Where are the Shepherds?

Philippians 2:19-22 – 19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

The word for pastor in Greek is a word that means shepherd. It is not at all complicated or confusing. Pastors are supposed to care for the sheep. Sometimes that means a warning. Sometimes it means a comforting word. Sometimes it means driving off enemies with a stick. Pastors care for their sheep.

The reason that this is on my mind is that, as I read the above passage, I see the uniqueness of Timothy. Paul says that he has nobody like Timothy who will truly be concerned for the wellbeing of the sheep. Something about the way that Timothy does ministry stands out and makes him a powerfully useful tool in the ministry of Paul and in the church of God.

What makes me sad is that I wonder how many would say something similar. I’m not wondering if people would highlight a Timothy and say how helpful and loving he is. But I do wonder how many would look at a Timothy, a man who cares for others, and say that Timothy is unique. Do we truly not have men like Timothy who will be genuinely concerned for the good of others in their care?

I fear, as I watch many a person in the church, that there are too few, far too few, who genuinely seek the good of others. We have many who will fight to be right. We have many who will happily call out error. We have many who will seek to gain a bigger audience. We have many who will go to the mat for novel doctrines. But do we have many who will simply pour out their lives to care for and seek the good of the sheep?

May we never need to find Timothy unique. May the Lord bless our church with elders and laypersons who will have lives marked by the genuine care of others. May we see pastors who love to shepherd. May we know that warning and comfort, preaching and compassion, church discipline and restoration are all part of those who care for the flock of God, shepherding as overseers.

More than One Kind of Disobedience

Numbers 20: 7-12 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
12 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

Psalm 106:32-33

32 They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.

Psalm 106 walks us through a great deal of the history of Israel. The Psalmists wants to help the nation remember the faithfulness of God even in the face of the nation’s unfaithfulness. And here in verses 32-33, we see a brief summary of the failure of Moses at Meribah. The Psalm helps us to see where God says Moses messed up.

In Numbers, God said that Moses did not believe in him so as to uphold him as holy. We see lots of speculation as to why this is. Some people say that the issue is Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it as he was commanded. Some suggest that Moses appears to take credit for giving the water, and this is the problem. And, I would suggest that those are true issues.

But Psalm 106 helps us when it tells us that it is the bitterness of spirit and rashness of speech that dishonored the Lord. Moses got mad. Moses got bitter. And Moses let his bitterness lead him to speak in a way that dishonored the Lord. Moses stopped focusing on the power and glory of God. Moses used his mouth simply to tell off the people. And, yes, Moses spoke as if he was the one doing the work. Moses chose to do things his way instead of God’s way, because the people got under his skin.

This should remind us to watch our actions, our words, and our attitudes. In our fallen world, it is easy to let bitterness into your spirit. It is easy to get angry with the folly of the foolish. It is easy to just want to squash dumb dumbs with your words. And our culture has made this all socially acceptable. After all, how many YouTube videos are supposedly funny moments where somebody just goes off on somebody else? How many movie scenes show a person getting their comeuppance when the meek character finally snaps? How much Facebook or Twitter content includes people spewing out pent up frustrations? How often do you see someone acting like a buffoon in public if they feel insulted by anybody for any reason?

Honor God as holy. Trust God. From the account in Numbers, this has to mean that you do not take personal credit for the work of Almighty God. It also must mean that you obey the instructions of God in his word as he gives them. And, from Psalm 106, we learn that it also means to guard against bitterness and rashness of speech.

Where do you need to be careful? Are you growing bitter? Is your speech becoming more self-focused and harsh? Are you able to keep your discourse focused on the Lord and his word rather than stooping to the low-hanging fruit of sarcastic personal attacks?

Or, perhaps do you need to grow by being willing to follow the direction of God even when faced with a nasty, complaining crowd? Even in the face of mass foolishness, Moses was still required by God to obey the command of God, as God gave it, for God’s glory.

Justice or Abomination

Proverbs 17:15

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

A biblical view of justice involves a variety of things. Justice includes the proper application of the principles of God’s righteousness in the world. Justice involves proper punishment for wrongs done. Justice involves action taken to make whole or to repair things when a person is wronged.

Here in Proverbs 17:15, we are reading about aspects of justice perverted. And I would that these were merely Old Testament problems. But they are not. In point of fact, this proverb shows us problems that genuinely exist in our world today.

Many of the proverbs are written in a form of Hebrew poetry in which thoughts are set side-by-side. Sometimes a thought will repeat the same idea. Other times, a thought will teach us by putting two opposites near one another in a balanced contrast.

Feel the balance of the contrasting points of this proverb. We see two things that might seem opposite: justifying contrasted with condemning; wicked contrasted with righteous. But we see a connection, something that ties the two contrasts together. To justify the wicked and to condemn the righteous are both abominations in the sight of the Lord. God hates when both things happen.

What is this little word to the wise telling us? There is nothing good about ignoring when wickedness is done. A just judge must properly condemn the wicked actions of people. Just punishment, right retribution, must follow if the judge is to be pleasing to the Lord. No person should be acquitted of a crime simply because he is rich, or simply because he is poor. Right condemnation should fall on the one who does wickedness.

Similarly, to condemn the righteous is an equal abomination. There is no good, no justice, no righteousness in pronouncing a sentence of condemnation on someone who has not committed a crime. Regardless of whether the person is rich or poor, man or woman, weak or strong, we do not condemn a person rightly who is not guilty but righteous.

The point of the justice system for any people should be to do actual justice. That means that impartial judgment is rendered. Condemn the wicked, those actually guilty. Justify the righteous, refusing to punish people for crimes they did not commit. A society refusing to do justice in either direction is an abomination before the Lord.

Are there nuances that must apply in a discussion of justice? Of course. But, if we refuse to start with the principle laid out here in Proverbs, we cannot even begin to properly consider such nuances. For a society to function, we must begin with the belief that justice includes condemning the guilty and justifying the righteous. Belief systems that would punish people for crimes they did not commit is evil. A system that would look at a person proven guilty and choose to ignore that guilt is wrong. One might think that what I have just written is blatantly obvious, but, as our society continues to decline, the obvious needs to be clearly restated.

Mocking the Maker

Proverbs 17:5

Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.

One of the greatest weaknesses in materialistic worldviews is the simple question of worth. Any worldview must be able to answer for a thinking person the question of what makes human life special. What is it that separates us from the beasts or from the chemicals bubbling in a beaker? Ultimately, when one denies that we are created by God, logically that one will eventually deny any true reason for our value.

Here in Proverbs, we read a warning against mocking the poor or delighting in calamities. In our social-justice seeking society, one would expect this little verse to be popular. But in it, we see something that those who embrace critical theory actually cannot embrace. What is it that makes mocking the poor an evil act? The answer is that to insult the poor mocks their maker.

The writer of this proverb draws for us a simple principle. We must not delight when people suffer. Nor can people insult the poor with impunity. The reason why is that the poor are people made in the image of God. Thus, to attack them is to attack the image of the King.

The word of God calls for justice for the poor, the oppressed, the victimized. But this is not based on a social binary of powerful versus powerless. Neither is it based on perceived discrepancies of rich versus poor, ethnicity versus ethnicity, male versus female, or any other social dividing line. The reason the Bible calls for justice for the poor, for right treatment of others and right application of the principles of God’s law, is that all human beings have equal worth as image-bearers. From the poor to the rich, from the old to the young to the infant in the womb, every human being has worth because of the Lord our Maker. And to treat people cruelly is to dishonor or even to attack the Lord whose image they bear.

Tone and Walking Worthy of the Calling

Ephesians 4:1-3 – 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

So you’re a Christian. Lovely. What parts of your life look different? Does your speech change? Does your attitude change? Do only bigtime outer behaviors change?

After Paul has shared the gospel with clarity in his letter to the Ephesians, he turns to calling the church to live in a way that befits the gracious plan of God. The Lord wants his people to have lives that reflect the fact that we are saved, forgiven, followers of God. And that change will come in many areas.

In our present world, there are some interesting arguments happening regarding issues related to speech. Particularly, this argument happens around the word “tone.” there are a few groups who suggest that no Christian should be checked in his or her speech or writing based on tone. There are others who use tone as if this is the final trump card allowing them to demand that nobody ever say anything with which they disagree or which might hurt their feelings. Is one group right?

As the Lord through Paul calls us to walk worthy of the calling, I notice that he particularly is interested in our attitude. We are to walk with all humility, having a properly lowly view of ourselves and our own goodness. We are to walk with gentleness, meekness, with our strength kept under control. Just consider those two things in how you converse, especially on-line where conversation tends to lose civility. Is your speech humble? Would someone think that your view of yourself is in check? Is your attitude gentle as Jesus claimed to be gentle in heart toward us (Mat 11:28-30)? Understand, gentle does not mean that you refuse to use strength. Gentle simply means that you use strength under control. In speech, this would mean speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

Walking worthy of the calling includes patience, a willingness to suffer long for the sake of the glory of God and the good of others. It includes bearing with one another in love. These must include a patience with those with whom we disagree but who are in the family of God. Loving others must include true sacrifice for their good, including sometimes sacrificing our perceived right to get the last word for the sake of the life and good of another. The one who walks worthy of the calling is eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are careful to make sure that believers understand that we are on the same team, in Christ, even when we may need to correct.

OK, so does that put me on the tone police or anti-tone side of on-line debates? Neither. In point of fact, I am on the walk worthy of the calling side. If your on-line conversation, or your personal conversation, fails to demonstrate humility, gentleness, and unity, your conversation has a problem. And, yes, your tone, your choice of words, your attitude, your illustration, your sarcasm all can communicate that you are not humble, not gentle, and not seeking unity in the faith or willing to bear with others through their weakness.

Ah, so have I just proved I’m actually a big tone monitor? No. Why? Because, if a person is in sin, teaching things that dishonor the Lord, they must be corrected. And it is likely that none of us, when corrected, will feel like the person who corrected us was ever gentle enough. Correction hurts. Reproof almost always brings emotional pain. And the more a fool I have made of myself as I try to double down on my particular behavior or my particular doctrine, the more I will be upset when somebody shows me that I need to change.

I would recommend, whether on-line or in person, you check your attitude and actions in a different way depending on whether you are the one rebuked or the one doing the rebuking. Are you introducing a polemic? Speak the truth. Be strong. Be clear. But, if that clarity is not gentle, strength under control, then you are not walking worthy of the calling. If your words are snarky, insulting, harsh, ugly, mean-spirited, you really cannot claim to be humble, to have unity in mind, or to simply be loving. Remember the call to restore wayward brothers gently (Gal. 6:1-2). You can be strong and meek at the same time. And, be honest enough with yourself and with the Lord to know where your weakness lies. Are you more apt to cower and not tell the truth out of the fear of man? Are you more apt to try to score points by being nasty and belittling? Battle against your own sin as you seek to speak the truth in love.

Be careful not to excuse bad behavior simply because you just know that you’re right. Be careful thinking that, since Jesus turned over temple tables, you are Christlike enough that you can come crashing into somebody else’s world with the same righteous indignation. Be careful thinking that the sarcastic words of Elijah to the prophets should mark your daily interactions with those who oppose your view. Yes, maybe there is a time when really hard speech needs to be used. But, if this is what people regularly accuse you of, perhaps there is more of the flesh and less walking worthy of the calling in your life than you think. Be bold enough to examine yourself and ask the Lord to show you if, just maybe, you are not the perfect prophet you have built yourself up to be in your own mind.

But, if you are more likely to ignore an argument because you dislike another’s tone, be careful. One of the words translated “repent:” in our Bibles’ is a word that means to feel differently, and it implies a godly sorrow. If you are wrong and you are reproved, it is very likely that you will emotionally not like it. If you are given to shutting down if your emotions are tweaked, fight against that. Read past the tone you do not like. Listen beyond your feels. Ask the Lord if there is any truth in the case another is making, even if you think the person making the case is being a stinker. Do not shut down a person’s solid, biblical argument just because you are offended by the person. Be determined to embrace the truth of God even if you do not think the person bringing that truth is acting godly.

Dear friends, may we walk worthy of our calling. That means that we walk in the word of God. And it means that we walk in humility, gentleness, love, and all the rest.

The Mistakes of Mrs. Job

Job 2:6, 9-10
6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

The account of Job and his suffering is something that is familiar to most believers. The Lord allowed Job to go through great suffering as a testament to the glory and faithfulness of the Lord. And this kind of experience is something we can sometimes struggle to understand, especially when we suffer in our land.

Two things get my attention as I look at what happened in Job 2. First, as people often point out, God is in control. When the devil challenged the Lord, God prescribed his boundaries. Satan had no ability to go one inch further than the Lord allowed. In verse 6, God said the devil was not allowed to take Job’s life.

In verses 9 and 10, we see the conversation between Job and his wife. Often when I have read it, I have thought of Mrs. Job as another form of persecution for the Old Testament saint. Today, however, I hear the words of Job’s wife as something pretty familiar. She faces hardship in the life of someone she loves, and she despairs. Mrs. Job loses her way, stops trusting God in her circumstances, and fails. And her failure is not something we only see in her.

Today, there are many in our world who would curse God for the hardships we face. Many would suggest that, if God does not manage the world in a way they understand and approve, they should be free to curse God and do things their own way. We see this in those who demand the right to sin in order to exact the justice they desire. We see this in those who say they will never follow God if he allows tragedies like natural disasters and school shootings. We see this in those who refuse to worship God in his commanded ways if his limitations do not allow for women in the pulpit or a redefinition of marriage.

In point of fact, Mrs. Job’s counsel to curse God and die is not foreign to us. Yes, it’s pitiful, but it is not strange. And her failure is born out of two problems in thought. First, Job’s wife has forgotten that this universe exists first and foremost for the glory of the Almighty. As she watches her husband suffer so greatly, as she faces the loss of so many and so much that was dear to her, she fails to set in her heart that God is the highest purpose and most valuable being there is.

Second, Job’s wife has taken her eyes off of eternity. She has forgotten that whatever we go through in the here and now is brief, infinitesimally brief, when compared to the forever that people will spend in the presence of the Lord. Yes, Job suffered. Yes, his wife suffered. But that suffering will only last a moment.

As we look at a world with terrible hardships all around us, may we not make the mistakes of Mrs. Job. May we remember that God is in control. May we remember that God’s glory is the highest good. And May we remember that we are not living in this broken life forever. There is an eternity ahead of us where we will glorify and be comforted by the God who made us if we find ourselves under his grace through Jesus. .

Does Your Gospel Sound Like This?

Luke 24:45-47 – 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

What is the gospel? How do we proclaim it? What is the Great Commission? How do we obey it?

Here at the end of Luke’s telling of the gospel, we see Jesus present the Lukan version of the Great Commission. It does not contain everything that we see in Matthew, but it still shows us something important.

Boiling this passage down, Jesus, in commissioning his disciples, tells them that they should understand his death and resurrection and they should proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is all Luke was led by the Spirit of God to include in his expression of the Great Commission. And I think we should learn from it.

The first part is easy. We know that anybody who gets the gospel must grasp the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there is no gospel without the Son of God dying to pay the price for the sins of others. There is no gospel if Jesus stays in his grave. We must see that the price was fully paid and that all who are saved by Jesus will live with him eternally just as he lives after death in a glorious, resurrection body.

But how about that other part? When you think about the gospel, when you share it, would you describe your gospel presentation as the proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Is that the message of your church? Or have other things snuck in there?

What is present in this gospel? Those who repent are saved. What is repentance? To repent is to change how you think, how you feel, and what you do. To repent in a gospel context is to stop thinking you are OK on your own. It is to stop trusting in yourself and your own goodness. It is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and your only hope of salvation through is life, death, and resurrection. It is to genuinely sorrow over your sin and to understand that you have earned the judgment of God. It is to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus, asking for salvation based solely on Jesus and his finished work. And it is a salvation that, once you receive it, leads to a new life of repentance where you continue to turn from sin and continue to trust in and obey the Lord.

What is not in this message? Look at the text. It’s not anything gimmicky. It’s not a sappy, emotion-only appeal. There is nothing here that should lead a church to try to bribe someone into the gospel with giveaways, false promises of prosperity, or capitulation to modern political whims. There is no message that says that you can have salvation while continuing to be and believe all that you were and thought before salvation. There is a demand for faith that will change your very life even as that demand tells you that you are saved by Jesus and not by your change.

I would never want us to proclaim a loveless message of a harsh Jesus. Nor would I suggest that there is not beauty in the promise of grace. But I do believe that many a church has mistaken the call to make disciples for a call to make converts by any means necessary. I believe that many seek to draw people to pray a prayer without actually calling them to repentance. I believe that many people are fooled into thinking they have checked the box to gain a free pass to heaven without ever being called to change a single thing about who they are. And that kind of presentation is not a call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Is the message about God’s love? O yes! God is wonderfully, gloriously loving toward his people. All of us have sinned. All of us deserve judgment. God has provided one and only one way of salvation. None of us can work to earn it. The way of salvation is Jesus, his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. The way of salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone, trusting Jesus alone. And God’s way of salvation can be summarized by this call, “Repent!” All who wish to be saved let go of everything to take hold of Jesus. All who wish to be saved stop thinking they can define morality in their own way, and they surrender to the lordship of Jesus. All who wish to be saved turn from sin to follow Jesus. All who wish to be saved trust only in Jesus. And when they are saved, all who are saved are saved, not by their actions, but by the person and the finished work of Jesus.

Neil Shenvi’s Why Believe — A Review

Neil Shenvi. Why Believe?: A Reasoned Approach to Christianity. Wheaton: Crossway, 2022. 272 pp.

Over the past few years, the name Neil Shenvi has become known among certain Christian circles. Shenvi, a PhD research scientist and homeschooling dad of four, has offered a great deal of helpful and gracious material regarding the issue of critical theory in a variety of arenas. So, when I saw that he was releasing an upcoming book offering a reasoned approach to the believability of Christianity, I immediately reached out to the publisher for my review copy. I was not disappointed!

In Why Believe, Shenvi takes his readers through a variety of thoughtful arguments that point to the reasonability and believability of the faith. Borrowing from thinkers such as C. S. Lewis, Shenvi challenges readers to seriously consider the claims of and about Jesus. Looking at science, Shenvi points to evidence for God in nature, even in astronomy. And, telling his own story, the author helps his readers to see how a reasonable, thoughtful, scientifically minded man moved from skepticism to belief.

As I read through this work, I found myself particularly enjoying the logical construction of Shenvi’s arguments. Perhaps this is because of his scientific background. Whatever the reason, I find that Shenvi’s writing is something I would not hesitate to recommend to a thoughtful person who is not sure about the veracity of the Christian claim. And, honestly, this is not something I would say about every apologetic text out there.

Understand what you are getting in picking up this book. Shenvi is not writing to solve every theoretical problem with the faith or to settle every objection potentially posed. This book is evidential apologetics and not presuppositional in nature—though Shenvi never attempts to find that elusive and nonexistent neutral starting point. He will not settle for you arguments about the age of the earth or the problem of evil. Instead, in many ways, Shenvi simply takes the objections to the faith that we often encounter and presents very reasonable responses to show that the faith is at least as credible as any alternative theory. For example, in response to naturalistic attempts to explain away the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, Shenvi points out that, when all evidence is weighed, the possibility of resurrection is only less likely if one assumes the impossibility of anything supernatural.

I happily recommend that believers interested in a new, clear, helpful evidential apologetics book pick up Shenvi’s work. Perhaps his words can open doors for skeptics to give consideration to the faith they assume to be illogical on its surface. Only the work of Almighty God can convert a soul, and I would certainly never suggest otherwise. But, perhaps the Lord will use these encouraging and well-reasoned arguments to at least make someone sit down and talk.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A gloriously God-Focused Testimony

Galatians 1:15-17 – 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

How do you speak of your salvation? What words do you use? When you speak of being saved, are you the prime mover? Does your doctrine of salvation focus more attention on yourself or on the Lord?

Just recently, we had a new members class at our church. Eight folks sat with me through an afternoon of looking at our church’s beliefs, structures, values, strategies, and all the rest. In the beginning of that class, we took time simply to get to know one another. The stories of how couples met, how people found their way to Vegas, and past church experiences were fascinating.

Of course, in our discussion, we talked with each other about how each person came to faith. Some had particular moments they could point to. Some had only a season of life that blossomed over time into true trust in Christ. And many in the group included in their story a time when they grew in greater understanding of the gospel they had already received. For many, as they grew, a greater grasp of the powerful working of God that drew them to salvation gave them great hope, peace, and joy.

So, this morning as I was reading Galatians, I found myself drawn to Paul’s words of personal testimony beginning in verse 15 of chapter 1 and the four parts of that testimony that give all the glory to the Lord. Paul, speaking of his salvation and his later calling to ministry, says that God had set him apart before he was born. Like Jeremiah, Paul is clear that God knew him before he was formed in the womb. God not only was aware of Paul’s person, but God chose a path and purpose for Paul before Paul was conceived and before Paul had ever chosen to do anything either good or bad. God predestined Paul.

Next, in his testimony, Paul declares that god called him by his grace. Think here of what you do and do not hear in that. Paul does not give you a big list of the ways in which he investigated the faith before coming to a conclusion. Nor does Paul talk about his willingness to give God a try in order to fix his struggling marriage or to give his waning career a boost. Paul simply says that, by his grace, God called Paul. The picture is not one of Paul set on neutral ground, given two options, and picking the one he liked better. The picture is of a firm, authoritative, commanding, calling voice of God moving Paul from death to life, from lostness into salvation.

Then Paul points out that God revealed his Son. Paul did not know Jesus. If you know Paul’s story, you know that Paul had many of the facts about Jesus. Paul just hated Jesus and the church that followed Jesus. But one day, one single moment, took place that changed Paul forever. Jesus came to Paul. Jesus powerfully took Paul by the soul and changed him. Jesus changed Paul, by grace, out of love, for God’s glory.

Then, Paul says that this also included his life-change and mission. God had set Paul apart, called him, and revealed Christ to him. Once Paul was drawn to Christ, Paul had a new life mission, to preach Christ. Paul was no longer to be a man living for advancement in the Jewish religious ranks. Paul was to suffer for the sake of the gospel that saves souls and truly honors the Lord. Paul was to take the message of Jesus to Jew and gentile alike. Paul was to proclaim that salvation is not to be found in obedience to Jewish laws or participation in ceremonies but only in repentant faith in Christ. And Paul would find joy and eternal reward in doing what God had planned for him since before he was born.

When Paul told his story, he was clear that all glory for his salvation belongs to the Lord. God set Paul apart before birth. Paul can take no credit for that. God called Paul to himself. Again, Paul cannot claim that he did something to make that happen. God revealed Jesus to Paul. That was not the future apostle’s doing. And God changed the newly believing Paul into a powerful preacher, missionary, and author of Scripture. No way would Paul say that he had earned that job.

What about you? Are you saved? How do you speak of your salvation? Does your testimony as you present it include God’s plan for you from before the dawn of time? Do you tell of God grabbing you and drawing you, calling you, supernaturally changing you and pulling you to himself? Do you tell of God showing you the truth of Christ by God’s revelatory power and not by your intellectual wranglings? Do you tell of how God changed you and set you on mission for Christ?

The interesting thing is you do not have to have a dramatic testimony like that of Paul to have this story. Even if you were converted as a young child, this story is still yours. God predestined you to salvation. God called you to want him, moving you by his power. God revealed to you your need for Jesus. And God gave you a mission, to live for him and his glory for the rest of your life.

Think about your testimony. Think about your doctrine of salvation. Be sure that as you tell your story, you know that it is far more about the God who saved you than the you he saved. Give God the glory he so richly deserves. And continue to yield yourself to the mission that God saved you and gave you to accomplish.

Puffed Up or Built Up

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 – 1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

In Corinth, a controversy stirred as to whether or not a Christian could eat meat that had been offered in the temple of an idol. Such meat was later sold in the market and certainly might be on the table in a person’s home. Some believers believed that to eat that meat was to participate in the worship of the idol. Some thought differently.

As Paul begins to address this issue—an issue I do not intend to be central in this post—he talks about a dangerous sort of knowledge. At the end of verse 1, Paul writes, “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” What is the “knowledge” that puffs up? How does it contrast with love? And how might this all apply to the lives of Christians today?

Contextually, it appears that the puffing up sort of knowledge has to do with a knowing of the truth that leads a believer to poorly treat a weaker brother or sister in the Lord. Because Bob knows that whether or not the food has been sacrificed to an idol, he is unkind when Jim is uncomfortable with it. What might Bob do? Perhaps he eats his food and makes a point to let Jim know what he is doing. Perhaps he dumps a truckload of knowledge on Jim’s head about this food whenever they are together. Perhaps he lets himself feel superior to Jim because Bob knows something that Jim simply is not knowledgeable enough to understand.

How then is love a contrast with knowledge? After all, none of us think that knowledge in and of itself is a bad thing. Love builds up. Whereas knowledge might fill one’s head with one’s own superiority, love will focus us on the good and the needs of others. Love will teach us to value the good of others even above our own comfort for the glory of God.

Consider Bob and Jim again. Bob knows that there is no worshipping of the idol if he happens to have a steak that was served in a home where idol-worshipers live. Jim is uncomfortable. What would love have Bob do? If Bob is not puffed up, Bob will certainly refrain from making fun of Jim for his confusion. Instead of mocking Jim for his lack of knowledge, Bob will speak wisely, gently, and even kindly to Jim. Perhaps Bob will seek to help Jim understand what Bob knows. Perhaps Bob will listen to Jim to better understand him even though Bob does not agree with him.

Will Bob then refuse to ever eat meat? Interestingly, this is something Paul said he would be willing to do if it would help in 8:13. However, I do not assume that this means that every Christian, in every circumstance, must put away every part of his life that others do not understand. Just before Paul talked about not eating meat, he particularly mentioned a hypothetical situation in which people were to see him eating in an idol’s temple, a place where people could be very confused as to whether or not he was participating in the worship of that idol. Paul’s greater point is that he would not want to do another person harm because of knowledge without love.

How might this apply in today’s world? Of course we could take this chapter and try to develop an exacting standard relating to liberty of conscience issues that are divisive in our culture: alcohol, entertainment, etc. But rather than focusing on the issues, I am focused as I write on the love side of things. I do not think that this passage is intended to tell us how to come down on the meat or no meat, drink or no drink, movies or no movies issues. Instead, I think that a greater point exists that we should treasure our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should love and build one another up. Sure, sometimes love means that you will forego your rights for the sake of another person’s conscience. Sometimes love will mean that you are careful as to how or even where you exercise your liberties. But always, absolutely always, love should prevent you from thinking yourself superior to a brother who does not understand what you understand. Love will keep you from mocking that brother for his views. Love will keep you from dumping a truckload of knowledge on a brother’s head before first caring for and hearing that brother’s heart.

Want to make an application that is closer to home for many than alcohol or meat sacrificed to idols? OK, how about modern issues like COVID or CRT? You can, and in fact probably should, have strong opinions about these issues. You need knowledge here. And I would not suggest that you avoid expressing that knowledge. However, as you express your knowledge, are you showing yourself puffed up? Are you seeking to build up others? Or are you looking to dunk on someone on-line so that you can show how witty you are and how stupid the people are who disagree with you?

No, I’m not saying that there is no room to disagree. Neither am I suggesting that one’s beliefs related to those issues is irrelevant. Some of our social hot-button issues include significant baggage that could led others to dangerously unbiblical views. And, yes, we must warn against those views. But love builds up. Love teaches far more than it smashes. Love warns without seeking to squash the one warned. Yes, eventually, love will tell the church that the teaching of wolves in sheep’s clothing must be abandoned and anathemized. But I would suggest that, when this must be done, it is done with a broken heart far more than with a snappy flourish.

You’ll have to figure much of this out for yourself. And I surely do not want to encourage you to lower your guard on biblical truth. But I recommend that you also look into whether or not you have already lowered your guard on love. Are you puffed up? Do you build others up? If you are going to make a mistake, on which side are you more likely to err? Defend the word of God with zeal. Build others in the family of God up with joy. It’s hard to balance these two, but we must if we are to look like Jesus.