An Overview of Acts 20:17–38

The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).

Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.

For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).

In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).

All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.

 

All quotes ESV

“Restore Illinois” and Its Timeline for When Gatherings of 10, 50, and More Can Meet

Governor Pritzker’s five-phase “Restore Illinois” plan is summarized below with relevant points for gatherings of people. The pagination references below begin with the title page of the “Restore Illinois” document.

In short, essential gatherings of 10 are presently allowed (Phase 2), nonessential gatherings of 10 are allowed in the next phase (Phase 3), gatherings of 50 are allowed by June 26 (Phase 4), and gatherings with no limits are allowed after certain conditions are met.

Phase Summary Points for Churches Timeline
Phase 1: Rapid Spread Illinoisans must shelter-in-place and socially distance. Further, “only essential businesses remain open” (p. 2). “Every region has experienced this phase once already, and could return to it if mitigation efforts are successful” (p. 4).
Phase 2: Flattening “Non-essential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery” (p. 2). Outdoor activities are allowed. Illinoisans must cover their faces “when outside the home” (p. 2).

 

“Essential gatherings, such as religious services, of 10 or fewer allowed” (p. 2).

“To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May” (p. 4).

 

“No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 7).

 

The end of this phase would be May 29 at the earliest.

Phase 3: Recovery Some businesses “reopen to the public with capacity and other limits and safety precautions” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 10 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 2). Again, “No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 8).

 

The end of this phase would be June 26 at the earliest.

Phase 4: Revitalization “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed,” and more businesses open, schools and the like “reopen under guidance” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 9). No specific time factors are given. Phase 5 only comes when “Vaccine, effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases over a sustained period of time through her immunity or other factors.
Phase 5: Illinois Restored Everything functions as before, only now “with new safety guidance and procedures” (p. 2). All phases are complete.

 

A PDF of “Restore Illinois” is available here: https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/19948697/restoreillinois.pdf

If anything above is incorrect, please correct me in the comments section below. Thank you.

When Life Puts You in a Press – Mark 14:32–42

This is more or less a transcript from a Facebook Live video that I provided to my church yesterday morning. I hope you find it to be an encouragement during trying times. Bold formatting indicates main points and Scriptural quotations from the ESV.

Imagine being pressed from all sides in life, find yourself in a somewhat isolated location, have only a few people with you, and even they do not quite give the encouragement that you wish.

That’s Jesus in Gethsemane. I’m going to be speaking from Mark 14:32–42.

Mark 14:32–42 (ESV)

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Gethsemane (14:32) means “olive press” in Hebrew and was a garden just past the brook Kidron where Jesus often met with his disciples and thus known to Judas (Luke 22:39, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives”; John 18:1–2, “…there was a garden… Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples”).

In the New Bible Dictionary, the entry for “Olive” states, “The oil was usually extracted from the berries by placing them in a shallow rock cistern and crushing them with a large upright millstone. Occasionally the berries were pounded by the feet of the harvesters (Dt. 33:24; Mi. 6:15), but this was a rather inefficient procedure. After being allowed to stand for a time the oil separated itself from foreign matter, and was then stored in jars or rock cisterns.”

Jesus was “in the press,” so to speak—this was the night before His death, and His disciples would desert Him. In Mark 14:27, referring to their response to His looming arrest, He told the twelve “You will all fall away.” Besides this, He who knew no sin would become sin for us and be separated from His Father for a time on the cross.

What might you be facing today? Has the temporary halt in our economy hit your wallet yet? Are you about to snap because of the time you’ve been sheltered in your place? Do you have other concerns that are weighing you down on top of this? Are you a single parent trying to figure out when to see your child? Are you elderly and wanting to see your grandchildren but have to wait until April 7?

Imagine this: I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse with 4 young children, and she may have to work on a floor helping those with COVID-19. If nothing else, just walking into the hospital is going to increase the risk for her (and thus her children) receiving the virus. Added to this, her husband in the army was just deployed to help our country with the situation as well.

Whatever our concerns may be, Mark 14:32–42 is an excellent passage for us today for multiple reasons:

  • We can learn from the example of Jesus how He persevered through a time of suffering.
  • In keeping with greater point of Mark, we can be encouraged as believers to remember what it was for our Savior to suffer for us.
  • For anyone who is not a Christian, this video will give you an explanation for how you can know Christ, find eternal life in Him, and know that you will one day see His face and be with Him and the Father in heaven forever.

Getting to our passage, Mark 14:32–42 records a series of “threes”: (1) Jesus tells the three (Peter, James, and John) to pray and watch with Him three times (Mark 14:34, 37, 38); (2) the three sleep three times (Mark 14:37, 40, 41); and (3) Jesus prays three times (Mark 14:35–36, 39, 41).

Let’s walk through this cycle of “threes” one by one, and we will close with some applications for our lives at the end.

Jesus prays the first time (Mark 14:32–36).

As noted, Jesus is in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32) where He took with Him only Peter and James and John, sometimes referred to as “the inner three” of the twelve disciples. They were with Him at the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and, with Andrew, the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3).

From Mark’s description of Jesus and his record of Jesus’ words, Jesus was very much “in the press.” Notice these descriptions:

  • He… began to be greatly distressed (Mark 14:33). Distressed (ekthambeō) is translated “amazed” in Mark 9:15 to describe the crowd’s reaction to Jesus. It is translated “alarmed” in Mark 16:5–6 to describe the women’s shock as they came to Jesus’ tomb and found an angel instead of Jesus. One lexicon defines ekthambeō in this way: “to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of someth. causing great surprise or perplexity, be very excited” (BDAG). In context, distressed is an appropriate translation—Jesus is intensely emotionally aroused over the thought of His coming betrayal, trial, torture, and crucifixion.
  • He… began to be… troubled (Mark 14:33). The word for troubled (adēmoneō) is used to describe how the Philippians were “distressed” that Epaphroditus was ill, almost to the point of death (Philippians 2:26–27). Comprehending His own death, Jesus was just as troubled and more.
  • My soul is very sorrowful (Mark 14:34). Sorrowful (perilupos) is a word used to describe how Herod was “exceedingly sorry” when forced to behead the imprisoned John the Baptist (Mark 6:26). The rich young ruler was “very sad” to contemplate giving up his love for riches in order to put his love and trust in Christ (Luke 18:23). As mentioned above, Jesus was sorrowful to think of what was coming His way.
  • He fell on the ground (Mark 14:35). Jesus’ posture matched His inner turmoil. He could only throw Himself down to pray.

And pray He did. Jesus prayed that the hour might pass from Him, the hour when the Father would pour out this cup of wrath against sin on Him on the cross (Mark 14:35–36). Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears . . . and he was heard because of his reverence.” Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to what the Father would will, drinking from the cup as God desired, and would provide a means of salvation for you and me (Mark 14:36).

In commanding the three to remain here and watch, He was asking them to stay with Him and pray as well (Mark 14:34).

Jesus prays the second time (Mark 14:37–39).

Unfortunately, instead of heeding His command, the three were sleeping instead (Mark 14:37). Practically speaking, they had eaten a big meal in Mark 14:17–25. It was also late and when they usually slept. However, this was a special time for the willing spirit to watch and pray and thus not enter into temptation by succumbing to one’s weak flesh, that is, a tired body (Mark 14:38). This temptation for them was to fall away as Jesus prophesied earlier in Mark 14:26–31.

For a second time, Jesus prayed the same words (Mark 14:39).

Jesus prays the third time (Mark 14:40–42).

After praying, Jesus returned and again found them sleeping, with heavy eyes, unable to answer Him (Mark 14:40). That He came the third time back implies that Jesus went prayed a third time as before (Mark 14:41). At this point, the hour for Jesus as the Son of Man had come to be betrayed into the hands of sinners with the betrayer at hand (Mark 14:41–42). With this arrest, the most intense parts of the suffering of Jesus would begin.

Some Applications for Us Today

For Christians…

  • Just as Jesus did, take your trial to God in prayer. It may be that He takes it away, but we should be willing to go through the trial in order for Him to test and strengthen our faith.
  • From Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, remember that prayer is part of the means for you to persevere. They did not pray, and thus they fell away during Jesus’ hour of trial. Jesus prayed, God gave Jesus strength, and Jesus persevered.
  • Fight your flesh and persevere in prayer. It’s easy to be lazy. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to do something else. But prayer is hard work, and we should be diligent to pray.
  • Your Father will never abandon you, even when others are inattentive at the least or flee from you at most. The disciples slept. The disciples ran away at Jesus’ arrest. But Jesus knew the Father would see Him though it all. Stay close to Him in prayer.

For everyone…

This intense time of prayer was just the beginning of what Jesus would suffer for us. He would be mocked, beaten, and eventually crucified on the cross—all within the next day. In doing so, Jesus as God and man died for the sins of you and me. And in doing so, He died sinlessly in perfect obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Jesus did not deserve this death, so God raised Him from the grave and thereby vindicated that Jesus was true.

When we truly see our sin as God does—as something worthy of God’s wrath and eternal death—and when we see Christ as we must—as the One who paid the penalty for our sin and who provided the perfect obedience that we cannot—only then will God declare us forgiven, righteous, and holy in His sight. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and no one else for our salvation. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Salvation from eternal death is through no other Name, and no man will be in heaven with the Father apart from believing in His glorious Son.

When Jesus died, God miraculously ripped the 40-foot curtain of the Jerusalem temple from top to bottom, as if to say, “My Son has provided a new and living way for you to come to Me” (see Hebrews 10:19–22). A Roman centurion watched the curtain tear and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38–39). We must truly believe and say the same!

Closing Thoughts

For those of us who have echoed the centurion’s words with saving faith in Christ, we know that, whatever this world may bring our way, Christ suffered for us, and in doing so, He left us an example for how to suffer as well. If you find yourself “in the press” today, trust in Christ, take your distress to the Father in prayer, and rejoice to know that your suffering will be over when you are one day with Him.

God’s “Yes” and “No” in Christ

One of my favorite ways to explain the gospel is state how the Father communicates a resounding “yes” and “no” to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

The “Yes”

“Yes” is shorthand for a longer, amazing thought: “Yes, God loves you.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 1 John 4:9–10 states it like this: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Stated simply, God loved us so much that He sent only Son to die for our sins on the cross. That’s God’s loving “yes” to you and me.

The “No”

“No” is shorthand for a longer, terrifying thought: “No, God cannot overlook sin.” As much as God loves us, our God is a righteous God who does not overlook our sin. We are “by nature children of wrath,” that is, the eternal wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). “The wages of sin is death,” that is, eternal death and separation from God forever (Romans 6:23). Our sinfulness and sins render us guilty before God and worthy of eternal punishment. God justly says “no” to our sin.

“Yes” and “No” Together for Us in Christ

Though God says “no” to our sin, we see “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Only the Lord Jesus Christ—both man and God, sinless and perfectly obedient—only He could give “Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) and merit a righteousness that is declared as ours when we place our hope and faith for salvation in Him. Our penalty for sin is paid by Christ, and Christ’s perfection is ours as well.

So, even for believers, God still says “no” to sin. However, God’s “yes” of love to us is to let Christ have taken the penalty for our sin on Himself at the cross. God’s “yes” of love to us is furthermore to declare His Son’s righteousness as ours by faith.

Putting it all together, God says “no” to sin, and emphatically so through the death of His sinless Son on the cross. At the same time, this death was God’s “yes” to you and me, His loving means of salvation in sending His Son to die in our place.

What a terrifying thing it is to contemplate the consequences of our sin. What an amazing thing it is to know of God’s love for us in Christ. May each of us say “no” with God to our sin and “yes” by faith to His Son who was lovingly sent for us!

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Jesus’ Example for Evangelism in John 4:1–26

In John 4:5–42, we have two examples of evangelism—one in Jesus and the other in the Samaritan woman. She invited others to meet Jesus, they came, and many believed in Him. However, what follows below are five practical points for evangelism from looking at Jesus Himself in His example of giving the truth to the Samaritan woman.

First, speak to someone no matter who they are.

Jesus spoke to a woman who was a Samaritan. Her gender and ethnicity were two characteristics that typically would have resulted in prejudice and a non-conversation between a Jew and a Samaritan. She herself was surprised that Jesus spoke to her in light of these characteristics (John 4:9), and the disciples were surprised at the conversation as well (John 4:27). But Jesus looked past these matters and saw her for what she was—a sinner in need of salvation in Him.

Second, use something in your conversation to transition to the gospel.

The woman spoke of water. Jesus turned the conversation to living water (4:10). She did not understand right away, but He persisted in steering the conversation to dealing with her sin and what she thought of Himself as the Messiah. While we don’t want to rudely force an unwanted conversation onto someone, it may be that gently turning the conversation to the gospel is what God uses to save others through us.

Third, point out man’s alienation from God.

The woman could not drink this life-giving water and turn to God unless she also turned from her sin—a life of living with someone other than a spouse and that after having previously lived with five husbands (John 4:16–18). Jesus answered her request for living water in John 4:15 by focusing on her sin in John 4:16–18. No one finds salvation in Christ without repentance for his sins.

Fourth, answer any objections.

The woman tried to object that her heritage had its own religion at their mountain, and the Jews had their own as well in Jerusalem (John 4:20). However, Jesus cared nothing for geography. All men were to now worship the Father, wherever they may be (John 4:21–24). He even flatly denied any validity to her religion: “You worship what you do not now” (John 4:22 ESV). Answering objections may mean eventually stating that the reasons for an objection are simply wrong.

Fifth, point the unbeliever to Christ.

Jesus concluded by pointing the woman to Himself as the Messiah. She believed, brought others to Him, and they believed in Him as well (John 4:25–26). Evangelism is simply not evangelism if it does not point the sinner to Christ. Salvation is found in Him alone.

The above is condensed and follows the points from Don N. Howell, Jr., The Passion of the Servant: A Journey to the Cross (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009), pp. 48–51.

Lessons from the Life of Jude

What follows below is an attempt to piece together the life of Jude as told by the Bible, using what few references to him that we have.

Jude grew up with Jesus and his other siblings in the house of Joseph and Mary and thus enjoyed being from the line of David. Being last in the list of four brothers (Matt 13:55), he may have been the youngest of them all, with sisters (at least two) scattered somewhere in the lineup.

In the book that bears his name, assuming this Jude was indeed its author, we see that he identified himself as the “brother of James” (Jude 1), who, as this was a notable James, must have been the leader of the early Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

Both James and Jude (and Joses and Simon) were the biological half-brothers (or more simply, “brothers”) of Jesus, the most natural reading of the text (Matt 13:55). They were neither the cousins of Jesus as Roman Catholicism believes nor stepbrothers from Joseph’s supposed previous marriage as Eastern Orthodoxy believes, both theories stemming from the erroneous notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Jude likely learned to be a carpenter like his father Joseph. Maybe he was old enough to notice when Joseph and Mary were looking for the twelve-year-old Jesus (Luke 2:41–52). Maybe not. One way or the other, he would have eventually noticed something unique about Jesus as he grew up. His older Brother never sinned!

From how his hometown reacted to Jesus in Matthew 13:53–58 (cf. Mark 6:1–6; Luke 4:16–30), and thus not in the same way to Jude or any of his brothers, we could surmise that Jude did not have unusual wisdom or the ability to do mighty works, astonished no one with any teaching, and therefore offended no one. He was not a prophet and tried to afford what honor his hometown would give him.

In fact, there are multiple occasions which showed his unbelief toward Jesus. First, while Jesus was preaching in His home and unable to eat because of the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, trying to seize Him, claiming, “He is out of His mind!” (Mark 3:20–21; cf. Matt 12:46–; Luke 8:19–21). Second, not long thereafter, they were seeking Jesus again, and Jesus responded that His mother and brothers were present in the crowd before Him (Mark 3:31–35), that is, that those who were listening to Him and following His words were His spiritual family and took priority over His physical family, a rebuke in the ears of His physical family indeed. Third, His brothers misunderstood that He should suffer and urged Him to do miracles in Jerusalem in order to show Himself to the world, becoming the King right away (John 7:1–4). In spite of all the miracles of Jesus they had witnessed or heard about (cf. Matt 13:58; John 2:12), “not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).

This unbelief would not last, however. Perhaps Mary told her family that she had seen the risen Jesus (cf. Matt 28:1–10). Perhaps James told his family about when he saw the risen Jesus as well (1 Cor 15:7). Perhaps these testimonies sat heavily upon Jude along with the fact that so many others had already believed in Him and had been doing so for multiple years. Whenever Jude’s conversion was, it was probably sometime between the resurrection and Pentecost. He was not with his mother at the cross (cf. John 19:25), but we do find Him praying with Mary and his brothers in Acts 1:14.

In addition to being saved, we also see him serving. He may have been one Lord’s brothers who traveled with his wife for missionary work in 1 Cor 9:5, something Paul wrote in AD 55. One or two decades later, Jude wrote the letter that bears his name. Far from unbelief, he called himself a slave of his half-brother Jesus who he identified as Lord, Master, and Christ (Jude 1, 4). He had an eagerness to speak of salvation in Him (Jude 3) and readily warned the church about false teachers (Jude 4–16). He followed the apostles on this matter (Jude 17–19). He saw it necessary to keep one’s self in the love of God and that God would likewise keep him from stumbling until the day he was presented as perfect and blameless before Him—all through Jesus Christ (Jude 24–25). As a result, Jude could do no less than leave us with one of the greatest doxologies in Scripture in Jude 24–25, showing us not only evidence of his conversion, but of someone absolutely captivated by the glory of God, an example for us all today:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

 

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Semi-regular Attenders: How to Think about Those Who Only Partially Attend a Church’s Services

Most Christians are familiar with the command to stir one another up to love in good works in Hebrews 10:24. The negative counterpart to this is the related command in Hebrews 10:25, to not neglect the assembled church where this stirring primarily takes place. To forsake the assembly altogether may betray that one may not be a Christian at all.

But what about Christians who come to church some of the time but not all the times that a church has said it would assemble? What if someone comes on Sunday mornings but not other regularly scheduled times, especially if it seems that he could have otherwise been there?

As a pastor, I have thought about this question many times. Whatever your schedule may be, my answer to these “semi-regular attenders” is to try to understand exactly why they are missing services and then go from there. What follows below are some questions I might explore in light of why some might be absent from the assembly on occasion.

  1. First, “Is this person a member?” 

My church has a covenant and bylaws to which all members must agree. In our covenant, among other things, members agree “with the aid of the Holy Spirit… to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to give it a sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.” In the section “Ecclesiology” in our Declaration of Faith, it states, “We believe the true mission of the church is to worship God in all of its services and activities.” Likewise, our Bylaws specifies the duties of members, one being this: “Each member shall seek diligently, by Divine help, to…  attend the services regularly.” Our Bylaws even specify when these services or meetings will take place: “The regular meetings of this church shall include the Sunday morning worship service, Sunday morning meeting, Sunday afternoon/evening meeting, a midweek service, fellowship around the Lord’s Table (normally the first Sunday of each month), and other meetings…”

So, if someone has been admitted into the membership of the church, that person has obligated himself to live up to what the church has agreed concerning its belief and practice of the faith. The church has likewise committed itself to holding each member accountable to this covenant, which means that all of its members should be checking up on one another to do as they have agreed to do, assembling with each other included. Thus, there has been a mutual agreement to simply do what everyone has said they would do. It would thus be natural to hold each accountable in the event of absence from the assembly.

  1. Second, “Why are you missing services?” 

My observation is that people miss services for two primary reasons—suffering or sin.

In a broken world, people suffer the loss of being with the assembly due to a job that schedules their presence during services, a sickness that keeps them at home, care for family members who are sick or aging, or health issues from aging themselves. Perhaps a long commute makes attendance difficult, especially if the weather is poor.

As to sin, sometimes people miss services because they are lazy, have misplace priorities (e.g., become too involved in youth sports leagues or vacation too often at their cabin), reject the church leadership, or want to avoid other people in their church due to some kind of conflict. Using the language above, sin is keeping them from assembling because they are forsaking the “Divine help” and “aid of the Spirit” that would otherwise move them to want to be with the people of God. This leads me to question #3.

  1. Third, “Should I confront this person? If so, when do I do so? After missing one service? Five? Fifty?” 

If someone attends some services but not others, I find it difficult to conclude that they are altogether violating Hebrews 10:24–25. If he has not made his excuses known and his absence is not a pattern, one should give the absentee the benefit of the doubt concerning his absence.

In reaching out, however, simply showing concern may stir the one absent in a far better way than confrontation. You might say, “Hey, I missed you last Sunday. Glad to see you back. I hope everything is going well.” Just the mere mention of noticing an absence and affirming the joy of his presence can strengthen his resolve to be faithful.

Or, it may be that the Lord gives the pastor and church an opportunity to address the matter through the regular preaching of the Word. I have a unique advantage for this kind of thing as a pastor. I might notice some not-so-faithful patterns in people’s lives that might be better corrected by simply addressing everyone on the matter instead of personally making a bigger deal of something than it needs to be. I just patiently wait to say the needed thing with an appropriate passage as it comes up in the preaching schedule. And hopefully the absentee is not absent on that day! If so, a personal conversation may need to take place sometime in the future.

One needs to be careful to address the congregation when preaching like this, however. Don’t illustrate an example of what not to do by describing someone’s aberrant behavior so exactly that he or she feels singled out in front of everyone else. There is a time to bring a member’s sin before the congregation, but that is the last step in church discipline (Matthew 18:17). It’s not like missing a service here and there is quite akin to outright immorality or the promotion of heresy (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 1:19–20).

At the same time, churches should not let members be absent forever. Otherwise the church is danger of neglecting the command of not neglecting the assembly in Hebrews 10:24–25. It may do well for churches to specify in their bylaws how long one may be intentionally absent from the assembly and still maintain one’s membership. For example, my church only allows for 12 weeks of absence along these lines, but in between that time should be many attempts by the pastors and the membership to bring the wayward sheep back into the fold. And maybe 12 weeks sometimes turns into more while working with the individual. Voting someone out of the membership for sustained, intentional absence should be a tearful matter. Such a member would have been cautioned concerning this matter when he joined the church. Now that he has chosen to be perpetually absent, he can only expect to be put of the church membership as he was warned, an act of discipline by the church.

  1. Fourth, “But what if the person is not a member?”

For anyone who has not committed himself to the church, and therefore the church has not formally committed itself to him, I’m simply happy for however often the person attends, assuming the individual is teachable and cooperative with the church concerning whatever keeps him from joining. But, as I remind people from time to time, the longer someone attends, the more our relationships will build, and the more we will at least hold the individual accountable for living a godly life (assuming the person is a Christian).

I’m sure more questions and suggestions could be given. I’ve already said a mouthful, and my suggestions obviously assume congregationalism, church membership, and the helpfulness of a church covenant. Hopefully the above is helpful for anyone thinking through how to handle “semi-regular attenders.”

The Church’s Internal Rescue Mission: Jude 22–23

Jude 22–23 states, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (ESV).

In these two verses, Jude identifies three groups within the church that need special attention. Jude has admonished his readers to contend for the faith against false teachers who have crept in the church (Jude 3–4). He then went on to give a scathing sketch of what kind of people these false teachers were (Jude 5–16). Turning his attention back to his readers in Jude 17–25 (“beloved”), Jude deals with those in the church who have been affected by the false teachers.

In the headings that follow below, we will see how we are to minister to each of these three groups, and who exactly makes up each group according to Jude’s description of them. 

In rescuing those who have been influenced by the false teachers, we must… 

1. Show Mercy to Those on the Fence (Jude 22) 

Jude commands us to “have mercy on those who doubt,” standing on the fence, so to speak, not sure of who to follow. To have mercy in this context is to have compassion and pity for those in the church who are vacillating in their faith. Smooth-talking false teachers have captured their convictions for a moment, but our gentle and loving approach may bring them back to sound thinking, carefully articulating truth in the face of error that they are considering. It is not merely a matter of winning their heads. A merciful approach will win their hearts.

2. Be Firm with Those in the Fire (Jude 23a) 

Jude commands us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Of its 106 uses in the NT, the verb “save” is typically used to directly or implicitly describe how God saves men through Christ (e.g., Rom 10:9). Only rarely is it used to described how one can spiritually save another (Rom 11:14; 1 Cor 7:16; 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16; cf. Acts 2:40). It is obviously not in the power of man to spiritually save the soul of another, but we could say that God sometimes uses the means of Christians to provoke their brothers and sisters in Christ to forsake false teaching and persevere.

Jude’s means of salvation is “by snatching them out of the fire.” These people are not just doubting whether or not the faith is true—they are now pictured as beginning to be burnt by the fire of judgment, implying eternal fire to come. Given the danger, the provocation to persevere in Jude 23 is not a half-hearted attempt to win back a brother. “Snatching” comes from the same word that refers to taking something by force (e.g., Matt 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10). “Fire” speaks of the eternal fire for the one betrays a false profession by turning away from the faith (cf. Matt 3:10, 12; Heb 10:27; Rev 20:14–15). Just as Joshua the high priest was plucked as a brand from the fire and forgiven by God for his sins (Zech 3:2–4), so also God can use us to snatch others from false teaching and the eternal fire that would be theirs.   

3. Show Mercy with Fear to Those Stained by the Flesh (Jude 23b)

Jude’s final command is “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” We have considered showing mercy above, and now we see that this mercy is coupled “with fear.” Implied is a fear for God, but the context points to fearing the sinner’s sin—“hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” This group is not just doubting or even being barely burnt by playing with fire. This group is immersed in false teaching, stained for all to see.

“The garment” in Jude’s picture for sin is the inner garment that sits immediately on the skin. Being “stained by the flesh” details the picture further of a garment soiled by use. What remains of sin in us (“the flesh”) stains us from time to time (cf. Gal 5:16–17). If Jude has Zechariah 3:1–5 on the mind again, to describe Joshua’s garments as “filthy” as a picture of sin was to use a word typically used for excrement in the OT (Deut 23:13; 2 Kgs 18:7; Prov 30:12; Isa 36:12; Ezek 4:12). Just as Peter graphically described returning to sin as a dog eating its vomit and a pig wallowing in mire (2 Pet 2:22), Jude likewise shows us the ugliness of sin as excremental filth on our inner clothing. When showing mercy to those affected by false teaching, or even to the false teachers themselves, we must be cautious in our interactions so that we neither join or condone their sin.

False teaching abounds in our day. Sometimes it creeps into the church through false teachers. Should our brothers and sisters and Christ become influenced by it to one degree or another, may we deal mercifully with the doubters, snatch those in the fire, and show mercy with fear to those stained by sin.

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

These are my notes from teaching some teens on this topic in my church. This is a debated issue, but I believe Scripture is sufficient to answer whether or not Christians should get tattoos. Here is what I believe Scripture says about the matter:

  1. At the very least, tattoos or any other modification of our anatomy should not be identified with paganism or worldliness (Leviticus 19:28; cf. Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1–2). Sometimes physical alterations were allowable but had a distinctly God-given purpose (Genesis 4:15; Exodus 21:1–6). Even shaving one’s hair was temporary, as would be the mourning with which it was associated (Job 1:20; Isaiah 22:12).
  2. Though speaking to women concerning clothing and hair, 1 Peter 3:3–4 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10 give a principle for all Christians—God is more concerned with our hearts and actions than our outward, physical appearance. Good works and words are what best adorn the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20). Bringing the eyes of others to look at something else is simply a distraction.
  3. The Bible speaks against worldliness (1 John 2:15–17). Historically, it is not Christians who have originated and advocated for tattoos. This is a worldly enterprise. Unbelievers typically get tattoos to show what means most to them. Why would we take a pagan practice and attempt to Christianize it (by, say, tattooing a verse to your arm), especially when the Bible commends what matters most to us (Christ, God, the Bible, etc.) to simply be visible as a way of life (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11–12)?
  4. Referring again to 1 John 2:15–17, the body itself is passing away (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16). This makes much of our body, something to be bettered at our glorification. However eternal the message of a tattoo may be (even if it is a Bible verse, a cross, etc.), it will eventually be marred by fading or be disfigured by aging skin. Do we want to represent what is most important to us with faded ink on wrinkles?
  5. What do you your parents say? Do you even want to do something as an adult that would permanently disappoint your parents? What about a spouse? See Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1–3.
  6. Tattoos are not a wise use of money. It costs a bit to get tattoos and even more to remove them. The bigger and inkier the tattoo, the more expensive, time-consuming, and painful it will be to have it removed.
  7. Because of their permanent appearance, tattoos imply an absolute commitment to whatever the tattoo says or symbolizes. Your tattoo thus boasts of something. But the Bible commends us to boast in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23–24). And, if there is anything worth nothing about ourselves, it should be from another person, unprompted by us (Proverbs 27:2). Our words and actions should be commitment enough to whatever the matter of commitment may be (James 5:12).
  8. The only physical symbol that the Bible commands of us is baptism. And even this is not something that permanently attaches itself to our physical bodies everywhere we go.
  9. At the very least, getting a tattoo brings attention to something debatable among Christians, permanently marking yourself as controversial in this regard. Not only does the tattoo boast of whatever its message may be, but the tattoo in and of itself boasts of a willingness to do what many Christians have chosen not to do, something the Bible discourages (cf. Romans 14:6b, 22).
  10. Some people have been taught and believe differently, being Christians who get tattoos. Some people have tattoos and then become Christians, later regretting their tattoos. Either way it happens, we should not judge someone by their immediate appearance but come to understand why they received their tattoos and evaluate their faith by their words and works as a whole (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

A couple of blog posts on the matter helped me to collect my thoughts (click here and here), and then I added some of my own thoughts as well.

Cessationism in a Nutshell

The term cessationism is typically used in theology with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts ceased at the end of the time of the apostles. In contrast, the term continuationism is used with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts continue to be practiced today.

Some gifts are miraculous because they involve the reception of God’s direct revelation—prophecy (receiving and giving this revelation), discerning of spirits (confirming that the Spirit gave revelation to another), wisdom (revelation giving wisdom), knowledge (revelation giving knowledge), tongues (revelation involving a known human language previously unknown to the speaker), and their interpretation (supernaturally interpreting a known human language previously unknown to the interpreter). See 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.

Other gifts are miraculous because, like the gifts above, they only take place by the supernatural work of God. These gifts include faith (the kind of faith granted for miracles; something beyond faith for salvation, it seems; cf. Matthew 17:20), miracles in general, and healings in particular. Again, see 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.

This second set of gifts— miracles, healings, and their necessary faith complement the first set of gifts, those that involve the reception and communication of divine revelation. Miracles confirmed that the speaker and his revelation from God were authentic and true. The message of “such a great salvation” was spoken by Jesus and the apostles, and “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3–4; see also Acts 14:3).

Though miracles were occasionally practiced by someone outside of the apostles (e.g., Stephen in Acts 6:8; Stephen in Acts 8:6; Ananias in Acts 9:17–18), miracles were primarily the practice of the apostles themselves, so much so that Paul identified “signs and wonders and mighty works” as “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Apostles were those who had followed Jesus since the time of John the Baptist, could be a witness for having personally seen Him after His resurrection, and were personally appointed by Him to their apostleship (Luke 6:12–16; Acts 1:21–26). While Paul did not meet the first of these three requirements, Jesus Himself appointed Paul to his apostleship, and he was thus an apostle “untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

These requirements for being an apostle are historically conditioned. No one today (or for the last 1,900 years) fits these requirements. The apostles have ceased to be. And if signs, miracles, and wonders are primarily the signs of an apostle, then the practice of these miraculous gifts has also ceased to be. And if the primary purpose of these gifts was to attest to new revelation, then the reception of new revelation has ceased as well.

I realize that one can believe in the gospel and be either a cessationist or a continuationist. I also believe that God can do miracles today apart from the hands of men. But, as seen above, I also believe that new revelation and the miracles that validated this revelation and its speaker ceased with the apostles.

The importance of this whole matter lies in what claims as one’s authority for Christian belief and practice today—does God speak to us through Scripture alone, or does He continue to speak through men? If He continues to speak through men, the authority for Christian belief and practice lies in the Bible and also in men. But if God ceased to speak in this age when the apostles died and when He closed the Canon of Scripture, then Scripture alone is sufficient for our Christian belief and practice.

While the above is only the briefest of explanations for the cessation of apostles, miraculous gifts, and revelation, I believe that all we need for every good work and all the knowledge necessary for life and godliness is found in Scripture alone. May God help us all to mine the riches of His Word to do these good works and live a godly life for Him.

 

All quotes ESV.