Philippians 3:11–14: The One Reason to Live

Christians don’t coast to the finish line. They don’t become cavalier about assurance. They don’t ignore the warnings of falling away. In this lab, John Piper explains that Christians finish the race by looking to Christ.

Some questions to ask as you read and study Philippians 3:11–14:

  1. How would you answer the question, “What is the one reason to live?”
  2. Read Philippians 3:11–14. How did Paul resolve to live the rest of his life? What did he press towards? What did he leave behind?
  3. What are some things from your past that you need to forget? How can you now move forward to what lies ahead?

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Principles of Bible Reading

Defining Terms in Context

Often, we come with our definitions of words before we understand what a verse or passage means. This can work at times, but we must not silence the passage. Rather, we must let the passage itself define what certain words mean. Words help us understand verses, and verses help us understand words.

So, as you read, take time to ask, “What can I learn about what this word means from the passage?” Set aside a couple of days to read through a whole book several times before walking through it in a slower, more in-depth way.

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Where Sex Trafficking Occurs in America

The Story: A recent report highlights the cities and states within the U.S. in which human trafficking is most reported.

The Background: Modern-day slavery, also referred to as “trafficking in persons,” or “human trafficking,” describes the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Trafficking in persons is estimated to be one of the top-grossing criminal industries in the world (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking), with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.

Because the crime is kept out of sight no one knows for sure the extent of trafficking in America. But we can gain a better understanding of the crime by measuring the “signals”—phone calls, emails, and online tip reports—received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which maintains one of the most extensive data sets on the issue of human trafficking in the U.S. From 2007 to 2018, the Hotline received 195,215 signals representing 45,308 “cases” (i.e., distinct situations of trafficking).

The Geoffrey Nathan Law Offices recently analyzed the data from the Hotline to uncover where human trafficking reports are most prevalent.

Their report finds that on a per capita basis (cases per 100,000 people), Washington DC (6.1) and Nevada (5.6) have the most reports of human trafficking in the nation. In each of those states, trafficking reports are more than five times more likely than in states like Wisconsin (1.1) and Utah (1.1). Even larger states like California (1.9), Florida (1.7), and New York (1.1) had fewer reported cases than DC and Nevada.

The report also shows the total number of cases from 2007 to 2016 per capita among the 100 largest cities in America. The top five cities in America for human trafficking reports are Washington DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and Las Vegas. Almost all of the top 25 cities for human trafficking prevalence are large metropolises, and many are major tourist destinations and/or have international airports. The exception is New York City, which has the twenty-second lowest rate of human trafficking in the country. Cities where human trafficking is less common tend to be smaller cities.

What It Means: Why is trafficking more prevalent in some cities and states than in others? A key factor appears to be prostitution. “Underlying much of the prostitution industry and illegal massage parlors is the horrible fact that many of the women supposedly working there are being held against their will,” according to the report.

“While some prostitutes may work entirely on their own accord, a very significant number of them are working against their will,” notes the report. “Even in Nevada, where prostitution is legal in certain parts of the state with a license, there are widespread reports of women working at brothels against their will or with falsified identification.”

Despite prostitution being frequently described as a “victim-less” crime, the connection between prostitution, both legal and illegal, and sex trafficking is exceedingly well established.

Nearly half of all incidents investigated by U.S. law enforcement agencies between January 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010 (the last date for which data is available), involved allegations of adult prostitution (48 percent) while another forty percent involved prostitution of a child or child sexual exploitation.

As Donna M. Hughes has noted, “evidence seems to show that legalized sex industries actually result in increased trafficking to meet the demand for women to be used in the legal sex industries.” Melissa Farley adds that “wherever prostitution is legalized, trafficking to sex industry marketplaces in that region increases.”

Christians in America too often assume that trafficking is a problem that only occurs in foreign lands. While sex slavery is certainly more prevalent in other countries, we can’t overlook what is happening in our own cities and states. We can help these women and children, though, by knowing the signs to look for. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the indicators of human trafficking may include a person:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement or immigration officials
  • Shows signs of substance use or addiction
  • Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, and/or fatigue
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is frequently monitored
  • Is not in control of their own money, financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where they are staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Appear to have lost sense of time
  • Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories

Each individual indicator should be taken in context and not be considered in isolation, notes the Hotline, nor should be taken as “proof” that human trafficking is occurring. But if you believe you may have information about a potential trafficking situation, you should contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

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Jesus Christ Has Authority Over Death

The great hope of every Christian is that the grave will not be the end for them when they die. Jesus Christ will one day raise them up to everlasting life. Jesus has authority over death, and He proved this during His earthly life as He raised the dead back to life.

Meet the Maker of Middle-Earth: The Magic in Tolkien’s Story

Tolkien, a biopic by Finnish director Dome Karukoski, focuses on the early life of famed author J.R.R. Tolkien. Heavily intercut, chronologically it begins with his late childhood in the idyllic village of Sarehole, and ends with his undergraduate years at Oxford and his experiences as a newly commissioned officer in the horror and mud of the Battle of the Somme. A brief final scene jumps to show Tolkien, now married and the father of four, writing the famous opening line to The Hobbit.

Having read a number of disparaging reviews, I was prepared for a mix of frustration and disappointment but instead found that I enjoyed Tolkien a good deal more than I had expected.

Stories That Stick with Us

It’s been said that when it comes to Middle-Earth, there is no middle ground. Readers are either great admirers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or they dislike them greatly. Those who admire them greatly are likely to have read several, perhaps many, reviews before this one, so I will not spend much time covering the usual ground.

Anyone looking for an extensive plot summary, a thorough evaluation of the cinematic elements, or a detailed account of the film’s historic accuracy can easily find these things elsewhere. My brief take is that the cinematic elements in Tolkien are quite impressive — particularly the casting, acting, and period design — and that the film is, for the most part, historically accurate, although these kinds of movies are usually intended to capture the emotional truth of events rather than the actual facts. For example, in the film we see Tolkien about to be shipped off to France just moments after he and Edith have been reunited. While this makes for great cinema, in reality they had been reunited for three years, and married for two months, before he was sent to the front.

Tolkien foresaw such embellishments. In chapter three of The Hobbit, the narrator points out, “Things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to.” Some good lives are not worth watching on the big screen, and yet, people tend to think authors of particularly interesting fiction must have led particularly interesting lives. If Tolkien’s life was not exactly the stuff Hollywood movies are made of, where is the appeal of a film that sets out to depict it? While there are a number of possible answers, I would suggest that the best one has to do with the unique quality of Tolkien’s fiction.

Daniel Taylor has written that there are certain, special stories that “receive us at birth, accompany us through the stages of life, and prepare us for death,” giving pattern to “otherwise chaotic experience, making it memorable and meaningful.” For countless readers, The Lord of the Rings is this kind of story, and for them seeing the author’s early years brought lovingly to life will be a rare delight. For others, Tolkien may serve merely as a moving tribute to the way that art — whether fiction, poetry, music, or painting — has the power, as we are told in the film, to change the world. And, of course, the power to change one person’s life as well.

The Glaring Absence

Notably missing from the film is much about Tolkien’s Christian faith, and it is missing in a certain way — not like a piece of a puzzle or a slice cut from a cake, but missing like an element that is, or would have been, part of everything.

We meet the Catholic priest who became Tolkien’s guardian, but we are never given much indication that Tolkien possessed a faith of his own — one that was a profound source of comfort in the trenches and later a critical factor in his writing. The film tries to show other elements that went into the creative formation of one of the world’s most beloved authors — Tolkien’s lifelong enchantment with language, the short-lived fellowship of his friends in the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, and Tolkien’s devotion to his first and only romantic love. We never see, however, the devotion that would later lead him to tell a correspondent seeking the really significant facts about him, “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories).”

Early in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is told, “Courage is found in unlikely places.” Tolkien is filled with many moments of courage, the kind found on the battlefield as well as the kind found in the living of an ordinary life. It is clear that the makers of Tolkien approached their subject with a great deal of affection, understanding, and reverence. Although they extracted the heart from the man, we who have eyes to see can still benefit from the film.

One other point should be made. In a manner that fails to do justice to the creative process, the filmmakers take pains to show us Tolkien’s hallucinations of monsters, fire-breathing dragons, and knights on horseback who appear on the battlefield as well as a soldier named Sam who looks after the young Lieutenant — as though this is the way authors get their ideas.

In Sarehole we almost expect to see a birthday party taking place under a giant tree or, later as the bullets and shells begin flying, to hear someone repeat the words Gandalf says to Frodo, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”

A Magic Greater Than Grief

In The Fellowship of the Ring as the members of the quest approach the boundaries of Lothlorien, their guide, an elf named Haldir, observes that although the world is full of peril and many dark places, “Still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

As we travel through our own dark places, we take heart knowing that, as candles shine brightest in the darkness, the fireplace warms best on cold nights — love’s rays pierce the more beautifully through shadows of grief. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” said the apostle (2 Corinthians 6:10), and rejoicing the more heartily because of the sorrows, replies the Christian. Our laughter comes from deeper wells — wells Tolkien depicted well.

In Tolkien we also see this fallen world with its mingling of love and grief, joy and sorrow. Companionship, sacrifice, loss and heartache, laughter and tears take residence here where dragons aren’t wont to dwell. And yet, though no Morgul-blades stab or Nazgul roam, here too love grows beyond grief and becomes the greater of the two.

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Loving Jesus in a Secular Age

“If you really do say truth is subjective, that you find truth inside, then you’ve got absolutely no ability to ground your calls to justice. You’ve got nothing to build on. . . . You’ve actually just destroyed your ability to talk about any moral obligation at all.” — Tim Keller

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast or watch a video of the discussion.

Related:

Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

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Taylor Turkington and Courtney Doctor on TGC’s Women’s Training Network

Taylor Turkington and Courtney Doctor are excellent Bible teachers. They are also educated Bible teachers (Turkington earned an M.A. and a D.Min. from Western Seminary, and Doctor an M.Div. from Covenant Seminary.) And they are on a mission to train women around the country—in fact, around the world—to better interpret their Bibles. Through the Women’s Training Network, they want to teach women to handle the Bible, grasp the story of the Bible, and live and lead according to what’s taught in the Bible. At these two-day intensives, women get to choose a particular track that suits their interests and experience, choosing from workshops such as ministry practicals, unity and dignity, and Christlike leadership. I talked to Turkington and Doctor about how their love for Scripture and for teaching it developed in their own lives, and what their dreams are for the Women’s Training Network.

Watch this video about the Women’s Training Network and check out information on tracks, registration, dates, and cities. Registration is open now for workshops in Austin, Sacramento, and Philadelphia. For more information about the Biblical Theology Workshop for Women with Nancy Guthrie, go to nancyguthrie.com.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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The Year My World Fell Apart: My War with Spiritual Depression

Twenty-five years ago, my world fell apart.

I had just turned 39, was happily married with five kids, and served as the associate pastor of a growing two-year-old church plant. My health was good, I enjoyed an active life, and ministry opportunities abounded. Everything looked good from the outside.

But on the inside, it was a different story. Starting in January of 1994, fear, hopelessness, depression, detachment, anxiety, and emptiness became my daily companions. All my life, I had taken pride in my ability to think clearly, but suddenly, thoughts began racing through my mind that I couldn’t stop. Panic attacks came regularly. I imagined I would be dead within months.

And then there were the physical effects. Most days, I found it hard to catch my breath. My arms itched incessantly, and no amount of scratching relieved the sensation. When it didn’t seem like a 200-pound weight pressed against my chest, I often felt an eerie hollowness. My face buzzed. I was light-headed. I spent many nights pacing and trying to pray.

‘This Doesn’t Happen to Pastors’

Other than the normal pressures of a church planting pastor, there were no obvious reasons why I seemed to be going crazy. In an effort to rule out potential causes, I made an appointment with my doctor for a complete checkup. The results came back. I was “fine.”

Nothing had prepared me for what I was going through. My internal accusations that “this doesn’t happen to pastors” only made me more frantic. I looked fruitlessly for something that would give me victory over whatever it was I was battling. Scripture. Prayer. Worship music. A retreat. A vacation. Even a trip to Canada during the “Toronto blessing.” Nothing helped.

Early on, I thought about seeing a counselor, maybe even a psychiatrist. I was aware of occasions when people with hormonal imbalances, an inability to sleep, or traumatic personal histories benefited from medical intervention. I wondered if drugs might help me get back on my feet to deal with what I was experiencing.

I also identified with various labels I had read about. Nervous breakdown. Burnout. Anxiety disorder. Depression. Whatever was going on was affecting me emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The symptoms were too numerous and intense to think this was only a “sin” problem.

But no label I assigned to my condition identified root causes. If what I was experiencing originated in my own heart (as it seemed), I wanted to explore that first. I wanted to press in to the gospel to see what I might be missing.

The next two and a half years were the hardest of my life. But knowing what I learned from them, they were, without a doubt, the best years.

Many people, most significantly my wife, Julie, were invaluable means of grace during that time. I hope to be a means of grace to you or others you might know who have been through something similar to what I’ve been describing. These are a few of the lessons God taught me during that time.

We Might Not Be Hopeless Enough

About a year into my dark season, I told my good friend, Gary, that I felt dead inside. Life didn’t make sense. I felt completely hopeless. Gary’s response was one I’ll never forget and have passed on to countless people, “I don’t think you’re hopeless enough. If you were completely hopeless, you’d stop trusting in what you can do and trust in what Jesus has already done for you on the cross.”

Our problem isn’t that we have no hope. We just hope in things that aren’t God. Our own abilities. A preferred outcome. Our reputation. Financial security. You fill in the blank. And when the idols we’ve hoped in don’t deliver as promised, we panic. We despair. We lash out. We go numb.

That’s why the psalmists speak of hoping in the Lord and his word at least twenty-five times, and why David tells us to “hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:3). It’s easy and common to hope in something other than God.

Blessed Are Those Who Know Their Need

For most of my life up until that point, my heart agressively served the idols of credit and control. Those idols revealed a selfish ambition that desired not only people’s approval but their applause, even their adoration. I wanted to receive the praise only God deserves.

When I couldn’t get everyone to think I was as great as I thought I was, or when I realized the world didn’t bow to my desires, my idols punished me: mentally, emotionally, and physically. I thought I was a victim. I thought depression was “coming on me” from “out there.” Actually, I was the one producing it, through my own fears, unbelief, and false worship. I was forsaking my only hope of steadfast love (Jonah 2:8).

Over time I came to see God was guiding the whole process in order to turn my heart to him. He wanted to wean me from my self-centered idolatry so I could find the greater joy of pursuing his glory instead of mine.

Benefits We Don’t Think We Need

In the first year of my trial, I was often unaffected by normal spiritual disciplines like reading Scripture, gathering with the church on Sundays, and prayer. The promises of the Bible seemed like empty platitudes, meant for those who were doing well. In reality, I didn’t see the depths of my need clearly enough.

A friend introduced me to John Owen’s Sin and Temptation and God used it to show me how deceived my heart could be. Rather than wondering why I felt so hopeless and fearful, I started to own those feelings as the effect of functionally seeing myself as my own savior. Apart from Jesus, I was completely hopeless and had every reason to fear. But Jesus died on the cross to save hopeless and fearful people. And I was one of them.

That thought process, repeated a thousand times, pointed me again and again to the Savior I needed more than I had ever realized.

Feelings Are Unreliable Proofs

The Psalms teach us that a relationship with God involves our emotions. God’s presence brings joy, God’s promises bring comfort, God’s provision brings satisfaction (Psalm 16:11; 119:50; 145:16). But I was trying to root my faith in my experiences rather than in God’s word. I was looking to sustained peace as evidence that the Bible was true, and found myself chasing experiences rather than Jesus.

When I was unaffected by the gospel, I began to see that other desires were at work in my heart. Selfish ambition. Self-atonement. Works-righteousness. A love of ease.

Feelings tell me something is happening in my soul, but they don’t necessarily tell me why I feel (or don’t feel) a certain way. We discover that through patiently and consistently trusting and pursuing God (Proverbs 2:1–5). When I insist on finding relief from my emotional distress before I believe God, I’m living by sight, not by faith.

Self-Focus Won’t Ultimately Defeat Self-Sins

In March of 1995, I went on a personal retreat. After 24 hours, I determined my problem was that I had been depending too much on my own righteousness and needed to trust in the righteousness of Christ.

When I got home, I committed myself to a rigid discipline of Scripture memorization. Julie told me I came back more bound up than when I had left. One reason my dark season lasted so long was my belief that both the problem and solution ended in me. It was my lack of faith, my legalism, my poor choices. I needed to memorize more Scripture, do more, do less, do nothing, do everything.

Over time, God graciously showed me that putting sin to death involves me but doesn’t depend on me. God’s grace comes to humble, needy people, never to those who think they deserve or can earn it. Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s counsel is still wise: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ!” His perfect life, substitutionary sacrifice, and glorious resurrection are a never-ending stream of delight, hope, and transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Take Every Temptation to Christ

Maturity isn’t freedom from temptation, but responding to temptation more often with what God has said and done for us in Christ. I often thought I was backsliding when the temptations of anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and depression reappeared (or even increased). In those moments, I was tempted to think what I had been doing and believing “didn’t work.”

But John Owen observed, “Your state is not at all to be measured by the opposition that sin makes to you, but by the opposition you make to it.” In my discouragement, I was tempted to run to something other than God’s word and the gospel as my refuge. I started to doubt that hearing the Bible preached on Sundays could do any good. But God’s promises remain true no matter how many times we forget or neglect them. Jesus will always be the only Savior who died for my sins to bear my punishment and reconcile me to God (1 Peter 3:18). In him I am truly forgiven, justified, adopted, and eternally secure in God’s love and care.

As I continued to confess my inadequacy with phrases like, “You are God, and I am not,” I saw more clearly how God alone will always be my rock, steadfast love, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and refuge (Psalm 144:1–2).

Traveling Through the Valley

The lessons I learned during those years have shaped my walk with God to this day. I still battle many of the same sins I fought twenty-five years ago, but I fight with greater clarity and trust in the one who has won the war. Temptations are less frequent and less intense. I’ve been able to point others who have been going through similar seasons to the life-transforming hope we have in the gospel.

Removing difficulties, problems, and trials isn’t the only way God shows he is good. Instead of superficial solutions, Jesus actually delivers us from our false hopes of ultimate salvation, satisfaction, and comfort. We want relief from the pain — God wants to make us like his Son. We want a change in our circumstances — God wants a change in our hearts. A crucified and risen Savior proves once and for all he’s actually able to bring that change about.

I’ve learned that the goal of the battle against emotional turmoil isn’t simply emotional peace. The goal is to know Christ. That realization led me to pray at one point, “If being like this for the rest of my life means that I will know you better, then leave me like this.” Thankfully, God didn’t leave me like I was. He gave me a deeper trust in the care of my heavenly Father, a more passionate love for Jesus and the gospel, and a greater awareness of his Spirit’s presence.

I know better now what Paul meant when he said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Which is why I thank God that, in his abundant mercy, he caused my world to fall apart twenty-five years ago.

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Speaking in Tongues: A Good Gift from the Father of Lights

My new book, The Language of Heaven: Crucial Questions about Speaking in Tongues, is available at Amazon for pre-purchase and will be released on June 4. What follows below is the introduction to the book that I hope will give you a sense for why I wrote it.

Like many, if not most of you, I grew up loving Christmas. I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning when my sister and I would tear into the many gifts that our parents had worked so hard to purchase for us. Even more enjoyable was when I became a parent of two daughters and experienced the satisfaction of blessing them with gifts they so passionately desired.

My sister and I were, as best I remember, always appreciative of what our parents gave us. And my own daughters were likewise grateful. If they ever felt disappointment, they never let on to me or to Ann. But I can easily envision how I would have felt if they had. If, after opening a particular gift that I personally picked out for them, they responded by frowning at it, expressing virtual contempt for what I thought was in their best interests, only then to cast it aside and never take it up again, I confess that I would have been heartbroken. Perhaps those of you who are parents have experienced precisely this scenario and you know the awkward feeling that comes with watching your children treat your best efforts at blessing them with utter disregard and disdain.

I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to suggest that this is what a large portion of the body of Christ has done with the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Our heavenly Father, with our best interests in view, because he loves us and in order to bless us beyond anything that we ever deserved, carefully conceived, crafted, and then lovingly bestowed on his children this gracious gift. Yes, it’s a gift. Yes, it was God’s idea, not that of any human being. And yes, God thought up and generously poured out on his children a gift that sadly so many of us have frowned upon, made fun of, tried to explain away, and largely ignored.

Try to imagine how that makes our heavenly Father feel. How would it make you feel if, out of love, you conceived of a special gift for your children only to have them laugh at it, mock it, and then cast it aside? Speaking in tongues, or what I call heavenly language, was God’s idea. He thought it up. He invented it. He graciously bestowed it upon the church. And how have so many responded? Some, with utter contempt. With statements like: “But it’s so weird.” Or perhaps something like: “It’s actually useless. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I have no desire to receive this gift and I’ll do whatever I can to discourage others from making it an object of their prayer requests to God.”

The gift of tongues, and in particular those who regularly practice praying in the Spirit, do not have a good reputation among many outside the charismatic movement. Those who practice this gift are thought by many to be mushy-minded and spiritually uncoordinated. They are perceived as incapable of chewing their theological gum and walking in a straight line at the same time. I’ve been told on several occasions that someone who prays words that he/she does not understand is probably an intellectual lightweight who prefers feeling to thinking. Such a Christian is likely averse to deep and rigorous engagement with the Scriptures and avoids theological argumentation at all costs.

Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I have found the gift of tongues to be a tremendous boost to my spiritual zeal and an immensely effective way for deepening my relationship with Jesus. Contrary to the caricatures that many have of this gift, I can still tie my shoelaces, balance my checkbook, drive a car, hold down a job, and I rarely ever drool!

So why is it that speaking in tongues is not what one might call polite dinner conversation, especially in more conservative, Bible-church evangelical circles? Speaking in tongues is considered only a notch or two above snake-handling (or in the opinion of some, below it) and the drinking of deadly poison! Be courageous enough to admit you speak in tongues and you’ll likely be met with scrunched-up faces and looks of incredulity. “What did you say? You speak in tongues? You? But you always struck me as being normal, and you always appeared to love studying the Bible and engaging in rigorous theological debates. But tongues? Ah, you must be kidding, right?”

The gift of tongues is often treated like the proverbial “red-haired step-child” in the family of God. We can’t completely dismiss its presence, but we regard it as something regularly found only among doctrinally weak-minded Christians who are emotionally unstable, at best. What accounts for this reputation in the Bible-believing world?

Some of you may be tempted to think I’m being overly negative in even asking this question. You may think that no one really cares much about the issue these days, especially since the spiritual gift of prophecy has usurped tongues as the most controversial of all spiritual gifts. But I assure you that the prejudice against tongues is alive and well. Whereas prophecy is looked on as a potential threat to the sufficiency of Scripture, tongues is just plain weird. It’s only people who lack self-control and have little regard for their public image who admit to possessing and making use of this spiritual gift.

So, why is it that so many of you, right now, are nervously twitching and sweating profusely at the thought of someone speaking in tongues? Why is it that you carefully hide the cover of this book lest someone sitting close by takes a quick glance at the title? After all, some of you do make certain that when you pause your reading you place the book face down! As you’ll discover later in the book, there are numerous ways to answer this question, but here I want to focus on only two.

First, the disdain many have toward tongues is primarily the result of a misunderstanding of what is likely the most famous of all biblical texts on tongues. I’m sure you know it well:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

And who wants to be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”? No one, obviously. But the image (or sound) of tongues in this passage has often served to lodge in the hearts of many a deep dislike of tongues, or at least a healthy fear of it.

But Paul isn’t denouncing or denigrating tongues. Far less is he making fun of the gift. His criticism is aimed at tongues devoid of love. He’s talking about tongues pursued and practiced selfishly, without regard for others. He’s talking about tongues being sinfully used to promote oneself or to draw attention to one’s spirituality, as over against others who are “lesser” Christians because they haven’t been blessed with the gift. The same would apply equally to every other spiritual gift. Any and all of the charismata that are exercised in the absence of love for others and a commitment to their spiritual welfare could easily become a noisy and offensive intrusion into the life of the local church. The only reason Paul mentions tongues in particular is that this is the gift more abused by the Corinthian church than any other.

So what do you think Paul would say if our speaking in tongues was motivated by love and thoroughly characterized by humility, consideration for others, and for the praise and glory of God? I think Paul would have said something like this:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, and do so in a loving and gentle and merciful way, I am a glorious and melodious sound, a virtual symphony of sweet music that is pleasing and satisfying to all who might hear me. If I never make use of my gift to put others down but only to serve them and build them up in their faith, what a marvelous and beautiful blessing this would be for everyone!”

So let’s be sure that we don’t take what Paul says about the selfish abuse of tongues and apply it to the loving and other-oriented use of tongues.

A second reason many maintain a deep-seated prejudice against tongues is the careless and unbiblical way in which tongues is flaunted in corporate gatherings without the benefit of interpretation. We’ve all seen it. And we’ve all cringed as the speaker appears to flaunt his/her “anointing” by delivering what we are told to believe is a crucial message from God. The only problem is that this “message” is never interpreted for the benefit of those who hear it. It grieves me to say it, but some charismatics give every appearance of simply not caring what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14 about how tongues are to be exercised when God’s people are gathered in corporate assembly. Perhaps they are thinking that we’ve moved beyond the need or relevance for such guidelines. What may have been important for first-century church life simply doesn’t obtain in the 21st century. Or they may think that there are times when the Spirit comes in such power and the prompting one feels within is so overwhelming that to insist on interpretation would be to quench the Spirit or to grieve him.

It really matters little what justification they may provide for violating Paul’s instructions. There is no excuse, at any time, for intentionally violating the guidelines set for in Scripture for the exercise of spiritual gifts. The conclusion of some on the cessationist side of the debate is that any alleged spiritual gift that is subject to such obvious abuse and mishandling cannot be of any value or hold any validity in the life of the church today.

So, let me be clear about something in this book before we get started. I will do my very best to stay rooted in and tethered to the inspired and infallible Word of God. I will strive to justify my conclusions based on what Scripture says. I realize that some in the professing Christian community believe that this is too restrictive, that it puts limitations on what God might choose to do in our day that the church so desperately needs. I do not share that fear. My fear, in fact, is that once we step outside the governing rule of the Bible we are subject to all manner of deception and abuse. God doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He didn’t say something about the nature and operation of tongues in the first century, only then to reverse himself and render those guidelines superfluous for us in the present day. The Bible is our functional authority when it comes to the gift of tongues (or any other gift, for that matter). I am governed by and submissive to its teaching. Its guidelines and the boundaries that it articulates are no less applicable and essential in the contemporary church than they were in the early days of church life in the middle of the first century. I trust that my commitment to the functional authority of Scripture will be evident on every page of what follows.

I hope and pray you enjoy and are edified by this book.

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How to Call Christians Out on Twitter

Every day on Twitter and other social media sites, Christians call each other out for being “woke” (or not woke enough), “misogynist,” “politically correct,” “heretical,” and much more. Such debates seem typically (on all sides) to generate a lot of furor but not much mutual understanding between Christians.

This is a history blog, so how should we think historically about Christians calling each other out publicly? Public rebukes have a long history in Christianity, though I suspect we tend to remember only the instances that went well. Christ rebuked the Pharisees, and Paul rebuked Peter “in front of them all” (Galatians 2:11-14). Martin Luther nailed up the 95 theses, and Charles Spurgeon had the “Downgrade Controversy.” J. Gresham Machen rebuked the modernists, calling theirs a “non-redemptive religion” which was no longer true Christianity. So Christians who call out fellow believers, or who expose wolves in sheep’s clothing, have a noble history of precedents to which they can point.

But the problem is, not all of us are Paul, Luther, Spurgeon, or Machen. More importantly, none of us are like Jesus Christ, who was incapable of error. We may think we’re making a bold stand like Luther, but might just end up looking like jerks or busybodies.

Moreover, Twitter and similar venues have made it easier than ever for Christians to engage in thoughtless, immature, and rash indictments of fellow believers. Our default mode should be maintaining peace and charity among believers, and when we do rebuke, we should only do it with principles such as those in Matthew 18:15-17 in mind. (Even Matthew 18 can be easily abused, however, as Don Carson has noted.)

There is definitely a place and time for rebuking or warning believers, then, but especially in the age of Twitter I would encourage readers to keep the following questions or principles before them, and hopefully not fall into the errors of rash anger (James 1:19) and foolish airing of opinions (Proverbs 18:2).

  1. What is the purpose of the rebuke, and the means of sharing it? Twitter arguments almost never convince the “other side,” and they routinely damage relationships, even between people on the “same side” on the essential issues (salvation through Christ alone, the authority of the Bible, etc.). Could you approach the person privately with your concern? If not, why not?
  2. Is there a reason why you need to be the one doing the rebuking? Social media (and our culture more broadly) has way too many self-appointed ideological police. Your agenda is not everybody else’s agenda. If you barge in and lecture people every time you perceive they are in error on your chosen issue, you will lose credibility quickly.
  3. Do you have expertise or experience in the controversy in question? As in point #2, social media and blogging has aided the “death of expertise” in America. Anyone with a phone can now berate people with decades of studied wisdom and hard-earned experience about a topic. Sometimes the uncredentialed phone-tapping critics just end up looking foolish, but sometimes the people who scream the loudest actually shape the terms of debate and policy.

Years ago, a prominent professional acquaintance of mine took exception to a claim I made in one of my books. Instead of denouncing me in public, he approached me about it over e-mail. He seemed fairly irritated about the issue at first, but after exchanging a few e-mails we reached something of an understanding. I knew I needed to be more careful about the way I discussed the issue in the future, and he realized that there was actually something to the point I was making. We now correspond occasionally about similar questions regarding American history.

Would this have happened if this acquaintance had torched me on Twitter first? I seriously doubt it. Instead, we might have been permanently estranged and neither of us would have grown in knowledge or wisdom.

There may come times when some of us will need to rebuke or denounce someone on social media. But if you want to maintain relationships and actually change someone’s mind, it is almost never the best approach.

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20 Quotes from Don Carson on Gospel Centrality

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Don Carson’s new little book, Prophetic from the Center (10Publishing, 2019).


Perhaps more common yet is the tendency to assume the gospel, whatever that is, while devoting creative energy and passion to other issues—marriage, happiness, prosperity, evangelism, the poor, wrestling with Islam, wrestling with the pressures of secularization, bioethics, dangers on the left, dangers on the right—the list is endless. This overlooks the fact that our hearers inevitably are drawn toward that about which we are most passionate. Every teacher knows that. My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them; they are most likely to learn that about which I am most excited. If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery. (4–5)

It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center. (5)

When we insist that as a matter of first importance, the gospel is Christological, we are not thinking of Christ as a cipher, or simply as the God-man who comes along and helps us like a nice insurance agent: “Jesus is a nice God-man, he’s a very, very nice God-man, and when you break down, he comes along and fixes you.” The gospel is Christological in a more robust sense: Jesus is the promised Messiah who died and rose again. (12)

The cross and resurrection are not nakedly historical events; they are historical events with the deepest theological weight. (13)

From the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Gen. 2–3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods, they cut themselves off from their Maker, from the One who gives life. What is there, then, but death? (14)

In all our sinning, God is invariably the most offended party. That is why we must have his forgiveness, or we have nothing. (15–16)

The God the Bible portrays as resolved to intervene and save is also the God portrayed as full of wrath because of our sustained idolatry. As much as he intervenes to save us, he stands over against us as Judge, an offended Judge with fearsome jealousy. . . . How often when we preach the gospel are people terrified? (16, 18)

To be saved from our sins is to be saved not only from their chaining power but also from their consequences—and the consequences are profoundly bound up with God’s solemn sentence, with God’s holy wrath. Once you see this, you cannot fail to see that whatever else the cross achieves, it must rightly set aside God’s sentence, it must rightly satisfy God’s wrath, or it achieves nothing. (21)

Any approach, theological or evangelistic, that attempts to pit Jesus’s death and Jesus’s resurrection against each other, is not much more than silly. (24)

The Bible never asks us to believe what is not true. By the same token, one of the principal ways the Bible increases and strengthens faith is by articulating and defending the truth. (30)

We are not saved by theological ideas about Christ; we are saved by Christ himself. (31)

The new humanity in [Christ] draws in people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. The gospel . . . is not universal in the sense that it transforms and saves everyone without exception, for in reality, those whose existence is connected exclusively to the old Adam are not included. Yet this gospel is gloriously universal in its comprehensive sweep. There is not a trace of racism here. (34)

Humility, gratitude, dependence on Christ, contrition—these are the characteristic attitudes of the truly converted. (41)

When the gospel truly does its work, “proud Christian” is an unthinkable oxymoron. (41)

Corinth speaks to the lust for endless innovation that casually cuts a swath away from the practices and beliefs of other churches, while quietly side-stepping the careful instruction of the apostle. . . . Always be suspicious of churches that proudly flaunt how different they are from what has gone before. (43)

The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the king. (45)

There is no place for triumphalism in the church of the blood-bought, in the church led by apostles who eat everyone’s dirt at the end of the procession. (49)

A Christianity where believers are not patient and kind, a Christianity where believers characteristically envy, are proud and boastful, rude, easily angered, and keep a record of wrongs, is no Christianity at all. (51)

The conventions and expectations of the world are pervasive and enslaving. The gospel must be worked out for these women, and demonstrated in the life of the church, so that it issues in liberation from the wretched chains of idolatry too subtle to be named and too intoxicating to escape, apart from the powerful word of the cross. (53–54)

[Pondering how the gospel transforms various areas of life] must be done, not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, still less by endless focus on the periphery in a vain effort to sound prophetic, but precisely by preaching and teaching and living out in our churches the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer. (54)

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Should a Gay Couple, Once Converted, Stay ‘Married’?

Audio Transcript

Today’s question is one a lot of pastors face. I know because I see it frequently pop up in the inbox. As people find Christ, are converted, and are called to live differently than their pre-conversion passions, this raises endless questions about living arrangements. This question originates as a follow-up from a listener named Cameron.

“Hi, Pastor John! In episode 920, “Divorce, Remarriage, and Honoring God,” you argued that people should stay in a second marriage, even though it was entered wrongly. You said, ‘A prohibited relationship can become a consecrated and holy one.’ My question is along this line. Does this principle also apply to people in same-sex marriage relationships or in polygamous marriages? After conversion, would you advise them to stay in similar relationships and somehow consecrate them? What makes those two scenarios different in your mind?”

No, I would not recommend that two men or two women living together, practicing homosexuality, remain in that relationship. The reasons are several. The situations are different between a man and a woman entering a marriage they should not enter and a man and a man entering a relationship they should not enter. Let me try to explain some of those differences that would result in my decision not to recommend that they stay there.

Truly a Marriage

The reason I took the position that a man and a woman in a marriage that they should not have entered should stay in that marriage and seek to consecrate it to the Lord is because the Bible, while not condoning the entrance into the marriage, nevertheless calls it a marriage.

“Two men or two women entering a relationship of sexual union with promises is not a marriage.”

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Here’s what it says in Luke 16:18: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery [so don’t do it, in other words], and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” He does use the word marry, not just sleep with. He calls it a marriage.

Jesus says to the woman who had been married five times, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:17–18). Jesus differentiates the five from the one, even though she’s living with the one. He says, “No, he’s not your husband. The others were, and he’s not.”

I conclude that while it was an adulterous act to marry under the conditions that Jesus disapproves of in Luke 16, nevertheless, it’s called a marriage. A marriage is a matter of covenant faithfulness between a man and a woman. Therefore, I would encourage that couple to repent of what they did wrong and to ask for forgiveness and to consecrate their union, which, though it should not have happened, may nevertheless be holy before the Lord.

Not a Marriage

But two men or two women entering a relationship of sexual union with promises is not a marriage. It’s not a marriage. You can’t consecrate a marriage that should not have taken place if it is not a marriage at all. The union of two men and two women is not gay marriage — it’s no marriage. I don’t like the idea that so many people are willing to use the term gay marriage instead of calling it so-called gay marriage, because there is no such thing in the universe as so-called gay marriage.

Marriage, which is defined by God in this world according to his word, is not a man in union with a man. That’s our imagination. His definition goes like this. Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24: “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That’s where Jesus went in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, and it’s where Paul went in Ephesians 5, when they were seeking to give the most essential definition of marriage.

That’s the main reason one relationship can be consecrated as a holy marriage and the other one can’t. One is a marriage and the other is not a marriage — no matter how many thousands of times legislators and laws and judges and news commentators say that it is. It isn’t. That’s the first difference.

Shameful Acts

Here’s the second reason that I would recommend that a man and a man or a woman and a woman in such a relationship not try to consecrate it but move out of it. The second reason why I treat a man and a woman entering a marriage they shouldn’t differently than a man and a man entering a relationship they shouldn’t is that you can’t make honorable what God has said by nature is dishonorable.

“No amount of repenting, faith, or consecration can turn that which is by nature dishonorable into an act that is pure.”

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In other words, homosexual behavior is not wrong just because it’s commanded that we don’t do it. It’s wrong because, by nature, it is dishonorable and shameful. In other words, sexual relations between a man and a woman are not, by nature, dishonorable and shameful. But sexual relations between two men or two women are by nature dishonorable and shameful, according to Romans 1:26–27.

Romans 1:26–27 goes like this:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

No amount of repenting, no amount of faith, no amount of consecration can turn that which is by nature dishonorable and shameful into an act that is holy or pure or honorable. That’s why I would encourage two men or two women involved in such acts to renounce the sin, repent, ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and no longer make any provision for the flesh, as Paul says in Romans 13:14.

What About Polygamy?

We did an APJ on polygamy about three months ago in episode 1304: “Did Jesus Endorse Polygamy in the Parable of the Ten Virgins?” Maybe I can just refer Cameron back to that one for some thoughts on that issue.

It’s not exactly the same issue when he raises it alongside homosexuality. It’s not the same issue because it doesn’t involve sexual acts which, by nature, are dishonorable and shameful. But it is not in accord with God’s original will for marriage, according to Genesis 2:24. It can’t be consecrated in the same way that the marriage of one man and one woman can be.

The aim would be to help those who realize this to find the most just and gracious way to bring a polygamous relationship to an end. That won’t be easy, and great wisdom will be needed, especially in missionary contexts.

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Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up? Looking at Historical Fallacies

Readers of this blog have almost certainly heard a sermon illustration to the effect that bankers learn how to discover counterfeit money not by studying fake currency but by spending so much time handling the real thing that they learn to feel the difference. (I’ve never independently verified this, but it seems plausible. And as they say, It’ll preach!)

It’s also the case that studying fallacies and errors—the fake news, as it were—can be helpful as well. In the realm of biblical studies, seminary students and pastors have benefited from D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (and he humbly includes examples from himself, earlier in his career). The classic in the field of historical studies is a book I read as an undergraduate: David Hackett Fischer’s Historians’ Fallacies.

Carl Trueman—a church history professor who wrote a book called Histories and Fallacies—recommends that his history students read Richard Evans’s Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial in order to see historical fallacies refuted. (See my interview with Professor Evans here.)

If you want to work through a contemporaneous real-world example of historical-fallacy–making at work, you could read an article in The Atlantic entitled “Was Shakespeare a Woman?” by Elizabeth Winkler, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal making the case that “William Shakespeare” was actually the English poet Emilia Bassano (1569–1645).

Then you could read a response written by Dominic Green, Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA (HT: Prufrock).

Green writes:

The ‘case’ for anyone but Shakespeare is always a fantasy in pursuit of facts.

Winkler’s article, like every case for Shakespeare not having been Shakespeare, repeatedly commits the elementary error of historical writing. Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

It is strange that Shakespeare doesn’t refer to books in his will. But it doesn’t mean that he didn’t read.

Hitler, after all, did not attend the Wannsee Conference. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t order the Holocaust.

Green goes on to identify five inaccuracies in Winkler’s piece, from false claims to irrelevant interpretations.

Again, reading this kind of critique can attune you to the sort of fallacies that authors can make.

By the way, if you are interested in the subject of Shakespeare’s identity, you may find the following two resources helpful as a starting point:

(1) Richard McCrum, “How ‘Sherlock of the Library’ Cracked the Case of Shakespeare’s Identity.” (“Wolfe’s research nails any lingering ambiguity in which the Shakespeare deniers can take refuge.”)

(2) A 15-minute interview with Oxford English Professor Jonathan Bate on the question:

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Mind Battles: Victory Over Wrong Thoughts

There are many wars that have taken place and are taking place in this world. But one of the greatest wars constantly taking place is in the mind of Christians. Evil and wicked thoughts can bombard our minds incessantly and greatly grieve us. What are some things that can help us in this hellish warfare?