The First Step to Forgiving Others: Be Forgiven Yourself

By | July 26, 2021

“We aren’t speaking anymore.”

“My sin is too big for God to forgive.”

Have you ever heard statements like these?

One pastor observes, “Early in my pastoral ministry I noticed an interesting fact: nearly all the personal problems that drive people to seek pastoral counsel are related in some way to the issue of forgiveness. The typical counselee’s most troublesome problems would be significantly diminished (and in some cases solved completely) by a right understanding of what Scripture says about forgiveness.”1 He explained his observation further—people had trouble understanding the forgiveness of God or how to forgive others. They suffered ongoing personal guilt or problems in their relationships as a result2.

At my church, we recently examined the misuse of the tongue (James 3:1–12), the need for heavenly wisdom in achieving peace with others (James 3:13–18), the causes for quarrels and conflicts among us (James 4:1–5), and how the grace of God overcomes these sins through humility and repentance (James 4:6–12).

For a couple of weeks, we will break from James to answer the question, “But how do I fix the relational damage after a conflict has taken place?” In short—forgive one another. But forgiving others begins with being forgiven yourself.

Paul commands us to be “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He provides the context elsewhere (“if one has a complaint against another”) and similarly commands, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). In both passages, the paradigm for forgiving others is how God has forgiven us in Christ. You must be forgiven in order to know how to forgive. So, let’s explore that for a moment.

First, we remember that we were sinners and provoked the wrath of God. We “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). We were God’s enemies, hated for sin, every single day (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; John 3:36). We needed to be forgiven.

But then, we believed in Christ and what He did for us. “Through this Man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). The Father crushed Him for our iniquities and made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (Isaiah 53:4–6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28). His death provided a path to peace with the Father, and the righteousness of His perfect life became ours (Romans 5:10). Through the instrument of faith and on the basis of Christ’s death and life, God released us from the guilt and punishment for sin. He forgave us.

To forgive someone else is to seek no vengeance for wrongs committed. It is to love and look past the offense and go on as before. And if that seems hard to do, remember how God forgave you through Christ. By being forgiven yourself, you will know how to forgive another.

 

All Bible quotes ESV

  1. John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 7. Most of the thoughts and the passages in this post are distilled from the first chapter of this book. []
  2. Ibid., 7–8. []

The End of Cain

By | July 19, 2021

Man’s first son, he tilled the ground, but God had no regard. A fallen face, he killed his brother. He wandered from the Lord. Then fire and darkness, sorrow and pain, torment without end. Thousands of years, our present age, and then a thousand to come.

Perhaps he hears the gnashing of teeth from others in this tomb. Perhaps he hears the rattle of chains from demons in darkness and gloom. Perhaps he hears one beg for water and one to tell his kin. Perhaps a ray from Abraham shines and shows the gulf between.

See him now, one of the dead, standing before the Throne. The world, vanished—no sun, no moon. Even the sky is gone. Nothing else but this, this something, suspended by itself. Neither earth nor heaven. Only something between the hells.

He turns his head, he sees the dead, but each to be judged alone. He sees them now, standing, like him, before the Great White Throne. The fire, the pain, the darkness, the gloom—where did these sorrows go? But what is this—some books and a book—what do these books now show?

Perhaps he sees his name in one and reads his deeds from time gone by. “Child of Satan, mastered by sin, his brother’s blood still cries.” And then another, a book with names, but his not found therein. He was raised for death, not life, to die forever in sin.

Perhaps his early time on earth puts him in the fore. He is the first to go, and thus, the first to see no more. His time now come, his name not there, the deeds, they seal his fate. The books now shut, the angels come, and cast him in the lake.

What he knew, he knows again—no rest, no day, no night. Smoke and sulfur, torment always, darkness without sight. The fiery waves, they fill his mouth, gasping for a breath. Now forever, ending never, this, the second death.

Interpretive Options Galore: A Quick Look at James 4:5

By | July 12, 2021

James 4:5 is one of the most difficult texts in the NT to translate and interpret. Considering the verse as a whole, James appears to introduce a biblical quotation in the first half of the verse, and then, in the second half, offers what most call not a quotation but a paraphrase or general summary of something taught in the OT. There is no OT quotation that directly corresponds to James 4:5b.

Looking at the second half of the verse, more issues arise:

  1. Grammatically, “the spirit” could be either the subject (1a) or the object (1b) of the verb “yearns.”
  2. “The spirit” (2a) could be also be interpreted “the Spirit” (2b).
  3. Due to a textual variant, “caused to dwell” (3a) could be “dwells” (3b).

So, depending on how to conclude each issue above, one could end up with a range of translations and interpretations. The following summarizes each position and quotes corresponding translations, using what is in parentheses above to identify its particular combination of conclusions.

  1. (1a), (2a), and (3a): Man’s spirit has been caused to live in him by God, and this spirit has sinful envy.

NIV84: “the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely”

NET Bible: “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”

  1. (1a), (2a), and (3b): Man’s spirit lives in him and has sinful envy.

KJV: “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy”

  1. (1a), (2b), and (3b): God’s Spirit lives in man and is righteously jealous.

NKJV: “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”

HCSB (1a), (2b), and (3b): “the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously”

  1. (1b), (2a), and (3a): God has caused man’s spirit to be in him and is righteously jealous for that spirit.

RSV: “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”

ESV: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”

  1. (1b), (2b), and (3a): God has caused His Spirit to be in man and is righteously jealous for His Spirit.

NASB: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”

One can find some comfort that every position above is theologically true. God causes man’s spirit to live in him (cf. Genesis 2:7), so, obviously, it lives in him, and for Christians, God causes His Spirit to live in them as well (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). Due to sin, man’s spirit is prone to sinful envy (cf. James 3:1–4:12). On the one hand, God jealously desires man’s spirit to be righteous as it ought to be, and, on the other hand, God is also jealous that His Spirit would not be quenched by sinful envy. As God is, so is His Spirit—the Spirit is jealous that a Christian would not be sinfully envious.

But, speaking for myself, if one option seems more probable to be the intent of James, perhaps it is #1 above for the following reasons:

  1. The textual variant for “dwell” is “almost certain” to be the causative form for “dwell” (i.e., “caused to dwell”).1
  2. Word studies seem to cancel each other out as being decisive for an interpretation. The noun “envy” (phthonos, sometimes translated as an adverb in James 4:5, “jealously”) is used eight other times in the NT, always with reference to sin (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10; Romans 1:29; Galatians 5:21; Philippians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 2:1). The verb “yearn” (epipotheō) is also used eight other times in the NT as some kind of righteous longing by a Christian (Roman 1:11; 2 Corinthians 5:2; 9:14; Philippians 1:8; 2:26; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 1:4; 1 Peter 2:2). Borrowing the meanings from these texts to define the words in James 4:5 does not make theological sense. One does not righteously yearn unto sinful envy. The context must decide the meaning of these words.
  3. So, in context, James excoriates the sinful because they follow “passions” that lead to “quarrels and fights” (James 4:1). They also choose to “desire” and “covet” in way that leads them to “murder” (figuratively; cf. 1 John 3:15) and “fight and quarrel” (James 4:2). Similarly, James points to the source of their sins in another way—the spirit is bent on sinful envy (James 4:5).
  4. Just as James asks, “Do you not know” and negatively assesses their sin (James 4:4), so also he asks a parallel question, “Do you suppose it is to no purpose” and points to the OT’s teaching about the envy of man’s spirit (James 4:5; cf. Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9).
  5. Taking James 4:5 as a negative statement about man’s spirit (it envies), James 4:6 immediately follows with a contrast: “But he [God] gives more grace.” James points to the problem in one verse and immediately follows with the solution in the next.

Good men disagree, as the translations show above. If nothing else, whether you find these truths in James 4:5 or somewhere else, remember that God is jealous for good, we can be jealous for evil, and we should let His Spirit rule our own to conquer our sinful envy.

  1. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 612. []

How to Lead a Bible Study, Part 3

By | July 6, 2021
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series How to Lead a Bible Study

What is true about the audience in a LBS?

1. You will likely have a mixture of personalities, ages, education levels, marriage/children statuses, and spiritual growth levels.

2. You may have a range of responses from those who indiscriminately eat up whatever you/the material says all the way to someone who likes to disagree/question everything you/the material says. I have found that there are often 1-2 on each end of the spectrum, and in the middle are women who are willing to read and listen with some level of discernment.

3. Women tend to overall be more emotional and interpersonal (in general). Many women do not like to disagree with someone or like to be disagreed with/told they are wrong (although there are some who enjoy doing that!). What often is felt in being asked/told a clarifying question/comment is “I don’t like you” when all that is being said is “I’m not sure that your comment lines up with Scripture.”

4. Women—in general—like to talk. Sometimes women will talk forever about a specific subject or they will talk about what they think to the exclusion (or minimization) of what the Bible says.

5. I have noticed that many women feel intimidated to study Scripture on their own. They feel like the material is too hard. They think deep study is only for pastors and scholars. They are more comfortable with practical, easy-reading books, rather than meaty Scriptural studies.

6. It is impossible to please everyone in your audience.

What are some practical issues to consider as you think about a LBS?

Who will teach/lead the study?

1. The teacher needs to have the characteristics we discussed earlier. Whether the study is a specific book of the Bible or a book on a biblical topic, the leader of a study needs to be well-versed at least to some degree in her Bible. She at least needs to be willing to spend the time to improve her Bible knowledge. Questions or comments can be made by the audience that reveal a misunderstanding of Scripture in an off-topic area, and the leader needs to be able to recognize and address these issues (whether at the moment or in a private setting).

2. The teacher needs to be able to have the time to prepare and study. If the only one able and qualified to teach a study has a bunch of young children at home or has other commitments that would not allow for adequate time to study, perhaps the study should be put off to another time. Also, if the ladies are obeying Titus 2:3–5, the relationships between the older and younger women would theoretically be meeting this need in the meantime. A formal LBS would be a bonus.

3. A teacher/leader needs to be kind and gracious, but she also needs to be firm. She needs to be willing and able to correct outright untruths, guide unaware mistruths, and direct conversations that drift off-topic.

When will you have the study?

You will have to know your both your teacher’s schedule, your church schedule, and your audience’s average schedule to determine what will work best. Many women either work or have children, so these factors must be taken into account.

What will be the frequency of the study?

I think this depends on multiple factors. What kind of study are you doing? Is it a book of the Bible that will lose momentum if you don’t keep moving and meet weekly? Are your ladies so busy with church and other activities that once a month is preferable? Are your ladies overall slow or quick learners? Will they be overwhelmed with too much in a shorter amount of time or are they hungrily lapping it up?

Will you provide childcare?

I think this is always a bonus and help, but it is often not possible. Often the people who attend a study are the people who are already involved in many aspects of the church. By default, these ladies may end up also providing childcare unless babysitters are found or fathers are able to help watch their own children. Maybe the LBS attendees could rotate who takes care of the children. Whatever you do, make sure you follow the nursery guidelines of your church.

Where will you hold the study?

If the Bible study is a formal church function, I find it more helpful to have the study in a church building if possible. There tends to be a subtle mindset difference in a church building setting, as opposed to someone’s home (I’ve seen it!). But if it is at a home, try to keep everyone together at the dining room table or some kind of setting that keeps everyone close together and allows for laying out their Bibles and taking notes. I have found that ladies are more comfortable to speak in an informal setting, for better or for worse.

What is the objective of the study?

1. If the objective is study, then the “fellowship” aspect needs to be emphasized at another time.

2. Another thought is whether the study would like to broaden itself to include unbelievers, making the study also evangelistic. One would have to think through questions an unbeliever might have when approaching the study.

So let’s say that your pastor asks you to lead a Ladies’ Bible Study in your church. You’ve never led a study before, but you enjoy studying, and you think you’d enjoy teaching/leading. What do you do?

1. Choose your content ahead of time. If this is your first study, choose a book that you have read before or a smaller book of the Bible you have studied before. Discuss your choice/material with the pastoral leadership.

2. Decide whether you are going to give “homework” for your study. Homework is any level of outside work that you expect the participants to put in outside of the discussion/teaching time. This can be as simple as reading the chapter/Bible passage or it can be as involved as spending several days a week answering questions. I am personally a huge fan of homework. The more personal effort the student puts into studying the passage for herself, the more beneficial the study will be to her. There are several factors to consider when you assign homework.

  • Some people just will not do it. They either hate homework or say they don’t have time for it.
  • Personally, I don’t like to do homework unless it lines up with my personal Bible study. Because my personal Bible study is usually very in-depth, I don’t like to do more than one at a time. So just reading something is nice in that case. Also, not all homework is created equal.
  • Unfortunately, it seems that many (not all) people who complain about homework are not doing any in-depth Bible study on their own anyway. So, to be blunt, their complaint is probably more due to laziness. (I am not referring to women who actually do not have time due to a newborn baby, health issues, etc.)
  • I like to make it clear that ladies will benefit much more greatly from a study if they work at understanding and answering questions. It will aid in their contributions in the discussion and to their own personal understanding. But I also do not require people to do homework to be a part of the study, nor do I shame or embarrass those who don’t do it. (Although it tends to be rather obvious who has actually studied the material.)
  • Make sure any questions you ask are understandable. They should neither insult the intelligence of your ladies nor overwhelm them too much. (Being a little overwhelmed is part of learning, however. I think pushing them to think is a good thing, though unpopular.)

3. As you study, write out good discussion questions that you plan on asking.

  • Lots of “Sunday School” type questions are annoying to many and feel insulting (e.g., Who were Isaac’s sons? What was Isaac’s wife named?) Having a handful of these questions can be helpful for someone who wants to answer questions, but doesn’t like to answer questions that don’t have a “right” answer. But–having too many questions like this stunts discussion and many (like me!) refuse to answer these questions that have obvious answers.
  • A good discussion question is an “open-ended” question; it requires more than a yes/no or one-word answer. It may not necessarily have a “right” answer. I often follow up someone’s answer with another question: “Why do you think/say that?” This helps to force people to give a biblical answer rather than an answer based simply off of what they think.
  • Good discussion questions are key to a good group discussion. Hardly anyone likes to hear the teacher talk the whole time (I have been told that!). People often enjoy the interaction (which is why I think homework is so important). Others can offer good discussion questions too. But a teacher must have the ability to divert discussions that get off-topic.

4. Decide how you will deal with prayer requests, fellowship time, snacks, etc. Unfortunately fellowship and prayer requests can take too much of the study time if the purpose is primarily study. Perhaps one way to aid in praying for each other without taking time away from study/discussion is to write requests down at/before the study and then email them to all the ladies. Here are a couple of suggestions for how you might structure your schedule:

  • Sunday School: 9:00 to 10:00 AM
    • 9:00–9:15 – prayer requests/fellowship/snacks
    • 9:15–10:00 – Bible study (start on time to make the most of it!)
  • Saturday morning: 9:00 to 11:00 AM – fellowship will tend to take a little bit longer on non-Sundays since people have not already said hello as they would when arriving at church on a Sunday
    • 9:00–9:30 – prayer requests/fellowship/snacks
    • 9:30–10:45 – Bible study
    • 10:45–11:00 – wrap-up

I hope this has been a help to someone who is considering leading a Ladies’ Bible Study. I have enjoyed very much studying for, writing, and leading ladies’ studies and count it a privilege to do so. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop them in the comments section!

Let Not Many Be Teachers

By | July 5, 2021

There is a general need for pastors and teachers in our churches. Broadly speaking, more pastors will retire than those who might fill their pulpits in years to come. In our rush to fill those pulpits, we should pray that Christ would send out laborers for the harvest (Matthew 9:38), but we should also be careful not to take just anyone who volunteers. James gives us some wisdom for who to choose.

Lower the Number

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

James commanded his readers to keep the number of teachers lower than the number of brothers in general. “Not many” numbers the teachers, whatever that number may be, and many more should therefore not teach. Why winnow the number of teachers to just a few? James gives two reasons, explained below.

Higher the Bar

First, teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.” This idea of judgment for the teachers of the church is common in the NT. Peter promises an unfading crown of glory to those who shepherd (and teach) the church (1 Peter 5:4). Paul promises a reward to those who pastoral work survives because it is built on the foundation of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:14). The crown of a pastor is his church (Philippians 4:1), and his flock, present at Christ’s coming, will be cause for boasting, glory, and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20). Having accounted for their souls in this life, his reward is to see them in the life to come (Hebrews 13:17).

The Test Is in the Tongue

Second, and more to the point in James, this judgment concerns what teachers say. After all, the perseverance of the saints depends in part upon the teaching of the Word of God (cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). James continues, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2).

There should not be many teachers because everyone struggles in what he says, including those who would be teachers. In other words, as James speaks to everyone about the tongue (cf. James 3:2, “we all…anyone”), he also provides the tongue as a test for who should or not be teachers (cf. James 3:1–8). We might ask ourselves some questions of how a potential (or existing) teacher uses his tongue:

  • Does he boast of great things and slander others (James 3:5, 9)?
  • Do his words spur disorder and sinful practices instead of peace (James 3:13–18)?
  • Does he quarrel and fight with others and speak evil of the brothers (James 4:1, 11)?

If the answers are affirmative, then such a one should not be a teacher. He is not wise and understanding among the brethren and has no right to teach (James 3:13).

Instead, teaching should be marked by “integrity, dignity, and sound speech” (Titus 2:7–8). It should be authoritative (Titus 2:15) while being kind, patient, and gentle (2 Timothy 2:24–25). In all that he says, the teacher should speak “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” and give “teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).

May Christ raise up teachers for His church, and may He tame their tongues to teach in a way that honors Him.

Bits of Wisdom from Houses of Mourning

By | June 28, 2021

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).

This verse has often run through my mind this past couple of years. I have provoked many houses to mourning. Others call my fellow police chaplains and me “grim reapers” because we announce to families that a loved one has just died. Sometimes people react in shock, denial, or anger. Eventually they mourn as they accept their loss.

We sometimes inform family that the death has come about in the pursuit of unholy mirth. In their foolish rush for pleasure (usually drugs), the pursuers find death instead. All in a moment, what was a house of mirth for one becomes a house of mourning for others. The Lord has given me some bits of wisdom in these houses to see firsthand the horrific results of indulging alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. The first two drugs often lead to one of the next, and the constant combination of some or all of the above often leads to an early death.

And God is sovereign over this death. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). God has decreed all things, including our appointment with death. The untimely death of a loved one surprises the ones who love, but God knew this time would come. He appointed it. And then He judges the deceased.

These truths arrested my attention in full when I read the words of a decoration in one of the houses mentioned above: “Good morning. This is God. I will be handling all your problems today.” How God sometimes handles the problems of sin is terrible to consider. The lifeless sinners come to know a horrific reality: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Their problems of sin on earth are over. But their problem of eternal judgment has only just begun.

And then another bit of wisdom comes to mind that I know for myself and try to offer in a prayer. A truncated version goes something like this: “Dear Lord, You know what death is because you sent your Son to die for our sins on the cross. And He knows what death is because He died for us. I pray that you would give comfort during this time of grief, knowing that you have conquered death through Christ and that He is coming again one day. Be with the family now in each of the steps ahead. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”

It is one bit of wisdom to know that we die. It is quite another to know that Christ has died for our sins, that He has conquered death, and that we can conquer death through Him. May God give us grace to be the be the wiser for considering these deaths today.

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A Summer to Glory in Evil?

By | June 21, 2021

A recently released movie Cruella (PG-13) apparently shows the backstory of how Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians became so cruel. Loki (TV-14), a new series, puts a pansexual and gender fluid demigod (according to the comic books, at least) center‑stage to entertain the masses.

In the first instance, Cruella follows Disney’s cartoon feature 101 Dalmatians (1961). Both Cruella and her goons are comically obsessed with making coats out of Dalmatian fur. Save the puppies! (Sorry, I gave the plot away.) The antics of the villains are obviously ridiculous. Now, fifty years later, the prequel informs and entertains its viewers with Cruella’ past in order to see why she is so evil. And, according to our culture, the assumption is that it’s not sin within that makes one more the sinner. It’s one’s terrible circumstances that make for such a terrible person. Man is innately good, so if Cruella did not suffer, she could otherwise flourish in society. Whether or not the movie expressly articulates this worldview, I’ll never know, but this seems to be a recurring theme for entertainment. (Joker, anyone?)

As for Loki, once again, here is a cinematic production that stems from something typically offered to children (comic books). Some in our society will wait with bated breath to see if Disney advances its LGBT agenda through the shifty brother of Thor. Disney again asks its viewers to entertain themselves with a character who loves to sin, and maybe his sins will be more abominable than before.

I’m not trying to nitpick at two shows in particular or critique the entertainment industry as a whole. However, sometimes upholding the gospel means addressing a problem here and there (cf. Jude 3–4), and these shows are examples of larger, trending problems. That’s what concerns me most as a pastor and father. Here’s just a couple of items to consider.

First, our society’s common grace is increasingly eroding.  We’ve gone from 101 Dalmatians to Cruella and from Dennis the Menace to Loki. When our society could put its collective mind on better things (cf. Philippians 4:8), it chooses to increase its appetite for evil instead.

Second, both of these shows stem from something first offered to children, and in the pull to complete a narrative, the viewer may not realize values change while characters stay the same. Broadly put, whereas children used to enjoy the triumph of good over evil, now those same people will enjoy the triumph of evil over good. And if their children join them in viewing, the children will be worse off than them in time to come.

With these trends in mind, here’s just a couple of thoughts from Scripture:

  • Whoever the villains may be, wisdom is to avoid them because they seek to shed innocent blood (Proverbs 1:8–19). Don’t walk with them or tread their paths or enjoy their sin on a screen (cf. Proverbs 1:15). Defeating a villain is one thing. Glorying in a villain’s defeat of others is another.
  • If the blood they seek to shed is not so innocent, remember the words of the Lord: “Vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy 32:25). We are not the final judges of the sins of other men, and neither should we revel in the vengeance of others, however painfully the avenger may have suffered.
  • Finally, though villains may not sit with you in your home, they can shape your heart through your ears and eyes (cf. Proverbs 4:20–27). If they are angry, wrathful people, make no friendship with them, even as patrons, lest you learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare (Proverbs 22:24–25). Entertaining yourself with another’s lust for vengeance can tempt you to be like him.

Christ shows us a better way: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

 

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Only God Gives the Growth

By | June 16, 2021

Yesterday, as I watered my garden, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between two mounds of pumpkin plants. As you can see in my photo, the plants on the right are several times larger than those on the left. Now, I planted both from the same seed packet on the same day, using the same soil, watering them at the same time each day, and each receiving the same amount of sun. So, why would one set grow so much bigger so much more quickly?

I still don’t have an answer to that question, but this conundrum did remind me of a passage in Scripture.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV).

Paul was addressing the jealousy and strife in the Corinthian church as they divided themselves into groups who followed only one teacher. Paul emphasized that both he and Apollos were simply fellow workers together in God’s field, accomplishing God’s purposes. They were workers, but God was the one to give the growth.

As I watered I thought about this truth of the burden of growth being on God (and obviously the individual, but that is not my focus here). When Christians give the gospel to unbelievers or help other believers, when pastors shepherd their flocks, when teachers teach their listeners, there is only so much that the “seed planters and waterers” can do. The burden of the growth of another is not ours to bear.

Perhaps it would be easier if we could control the growth of our family members, friends, and church members. We like to be in control of the whole process. We could see the instant results of our planting and watering. Sometimes (often in ministry) it is frustrating to plant and water and see little or apparently no growth in some, while others grow under the same conditions.

This is where the truth that it is “only God who gives the growth” is so comforting. It not only removes the burden of growth off of our shoulders, but it helps everyone (planters, waterers, and plants) to rely on the ever-faithful God rather than the frail planters and waterers.

If we faithfully plant and faithfully water, we have done our job. Leave the growing to God and rest in his sovereignty and his greater care for the plants.

 

The Fate of Those Who Never Hear

By | June 14, 2021

What happens to people who never hear the gospel?

What an awful question—to consider those who never hear the gospel, die in their ignorance, and suffer for eternity. Their fate is eternal torment by fire. It should make every Christian shudder.

But is it fair for them to be judged in this way? To never hear the gospel and still be punished forever?

Remember that man is sinful and therefore justly condemned by God. God is not obligated to save anyone, and it is a wonder that He saves any at all. Sinfulness begins at conception (Psalm 51:5) and is common to all mankind (Romans 3:23; 5:12; Ephesians 2:3). Sin provokes God’s wrath and punishment, whether the sinner has heard the gospel or not. Those who die in their sins immediately go to torment by fire (cf. Matthew 25:41; Luke 16:23–24) and will reside in the lake of fire forever (Revelation 20:14–15). “Fair” would be for all mankind to be forever in hell with no hope of salvation. Thankfully, our God is merciful, forgives our sin in Christ, and grants the merits of His Son to those who believe.

Remember also that God’s standard for eternal punishment is not whether or not someone has heard the gospel. To be sure, there is a greater accountability and punishment for those who hear and reject the gospel (cf. Matthew 26:24; 2 Peter 2:20–22), but, for those who do not hear the gospel, God still judges them justly. They plainly see and recognize His power and divine nature in creation and yet suppress this truth and fail to give Him thanks and honor (Romans 1:18–21; cf. Psalm 19:1–6). Their consciences condemn their sins and thus provide grounds for God to judge them through Christ (Romans 2:12–16). God judges them for how they have responded to what He has revealed of Himself to them in creation and conscience, even if that revelation does not include what He reveals of Christ in His Word. They can only be saved by hearing about and believing in Christ alone (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:14–15), but they can also be judged on the basis of what He generally reveals of Himself to all.

So, what do we as Christians do about these terrible truths?

First, be thankful that you yourself have heard and believed the gospel when others have not. You can say with Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Second, give the gospel to anyone who will listen. Wherever your feet may take you, take the good news with you, and preach the gospel so that some may believe. Otherwise, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

What an awful thing to consider the fate of those who never hear. But what a mercy it is that we have heard and believed. And may God show mercy to more through us as we share the gospel of Christ.

How to Lead a Bible Study, Part 2

By | June 13, 2021
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series How to Lead a Bible Study

Previously, in part 1 of this series, I wrote about whether a Ladies’ Bible study (LBS) is essential for the local church as well as the values of having one, along with the dangers and cautions that we should be aware of.

This time, let’s assume that the leadership team of the church has agreed that a LBS would be beneficial to the women of the church and the church as a whole. . .

 

What should be true about the teacher of a LBS?

Teachers in general

1. They should be loving. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the various gifts that God gives individuals in the church, including teaching. 1 Cor 13 goes on to say that someone who prophecies, speaks with tongues, etc. but does not have love is just a noisy gong or clanging symbol. A teacher who is not loving is just annoying and unhelpful.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-8 ESV).

2. They should “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:12-14 ESV, emphasis added).

If they are not building up the body, aiding in faith and knowledge, helping believers not to be swayed by false teaching, they are not a qualified teacher.

3. They should understand what they are teaching and not promote speculation and vain discussion.

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim 1:3-7 ESV).

4. They need to give sound teaching, not simply telling people what they want to hear.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:1-4 ESV).

5. They need to be skilled in the word of righteousness with their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to discern good and evil.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:12-14 ESV).

6. They need to be self-controlled in their speech.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (James 3:1-12 ESV).

7. They are not devious, sensual, greedy, manipulative, and dishonest.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV).

8. They are not intentionally hypocritical.

“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Rom 2:21-23 ESV).

9. They need to be people in whom the Word of God dwells richly.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16 ESV).

10. One qualification for a pastor is that he is able to teach. Although every pastor should be a teacher, not every teacher is a pastor. But here are accompanying requirements for pastor/teachers:

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:1-7 ESV).

11. A teacher teaches others to teach.

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:2-3 ESV).

12. A teacher should be kindnot quarrelsomepatient, and gentle.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24-25 ESV).

13. A teacher should have good role models.

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me” (2 Tim 3:10-11).

Female teachers

1. They are not to teach men.

2. Older women who teach younger women (which all older women are required to do) should be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to much wine.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).

3. While 1 Tim 3:11 speaks to qualifications for deacon’s wives and not necessarily teachers, it does provide some good qualifications for a woman who will be in a leadership/visible position.

“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Tim 3:11 ESV).

What should be true about the content of a LBS?

1. It should be Word-centered, truth-centered, for building up and equipping of the saints

2. It should be doctrinally sound; not devoted to myths, genealogies, speculations, or vain discussions (1 Tim 1:3-7; 6:2-5).

3. It should be Scripture-centered.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16 ESV).

4. It should not be that which simply suits the passions of the hearers.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4 ESV).

5. Older women are to at least informally teach what is good. They are to train young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands.

“They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5 ESV).

What materials should you use?

1. I believe that if you call it a Bible study, you should be studying the Bible. There is nothing more powerful and effective than the Word itself. There are various studies that help people study books of the Bible.

2. A book can be a helpful tool to study as a group, but it must be chosen with great care. The emphasis of the book should be very biblical, and extra time should be taken to look at what Scripture says, holding the author’s words up to the light of Scripture. (e.g., I led a study through Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It had some great truths, but the content contained a whole lot of stories. I had to take time to go through many of the Scripture references and lead discussion about those.)

{Next time, I will address the audience in a LBS as well as practical issues to consider.}