Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Goal of Christian Discipleship

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from 
a pure heart and a good conscience 
and a sincere faith." 
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In this verse, the apostle Paul succinctly summarizes the goal of Christian instruction. It is easy to get sidetracked. It is easy to drift from the mission. We should regularly come back to the goal. What are we seeking? Our goal is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 

In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, instruction that aims for this goal is contrasted with unprofitable instruction. Not only is Timothy told to charge people to not teach any "different doctrine" - that is, false doctrine - but also to not devote themselves to "myths and endless genealogies." Why? Because they "promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." There is some debate about what myths and endless genealogies were in view when Paul wrote this letter, but we do not need to know the exact identity. The point is that there are some extra-biblical teachings which are dangerous not because they are heretical, but because they are distracting. They promote speculation rather than godliness. When we loose sight of our aim, we are in danger of wandering away into vain discussion. We must be careful to not devote ourselves to such things. Beware of teachers who focus on speculations, theories, rumors, and indifferent things. Look for edifying instruction. 

This point is useful in two ways. First, this aim described in 1 Timothy 1:5 should be the goal of Christian instruction. This should be the goal of pastors. It should be the goal of parents as they train their children. It should be the goal of all Christians as they seek to edify their brothers and speak the truth in love. Do you speak and share things which promote this aim? Second, this should be the instruction that we seek. We should look to fill our minds with teaching that promotes this aim. Examine what you listen to and what you read - how much of it is edifying? How much of it fulfills this aim? 

Biblical doctrine is not the only edifying thing to study - we must also study this world to fulfill our callings in it - but it is the most edifying thing to study and it is infallibly edifying. Biblical doctrine accords with godliness (2 Tim. 6:3, Titus 1:1). It is through biblical doctrine that we are saved (Rom. 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:15), and it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It is designed to achieve this end. 

"Our charge" in 1 Timothy 1:5 refers to the gospel which Paul and Timothy and other teachers of the church have been charged to preach and defend. Indeed, the whole church is to be a "pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:16), the revealed truth of Scripture. The aim of this ministry is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." We have been given a mission and we have been given the proper tool which is designed for this mission, which is the word of God.

Consider what is involved in this goal. "Love" includes both love for God and for neighbor, and as such it fulfills the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29-31). It is an inner affection and devotion which results in action. It expresses itself in mercy, kindness, faithfulness, and righteousness. This godly love is defined in part by its source. A "pure heart" is one that is devoted to God, having been cleansed by Christ and released from bondage to sin (for more on a pure heart see this post on the corresponding beatitude and this post on 1 Peter 1:22). A "good conscience" is in contrast to a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) and a defiled conscience (Titus 1:15). It is a clear conscience with respect to the sincerity of one's profession of the faith and service of God (1 Tim. 3:9, 2 Tim. 1:3). A "sincere faith" is a genuine and unfeigned trust in God and his word (Rom. 4). By this faith, a person beholds, receives, and rests upon the mercy of God in Christ. This true faith results in action (Heb. 11) and works through love (Gal. 5:6). Paul spoke of "sincere faith" again when he wrote to Timothy the second time: "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Tim. 1:5). May it dwell in the hearts of many, being planted and nourished by sound doctrine, bringing forth love as its fruit. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Shamgar the Son of Anath

"After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel." (Judges 3:31)

Shamgar’s story is told in one verse, and yet it is an encouraging story for God’s people. One of the few things noted about him is that he saved Israel not with iron blade and chariot wheel, but with the humble oxgoad - a stick with a sharp end which was used to prod cattle. The other passage that makes reference to him, Judges 5:6-8, notes that in his days the highways were abandoned. They were lawless days and people lived in fear. It also seems their enemies had kept them from accessing shields and spears (Judges 5:8, 1 Sam. 13:19). Even though Shamgar lived in dark times when the people of God were weak and outgunned, yet with faith and zeal he took up his oxgoad and fought to deliver his people. 

We learn from his story to not be discouraged in such times, for God is able to restore his church by what looks foolish and weak in the eyes of the world. May God raise up many with the boldness of Shamgar to contend against the world, the flesh, and the devil, forces which seek to keep the peoples in darkness and destroy the church of Christ. They have certain advantages, but God has given us the means to destroy strongholds and overcome the world: the word of God and prayer (Eph. 6:10-20), faith in Christ (1 John 5:4-5), and the fruit of the Spirit (2 Cor. 6:6-7, 10:4-5). He can work great victories through cattle herders like Shamgar and fishermen like Peter, for they are but instruments of his mighty power. May God use our faith and obedience for the good of his people and the triumph of his advancing kingdom. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Chrysostom on Bringing Heaven to Earth

As I have been preaching through the gospel of Matthew, I have been reading several commentaries such as those by John Calvin (1509-1564), David Dickson (1583-1663), and R.T. France (1938-2012). For a perspective from the early church, I have also been reading the sermons of John Chrysostom (347-407). Chrysostom gained his name (which means "golden-mouthed") from his reputation as a good preacher who was eloquent, engaging, and bold. His preaching was also respected by the Reformers for his exegetical and practical approach as he worked verse by verse though books of the Bible. You can read many of his sermons here (his sermons on the Gospel of Matthew are here). Here I want to share the ending of his sermon on Matthew 12:38-45 where he exhorts his congregation on the perennial issue of Christ and culture, of being "in the world but not of the world," of being godly in the midst of our earthly callings.

"Let us show forth then a new kind of life. Let us make earth, heaven; let us hereby show the Greeks, of how great blessings they are deprived. For when they behold in us good conversation [behavior], they will look upon the very face of the kingdom of Heaven...

"Let us take heed therefore to ourselves, that we may gain them also. I say nothing burdensome. I say not, do not marry. I say not, forsake cities, and withdraw thyself from public affairs; but being engaged in them, show virtue. Yea, and such as are busy in the midst of cities, I would fain have more approved than such as have occupied the mountains [as monks]. Wherefore? Because great is the profit thence arising. 'For no man lighteth a candle, and setteth it under the bushel' (Matt. 5:15). Therefore I would that all the candles were set upon the candlestick, that the light might wax great.

"Let us kindle then His fire; let us cause them that are sitting in darkness to be delivered from their error. And tell me not, 'I have a wife, and children belonging to me, and am master of a household, and cannot duly practise all this.' For though thou hadst none of these, yet if thou be careless, all is lost; though thou art encompassed with all these, yet if thou be earnest, thou shalt attain unto virtue ... For so Daniel was young, and Joseph a slave, and Aquila wrought at a craft, and the woman who sold purple was over a workshop, and another was the keeper of a prison, and another a centurion, as Cornelius; and another in ill health, as Timothy; and another a runaway, as Onesimus; but nothing proved an hindrance to any of these, but all were approved, both men and women, both young and old, both slaves and free, both soldiers and people.

"Let us not then make vain pretexts, but let us provide a thoroughly good mind, and whatsoever we may be, we shall surely attain to virtue, and arrive at the good things to come; by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen." 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Sermon Podcast for Covenant Family Church

If you are interested, not only can you find my sermons online, but you can also subscribe to them as a podcast. Go to Covenant Family Church's page on Sermon Audio (here) and click on the podcast button for ways to subscribe. The podcast button is circled in the screenshot below.

Each Sunday the sermon and the Sunday school lesson will appear on the feed. The current sermon series is on the Gospel of Matthew. In Sunday school the current series is composed of questions from the congregation (e.g. what is Christian meditation? What are some misconceptions about the end times? What are some reasons for singing traditional hymns and Psalms?) 

Of course, you are also welcome to join us in person on Sunday mornings at 968 Meyer Road, Wentzville 63385. Our Sunday school lesson goes from 10:00-10:30am and our worship service begins at 11am. If you have any questions, you can contact me here.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Enduring to the End

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

In this verse, Jesus exhorts his disciples to be faithful to him to the end, enduring any hatred or reproach which should come their way on his account. There are many ways in which the fallen world, the evil one, and our own sinful desires tempt us to forsake Christ. But we are called to persevere in the faith. Perseverance is a gift of God given to his elect - all who are chosen by God and who come to true faith in Christ will endure to the end (Rom. 8:28-30, Phil. 1:6, John 10:28-29). Nevertheless, it is also something which we do, using the means he has given. One mark of true faith is that it is a faith that endures. 

We are called to press onward to the finish line. We run to obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24, Phil. 3:12-14). A runner doesn’t get credit for running the race unless he crosses the finish line. As Hebrews 12:1-3 says, we must run the race with endurance, laying aside the sin which weighs us down, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who also endured and was exalted. 

Do not think you have sacrificed enough, as if you are owed a reprieve. Do not think weariness will excuse compromise or apostasy.  Endure to the end, unto death, so that your profession and suffering is not in vain. Those who confess Christ will be acknowledge by Christ, but those who deny Christ will be denied by him (Matt. 10:32-33). Perseverance in the faith is a condition of salvation (Col. 1:21-23). “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). 

I hope you see that perseverance is important. How then do we persevere? We persevere by God's grace, but here are means that God uses:
  • We persevere by faith in Christ, trusting him more than anything else, drawing strength from our union with him (Col. 1:23, 2:7, 19). 
  • We grow in this union and strengthen our faith by participation in the visible church and a diligent use of God's ordinances, especially the word of God, the sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42, Heb. 10:23-25). 
  • We strengthen this faith by exercising this faith, like one exercises his muscles, by putting it into practice, especially in trials. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). Smaller trials prepare you for larger ones. 
  • We strengthen this faith by growing in spiritual maturity, for like a plant we either grow or die. This involves a life of repentance where we continue to turn from our sins and to develop godly virtues. “For if these qualities [faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, love, etc.] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ … Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:8–10)
  • We also strengthen this faith by looking to the end: the one who endures to the end will be saved. There is an end. Trials and suffering will not last forever, and the result is glorious and eternal. Full deliverance from sin, suffering, and danger will be granted to those who endure. They will not be harmed by the second death. They will inherit honor and reward and blessing and unbroken fellowship with God. Why did Moses consider "the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt"? Because "he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:24-26).