by some and clung to by others, this passage certainly should be on our minds. And what I want to mention in a quick brush of these verses is that your call to gather with other believers is not solely about you. It surely is about you, but not about you alone.

After setting for the church how great is the New Covenant in Christ, the author of Hebrews gives three significant commands to us regarding maintaining our faith and confidence. He tells us to draw near (22), to hold fast (23), and to encourage one another while not neglecting meeting together (24-25). These are all significant elements in clinging to our faith and resting in the grace of Christ in the face of a world that would turn us away from God and toward works-based faiths of one type or another.

When I read this, I am reminded of the deep significance of meeting together with believers. It is an essential element in our faith just as is drawing near and holding fast the faith. If a Christian wishes to maintain stability, he must continue to gather. But we ought not see this as merely personal—I draw near for my good. Certainly, it is true that my drawing near does me good. But we should also see that our continuing to assemble is part of how each of us invests in the lives of others. Continuing to gather together is how we spur one another toward love and good deeds. Seeing one another, smiling at one another, weeping with one another, singing with one another, sitting under the word with one another, praying with one another, rejoicing with one another, receiving Lord’s Supper with one another, all these are essential tools in our strengthening and being strengthened. Your attendance or mine is both for my soul and for the souls of the church as well as an act of obedient worship of our God.

May the Lord strengthen his church as we draw near to him, hold fast the faith, and continue to gather for his glory and our spiritual good.