A Hope We May be Ignoring

I want to help us to think about hope. Life is hard, Pain is real. Suffering is sometimes overwhelming. Frustrations about so many things threaten to steal our joy. We need to cling better to hope. And I believe there is something God has inspired for us to help us have that hope.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 – 1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

At the end of 2 Corinthians 4, Paul talked about the suffering we endure in this life as compared with the eternal weight of glory awaiting believers. Here he goes further, expressing a genuine longing for that glory. We groan in this life, longing to be clothed in our resurrection bodies, longing to be with our Lord.

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church singing hymns with a mainly southern gospel flair. When I went to college, I learned about the contemporary worship sounds of that era and began to look down on those old hymns. When I went to seminary and then began to serve in local churches, I began to embrace more classical and high church hymns—think “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as compared to “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” And, for the most part, classic hymns are still strongly my preference to both contemporary praise songs and southern gospel hymnary.

But as the years go by, I’m noticing a lack. I see it in the classic hymns to a degree. I see it even more so in the contemporary stylings of the day. Today, we do not sing enough about the hope of heaven. We sing God’s holiness, and this is good. We sing of loving and desiring to follow the Lord, and that is good. WE sing of the presence of God in our times of suffering, and that is good. But we do not sing enough of the picture that Paul paints here in 2 Corinthians 5, of being in our resurrection bodies in the presence of our Lord.

I’m not suggesting a big return to singing of streets of gold or of family reunions on a golden shore. Honestly, I’m not even trying to make a point about what we sing. That is an illustration of the point that has my attention. Instead, I am recognizing that the modern believer needs more hope of heaven. We need more regular reminders that we have a home that is beyond this life. We have bodies that, even if this world abuses us today, will be eternal, uninjured, glorious bodies that will stand in the presence of our Lord in a way that we have yet to experience. WE will live in the presence of God without sin, without shame, without sorrow. We should find hope in and long for that change to come.

Christian, thank God for the promise of eternal life in Christ. Thank him that eternal life has already begun. Also thank him that there is an even greater future awaiting all who are in Christ. Ask God to help you to, like Paul here, have great hope in being further clothed for eternity. Ask God to help you, as Paul writes in the next verses, to find joy in knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, present in a new way, present leading to a resurrected body and an eternity of peace and joy.

Michael Kruger – Surviving Religion 101 — A Review

Michael J. Kruger. Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College. Wheaton: Crossway, 2021.

Keeping the faith once you leave the home is a challenge for any young person. It is harder to live in a world full of skeptics, hardships, challenges, and temptations. Students need to know that, while there may be many questions they face, all these questions have been asked before. Students need to grasp that there are thoughtful answers to their toughest questions. Michael Kruger, in Surviving Religion 101, offers students such answers.

Michael Kruger is no stranger to thoughtful argument. Having written on issues as complex as biblical canonicity, Kruger is not afraid of challenges. But unlike a seminary level treatment of complex theological or historical issues, this new work from Kruger is written for a person just headed off to college and it would certainly be accessible even to students a bit younger.

One of this books’ most excellent attributes is its sweet tone throughout. Unlike some apologetics works that aim to demolish enemy arguments, Kruger’s writing is soft and sweet. This is not because Kruger is soft on truth. Rather, Kruger has written each of the book’s chapters as a letter for his own daughter beginning her collegiate career. Kruger writes as a dad to a young lady he loves. He treats her potential questions seriously but never harshly. His arguments are thoughtful and helpful without resorting to sarcastic belittling.

A look at the table of contents will show the reader that Kruger walks through a variety of objections to the faith as well as personal struggles a Christian might face. The author understands that, as a young person walks onto the college campus, she well may be faced with difficult questions raised by people who are much smarter and much more well studied. As any faithful dad would want to do, Kruger reminds his daughter that there are answers available to her if she will take the time to think and to work a bit. He assures his daughter that she does not have to fear being around smart professors who do not believe, being faced with questions about the authenticity or reliability of Scripture, or being faced with the world’s moral objections to the morality of the faith.

As a pastor, I would strongly recommend Surviving Religion 101 to pastors, parents, student ministry leaders, and young people preparing for college. This book could be a great help to believers of any age who are facing the difficult objections that the world throws their way. I’m personally considering using the chapters of this text as a helpful outline for an adult Sunday School class in our congregation. My recommendation is that you buy this book, give it to students, and enjoy the strong argument and sweet tone as you take a stronger hold on your own faith.

*** I received a free eBook version of this book in exchange for an honest review. ***

All Scripture Points to Jesus

I’d like for you to take a look at two verses at the end of the 2 books Luke wrote for us under the inspiration of Almighty God.

Luke 24:27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Acts 28:23 – When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

These two events occurred around three decades apart. The first is the Lord Jesus speaking about himself to the disciples who were traveling on the road to Emmaus. The second is Paul speaking to the Jews in Rome.

Do you see the common thread? The Scriptures testify to Jesus. God has promised and proclaimed the glory of Christ in the Old Testament for us to see. Abram found out about salvation by grace through faith alone and heard God’s promise to bless all people groups through Abram’s coming descendant. The law of God shows us God’s holiness, our sinfulness and helplessness, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the idea of being made clean before God. The history of Israel shows us God’s faithfulness even to a sinful people as he preserves the family line of the promised Savior. The prophets promise a king to come who will rule the world, who will be holy and good, who will do justice, and who will be God with us. The prophets point us toward God’s coming promise of a new nation, a holy nation, made up of people from all nations under the rule of God’s promised King. Isaiah pointed us to a servant who would die to bear our sins and then rise again to eternal reward.

Christian, thank God for his word. Thank God for all of his word, Old Testament and New. Thank God for pointing to and promising Jesus in the Old Testament. Thank God for unveiling the mystery of the gospel in the New. Love the word of God and do not neglect any part of it.

The Church Is More Important Than You Realize

Acts 26:14-15 – 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

As Paul shares his testimony of his salvation, he points to the words of Jesus to him as he was traveling to Damascus. Jesus identified himself as the one Saul was persecuting. Realize that what Saul, later Paul, was doing was attacking and persecuting believers in Christ, the church.

Jesus said that to persecute his church was to persecute him. This must give us confidence and hope. This statement of the Savior reminds us of the importance of the church. Jesus sees an attack on his church as an attack on him.

Consider how this principle should impact how Christians think about the church. The church is more valuable than you realize. The church is more precious to Jesus than you realize. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are more important than you realize. Your participation in the church is more important than you realize.

May we love Jesus well by loving his church well.

Do What is Good–A Simple Thought about Romans 13 and Christian Submission to Government

How does a Christian respond to government? Do we always, unquestioningly do what the government says? How do we know when it is time to respectfully refuse an order? There was a time when it seemed like those questions were merely theoretical, at least for the most part. But in our present situation, questions about how to react when the government and the church appear at odds are very much a part of living in the here and now.

If you know your Bible, you know that Romans 13 is a primary place to look to see how to respond to authorities over you. And a simple reading of that chapter tells us that Christians are supposed to submit to the government. At the same time, we know that there must be limits, nuances to that command. And I think we can see one such limit embedded in the command as God gives it to us.

Romans 13:3 – 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,

In this section of Scripture, Paul is calling on the church to be submissive to the governmental leaders over them. This command is perfectly in keeping with the pattern of New Testament teaching that believers should pray for their leaders particularly so that the Christian might be free to live a peaceful and quiet life in obedience to the Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of God over all kings and authorities. The Lord places leaders in seats of power, and Christians should be appropriately subject to those in authority.

What does subjection to a leader look like? What does Christian living look like? We see it in verse 3 with the simple call for a Christian to do what is good. That little phrase appropriately lays a boundary for the Christian to know what is righteous and what is ungodly submission to a leader. We submit to our earthly leaders so long as that submission is in keeping with what is good. And what is good is determined by the infallible word of Almighty God.

Thus, as we attempt to live as Christians in a difficult age, we obey our governmental leaders as far as the word of God and goodness will allow. We do what is good. When doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not violated by the expression of governmental authority, we happily follow and do not make waves. WE want, after all, to live peacefully in the land and to honor the Lord. Part of honoring the Lord is to show that we know how to follow one in authority over us.

However, when the commands of a leader call us not to do what is good, when the leader commands us to disobey the word of God, we cannot in biblical conscience obey. We must instead obey God rather than man (cf. Acts 5:29).

As believers, we have to be careful. It is easy for us to assume that every opinion we have about what is right and wrong is something to elevate to a level of civil disobedience. We do not see such a call in the word of God here. The call to obey must include the call to submit to things to which we would prefer not to submit. Otherwise, what is the purpose of using the term submit? Submission is not simply doing what somebody says when we like it. Submission necessarily includes obedience when that obedience is at times difficult.

What then is the standard? The standard is faithful obedience to the word of God. We follow governmental leaders by doing what is good. If doing what is good in accord with Scripture is not in accord with the law of the land or the impulse of the leader, then we must obey God rather than man. Thus, when doing what is good is sharing the gospel when it is banned, we share. When doing what is good is speaking truth about justice, we speak. When doing what is good includes telling only the truth about gender, we tell the truth. When doing what is good includes gathering for worship, we gather. When doing what is good includes protecting human life, even the lives of the unborn, we protect life.

Doing what is good must include following the commands of God. So, if the government commands us not to do that which God commands, we must disobey. Following God also includes not doing what the Lord forbids. Thus, if the government commands us to do that which God forbids, we must disobey. And the word of God lets us know that there are areas of our lives where the government has no right to speak. Thus, when the government seeks to assert authority into areas of life where clearly the Lord asserts another authority—e.g. the ordering of the family, the ordering of the church, the shaping of our beliefs or prayer lives, etc.—we must not allow this usurpation of power.

Christians, may we be faithful enough to the Lord to do what is good. Let us pray that doing good will not oppose our government. Instead, let us pray that our government will, as the word proclaims, punish evil. But let us know that, even as the Romans to whom Paul wrote would have understood, sometimes doing good, sometimes obeying the word, will bring down upon us the wrath of evil people in power. And when that occurs, may we choose to still do good, still be faithful to the Lord, still obey Scripture regardless of the physical and civil consequences.

Underhanded Ways or Open Proclamation

2 Corinthians 4:1–3 – 1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

In this section of Scripture, Paul is describing some of how he and his associates have done ministry in Corinth. The apostle has recently highlighted how much superior the New Covenant is to the Old. And Paul has indicated that the presence of the Spirit of God who gives life rather than the letter of law that kills is something we celebrate.

In that context, Paul points out that he and his friends share the word of God without losing heart (v1). They will not be thrown off by those who are blinded so as not to believe (v3). And, as we see in verse 2, Paul will not use disgraceful or underhanded practices for the sake of ministry. Paul says that he and his associates refuse to practice cunning and to tamper with God’s word. Instead, Paul presents an open statement of the truth.

It is verse 2 that leaps out at me for application. There is no place in Christian ministry for disgraceful or underhanded practices. There is no place for sinning to grow the ministry. I think that Paul is pretty clear as to what that sort of disgraceful thing would be. There is no place for tampering with the word of God. Instead, there is only a call by God for faithful, honest proclamation of the word.

How different does a ministry look when it will not tamper with the word of God? Such a ministry would be one that tells the truth of God’s word without varnish. Such a ministry would not hide things in Scripture that are out of favor with society. While this ministry ought not be nasty and harsh, those in the ministry must be honest and simply proclaim the word of god as written. And, as we see in our present cultural moment, that will include the church saying things that would have our society turn against us for refusing to embrace their values.

Does your church use underhanded means? Is there something sneaky about what you do? Think it through more carefully. What does your church proclaim? What does your church try to hide? What does your church present to the community as essential to the Christian life? Is your church grown on the word of God and its proclamation, or are other strategies more central to your church’s growth? What things does your church do that have nothing to do with Scripture which, if they were removed, would make you feel like your ministry has been deeply harmed? What tools, if taken from your church’s toolbox, would make you feel like your church lost its identity. Would your church still be your church if faithful proclamation of the word of God was all you could do and all the rest was stripped away?

In the ministry we do, may we only ever be faithful. May we not be underhanded. May we never tamper with the word. May we proclaim God’s word honestly. Some will believe. Some will not. But what is most important is that we are faithful to the Lord in accord with the perfect word he has revealed.

A Fact Upon Which the Faith Rises or Falls

With Resurrection Sunday on the horizon, many Christians are thinking about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We are moved by the scenes of the love of Christ laying down his life to save us from our sins. We grieve with the disciples as we think of their loss at the sight of the sealed tomb. And we rejoice in wonder as we think of our mighty Savior walking out of the grave to physically live eternally.

As we think about these glorious truths, may we also remember that God, in his holy word, tells us that this truth, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, is a truth upon which our faith either stands or falls. If Jesus is alive, Christianity is true. If Jesus is not physically alive right now, our faith is empty and meaningless.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 – 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In this chapter, Paul is clearly responding against some in Corinth who are denying the physical resurrection of the dead. Part of Paul’s logic here is that, if indeed the dead are never raised, then Jesus was not raised. If Jesus is not raised, then we have lied about God and we have no eternal hope. If Jesus is not raised, Christianity is a farce.

Again, see the power of that language. If Jesus is dead, there is not a shred of hope. If, as some would claim, the resurrection of Jesus must be a figurative truth, a metaphorical truth, an in-your-heart truth, then there is no truth in the faith. If the body of Jesus lies in a grave, then claims of life in Christ are lies.

Christians, our faith stands or falls on the objective reality of the resurrection of Jesus. This is not an opinion question. This is not a morality question. This question is a factual and historical question of eternal significance.

So, let me proclaim truth to you today: Jesus is alive! He is not in the grave. His resurrection is not an imaginary wish or a figurative claim. The Son of God stood up, walked out of the tomb, and lives right now. Were Jesus still dead, a body would have been produced in the first century when claims of the resurrection began to spread. Were Jesus dead, his disciples would not have willingly gone to their own martyrdom to continue to proclaim Christ. The claim of resurrection would have fallen away nearly two millennia ago but for one thing: it is true.

What one believes about the resurrection of Jesus is a thing that impacts one’s eternity. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus so as to run to him for grace, you have eternal life. If you reject the resurrection of Jesus or turn your back on the resurrected Jesus, you have no hope before God. Look at how Paul closes his letter to the Corinthians in the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 16:21–24 – 21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Love Jesus, and you have life. Do not love Jesus, and you are accursed by God. All this begins with a genuine belief in the fact that Jesus walked out of the tomb. Without a living Jesus, our faith is worthless. With a living Jesus, with love of the living Jesus, with grace from the living Jesus, we have eternal hope and eternal life.

My Sadness Over the Grace To You Review of Gentle and Lowly

I don’t like commenting on current, Internet controversies in the Christian community. But, because I will be asked, I was deeply disappointed in the GTY review Of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I’m grateful to God for what I have learned from this ministry. And I wish no ill on GTY at all.

Why then am I disappointed in the review? I’ll share a few things that come to my mind right away. And, I have no intention of this being any sort of point-by-point refutation. Who knows, maybe I’ll reread G&L and find that I missed a lot my first time through.

First, when we criticize another’s position, we should not argue against a position that our opponent would not agree is his own. Having read Gentle and Lowly, I do not believe that Ortlund would agree that his position or doctrine was at all fairly represented in the GTY review. The review faulted Ortlund with his lack of emphasis on the wrath and judgment of Christ. However, the intent of the book was in no way to say that there is no wrath or judgment in Christ. Instead, the book was intended to display for many Christians who do not see it the sweetness of the love of Jesus for those he has redeemed. To say that G&L does not paint a complete picture of Jesus is of course accurate. The book was never intended to do so. The book intended to focus on a vital aspect of who Jesus is that is often missed by believers.

As a similar comparison, take any Christian hymn you love. I will argue that it does not paint a complete and fully orbed depiction of Christian theology. “In Christ Alone” does not talk about election or Christ’s existence from eternity past. “Holy, Holy, Holy” does not speak of the fact that holiness of God is expressed with grate wrath in the fires of hell for those who persist in their bent against the Lord. Should we do away with these hymns because they do not fully depict our theology? No, we understand that there is only so much time in any song, and every song focuses us on a set of thoughts to the necessary exclusion of others. Similarly, every good book focuses us on certain points of fact about the Lord to the necessary exclusion of others.

Do not skip over the fact that Ortlund is abundantly clear in this book that he is writing about the heart of God for the redeemed. It makes little sense to then repeatedly temper that discussion with the wrath of God for those who are not forgiven. A genuine understanding of propitiation would declare to us that the wrath of God for the sins of believers was fully satisfied in the death of Christ on the cross. Thus, God now looks at his chosen with a deep and abiding love that is beyond what many Christians have ever imagined. This is not cheap grace but glorious propitiation.

Second, I do not find the review at all charitable. In the GTY review, there are far too many pithy, gotcha phrases that seem to me to be aimed more at scoring points or garnering tweets: “taming the lion of Judah?” Eventually the review even drops the word blasphemy, though only as a hint rather than as a full accusation.

Reading the review, I was saddened by the ugliness of the tone. Not only did I feel the tone was harsh toward the book itself, but also it seemed ugly toward those who have found good in the book. The GTY review offers a set of reasons as to why they believe that someone might have found G&L appealing. For the most part, these reasons are belittling at best.

Thirdly, I do not believe that the review fairly addresses that much of how Ortlund chooses to describe the Lord is in keeping with exactly how God describes himself. God uses anthropomorphic imagery so that we might, in our finitude, understand him. Thus, God speaks of being moved, of regret, of his arm, of his heart, and so much more. Yes, a solid systematic theology helps us to understand that these images are images, and they require more thought to understand how they work as we truly grasp the holiness of the Lord. But I fully disagree that there is a problem with letting yourself focus on a single description God gives of himself even if that focus is not, in the moment, balanced by other biblical truths. Sometimes you need to focus on the mercy of God without taking time out to remind yourself that Jesus turned over the tables at the temple. And sometimes you need to focus on the genuine anger of Jesus turning over the tables without tempering it with Psalm 23.

I’m sad, because, had this review been written differently, I believe that the folks at GTY could have raised very helpful cautions for Christians to consider in their reading of G&L. Perhaps those concerns could have even helped others decide not to read G&L, that would be fine. But I fear that the harshness of the review will only serve to convince those who are already negative toward what they see in G&L as wishy-washy or sentimental while pushing those who are most likely to be influenced by G&L away from future helpful teaching from GTY.

I would have loved to see this review as a caution. I would have loved to see this review raising questions. I would have loved to see this review suggest that, if a reader is not careful, he or she could draw theologically incorrect conclusions. After all, any book that focuses us on a single aspect of the heart or character of God could lead a reader to believe that the attributes of God are parts, thus denying divine simplicity, the oneness of God. All that God is, God is. There is not part of God that is love and part of God that is wrath. God is God, fully, all the way through. And God does not change so that emotions are stirred in him the way that ours stir in us.

I would have loved to see this review remind believers not to allow an emphasis on the love and mercy of Christ to confuse one regarding Christ’s attitude toward sin. God hates sin. We should too. And we do not want to allow our embracing of the depth of Christ’s grace to allow us to think that Christ has ever loved sin. This caution could have been raised without mocking or out-of-context quotation.

I love GTY and the ministry of John MacArthur. I believe that the church would be far better were we to learn far more from him. And I will certainly not let this review prevent me from continuing to learn from and grow from that ministry at GTY. But I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed because the review is just not even-handed, not gracious, not honest in its depiction of G&L. I found G&L, a book I was given at the Shepherds’ Conference in 2020, a lovely read, something I intend to read again, because it helped me to love the mercy of Christ. I’ll certainly reread G&L with the cautions in mind. But I know already that my first reading of G&L did not even begin to make me think false things about the Lord or his nature.

The Goodness of Judgment

As Paul opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he points to the faithfulness of the believers as well as the promise of the judgment of God on the lost. I have some thoughts here, but I want to include the section for you to read with its context.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 – 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

My thoughts here are about the judgment of God. Particularly, I am thinking about God’s judgment in contrast with the way that many followers of God speak of his wrath. I believe, as I read this passage, that many of us, if we are not careful, are in danger of speaking of the wrath of the Almighty in a way that is inconsistent with biblical language and biblical emotion.

In verse 5, note that Paul speaks of “the righteous judgment of God.” In verse 6, Paul says, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Then, after a discussion of the judgment of God in verses 8-9, Paul speaks of how this all should motivate us to obedience. But the motivation is not because we fear being judged in a similar way. Never biblically is the Christian called to fear the fiery judgment of Christ on the lost. No, we are called to obey because we see that God’s justice will be done and our afflictions will be repaid.

Go back to verses 8-9. There we see the fiery judgment of God that will accompany the return of the Lord Jesus. There is nothing in these words of Scripture to soften the picture of God’s wrath. We see a reference to flaming fire (v. 8), to the Lord Jesus inflicting vengeance (v. 8), and the punishment of eternal destruction (v. 9). In all this, we see that it points to the glory of Christ (v. 10) and he pours out the judgment of God on those who are guilty of not knowing God or obeying the gospel (v. 8).

Also, as we read this section, we should see that the Lord gave these words to a persecuted church for their comfort. God wanted the church to understand that his reward for their faith and faithfulness is real. God also wanted them to see that his proper justice for the evils of the world around them is equally real and equally good.

Now, here is the challenge for us all. How are we to feel about these words? Do you regret them? Do they embarrass you as a believer? Do you wish they were not there? Do you tolerate them like you have to tolerate having dental work done? Do you welcome them into the house the way you welcome in that one relative that you would always prefer not to see but whom you have to invite over for a cookout from time to time?

Here is where I think we need biblical help. Our emotions need to mirror the feel of the Scripture. And while we know that the Lord himself tells us he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), the Lord also makes it clear to us that his justice, even is wrath for those who refuse his gospel, is good; it is to his glory.

Christian, I would never call you to celebrate and laugh over another’s destruction. But, Christian, do not be ashamed of the judgment of God. Do not act as though god is a little lesser in your eyes for the existence of hell. Do not pretend that god is good in general, but if he really did things right, he would not judge.

Our god is holy. Our God sees evil with a clarity that you and I can never grasp before our ultimate and final sanctification leading to glorification. Until the Lord removes all your sin from you, you will never see just how ugly sin is nor how righteous and perfect is the Lord’s wrath.

But, even now, even before you can see with clarity the goodness of the Lord’s judgment, strive to embrace all that the Lord does as good, genuinely, beautifully, perfectly good. As heaven is good, so too is hell. Were this not so, God would not have made either. The Lord, his ways are perfect. Always, always remember this. And when you read of his love and mercy, rejoice. And when you read of his right wrath, ask the Lord to help you see this as his goodness too.

Biblical Commands that Will Never Come from a Conference Stage

1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 – But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Paul had a little bit of time to instruct the young church in Thessalonica before he was driven out of that city under persecution. But Paul wanted to be sure that the believers there were OK. After all, when he left them, it was hard to know how they would respond to his suffering much less their own.

Sending Timothy back to get a report, Paul found out that the church in this city was thriving, even in the face of hardship. That fact gave Paul joy, and it led him to want to remind them of some very simple instructions. We see things like a call to remain pure and avoid the sexual immorality so prevalent in their culture (4:3) and to continue to love one another as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ (4:9).

Then we see a three-fold bit of counsel which got my attention. Paul, writing to a young church about what they need to be doing, tells them to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your own hands. I wonder, does this surprise you? When you think of the kinds of commands that you would send a church functioning under a bad government and facing persecution, do these come to mind?

The reason that this surprises me simply has to do with the way that it sounds so different than much of the language out there about what the church is supposed to be. Go to any denominational meeting. Go to any church growth seminar. Go to any big-time conference about building up a strong church. I assure you that this is not the counsel you will get. You will hear people tell you how it is your job to transform the world. You will hear people tell you that it is your job to become prominent in your community, an indispensable asset. They’ll tell you that you need to get your church branded so that people recognize you.

In other theological corners, we will find folks letting us know that it is our job to bring about political change. Perhaps we need to lobby Washington. Perhaps we need to march and protest. Perhaps we are simply going to transform the world through our powerful evangelism.

The truth is, I’m not against being a good neighbor in the community. I’m not against making sure people know that your church is there. I’m not against voting for good candidates, even campaigning for good leaders. And we have every right to join in appropriate protests. But, and this is what gets me, the commands that we see quite clearly in Scripture look different.

Love one another. Live pure. Then, as we see above, live quietly. When have you ever heard a pastor or church growth guru tell you to live quietly? Keep your head down and be faithful to the Lord. When does anybody say that? Mind your own business. Paul tells us this, but I do not see that modeled in our social engagement or in our social media engagement. Get a job and work hard to be as self-sufficient as you can in your society. I am starting to hear a little more of that command.

Share the gospel, that is a biblical command. Make life better for the persecuted and the genuinely oppressed. But do not forget the word of God that was actually written to churches in passages like the one above. Love God. Live pure. Love one another. Live a simple life, a quiet life. Mind your own business. Feed your family. And continue to faithfully worship the Lord together.

I’m not writing this to call anybody to abandon their heart for evangelism or for changing the world to the glory of Jesus. I’m just writing this to remind us that we want to follow the commands that we actually see in Scripture. Here is a church that is under bad government, facing persecution, in a world that is not welcoming to the faith. And here, God saw fit to give that church a calling that would never be embraced on any big platform in any big conference in modern evangelicalism.