Friday, October 30, 2009

Image And Likeness

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."
Genesis 1:26
A human being is not said to have or to bear the image of God, such as God's immaterial essence, but each is said to be in his or her entirety be the image of God.


"In the image of God" implies that adam (male and female) is theomorphic (i.e., having the form of God), but since God is spirit, not flesh and blood, "in the image of God" entails that the human species in his or her entire being faithfully and adequately represents God. To emphasize the distance and difference between God and mortals, "according to his likeness" is added.

We must employ two metaphorical mirrors to understand this imaging of God. On the one hand, when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we see the image of God. Anthony Hoekema puts it this way: "Man[kind] as ... created was to mirror God and to represent God." On the other hand, since we are only God's likeness and not identical to him, we need to validate our analogies between ourselves and God by considering his reflection in Scripture to see to what extent the images comport with one another...

First, the human physical form reflects God. "Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?" (Ps. 94:9). When we look into a mirror, we see a certain reflection of God: eyes to see, ears to hear, a mouth to communicate. The biblical mirror of God validates this inference by such anthropomorphisms (i.e., having the form of adam) as "the eyes of God" and "the ears of God." Yet God is spirit, not corporeal, and so in his substance differs from us. In sum, our human structure faithfully and adequately shows that God, though spirit, sees the needy and hears the cry of the suffering.


"Likeness" distinguishes the image from its Creator or begetter (cf. Gen. 5:3), underscores the notion that the image is only a faithful and adequate representation of God, and safeguards against any pagan notion that equates the image as deity and worthy of worship. In short, contrary to New Age Thinking, human beings are not gods and are not to be confounded with God in heaven. "Likeness"defines and limits the meaning of [image] (Paul Humbert, James Barr), and one must look into the mirror of Scripture to determine those boundaries.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.215-219

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Genesis 1 and 2: Who and Why, NOT How and When

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:4
Genesis 1 and 2...tell us who without giving many answers about how. Some today may think this is a defect; but in the long perspective of history our present-day "scientific" preoccupation with how rather than who looks very odd in itself. Rather than criticize these chapters for not feeding our secular interest, we should take from them a needed rebuke for our perverse passion for knowing Nature without regard for what matters most; namely, knowing Nature's creator.

The message of these two chapters is: "You have seen the sea? the sky? sun, moon, and stars? You have watched the birds and the fish? You have observed the landscape, the vegetation, the animals, the insects, all the big things and little things together? You have marveled at the wonderful complexity of human beings, with all their powers and skills, and the deep feelings of fascination, attraction and affection that men and women arouse in each other? Fantastic, isn't it? Well now, meet the one who is behind it all!" As if to say: now that you have enjoyed these works of art, you must shake hands with the artist; since you were thrilled by the music, we will introduce you to the composer. It was to show us the Creator rather than the creation and to teach us knowledge of God rather than physical science, that Genesis 1 and 2, along with celebrations as Psalm 104 and Job 38-41, were written.

--J.I. Packer as quoted by Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 194-195.

Friday, October 23, 2009

God's Kingdom: A Divinely Conducted Orchestra

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion [reign] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."... And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion [as kings and queens] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
Genesis 1:26, 28 (emphasis added)

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my tresured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Exodus 19:5,6 (emphasis added)
In brief, the Primary History [Genesis - 2 Kings] presents God as creating a people, citizens for the kingdom. To them he give his law -- that is, their constitution that reflects their distinctive values and beliefs. He provides them with a land, a special place for their sustenance, rest, and security. And he gifts them with a king, a leader who will enforce the constitution and protect the land from invasion. But this kingdom does not prosper. Israel rebels against God's law, and her kings have regard for themselves, not for God. As punishment for their sin, God banishes the people from their land and drives them and their king into exile. But the story does not end there. The people of God are left with a future hope -- one day, someone will restore the kingdom.

The Garden of Eden story typifies [foreshadows] this conspicuous metanarrative of the Primary History...In that type of the greater antitype, God also creates a people (Adam and Eve), gives them a garden as the land to sustain and refresh them, hands down the law not to eat the forbidden fruit, and makes them kings to keep his garden. But they rebel against God and disobey him, and as a result, they are banished from the garden, exiled from their home. Yet in the punishment comes a promise and a hope; a "seed of the woman" will triumph over the Serpent on humanity's behalf.

These narratives are related by concepts, not by key terms such as law, covenant, exile, and king, and there are no citations linking the two accounts. This lack of explicit connection should keep an exegete from being dogmatic. But even with this in mind, one cannot help but be struck by the placement and the conceptual similarities in the two narratives. In musical terms, the Adam and Eve narrative is the opening violin solo. Through a single instrument, the virtuoso deftly touches upon the musical refrains, previewing what is ahead. With the narrative of the full Primary History, Israel joins the soloist as the full orchestra. With the full force of a multitude of strings, the dark tones of the woodwinds, the shrill of the brass, the beat of the percussion instruments, and the clash of the cymbals, the harmonies, the undertones, and the dissonances expound and interpret the major refrains previewed by the solo. In other words, the opening scene is the introduction of the fugal subject, which will be put in counterpoint with other melodies and fully restated.

The Adam and Eve narrative not only foreshadows Israel's history, but also creates the world in which the narrative of Israel takes place. Because of Adam and Eve, original sin mars humanity. Because of Adam and Eve, humankind lives banished from its true home and is afflicted with conflict, sickness, and death. Thus, the characters in the narrative of Israel live with consequences effected by their parents. Furthermore, not only does the Adam and Eve narrative create the world for the second narrative, it also implies its outcome. If Adam and Eve, created in the image of God, do not keep the single command in a paradise, how can the Israelites, marred by original sin, expect to keep a host of commandments in the moral cesspool of Canaan? The answer should be obvious: "Apart from reliance upon a trustworthy God, they cannot!" The enterprise of creating the physical kingdom of Israel is doomed from the beginning because people, apart from reliance upon God's empowering, cannot keep covenant with God. In other words, the Old Testament is a masterpiece of indirection.

Thus, the two stories overlap. As the Old Testament concludes, judgment of sin and exile become the signature dilemma for both narratives, and both stories await resolution. Who will crush the serpent, the embodiment of Satan, and restore humanity to its true home, the Garden of Eden? Who will cleanse the heart of God's people and restore the kingdom of Israel? The "way of Judaism" piled on more laws; "the Way of the New Testament" provides the empowering presence of God in Jesus Christ and his Spirit.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.150-151.
And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
Matthew 4:23 (emphasis added)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9 (emphasis added)

[In the new heaven and new earth] They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign [as kings and queens] forever and ever.
Revelation 22:5 (emphasis added)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Greatest Commendation

To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.
Genesis 10:21
It is very notable that Moses, when he doth come to Shem, he mentions him with this commendation: Gen. 10.21, ‘These were born of Shem, the father of all the children of Eber;’ that is, the father of the Hebrews which worship God and acknowledge God. This is his prerogative above all his brethren, above Japheth, and above Ham, his brethren, that he was the father of the children of Eber. Eber was not his immediate son, but one that was to come of his loins, of whom the people of God were to come. Shem was the father of many mighty nations: the father of the Syrians, Lydians, Persians, Armenians, the Elamites, all these came from Shem; but because these were ignorant of the true God, and did not worship the true God, therefore he doth not take his title from them, but is called ‘the father of the children of Eber.’ This was his great prerogative, that Abraham came from him [Genesis 11: 14-16, 26], and all Isreal, the people whom God had chosen to himself, among whom he would record his name, and in the midst of whom he would be worshipped while all the rest of the world lay in darkness. One would have thought Moses when he commended Shem would have commended him otherwise, and have taken notice of his long life. This is that Shem that lived 600 years, the last of the long-lived patriarchs; or this is that Shem that saw both worlds, before the flood and after; this was one of the heirs of Noah; this was one of the three great princes of the world; this was one that obtained Asia for his inheritance, the paradise of the earth; a land that was rich in jewels, gold, silver, spices of all kinds, fell to his lot and share. One would have thought Moses would have reckoned the mighty kings and princes which had descended from his loins, the great nations—Assyrians, Persians, &c. Nations that were famous for power, art, greatness of their empire and monarchy, all these came of Shem. No; Moses puts by all this; here is his commendation, Shem, ‘the father of the children of Eber,’ of a contemptible nation, that was shut within the precincts of a little spot of land; but ‘to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the promises, Rom. 9.4. This was the honour of Shem. Oh, then, how should we strive to continue religion in our families, that so we may be the fathers of the children of the covenant, the fathers of the race of those that owned and acknowledged God. This is a great honour, and God expects it from you: Gen. 18.19, ‘I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do judgment and justice.’ This is that which God expects from you, that you should teach them the worship of the Lord, and charge them to worship the true God, that when you are dead and gone, there may be some of your line and race to call upon God.

--Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 14, p. 385-386.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Transcendent and Immanent

In the beginning, God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 (emphasis added)

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:4 (emphasis added)

Genesis 1 and 2 may indeed reflect different sources at the preliterary level. The change of divine names from "God" [Elohim] in the first account (Gen. 1:1-2:3) to "I AM God" [Yahweh Elohim] in the second (Gen. 2:4-4:26) is a textbook example of showing different sources. The change of names, however, is not a product of a redactor who is sloppy or one who felt bound by tradition not to tamper with the text. Instead, he allowed the discontinuity to remain, because in chapter 1, [Elohim] refers to God's transcendence, while in chapters 2 and 3 [Yahweh] ("He Is") speaks to God's immanence. The different names of God express different aspects of his divine attributes. In fact, the author put both names together [in chapter 2], [Yahweh Elohim], to give the message that the God [Elohim] who made the majestic cosmos [Genesis 1] is the same God [Yahweh] who initiates and rules over human history [Genesis 2]. This juxtaposition asserts that history is under God's sovereign command and that history will not end in a cul-de-sac or return to chaos. The same God who gave order to creation is the same God who will give order in history. The discontinuity between the two divine names, though perhaps attesting to different sources, significantly elevates both God and human kind.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p.116.
God's Word. Inspired? Inerrant? Infallible? No question.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Where Faith Is Lacking, Sin Is Waiting (Part 2)

This is the second of a two part post. You can read the first here.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Genesis 5:21-24
If you read through the account of all the descendants of Adam in Genesis 5, there is a pattern that emerges. During each generation, the life of one of Adam’s descendants is described. And the narrator breaks his life into two distinct periods: the period before he had any children and the period after he had his first child. And then the narrator tells us that he died.

But there’s one exception to the pattern. One of Adam’s descendants is a man named Enoch. And the description of his life differs from the description of the rest of Adam’s descendants described in this chapter? What makes it different? The most obvious answer to this question is that Enoch didn’t die. For every other man, it tells us that he lived X number of years and then he died. But the Scriptures tell us that Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24).

But that’s not the only difference between the description of Enoch’s life and the description of Adam’s other descendants. There’s another subtle yet, in my opinion, huge difference between the description of Enoch’s life and all the rest. For every man, including Enoch, the verb that’s used to describe the years before he had children is that he lived. For every man, except Enoch, that same verb is used to describe the years after he had his first child. He lived. But not Enoch. That second period isn’t primarily defined by the fact that he lived. That verb that’s used to describe this period of his life is that he walked with God. I had always known that Enoch walked with God. But I had never seen this contrast before until today. Those years for Enoch weren’t mainly about living. They were about walking with God. To me, there’s a big difference. And it’s absolutely huge.

This would probably require an entirely separate post (perhaps in the future), but I’m always a little bothered when I hear talk about "loving life". Have you ever heard someone exhort you to “love life” or describe himself/herself as one who “loves life”? Now I believe with all my heart that life is a gift from God that we all are to be thankful for and I don’t want to belittle that. But I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where we are exhorted to “love life”? In fact, I can think of many places in the New Testament where it is commanded or implied that we do the very opposite: lose our life (Mark 8:35), hate our life (Luke 14:26), love not our life (Revelation 12:11), not account our lives of any value (Acts 20:24). I accept that I don’t know my Bible well enough and stand to be corrected if I could be pointed to a counterexample. But the overwhelming thrust of the New Testament definitely calls us to the opposite of "loving life".

Why do I make this point? Because I think I will have a fundamentally different approach to everything if what I am concerned with above all is walking with God as opposed to simply living. When I think of the former, and what Enoch’s life must have been like, the following line from the Sovereign Grace song “O Great God” comes to mind:
You are worthy to be praised with my every thought and deed.
That’s a challenging line to sing. Do I really believe it? Every thought? Every deed? I think this was the banner that flew over Enoch’s life. Walking with God meant his every thought and deed, waking or sleeping, was wholly consumed with God so that it didn’t matter whether he was healthy or sick, strong or weak, young or old, rich or poor, gain or loss, happy or sad, or even alive. He was walking with God.

The author of Hebrews says that he did this by faith. Faith in what? Faith in the reality that God is more real than anything he could touch, see, taste, hear, or smell in life. And this faith pleased God (Hebrews 11:5). Enoch did well. And he was accepted by God. Because of his faith. Just like Abel. And unlike Cain.

Cain was mastered by sin because he didn’t rule over sin. Enoch was not mastered but instead he ruled over sin. How did he do it? By walking with God. Every waking thought and deed, he was actively consumed with God and in so doing it left no opportunity for him to passively walk into a dark room where sin would shut and lock the door behind him in order to eat his lunch.
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
Genesis 4:7
Enoch is evidence that there is biblical merit to the saying: “The greatest defense is a good offense.” If sin will not rule over us, but instead we will rule over it, we must go hard after God. This is the essence of faith and sheds light on Paul’s conclusion to chapter 14 of Romans.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 14:23
I close with words from the Sovereign Grace song, “O Great God” as my concluding prayer:
O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power
Let no vice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me yours forever more

Help me now to live a life
That’s dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face
You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your name through me
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where Faith Is Lacking, Sin Is Waiting (Part 1)

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you [to rule over you], but you must rule over it.”
Genesis 4:6, 7
If Cain did well, he would have been accepted by God. If he didn’t do well, he would be mastered by sin. Reading the rest of Genesis 4 after God presents Cain with these two options makes it clear whether or not he did well. He didn’t. How do we know? He was mastered by sin. Sin, as it were, absolutely ate his lunch. It made him into a murderer and a liar. Cain didn’t do well.

But what exactly does it mean that Cain didn’t do well? Or what would it have looked like for Cain to do well? What does God mean when He says to Cain, “If you do well….”? How do I do well for a holy God? How can anything I do make me acceptable to God?

The answer is found in the book of Hebrews where, in chapter 11, the author tells us that Abel’s gifts were accepted by God (Hebrews 11:4). Just like Cain, Abel would be accepted if he did well. And the text shows us that even though Cain wasn’t accepted, Abel was. Why? In the words of Genesis 4, Abel did well. Cain didn’t.

So what was the difference between Cain and Abel? How come Abel did well but Cain didn’t? In the words of Hebrews 11, the answer is that Abel had faith and Cain didn’t. To do well, in the sense that God is speaking of in Genesis 4, isn’t based primarily on the quality of an action like we’re used to thinking. To do well, in this sense, is to demonstrate faith. When we act in faith, even though it may be small faith or weak faith, we are doing well in the eyes of God and we are always acceptable to Him.

To not do well, on the other hand, is no small thing as seen in how the story of Cain plays out. Why? Because God says that if we don’t do well, sin is waiting to pounce on us and devour us.
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you [to rule over you], but you must rule over it.
Genesis 4:7
As I’ve been meditating on this verse for the past day, this phrase keeps coming into my mind: Where faith is lacking, sin is waiting [to kill me].

That scares me. I read what happened to Cain. I don’t want that to happen to me. So this is an extremely important warning for me to heed. It makes temporary lapses of faith to become a bigger deal than I might usually consider them to be because it shows that even the smallest lapse of faith makes us vulnerable to the ruthless enemy of sin. If I fail to act out of faith, I’m basically walking into a room where sin is waiting to close the door and turn off the lights behind me, an arena where the outcome is certain and I will not emerge victorious.

So how do we keep from ending up in that arena where I will always be defeated? How do I heed this warning? God’s answer: I must rule over sin. Instead of passively walking into a place where sin will rule over me, I must actively seek to rule over sin, moment by moment, day by day.

How do I rule over sin? By faith. In the next post, we’ll get help from someone in the next chapter of Genesis who, I think, shows us how to rule over sin by faith.

The Call Of Jesus

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
Luke 5:31, 32
Who does Jesus call to follow Him? The answer is clear from these verses. Jesus calls sinners to follow Him. To be a sinner is to be someone who is sick and in need of a doctor. Jesus is that doctor.

Each of the three events in chapter 5 leading up to the call of Levi either involves sin or disease or both. In the calling of the fishermen, Jesus calls Peter and the rest of the fishermen to follow Him only after Peter recognizes how sinful he is. In the next event, Jesus heals a man of his leprosy. In each of these first two events, Jesus acts as a doctor who deals with either spiritual sickness (sin) or physical sickness. In the third event, Jesus acts as a doctor who deals with both spiritual and physical sickness. But what’s so important to see in this event is which of the two sicknesses Jesus gives greater priority.

Jesus is teaching in a house that is crowded full of people. Word has spread around town that He has the power to heal so four men decide to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus obviously with the hopes that Jesus would heal him just like he has healed everyone else. So they pick up their friend and carry him over to the house where Jesus is teaching. But once they get there, they realize that there is no way they will be able to carry their friend up to Jesus because there is far too big of a crowd. But they are determined to get their friend to Jesus because they want him to be healed. So what do they do? They climb up on the roof and lower their paralyzed friend through the roof so that he’s right in front of Jesus so that he’s close enough for Jesus to touch him and heal him. And when Jesus saw their faith, he reaches out and touches the man and heals him. That’s what we would expect. That’s what I’m sure the paralyzed man and his friends expected. But that’s not what happened. The verse says: And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20).

If you read the rest of the story, Jesus ends up healing the man in order to prove to His doubters that He has the authority to forgive sins. So we see that Jesus is a doctor who treats both physical and spiritual sickness. He has come to heal sicknesses of every kind. But what’s so important to see is that Jesus gives far greater priority to spiritual sickness than He does to physical sickness or sickness of any other kind.

This is an excerpt from the message I preached at the Stanford University InterVarsity fellowship last night. You can read the entire message here.

Thank You, Jesus, for being the only effective Doctor for the lifelong disease of my fear of man that would otherwise keep me from preaching Your Word.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Miracle Of Birth have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
1 Peter 1:23
I think the verse that is most helpful in explaining what happens in the matter of regeneration is 1 Peter 1:23. Peter is speaking there of how we are born again: "You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God." When Peter says that you are born again of imperishable seed, I do not believe that he is talking about the kind of seed you plant in the ground. That image is used elsewhere. It is used especially of the resurrection: the seed is planted in the ground, it dies, it rises again. But that is not what Peter is talking about in this text. He is using the word "seed" to mean the male element in human procreation. He is talking about new birth, and therefore illustrates this spiritual birth with physical birth. He says we are born again spiritually in a way that is analogours to how we are born first of all in a physical sense.

What is necessary to have new life come into being? You have to have the sperm of the father and the egg or ovum of the mother. They have to come together. Peter is saying that this is what happens in the new birth. God first of all plants the ovum of saving faith in the heart of the man or woman, because even faith is not from ourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. Then God takes His living Word, the seed of spiritual procreation, and allows that Word to be proclaimed in such a way that it goes into the person through the gates of the ears, through hearing, and penetrates the ovum of faith. As a result there is spiritual conception; there is new life.

This life begins to grow within, and just as in the case of pregnancy there is a period when a woman is not even aware that she is pregnant, so there can be the same thing spiritually. The life is there but the person does not yet know what has happened. Things are beginning to change. The person is beginning to have an interest in spiritual things. He finds himself hungering for the Word of God. He reads it. He begins to feed upon it. Then, as the months go by (sometimes longer and sometimes shorter), there is the point in a service when someone may say, "If you want to receive Jesus as your Savior, put up your hand," and so he puts up his hand and comes forward and the counselor says, "Well, now you're born again." That is indeed how it may seem, but actually he was alive when the Word did its work. It is just that now the birth has taken place.

--James Montgomery Boice, Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea For Preaching, p. 41-42.
Lord, let Your Word do its work. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Catch 22 Of Preaching

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21
If you take a slow read through 1 Corinthians 1 – 4, and you really understand and believe what it says, it will inevitably shape the way you view preaching, and the ministry of the gospel in general.

This afternoon, as I prepare to preach tomorrow evening, the Lord led me to slowly read from 1 Corinthians 1:18 through the end of 1 Corinthians 4. There is so much in these verses. But in particular I was left pondering the catch 22 of preaching that emerges from the connection between verse 14 of chapter 2 and verse 21 of chapter 1.

One of a preacher’s main goals as he prepares a message is to be understood by his hearers. Indeed, this must probably be the highest priority on the list of his goals because if the people who are hearing the message don’t understand what the preacher is saying, they cannot believe what he is saying. Not in any fruitful way at least.

As a preacher prepares to address a congregation full of people, not only does he need to make his sermon understandable to his hearers. But he needs to make it understandable for a wide variety of people, some with more biblical knowledge than others. There are many different categories of people that a preacher must make his message understandable for but it really all boils down to two categories: believers and non-believers, those who have been born again and those who haven’t been, those who are spiritual and those who are natural.

Some believers with a more conservative mindset might say that a preacher really only needs to make his message understandable to believers since preaching is mainly for the building up of the body of believers, and even though non-believers can derive some benefit from preaching, messages should not be prepared with them in mind.

The only problem I have with that opinion is that it won’t stand against the book of Acts. The preaching in that book is almost all directed at non-believers with the aim being their conversion to saving faith in Jesus. In particular, Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 is directed at philosophers and stoics who have no knowledge of the Old Testament.

But then there are believers with a more liberal mindset who say that you need to make sure that your message is completely understandable to the non-believer. You don’t want to say anything that won’t make any sense to them or that would turn them off from wanting to continue to “check Jesus out.”

This is where the juxtaposition of 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:21 is so helpful.

The problem with the non-believer is that he/she doesn’t understand the things of the Spirit of God. They are blind to the glory of God and sin and wrath and hell, among many other things. In order for us to make the message understandable to them, it would require that we either significantly obscure or completely remove references to the glory of God or sin or wrath or hell. Why? Since they don’t understand these things (both liberal and conservative evangelicals would say this is true), these things would sound like foolishness to them if they heard them. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Spiritual things are foolishness, or folly, to the person who has not been born again.

So if our desire is for the person who cannot understand spiritual things to come to saving faith (which I imagine is the desire of both liberal and conservative evangelicals), do we remove from our messages the things that non-believers won’t understand or will deem foolish so that the message will be completely understandable to them?

Paul’s answer is back in 1 Corinthians 1:21.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21
Paul’s answer to that question that I just asked is a resounding “NO!” Why? In God’s wisdom, the world doesn’t come to know God by making the wisest decision based on all the intelligible information that is presented before them. That is exactly the way God decided NOT to save people. So how do people come to know God and be saved and understand spiritual things? Through the folly of what we preach when, by the supernatural work of the Spirit of God, they are enabled to believe on that which otherwise sounds like foolishness. There’s no other way.

And hence the catch 22 of preaching. The penultimate goal of preaching (I say penultimate because the ultimate goal of preaching and everything else that exists for that matter is the glory of God) is that the men and women who hear will understand the things of God (non-believers and believers). But the problem is that by nature nobody can understand the things of God. Juxtaposing 1 Corinthians 2:14 with 1 Corinthians 1:21, the conclusion I arrive at is this: The only way for men and women who don’t understand the things of God to come to understand the things of God is for us to preach to them (directed at them, with them in mind) the things of God that they don’t understand. Or, to say it another way, the only way for men and women who view the things of God as foolishness to be transformed so that they no longer view the things of God as foolishness is for them to hear preaching (directed at them, with them in mind) about the very things of God that they regard as foolishness.

This is tremendously encouraging for me as a preacher. I am by no means a seasoned preacher, but when I first began preaching a couple of years ago, preparing to preach seemed like only excitement. But the more and more I preach, though it is still exciting and glorious beyond description, it’s becoming harder and harder to prepare. What I mean by that is that whereas early on I felt such excitement in preaching things that I had never preached before, with each new message I prepare I find myself asking, “Am I really going to say this again? No doubt they’ve heard this before.” I find myself more and more aware of the resistance that my hearers will have to the things that I am going to say (both non-believers who don’t understand and believers who have surely heard it before and don’t want to hear it again) and, believe it or not, the temptation for me not to say those things is overwhelmingly strong. It would be so easy to begin to say those things that they don’t want to hear less and less (about the glory of God and sin and wrath and hell) to the point where one day I might realize that I’m not saying them at all. I wonder how many preachers have fallen casualty to this slow, gradual descent into the death of being rendered spiritually sterile in the pulpit. Probably more than we can count.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 4:2
Please pray for me.

O Lord, keep me faithful and trustworthy. Take me out of this ministry or kill me before that day would ever come where I would bring such dishonor upon Your name. For Jesus’ sake.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Driscoll On Nightline ... Again

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21

Lord, thank You for this brother and his uncompromising faithfulness before the eyes of a watching world that less and less has any place for absolutes.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Old Testament: Our Family History

And [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
Genesis 15:5

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham...There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if your are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:7, 28, 29
The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian. That is because we fail to understand the function of these texts. Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identity as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history. Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from "unclean" foods are "visual aids" to instruct God's people of all ages to be pure.

Our baptism into the community of faith is a proclamation that our true identity lies within this community. It is shaped by the collective memories recorded in the Bible; it is motivated by the destiny of being with Jesus Christ when he comes again. Not surprisingly, a large part of spiritual strength, of being rooted and grounded in the faith, is knowing our history, knowing who we are. Moreover, the history of "our forefathers" is given to us as "examples" (see 1 Cor. 10:6). George Santayana's line--"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"--is much repeated but is no less true for that.

Furthermore, a commitment to this community may demand that we disown other allegiances. This involves rejecting other histories and cultures that oppose the Christian faith. We cannot be neutral. We have to follow Abraham's example, leaving the land of our culture and family to enter a new land.

In this fashion the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview. This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith. In sum, a goal of this theology is to help the covenant community understand their identity as the people of God within the context of the memories and hopes proclaimed in the Old Testament. In short, biblical theology "is that learning by which a human being is made whole."

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 14.
Amazing. I'm excited for this study.