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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.