Archive for the ‘Devotion’ Category

Gleanings from Stephen’s Faithfulness to the Righteous One

June 18, 2008

The account of Stephen’s trial, speech, and subsequent martyrdom found in Acts 6:8-7:60 always sets before me afresh the gravity and seriousness of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ, a life that consists of both dying and hating one’s life in this world to gain the everlasting joys of presence with the Redeemer (e.g. Mark 8:34-38; John 12:24-26). When I need to observe a genuine Christian, a devoted follower of Jesus and reader/doer of his word, Luke’s portrait of Stephen helps me. There are a few more things I gleaned from this text as I read it this time around and I pray they would be beneficial to your faith also.

First, throughout Stephen’s message he makes numerous references to angels of the Lord mediating God’s words (and/or presence) to Moses and to the people (Acts 7:35, 38, 53; [cf. also Gal 3:19]). The text also notes that Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” in 6:15, and throughout chapter 7 Luke seems to portray him no differently than those very angels mentioned in his speech, at least in the sense of a kind of mediating deliverer/interpreter of God’s word. Surely, this highlights that the message concerning the Righteous One (Acts 7:52), in accord with the whole of Scripture, was something they rejected not only in Stephen’s day, but throughout the time Moses and the Prophets announced him.

Second, it seems rather obvious from his speech that Stephen not only read his Bible (i.e. the “Old” Testament), but also (and crucially) did so from the standpoint of faith (Acts 6:5), filled with the Holy Spirit (6:5, 10), and in light of its focus and aim, namely, the Righteous One (7:52). Ought we not learn from this faith-filled, Spirit-wrought, Christ-focused reading the Old Testament Scripture? Furthermore, do take note that Stephen finds that Scripture interprets Scripture. He sees that the Prophets interpret the Law when he quotes Amos 5:25-27 to better understand the people’s rebellion in Exodus; and notice that he interprets the Former Prophets (Josh-Kings) by the testimony of the Latter (in this case Isaiah 66:1-2 [Acts 7:44-50]). Surely by reading the Old Testament with Stephen, we might behold the Righteous One as he did, as well as letting it expose our own rebellion and unbelief.

Third, Acts 6:5 highlights that Stephen is a man “full of faith and and of the Holy Spirit.” We do know the others are “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” from Acts 6:3, assuming the Twelve were faithful to this criteria (as this is clearly implied in verse 5). Surely then, Luke repeats this only concerning Stephen because it anticipates the two forthcoming scenarios he encounters. The first points out the foolish arguing of those belonging to the synagogue (who have not the Spirit), in contrast to “the wisdom and the Spirit with which [Stephen] was speaking” (6:8-11). The second exposes the rebellion of the same crowd in that they are “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit” (6:51). The connection is straightforward: Stephen speaks filled with the Holy Spirit; the people reject Stephen’s message; the people resist the Holy Spirit. Surely this is highlighted again in 7:55-57. 

Fourth, Stephen’s vision at the end of Luke’s narrative serves to confirm Stephen’s testimony concerning the Righteous One and gives hope to suffering Christians. Stephen just finished bearing witness to the Righteous One whom the people murdered (7:52), and he exposes the fact that in this the people did not heed the Law, nor pay attention to the Prophets. At this crucial point the question becomes, “Who has a correct view and interpretation of the Scripture, Stephen or the synagogue officials?” And, for those readers joining Stephen in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Gospel, the question becomes, “What shall become of this faithfulness of mine?” The vision leaves Luke’s readers with no doubts: Stephen “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, that is, Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (7:55-56).

Fifth, Stephen’s salvation-historical overview with special attention to the people’s rebellion against God’s aim/purpose in the Law and temple, for the most part, contains a similar summary and highlights the same conclusions found in Nehemiah’s overview (cf. Acts 7:2 [Neh 9:7], 4-5 [Neh 9:8], 34-36 [Neh 9:9-10], 38 [Neh 9:13-14], 39-40 [Neh 9:16-17], 41 [Neh 9:18], 42-43 [Neh 9:26-27], 45-46 [Neh 9:24], and 51-53 [Neh 9:30]). Here (again), we find clear evidence of the unity of both Testaments, and thus all of Scripture.

Indeed, They Will Come to the Son!

May 5, 2008

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35-40).

In these verses we find two great truths. (1) Eternal life is given only to those who meet the condition of coming to, looking upon, and believing in Jesus, the Son of God. (2) The Father guarantees that some will meet this condition; namely, those he gives to the Son in order that (as a result of his mission) he will raise them up on the last day.

What the Father demands in his Gospel by the former, he also supplies in his Gospel by the latter. Here then, does the church not only find hope in their efforts in missions and evangelism (i.e. sinners whom the Father gives the Son will come), but also promise in that it is impossible for the Son of God to fail his Father’s mission in raising every last one of them up on the last day. By the Father’s will they will come to the Son, and he will raise them up on the last day.

Let us preach and pray, therefore, and behold the fruit of the Son’s mission to accomplish all the Father has given him. 

Divine Election is…

April 2, 2008

In thumbing through some of my notes on Ephesians, I ran accross these seven points concerning the doctrine of unconditional election. They largely follow what John Piper lays out in his chapter, “The Pleasure of God in Election” in The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Oregon: Multnomah Press, 2000), 121-57. I find them quite helpful for the church and our understanding of this precious biblical teaching. I pray they are a blessing to you too.

Election is… 

  1. Biblical. God gave us His word as a revelation of who He is, and He longs for us to read it, that we might marvel at His grace, His glory, and His freedom.
  2. Humbling. Election is not based on how good we were, but simply upon the fact that God loved us and chose us in Jesus Christ for Himself.
  3. Effective. Because of divine election, people will be saved, and not merely made save-able. The cross not only purchased the Gospel going out to all peoples, but with it the faith people must have in the gospel in order to be saved.
  4. Personal. Election is not robotic, it is relational. God loves us, His church, personally, with a great electing love.
  5. Persevering. Not only does divine election guarantee the initial justification of those who believe the gospel, but it ensures that they will be kept by God to the end.
  6. Preserving. The doctrine of election keeps God, not human autonomy, at the center of the Gospel and the Church. That is, it preserves God-centeredness and defeats man-centeredness. 
  7. Triumphant. Election gives awesome hope for missions and evangelism. Apart from God’s electing grace, no human being would repent or respond to the missionary’s preaching. In other words, election ensures that some will meet the conditions of the Gospel: repentance of sin and faith in Christ. Therefore, preach!

With What Kind of Kiss?

March 8, 2008

In the previous post on Psalms 1 and 2, I concluded that, when read together, both emphasize the Lord will judge the wicked, but those who “kiss” (“pay homage to,” NASB) the Son will be blessed. Having meditated more on the idea of “kissing” the Son, I would like to point out two ways in which one may kiss the Son of God. This occurred to me over dinner as my wife and I were reading through Luke’s account of Jesus’ betrayal.

You can either kiss the Son like Judas:

“While he [Jesus] was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48).  

OR, you can kiss the Son like the woman of the city:

“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” [Answer: THE SON, in whom we may take refuge!!] And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:37-50).

With what kind of kiss, therefore, do you come to the Son: a kiss of betrayal; or a kiss which pays homage to the Judge of the universe, who alone aquits the sinner?

Psalm 1, Psalm 2, or both?

March 7, 2008

Many times over we read the Psalms, each of them, one at a time. Perhaps, we have a favorite Psalm we run to in times of trouble or fear, and there we find great confidence in a great God who is our strong tower and our place of refuge and strength. At other times, maybe we recite them in the assembly together, or put music to one in particular that we might sing them to and over one another. Without question, these are excellent ways to read the Psalms; indeed, reading them period is a wonderful blessing!

Yet, have we ever considered reading them in a different manner, perhaps as a whole corpus with each contributing to a larger picture? Sure, they find themselves in a different genre of literature in comparison to an Old Testament narrative; but does this mean we must read each, one at a time, only, without at the same time meditating on how they may all function together? Is there a reason, a purpose, behind the order in which we, the covenant community, the true Israel, read them? What may their unified message be to us?

These questions I ask, because over the past two weeks I have been reading and re-reading Psalms 1 and 2 from the Hebrew text, and I cannot get over how many verbal and thematic links there are between the two. It is a bit harder to see them in some English translations, but this does not mean you can’t see them at all. Hopefully they will become even more obvious to you shortly and as you continue to read them for yourselves. I will only point out a few links here in an attempt to encourage you to read the Psalms not only individually (as sweet as this is), but also as a whole book.

Notice that Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 both lack a superscription (i.e. the small letters telling us of the historical situation to which the particular Psalm is related), something that is rather common to the numerous others following them. Could it be that they do not contain such superscriptions because the reader is to read them together? In other words, are we as readers not to immediately connect Psalm 2 with anything else except what was just mentioned in Psalm 1? I think the remainder of our observations say, “Yes, read them together.”

Notice that Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man…”, and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed are all…”. This two phrase form what is often called an inclusio. That is, there is a repetition of a unique feature that frames, or brackets, a portion of Scripture so helping us to zero in on the overarching picture. In this case, the righteous man “does not walk in the council of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers” (Ps 1:1). What does he do? He takes refuge in the Son (Ps 2:12).

Notice that the destruction of the wicked are highlighted in Psalms 1 and 2, but from different angles. In Psalm 1, we see that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment” (1:5a) and that “the way of the wicked will perish” (1:6b). Thus, by the end of Psalm 1 we understand there to be a divine resolve to finally and justly punish the wicked. It is no wonder, then, why such a question is raised at the beginning of Psalm 2: “Why are the nations restless, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed!” (2:1-2). If God promises to punish the wicked, then why are the nations permitted to come against him and his annointed? And, we would be right to ask the question based on Psalm 1.

Notice, however, that Psalm 2 deals with the wicked in congruity with Psalm 1. It agrees with the resolve of Psalm 1 in that the Lord laughs and scoffs at those who attempt to come against him (2:4). What is more, the king, God’s Son, which he installed on Zion will shatter them to pieces with a rod of iron. Thus, one must serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling, and kiss the Son; otherwise, he will be angry and that person will perish in the wayboth words used in 1:6b.

Notice that Psalm 1 reveals the characteristics of the ideal king to which Deuteronomy 17 refers. He does not participate in wickedness, but delights in and meditates on the Law of the Lord. Because the Law of the Lord gives him counsel and directs his ways, such a righteous king does not sit in the seat of scoffers (2:1). Where then does he sit? Psalm 2 resounds: “he who sits in heaven laughs” (2:4). The righteous king of Psalm 1 sits in heaven, rightly judging the nations from his majestic throne.

Notice: If Psalm 1 refers to a righteous king, who appropriately exercises the kingship laid out in Deuteronomy 17, and who abides in close relationship with the Lord by following his Law and being known by him, could it be that Psalm 2 tells us, even identifies who this mighty king might be? Surely it does: this king is the Lord’s annointed, the one installed on Zion, the one of whom he is pleased to say, “This is my Son, today I have begotten you!” The New Testament writers pick this up and without blinking identify such a king with Jesus Christ (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

Now, the aim of these few observations among MANY others in the first two Psalms, I pray, at least motivates you to read your Bible. And, in doing so, I pray they stimulate you in thinking of the Psalms not merely on an individual basis, but also in relationship with one another. Just think, these first two Psalms serve as the introduction; there is a great deal more the remaining 148 show us concerning this King. But know this, two truths have already been made clear: (1) the Lord and his anointed will judge the wicked; and (2) those who kiss the Son, who take refuge in him, they will be blessed.

Mark’s Race to the Cross: Immediately!

February 18, 2008

For the past two weeks, I have been reading through the Gospel according to Mark. I have been noticing a particular adverb that is repeated throughout his testimony: “immediately” (Grk. euthus). It seems that everything in Mark happens immediately. He hardly gives any time for transition between his narratives; he moves immediately from one to the next. Jesus took his disciples into Capernaum and “immediately” they went into the synagogues where Jesus taught (1:21). “Immediately” their was a man with an unclean spirit crying out (1:23). News about Jesus spreads throughout the towns and villages “immediately” (1:28). And Mark spares no time before they “immediately” come to the house of Simon and Andrew and “immediately” speak to Simon’s mother-in-law (1:29). Hang on tight folks! That all happened in just ten verses (of the first chapter!). [For more “immediate” transitions between Mark’s narrative accounts see, for example, 6:45, 6:54, 7:25, 8:10, 9:15, 14:43, and 15:1.]

Even the scenes within the narratives occur immediately. For example, when Jesus came up from the water, he “immediately” saw the heavens opened; and after the Spirit descended on him, Jesus was “immediately” impelled to go into the wilderness (Mark 1:10, 12). Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow him (1:18, 20). Later, Jesus gets out of a boat (new scene) and “immediately” a man from the tomb with an unclean spirit meets him (5:2). When Jesus instructs his disciples to go get him the colt (one that he will even return “immediately”), they will find the colt “immediately” as they enter the village (11:2). Following Peter’s denial, and serving to highlight the truth of the Lord’s word spoken in 14:30, the rooster crows the second time–you guessed it–“immediately” (14:72).

When Jesus heals people, time is not given for recuperation; they are healed/revived “immediately”: the leprous man (1:42); the paralytic man (2:12); the woman who had a discharge of blood (for twelve years!) (5:29); the synagogue official’s daughter (5:42); the boy with a spirit that made him mute (9:17-27); the blind man (10:52). Without question this highlights Jesus’ supremacy over life and all it entails, especially with the irruption of God’s kingdom in the coming and ministry of its King. Not only do human bodies respond to Jesus with immediacy, but the universe does as well: “…for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (6:50-51).

As I was contemplating this fast-paced testimony, and Mark’s reason for writing in this manner, I arrived at chapter 15. Judas had just betrayed Jesus “immediately” with a kiss (14:45), and Peter had just broke down weeping upon his “immediate” remembrance of the Lord’s words (14:72; cf. 14:30). Both of these events bracket the accusations and charge of blasphemy brought against Jesus (14:53-65). As I expected, now the chief priests held their wicked consulation “immediately” in the morning (15:1). To my surprise, however, everything seemed to come to a halt! Nothing more in Mark’s Gospel happens “immediately”. The word that has been repeated forty-one times(!) throughout his testimony ceases to be used. “Why?”

As I thought to myself, the answer became very clear and spoke very loudly: there is a reason, a purpose, Mark takes his reader through his Gospel so quickly. He is racing to the Cross! Mark wants his readers to behold this Jesus whom he testifies of in light of the cross he also endured (just like the centurion in 15:39). Yes, his coming, healing, teaching, life, and mission reveal that he is the Son of God. Mark nails this. But, what is more, this Jesus, this unique Son of God endures a Roman cross on behalf of sinners, and three days later, rose from the dead (15:1-16:8; cf. 10:45; 14:24). Mark races to the cross of Christ because he desires his readers to race to the cross of Christ, and contemplate all that such a cross-death means. And, furthermore, he wants his readers to reread his entire Gospel testimony in light of the cross, for all of his life and mission is pointed toward such a death.

I pray you, run to the cross with Mark, immediately! And behold the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is alive. God raised him from the dead (16:1-8). Therefore, heed his words: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (4:26-29).

Diagram for Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry

February 12, 2008

Last semester, I posted a four-part series that attempted to explain the important interconnectedness between right doctrine, persevering faith, and godly conduct. In sum, we saw that (1) right doctrine must inform and ground the Christian in the Gospel; (2) persevering faith must be placed in and encouraged by the Gospel explained by right doctrine; and (3) godly conduct must flow from a persevering faith as demanded by right Gospel-doctrine so as to reflect the truth of the God’s triumph for sinners in Christ. Together, these convictions make up “Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry”. I only mention these conclusions again here, because I have made up a chart/diagram that will hopefully help us to see and understand how these truths work together to produce a Gospel-centered ministry. Click here to view and save this diagram.

Prostitute Rahab’s Salvation and the Irruption of God’s Reign

January 28, 2008

A year ago, I had the gracious privilege of translating the ninth chapter of Exodus for a paper in a Hebrew class. Primarily, I dealt with Exodus 9:13-16 in order to gain a better understanding of God’s purpose in Pharaoh to reveal his mighty power and manifest his covenant name in all the earth (click here to read that paper). Again and again, the text of Scripture testified that all of God’s sovereign acts in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, the sending of the plagues upon Egypt, and the delayed deliverance of his people had a unique design behind them. In line with the narratives of Creation (Gen 1:1ff), the Flood (Gen 6-7), the tower of Babel (Gen 11), the call of Abraham (Gen 12), and Joseph’s captivity-turned-rule in Egypt (Gen 37-45), the Exodus (esp. chapters 1-15) demonstrates the irruption (not erruption) of God’s kingdom and its establishment on earth. Exodus 9:13-16 shows how this happens through God’s purpose to make known his mighty power and redemption in association with his covenant name.

Now I am translating Joshua, and what struck me yesterday was that this very theme running through the Exodus narrative (and through the entire Pentateuch!), becomes front and center in the narrative of Rahab the prostitute hiding the Israelite spies (Josh 2:1-24). Why had she helped the spies of God’s covenant people? Here is her answer: “I know that the Lord [Yahweh] has given you the land, and that the terror of you [Israelites] has fallen on us, and that all of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord [Yahweh] dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. When we heard, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; because the Lord [Yahweh] your God, he is God in heaven above and on earth below” (Josh 2:9-11).

Rahab’s response to the inbreaking of God’s rule is breathtaking. In the Exodus, the Lord desired to make his mighty power known. Here, we find Rahab testifying that she indeed fears the Lord. What is more, in the Exodus, the Lord purposes to make known his covenant name (i.e. Yahweh) in all the earth. Here, we find Rahab testifying that she not only trembles before Yahweh, but believes Yahweh himself is GOD! Indeed, he is God of heaven and earth, a rejection of the Canaanite gods, and a confession of the God of Israel. According to the New Testament, this places Rahab in the covenant community, those who have the same faith of Abraham (Matt 1:5; Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25).

We find, then, that in the Exodus narrative, God is not only placing fear in the hearts of people, such as Rahab, but associating his covenant name with the salvation and deliverance of his covenant people, even those Gentiles who trust him. Thus, the fear of the Lord is surely to be associated with the One who is mighty to save, a testimony consistent with the entire Old Testament and which looks forward to the Messiah, his cross, his resurrection, and his return. The New Testament says this Messiah’s name is Jesus. Rahab’s barriers of being a Canaanite and a prostitute are no challenge for the triumph of his cross and resurrection. She feared and trusted in the one true God who brought so great a salvation in his Son. Are you? 

Emmanuel: God With Us…TODAY!

January 13, 2008

In the mornings, I have been reading through the Gospel according to Matthew. Without doubt, I have found the evangelist’s testimony very comforting during this time as my wife and I seek his face and ask for his wisdom concerning the next few months with a baby on the way and doctoral work just around the corner (Lord willing for both). This is so because at both ends of his testimony concerning Jesus, the son of Abraham, the Son of David, there lies an outstanding emphasis concerning the nature of the incarnation and his current reign, the nature of this Messiah’s coming to his people then and this same Messiah’s presence with his people now.

At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew helps us to see that Jesus is the expected Messiah from Abraham’s progeny and David’s royal line (Matt 1:1-17). In a sense, we might say that Matthew picked up the pen the Chronicler laid down in order to continue the Gospel-narrative set forth by the Old Testament (1 Chr 5:2 [cf. Gen 49:10]; 14:2 [cf. Num 24:7]; 2 Chr 6:6; 9:8; 21:7; 36:22-23). What is unique about this seed of Abraham, this son of David, is that he will not be begot (or “fathered”) by a man, as those in verses 1:2-16a, but by the Lord himself. The virgin Mary will conceive, and the child would be “of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). What is more, this baby shall be called “‘Emmanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'”, in fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah (1:22-23 [Isa 7:14]). 

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, following his identification of Jesus with Isaiah‘s Suffering Servant (Matt 8:17 [Isa 53:4]), especially in his passion narrative (Matt 26:63 [Isa 53:7]; 26:67 [Isa 50:6; cf. 53:5]), God triumphantly raises Jesus from the dead and gives him all authority in heaven and on earth, a declaration Jesus shares with his disciples on the designated mountain (Matt 28:18). Because Jesus reigns, all the nations will be discipled, baptized, and taught (28:19-20a). What is more, Jesus states “Behold, I am [present tense!] with you all the days until the end of the age” (28:20b), a reverberation of Matthew 1:23, a rather fitting conclusion to Matthew’s testimony, and a message we must grasp today.

I find this book-end emphasis in Matthew’s Gospel quite intriguing, but even more so amazing, especially in its connection with Isaiah’s message. Throughout Isaiah, we find a unique theme concerning mount Zion. Zion lay in shambles as Isaiah preached to the rebellious Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 1:8; 3:16); however, such a desperate state did not hinder the Lord from declaring Gospel-promise, a coming day of redemption (2:2-3; 9:7; 52:8; 59:20; 60:14; 66:8). For Isaiah, Zion is the place where God dwells in majesty with his purified people, the throne of his appointed redeemer-king, and the place of refuge for all his children, even all the nations (2:3; 8:18; 14:32; 18:7; 24:23; 28:16; 35:10; 40:9; 46:13; 51:3, 16; 59:20). In this sense, Isaiah’s overall “Zion” message is nothing less than Gospel for his listeners. God will bring about a day of redemption through his appointed king who dwells with his people on Zion’s hill.

When we read Matthew’s Gospel in light of Isaiah’s glorious Zion motif we find something spectacular. Isaiah’s expected son, Emmanuel, is Jesus Christ, the son of David. He is God, and is indeed with us. He dwelt among us when he came humbly as a man–even more, a suffering servant. Having bore our iniquities on the cross, having been raised from the dead to ever reign as king, Zion’s King(!), he promises to be present with us, to dwell with us, until our faith becomes sight. God came to be among us in Christ; he still is among us in Christ, and for that reason we shall endure this age and press on in the faith, gathering the nations and telling them all to behold the King whom the Lord has seated on Zion’s hill.

Gospel-Centered Ministry: Right Doctrine, Persevering Faith, Godly Conduct

December 12, 2007

This post completes the four-part series I began last August on Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry. Without question, the semester assignments have taken their toll on the daily calendar, and thus on my own blogging regularity. However, classes are now finished. I pray that these conclusions will provide you with a synthesis of the previous three posts, and at least reveal how doctrine, faith, and godliness are so closely interrelated.

In the opening post for this series I stated that Paul mentions these three items (Doctrine, Faith, and Conduct) as separate items within the letter, and yet he never allows any one of them to stand alone. These three are never to be separated from one another theologically or practically. In a word, God reveals in these three topics what he demands always be held tightly together in the Christian’s, especially the pastor’s, life. Thus, Paul means for revelation and demand to coinhere for the church.

One of the verses Paul mentions at the beginning of his letter provides a clear example of the fact that he expects doctrine, faith, and conduct to be intertwined throughout the remaining exhortations in 1 Timothy. Verse 1:5 states, “…the goal of our instruction [doctrine] is love from a pure heart and a good conscience [conduct] and a sincere faith [faith].” Here and in only two other places Paul uses the word paraggelias, translated “instruction” or “charge”, to reference the unique exhortation known and recognized by the apostles (1 Thess 4:2; 1 Tim 1:18). In all three cases, he follows his employment of this word with many councils concerning matters of faith, or the faith (1 Tim 1:6-14, 18b-20), and godliness (e.g. 1 Thess 4:3-8). There is in this apostolic instruction, therefore, something distinct; namely, it always shows how the truth of the Gospel manifests itself in the faith and practice of the individual as well as the broader Christian community. Indeed, the very aim and goal of their instruction is, as it says, love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. (For other texts in 1 Timothy that include these three items closely together see 3:15-16, 4:12-16, and 6:11-12.)

What flows from this understanding of Gospel-praxis, then, is a letter filled with instruction that is based on theological truth. A few examples will suffice. Christians should pray for kings and authorities to be saved, because there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-6). Women should not exercise authority over a man, for it was Adam who was created first (2:12-13). The aim of Christian discipline should be godliness, for it holds promise for the present life and the life to come (4:7-8). The labor and struggle in ministry is not in vain, because our hope is in the living God, the Savior of all men (4:9-10). Children should provide support for their widowed parents, because this is pleasing to God (5:4). Those pursuing godliness should also be content with what they have, not lovers of money, for we brought nothing into the world and cannot take anything out of it either (6:3-10). Without question, these examples show that Paul considers all Christian action to be based on theological conclusions gathered from the whole of Scripture. The structure of genuine faith and godliness only stands when the beams of its foundation are held together by the steel of biblical truth.

At the same time genuine faith and godly conduct rely on right doctrine, right doctrine also informs genuine faith and demands godly conduct. Right doctrine informs genuine faith on several different levels: (1) it defines the faith, especially in relation to Jesus Christ (1:2; 3:9, 13; 4:1; 5:8; 6:12, 21); (2) it specifies the kind of faith characteristic of the Christian, one that endures temptation and perseveres in truth (1:18-19; 4:12; 6:11, 12); and (3) it encourages faith by supplying promises to trust and warnings to heed (). Right doctrine demands godliness in that it calls the Christian to obey the very affirmations it proclaims. 1 Timothy 3:15 states, “…[I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Paul makes a connection here: being the pillar and support of the truth demands we act a certain way. Gospel-truth is always to be accompanied by Gospel-conduct, otherwise, our confession only pays lip service to what the Scriptures testify the Gospel really accomplishes: deliverance from bondage to sin and bestowal of freedom in the Spirit.

In sum, at least three things ought to stand out for us in this attempt to explain Paul’s threefold Gospel ministry. First, right doctrine must inform and ground the Christian in the Gospel. Second, persevering faith must be placed in and encouraged by the Gospel explained by right doctrine. Third, godly conduct must flow from a persevering faith as demanded by right Gospel-doctrine so as to reflect the truth of the God’s triumph for sinners in Christ.

Bridging the Gap

Therefore, a great rebuke it ought to be for each of us and the broader community of believers if we assume that, indeed if we live as if, (1) knowing right doctrine by itself makes us Christian, or (2) faith in false doctrine is acceptable for being Christian, or (3) godliness neither accompanies our faith nor testifies of sound Gospel-doctrine. As brothers and sisters in the faith, therefore, let us be diligent to help each other maintain all three in ministry and life. For those strong in doctrine, let what you know not only be manifested in good deeds, but also used to encourage those not so knowledgable of biblical truth, biblical truth which Grace taught you in the first place. For those strong in faith, let your zeal for Christ and confidence in God’s promises be uplifting to the entire body, especially to the doctrine-pusher-have-no-joy-because-I-like-books-and-not-people types. Furthermore, accept the rebuke if you are wrong about Christian truth. Lastly, let the knowledge of the Gospel and faith in the Christ of the Gospel result in godly conduct reflecting the worth of the Gospel.