When Sin Compels a Confrontation and Forgiveness Must Be Formal

By | August 16, 2021

Last week, we saw that even when one is wronged and seriously so, he can choose to overlook the sin. But there are times when overlooking a sin is not an option. In these situations, Scripture requires a confrontation, an apology, and forgiveness to restore the relationship. This is conditional forgiveness—we cannot forgive the sinner unless he repents for his sin.

Hear Jesus on the matter: “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4). All the components are there—the sin that harms the relationship (sins against you), the confrontation (rebuke), the condition of repentance (if he repents), and forgiveness (forgive him). Additionally, Jesus stresses that the innocent party should be ready and willing to forgive repeatedly (cf. Matthew 18:21–22, 35).

So, whereas sometimes “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and it can be “glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11), there are other times to say, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love,” a love manifest as the “faithful…wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:5–6). But just when are these times?

Adapting the thoughts of others,1 I’ve found it helpful to ask four questions to determine whether or not to confront a sinner who is sinning against me or someone else. If the answer is “yes” to any of the questions below, a confrontation must take place. And, God willing, this confrontation will lead to an apology and forgiveness that restores the relationship as before. And maybe the relationship will even be stronger for having weathered some sin and forgiveness.

Does the sin harm the bond between us?

Sometimes the victim cannot overlook the sin and must confront the sinner. In this instance, the sin is of such a nature that it has severed the relationship between the innocent and sinning parties. As seen above in Luke 17:3–4, the sin is “against you” and Jesus commands the offended party to “rebuke.”

If the offender has clearly sinned and refuses to repent, the innocent party should confront again with two or three witnesses. If repentance is still not forthcoming, the sin should be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–18). Every step along the way (and even in excommunication; cf. 1 Timothy 1:20), the goal is for the offender to repent.

Does the sin harm the brother himself?

Sometimes a sin becomes a habit and traps the sinner in the sin. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). The sinner is wandering and needs a brother to bring him back, snatching him from death and fire (James 5:19–20; Jude 23). He could otherwise harden himself against God if not exhorted by his brothers (Hebrews 3:13).

Does the sin harm another brother in Christ?

Sometimes a sin is against someone other than yourself. Righteousness in this situation demands another Christian to come to the rescue by confronting the brother who is harming another. The innocent might be poor, fatherless, widowed, or oppressed in some other way (James 1:27; cf. Exodus 23:6; Proverbs 31:8–9; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3). Whatever the sin may be, there are times when a Christian must confront one brother in Christ for sinning against another.

Does the sin harm the body of Christ?

Sometimes the sin is so sinful that it can ruin the testimony of a church. Overlooking incest, for example, is not loving but arrogant and not even practiced by pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1–2). Other sinners that we must confront include those “guilty of sexual immorality or greed…an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Additionally, tolerating this level of sin encourages further sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6–8). Allowing one bitter root of a person to spring up and bear poisonous fruit could defile the body as a whole (Hebrews 12:15; cf. Deuteronomy 29:18–19). If such a one is unrepentant, he must be put out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). Even then, however, this action is meant to provoke the sinner to repentance, and, if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5–8).

Seen in the questions above, some sins compel a confrontation, and the confronted must repent. The one confronting can then forgive, and both go on as before. May God use us as a means of grace to one another to conquer our sins and persevere.

 

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  1. See especially John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 128–34. []

I was wronged. Should I expect my offender to say, “I’m sorry”?

By | August 9, 2021

Sometimes we fret over whether or not a confrontation will shatter a relationship that seems cracked and falling apart. How do we discern whether or not to confront someone for a sin and ask for an apology?

The following examines the Scriptures to answer this question and adapts the thoughts of others into my own words.1 Much more could be said than what follows, but here at least three questions to help determine whether or not a confrontation is necessary.

First, is this sin important?

Don’t get me wrong with this question—every sin is important in that it violates the infinitely holy nature of our perfectly pure God. The idea with this question is to discern the relative importance of the sin.

Sometimes Scripture indicates encourages nonretaliation. We can expect to be persecuted by our enemies, and we must love them in return (Matthew 5:10–12). When enemies or anyone slaps us or takes our coats, we can overlook this kind of offense and give kindness in return (Matthew 5:38–41). A minor offense does not need a major response. If the offense is minor, let your “love cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It might just be your “glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Jesus taught this love (Matthew 5:10–12, 39–40) and lived it out as well (Isa 53:7; Matthew 27:12; Mark 14:61; 15:4–5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9; 1 Peter 2:22–23).

Second, is this sin intentional?

It is one thing for someone to offend another in a premeditated manner. It is quite another for someone to offend another by accident. In connecting this question to the previous question, an important matter may be worth mentioning to the offender. However, if the matter is not important, and if the offender intended no offense (as best we know), then it is likely best to “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

Third, is this sin individual?

By individual, I mean that the offender has offended you and you alone. It could be a private or public offense. It might even be quite serious. However, even then, if the sin is against you and no one else, you may choose to overlook the sin.

Joseph overlooked the sin of his brothers selling and sending him away (Genesis 45:4–5; 50:20). David overlooked Shimei’s curses and casting rocks (2 Samuel 16:5–14; 19:18–23). Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:34), and Stephen did so as well (Acts 7:60). Not every killer came to Christ, but some of them did in time (cf. Mark 15:39; Acts 2:37; 9:17).

For whatever these individuals overlooked, God Almighty would exact perfect justice in time. But whether or not an offender finds forgiveness from God, we as individuals can overlook sin. This love does not mean that justice might demand consequences and a formal apology for serious sin, but it does mean that we can overlook what we can and be willing to forgive.

So, should you expect your offender to say “I’m sorry”? As one pastor put it, “The short answer is that it is a matter of wisdom or discernment.”2

Hopefully the three questions above provide some general wisdom and discernment. And for anything left unsaid, I would encourage you to read the book cited in the notes below.

Next week, I hope to write on forgiveness again and clarify when Scripture requires someone to confront the offender.

 

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  1. See especially Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998). []
  2. Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 98. []

Philemon: An Example of Forgiveness

By | August 2, 2021

During Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Philemon 1; cf. Acts 28:30–31), a household slave named Onesimus stole from his master Philemon and ran away (cf. Philemon 18–19). If Philemon caught Onesimus during this time, he could have severely punished him as a result. Philemon’s wife Apphia and his son Archippus would have known about the situation, and the church that met in their house was likely aware as well (cf. Philemon 2). Onesimus’s sins affected many.

As time went on, Onesimus somehow found Paul in Rome, and Paul led him to saving faith in Christ (cf. Philemon 10). As much as Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him, he returned him to Philemon whose say determined Onesimus’s future (Philemon 11–14). Paul encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, and Paul took Onesimus’s debts upon himself (Philemon 15–19).

Paul assumed in advance what we can assume in retrospect today—Philemon forgave Onesimus. Paul was confident of this forgiveness, and Philemon may have gone beyond Paul’s words to free Onesimus from servanthood as well (Philemon 21). In fact, Paul was so confident of the matter (and his release from prison) that he asked Philemon to prepare a room for him to use in a future visit (Philemon 22).

Among many lessons that we could explore from this example, here are at least three for now:

Forgiveness shows our faith.

Philemon was a fellow Christian, likely led to Christ by Paul (cf. Philemon 19). Paul expected Philemon to forgive. Because Philemon knew the forgiveness of God through Christ, he would gladly forgive as well (cf. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12–13). Christians cannot be contentious, grudge-nursing people. Love does not resent but believes and hopes and endures (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). Whether we suffer theft or abandonment or worse, we forgive the one who did wrong and remember his sin no more (cf. Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). A failure to forgive contradicts one’s faith and may show no faith at all (cf. Matthew 18:35). Forgiveness shows our faith.

Forgiveness should be free.

Paul could have given an apostolic mandate for Philemon to obey, but he did not want Philemon’s “goodness” to “be by compulsion but of [his] own accord” (Philemon 14). As Jesus taught, forgiveness is “from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). Compulsory forgiveness is cold and false. Forgiveness might need some prodding from time to time, but, in the end, it should be voluntary and free.

Forgiveness is helped by friends.

A friend can help bring others together. As Christ advocates for us before the Father (cf. 1 John 2:1), so also Paul spoke to Philemon on Onesimus’s behalf and assumed his debt. He even encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus as himself. When one Christian sees or anticipates the need for reconciliation between others, it is sometimes appropriate to mediate as a helpful means to peace. Paul had mediated before (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5–11), and he had received this grace himself (cf. Acts 9:26–28). From this story and others, we see that a friend can help the offended party to forgive.

I don’t know who reads these posts, and I can only imagine the sorrows that some readers have borne. Whatever you may have suffered, we should forgive one another like Philemon forgave Onesimus, especially if the matter is between two Christians. Better yet, remember your forgiveness in Christ, and forgive others just the same.

 

PS In case anyone is wondering, next week I hope to answer the question, “Should the sinner be sorry before I can forgive?”

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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.

 

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  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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