Christian Hedonism

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Sam Storms:

It should come as no surprise that among the ten theological trademarks of John Piper’s ministry we find an emphasis on Christian Hedonism. As we continue to focus attention on his book, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014), this controversial subject is next in line.

Perhaps more than anything else John Piper is known for the declaration that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” If this statement is true, there is no inconsistency between your greatest gladness and God’s greatest glorification. In fact, God’s glory “shines in your happiness, when your happiness is in him” (42).

People often push back against Christian Hedonism because the idea that God seeks his own glory above all else strikes them as egotistical and selfish. But as Piper points out,

“since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do – to reveal himself, and magnify himself and vindicate himself for our everlasting enjoyment” (42).

This means that “God is the one being for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, because he is exalting for us what alone can satisfy us fully and forever” (43). If you think God could provide you with something other than himself that could satisfy your heart more than he can, or that God can give you something or someone capable of bringing more intense delight and joy to your soul than he is able to give, God ceases to be God. Your “god” is now whatever it is that brings you your greatest perceived pleasure. And is it not blasphemous for anyone to suggest that a creature or a finite thing or a temporal experience can bring more joy to the human heart than can the God who has Genesis 1 on his resume?

Piper proceeds to give a more extensive explanation of Christian Hedonism, as well as its biblical basis, but I will mention only one text that is particularly supportive of this idea and quite stunning in its implications. It is in Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21 that whereas life and ministry on this earth are wonderful and would certainly honor Jesus, “to die is gain.” Here is what this means and why we believe it sustains Christian Hedonism:

“You add up all the losses that death will cost you (your family, your job, your dream retirement, the friends you leave behind, your favorite bodily pleasures) – you add up all these losses, and then you replace them only with death and Christ – if when you do that you joyfully say, gain!, then Christ is magnified in your dying. Christ is most magnified in your death, when you are so satisfied in Christ, that losing everything and getting only Christ is called gain. Or again . . . Christ is glorified in you when he is more precious to you than all that life can give or death can take” (47).

That is Christian Hedonism!

Will Christians be secretly raptured?

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Jeramie Rinne:

This past weekend the eschatological thriller Left Behind opened in theaters. It joins a flood of Christian movies this year including Exodus, Son of God, God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, andNoah. Okay, let’s not count Noah.

Yet Left Behind stands out among this surge of Christian films, not just because it stars Nicholas Cage, and not just because it’s based on the wildly successful Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Perhaps more than the other films, Left Behind captures believers’ imagination because it portrays a future, world-changing event: the secret rapture, that moment Jesus suddenly snatches up all Christians to himself years prior to his visible second coming.

As producer and writer Paul LaLonde put it, “It’s a Bible-based movie, it’s a biblical story, it’s a true story—it just hasn’t happened yet.” As a result, it can cause us to wonder, What will it be like when all the Christians suddenly disappear? How close are we to the rapture? Will I be taken or left behind? 

 

But there’s another question we should ask, one that may surprise you: “Is the rapture taught in the Bible?” It may come as a shock to learn that many Bible-believing Christians today doubt the rapture, and that most Christians throughout history had never even heard of it.

Brief History of the Secret Rapture

The doctrine of the secret rapture emerged during the early 19th century through the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). Darby was one of the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, and his teachings became known as “dispensationalism.”

Darby’s dispensationalism distinguished sharply between Israel and the church. The former was earthly, he believed, and the latter heavenly. God had two distinct peoples and separate plans for each. Thus Darby understood Old Testament prophecies as applying only to Israel, the earthly people of God. Rather than “spiritualizing” such prophecies, he expected a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to literal Israel. So when, according to dispensational thought, would God fulfill his prophecies to Israel? During the millennium (Rev. 20:1–8) after Jesus’ second coming.

So in order for God to resume these plans for Israel, Darby believed, God would first need to remove the church from the world. Hence arose the need for the secret rapture. Darby had in effect proposed something new: a two-stage return of Jesus. Jesus would first come to “rapture” the church, and then return again in visible glory.1

Darby’s views spread rapidly, especially in the United States. The dispensational system, including the secret rapture, was disseminated through prophecy conferences and received support from evangelists like D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday. By far the most important boost for Darby’s teaching, however, came from the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s work became the English standard for fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians in the early 20th century, and in the process exposed thousands of readers to the secret rapture through his dispensational-informed study notes.

The secret rapture doctrine continued to gain steam in the latter half of the 20th century, and the advent of modern Israel in 1948 seemed a clear sign that God was restarting his plans for Israel. The rapture must be close! Books like Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth and movies like A Thief in the Night further popularized dispensational teaching. And then there are the Left Behindnovels, which have sold millions of copies and captured the imagination of a new generation.

The rise and spread of the secret rapture teaching is a remarkable story. In just a century and a half, a previously unknown doctrine has become a central eschatological hope for millions.

Is the Rapture in Scripture?

Ultimately we must assess doctrine not on the narrative of church history, but on the text of Scripture. That fact that the secret rapture, and dispensationalism, are the new kids on the eschatological block doesn’t necessarily mean they are false. Previous generations could have misinterpreted their Bibles. As Protestants we hold Scripture, not church tradition, to be authoritative.

But the secret rapture faces biblical challenges as well. There are no biblical texts that explicitly teach it or anything like a two-stage coming of Jesus. Passages that supposedly describe the secret rapture could just as easily be read as referring to the glorious second coming, and in fact have been read that way throughout the church’s history.

For example, the New Testament repeatedly warns that Jesus will return unexpectedly “like a thief” (e.g., Matt. 24:42–44; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Many read this as describing the any-moment return of Jesus at the secret rapture. However, in each of these passages the context seems to indicate the coming in question is Christ’s public, triumphant return in glory on the Day of the Lord (e.g., Matt. 24:30–31; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:10-13).

And then there’s Jesus’ warning that at his coming “two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken, the other left” (Matt. 24:40–41). Doesn’t this describe the rapture? Two people are in the car: one is taken, the other left. Hence the bumper sticker: “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”

But again, the “coming” of Jesus to take people (24:39) has already been identified as his coming in glory in the immediate context (24:30–31) without any clear textual indication that another coming is in view. Further, the Old Testament analogy of Noah and the flood suggests that those “taken” are actually the ones swept away in judgment (24:39)!

While it’s possible these texts or others describe a secret rapture separate from Jesus’ return, it’s not clear or, perhaps, even probable. Again, part of what drives the doctrine of the secret rapture is the function it serves in classic dispensationalism to separate God’s current workings in Israel and in the church.

Should Christians Watch Left Behind?

Full disclosure: I have not seen the new Left Behind film, and probably won’t. I’m mainly avoiding it because the reviews are so poor, and I’m too busy for potentially bad art. But more generally, what should Christians do with movies or books or teachings built on the secret rapture theory?

Watch and read and listen to what you want, but be aware.

Be aware of the historical background and biblical challenges surrounding the secret rapture doctrine. Don’t just assume it’s true because of the emotional effect of its portrayal in a movie or book. Just as we don’t ultimately build our beliefs on church tradition, so we shouldn’t build our beliefs on popular films or novels.

And be aware that the secret rapture is one of those “secondary doctrinal issues” over which Christians can disagree. It grieves me to think of churches or Christians dividing over it. If you’re a secret rapture skeptic (as I am, if you couldn’t tell), will you be upset if you’re wrong and you get raptured? “Hey Jesus, why did you rapture me? Didn’t you read my TGC article?”

If on the other hand you have rapture fever, will you stop faithfully following Jesus if things deteriorate, persecution and suffering come, and you must endure it?

Finally, be aware of your hope. As you groan at life in this broken and sin-soaked world, place your hope in Jesus’ coming, not in a certain theory of how he will come. Of course those who believe in the secret rapture believe Jesus is coming back. But when I talk to such folks I sometimes get the sense they’re really comforted by knowing that they’ll be beamed up before the world goes completely haywire.

Remember, the glorious hope of the church has always been in Christ’s triumphant return. Regardless of how you draw your end-times chart, may Jesus himself occupy the center of it.

Editors’ note: This article is partially adapted from Jeramie Rinne’s new book, How Will the World End?: And Other Questions About the Last Things and the Second Coming of Christ (Good Book).


1 Dispensationalism is an incredibly complex system of interpretation, and this brief summary does not begin to do it justice. Nor have I addressed the ways dispensationalism has grown and changed over the years. A short, helpful, and irenic summary and critique of dispensationalism can be found in Vern Poythress’s Understanding Dispensationalists.

G.K. Beale on interpreting OT Prophecy

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Justin Taylor:

G.K. Beale, writing in The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Apollos/IVP, 2004), argues that “We should want to follow an interpretive method that aims to unravel the original intention of biblical authors, realizing that that intention may be multi-layered, without any layers contradicting the others. Such original intentions may have meaning more correspondent to physical reality (hence so-called ‘literal interpretation’) while others may refer to ‘literal’ spiritual realities…” This means that “the progress of revelation certainly reveals expanded meanings of earlier biblical texts. Later biblical writers further interpret earlier biblical writings in ways that amplify earlier texts. These subsequent interpretations may formulate meanings that earlier authors may not have had in mind but which do not contravene their original, essential, organic meaning. This is to say that original meanings have ‘thick’ content and that original authors likely were not exhaustively aware of the full extent of that content. In this regard, fulfilment often ‘fleshes out’ prophecy with details of which even the prophet may not have been fully cognizant” (p. 289).

To illustrate this, Beale asks us to imagine a father in the year 1900 promising his young son a horse and buggy when he grows up and marries:

During the early years of expectation, the son reflects on the particular size of the buggy, its contours and style, its beautiful leather seat and the size and breed of horse that would draw the buggy.

Perhaps the father had knowledge from early experimentation elsewhere that the invention of the automobile was on the horizon, but coined the promise to his son in terms that his son would understand.

Years later, when the son marries, the father gives the couple an automobile, which has since been invented and mass-produced.

Is the son disappointed in receiving a car instead of a horse and buggy?

Is this not a ‘literal’ fulfillment of the promise?

In fact, the essence of the father’s word has remained the same: a convenient mode of transportation.

What has changed is the precise form of transportation promised. The progress of technology has escalated the fulfillment of the pledge in a way that could not have been conceived of when the son was young. Nevertheless, in the light of the later development of technology, the promise is viewed as ‘literally’ and faithfully carried out in a greater way than earlier apprehended.”  (352-53)

Our representative and our substitute

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God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber.

The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin.

A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free.

— J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16

(HT: Of First Importance)

How We Know for Certain That We Are Currently Living in “The Last Days”

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Justin Taylor:

The New Testament distinguishes between

“the last day” (that is, the coming day of salvation and wrath; see 1 Thess. 5:1-11) and
the “last days” (the period of time we are now in, between Christ’s death/resurrection/ascension and his second appearing).
In addition to “last days,” this present-day category can also be called “the last time/s” (Jude 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:20) or “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

So when asked if you think we are living in the last days, you can assure the questioner that we are: we are living in between the two comings of Christ. But we do not know—indeed, cannot know—the day or the hour of the last day itself (cf. Matt. 24:36).

You can see the references for last days/times/hour below:

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. . . .” (1 Pet. 1:20)

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)

“But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:2)

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Tim. 3:1)

“In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” (Jude 1:18)

“. . . scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Pet. 3:3)

“Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:3)

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Gentleness is Not an Option

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“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”

– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

 

Praise God for His electing grace

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Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine of electing grace shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you.

And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.

— Jonathan Edwards “Christians a Chosen Generation” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733, ed. Mark Valeri(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 318

(HT: Of First Importance)

Gospel-centered Preaching vs. “another brick in the backpack”

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Iain M. Duguid has some excellent advice for us when it comes to the focus of our preaching:

“Sermons and Bible studies that focus on ‘law’ (the demands of Scripture for our obedience), no matter how accurately biblical in content, tend simply to add to the burden of guilt felt by the average Christian. A friend of mine calls these sermons ‘another brick in the backpack’ – you arrive at church knowing five ways in which you are falling short of God’s standard for your life, and you leave knowing ten ways, doubly burdened.

In my experience such teaching yields little by way of life transformation, especially in terms of the joy and peace that are supposed to mark the Christian life. Focusing on the gospel, however, has the power to change our lives at a deep level. Through the gospel we come to see both the true depth of our sin (and therefore that our earlier feelings of guilt were actually far too shallow), while at the same time being reminded of the glorious good news that Jesus is our perfect substitute who removes our sin and guilt. He lived the life of obedience in our place and fulfilled the relentless clamor of the law’s demands, and he took upon himself the awful punishment that our sin truly deserves. As the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp this gospel reality, he frees us from our guilt and refreshes us with a deep joy that motivates our hearts to love God anew. In this way, the gospel begins the slow transformative work of changing us from the inside out. This is what the nineteenth-century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers called ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’: the fact that profound change in our behavior always comes through a change in what we love most, not through external coercion”

(Is Jesus in the Old Testament? [P&R Publishing, 2013], 13).

(HT: Sam Storms)

Dane Ortlund: Edwards on the Christian Life

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Justin Taylor:

I am so thankful for Dane Ortlund’s new book, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. As George Marsden notes in his foreword, “Books such as Edwards on the Christian Life are especially welcome as part of the current Edwards revival precisely because Edwards is so many-sided and complex. The essence of his theology needs to be distilled from his many writings and to be presented in practical terms for Christians today. Dane Ortlund does just that. Reading Edwards’s own works can inspire Christians today, but often it is best to start with a more accessible introduction, such as the present one.”

In Ortlund’s introduction he provides an outstanding overview of where he is going:

Our strategy will be to ask twelve questions about the Christian life and provide, from Edwards, corresponding answers. These will form the chapters of this book, with a final thirteenth chapter diagnosing four weaknesses in Edwards’s view of the Christian life. Twelve chapters identify what we can learn from Edwards; one chapter identifies what he could learn from us. In brief the twelve questions and answers are:

1. What is the overarching, integrating theme to Edwards’s theology of the Christian life?

Answer: Beauty.

2. How is this heart-sense of beauty ignited? How does it all get started? What must happen for anyone to first glimpse the beauty of God?

New birth.

3. Having begun, what then is the essence of the Christian life? What does seeing God’s beauty create in us? What’s the heart and soul of Christian living?

Love.

4. How does love fuel the Christian life? What’s the non-negotiable of all non-negotiable that will keep us loving? What does divine beauty give to us?

Joy.

5. And what uniquely marks such love and joy? What is the aroma of the Christian life? What does Edwards diagnose about the Christian life that is most important for recovery today?

Gentleness.

6. Where do I go to get this love, joy, and gentleness? How can I find it? What,
concretely, sustains this kind of life, through all our ups and downs?

The Bible.

7. But as I go to the Bible, what do I do with it as I read? How do I own it, make it mine,
turn it into this joy-fueled love?

Prayer.

8. What then is the overall flavor of the Christian life? What is the aura, the feel, of following Christ in a world of moral chaos and pain?

Pilgrimage.

9. As new birth, Bible, prayer, and all the rest go in, what comes out? What is the fruit of the Christian life?

Obedience.

10. Who is the great enemy of Christian living? Who wishes above all to prevent loving, joyful, gentle lives?

Satan.

11. What is the great concern of the Christian life? Toward what, supremely, should our
efforts be directed as we walk with God?

The soul.

12. Finally, what does all this funnel into? When will we be permanently and fully and unfailingly alive to beauty? What, above all else, is the great hope of the Christian life?

Heaven.

Commendations here.

Walk with God for Joy

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Happiness is in the Sovereign Giver.

George Whitefield preaches:

“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?”

George Whitefield, Walking with God

(HT: Jared Wilson)

The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine

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Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.  Article IV, The Thirty-Nine Articles

“The return of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a mere doctrine to be discussed, nor a matter for intellectual study alone.  Its prominence in the New Testament shows the great importance of the truth, for it is referred to over three hundred times, and it may almost be said that no other doctrine is mentioned so frequently or emphasized so strongly.

Baptism is mentioned nineteen times in seven Epistles, and in fourteen out of twenty-one is not alluded to.  The Lord’s Supper is only referred to three or four times in the entire New Testament, and in twenty out of twenty-one Epistles there is no mention of it.  The Lord’s Coming is referred to in one verse out of every thirteen in the New Testament, and in the Epistles alone in one verse out of ten.  This proportion is surely of importance, for if frequency of mention is any criterion there is scarcely any other truth of equal interest and value.”

W. H. Griffith-Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles(London, 1963), page 87.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Gospel Affection

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Joe Thorn:

Last Sunday I preached a sermon titled “Gospel Affection” from 1 Peter 1:22-25 as a part of our Standing in Grace Series. At the end of the sermon I offered 10 practical ways to show love to one another in the church. Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways. A life God has called us to, saved us for, and modeled for us.

10 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS

1. Put Them First
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Self-denial lives at the center of love. True love denies self and supports another. Putting others first should be more than an act of humility, but an act of affection. It’s not that we think so little of ourselves, but that we feel so warmly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ that we are happy to lay aside our interests and preferences so that another may experience blessing.

2. Seek Their Good
“always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thess. 5:15)

Love does more than put someone else first. One’s desires may be destructive, or their path may lead to danger. Love will seek their good, their betterment, their advancement. The questions we ask must be, “How can I personally help my brother do well?” “How can I serve my sister so that she prospers in faith and life?”

3. Ask for Their Forgiveness/Forgive Them
“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)

If you love your fellow saints then you will ask for their forgiveness when you sin against them, and will freely forgive them when they sin against you. Sin grieves the heart of a believer for in it we know we have sinned against the Lord, hurt someone made in the image of God and recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. And as a people who have been forgiven of far worse crimes than have been committed against us, we must also forgive those who sin against us.

4. Listen to Them
“be quick to hear” (James 1:19)

Love listens. Just as God hears us when we call to him, so must we listen to others. We need to listen in order to gain understanding either of truth, or of the one speaking. Until we listen to another we are ill-equipped to know their needs and seek their good.

5. Include Them
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9)

Hospitality is a welcoming of others into your life. Love includes; it draws near to others and invites them in. It will not dismiss people because they are different or difficult, but will pursue them and offer them a place at the table. Love looks around, sees the uninvolved or unknown, and extends a hand of welcome.

6. Be Generous
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Cor. 9:11)

God has given you what you have for more than your own personal enjoyment. You are called by God to steward what he has entrusted you by sharing it with others. Love seeks to give, and give big. As John Calvin said, “the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others.”

7. Sacrifice
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

Generosity is important, but it’s easy to pick and choose what we will be generous with. Many today have an easier time parting with their money than their time. They would rather be generous with their wallet than their calendar. Such “generosity” is giving without real sacrifice. Love, in denying self, goes farther than an easy offering. Love gives untill it hurts. If you love your brothers and sisters it will be seen in your willingness to sacrifice what you have, and even yourself, for their good.

8. Tell the Truth
“let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Love doesn’t lie. In fact, it speaks truth. This isn’t about offering true opinions, but truth itself. It is willing to offer hard words when needed. Love corrects, rebukes even, but not from a mere love for truth. It is also connected to a sense of concern and compassion for people.

9. Encourage Them with the Gospel
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11)

Love doesn’t flatter, but it does encourage. Biblical encouragement is a kind of preaching; a gospel word offered to those who need it. Love points people to Jesus Christ, in whom we see love in its brightest display. Those around you need to hear how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, remains good news for them today. It’s not just for the lost. It is for the found. For without it we drift back to false hopes, doubts, and fears.

10. Pray for Them
“pray for one another” (James 5:16)

If you love your brothers and sisters you will pray for them. It is sad that we so often quickly;y promise, “I’ll pray for ya!” only to walk away and never approach God on their behalf. Even sadder is that those who need the prayer are happy enough with the false promise. They appreciate the nice thought, and think it’s better than nothing. But it’s not. It’s just nothing. Love prays. It seeks God’s action in their lives. It pleads with God for greater grace on behalf of others. And to this God responds.

There are many other ways in which we should be loving one another in the church, but here’s a start. Let us love not “in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1Jn. 3:18) We can do this because we have come to know the love of God through the death of Jesus Christ. We have been saved by love (Rom. 5:8) and for love (1 Peter 1:22).

The central problem of our age

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“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Why We Need Both Clarity and Courage in Preaching

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John Stott:

Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation.

Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted by fear.

Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing.

Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at.

Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it.

What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage, or of ‘utterance’ and ‘boldness’.

(HT: Trevin Wax)

What a Pastor Does

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It is to feed sheep on the truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do.

If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.

The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland.

William Still, The Work of the Pastor (rev. ed.; Christian Focus, 2010), 23

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Faith Hacking: Preaching the Gospel To Yourself

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Tim Challies:

I love to find and share practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life—ways other Christians live out their Christian faith day-by-day. As I speak with people, as I read books, as I listen to sermons, I am always looking for these tips which I call “faith hacks.” I am going to share another one with you today. It comes from Jerry Bridges and deals with the important disciplines of preaching the gospel to yourself.

Bridges has written in several of his books about the importance of the daily practice of preaching the gospel to yourself. In The Discipline of Grace he writes, “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” He also gives an overview of the practice: “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

But it is in Respectable Sins that he gives the practical example from his own life. Here is how he preaches the gospel to himself every day:

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

That has been his daily practice for many years. Why don’t you make it part of your practice, and see the difference it makes to begin each day reminding yourself of who you were, and who you now are in Christ.

Do you make it your practice to preach the gospel to yourself? If so, what have you learned? How do you go about it?

How Do You Know If You’re Qualified to Serve As an Elder?

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What does it mean to be elder-qualified?

Jeramie Rinne answers that question with six statements in Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus (9Marks; Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 19–29.

You know you’re qualified to serve as an elder if . . .

  1. You want to be an elder.
  2. You exemplify godly character.
  3. You can teach the Bible.
  4. You lead your family well.
  5. You are male.
  6. You are an established believer.

Rinne unpacks each statement in his short, well-reasoned book.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

Life Together

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Justin Taylor:

Bonhoeffer on What a Christian Under the Cross Can Offer that a Secular Therapist Cannot

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.

Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.

Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.

Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.

The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.

The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 114-16.