How Do I Discern if My Ambition Is Godly?

How do I discern when my ambition is godly? Is godly ambition only related to missions work? And does having concrete goals of “success” mean I’m not trusting God’s unseen hand?

“She’s ambitious,” my friend told me, describing someone we both knew. He didn’t mean it in a good way. I knew what he was seeing in her—a kind of grasping self-promotion that prioritized her own advancement.

On its face, ambition means we’re working hard to achieve something. As long as that desire and determination is wrapped up in God’s glory and not our own, it’s a good impulse. But in all of us, the lines can blur and cause a sort of whiplash. One day we work joyfully unto the Lord, and the next be dominated by the idol of self-made success.

Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.

Though we shouldn’t be overly introspective—exhaustively questioning the motives of everything we do—it’s helpful to keep a pulse on our ambition. I’ve found one basic principle helpful: Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.

Godly Ambition Hustles

God has made us to use our hands, our minds, and our time to love others through our labor. He’s blessed us with business savvy, or mathematical acuity, or teaching ability, or the patience to read through tax documents, or the organizational gifting to run an office. When driven by God-centered ambition, we will produce our best work.

We should work hard and take the classes, read the books, listen to the podcasts, seek the mentors, or whatever else seems helpful to accomplish our ambitions. We should grit our teeth and try and try again, instead of sitting around and waiting for God to “open a door.” Whatever our craft, success doesn’t just happen—laboring unto the Lord requires hustle.

The passive person who shuns personal effort because they “trust God” might sound spiritual, but the sentiment is an excuse for laziness and lack of responsibility. Trusting God for a harvest is worthless if you’re unwilling to plant and water seeds.

Like most other new writers, I wish I could “trust God” to hand me success on a silver platter and have a publisher come knocking at my door. I don’t want to worry about things like marketing and platform and book proposals—I just want to write! But it doesn’t work that way. Nobody pursues unknown writers with a book deal. If I expect an easy road, it shows I feel entitled to success, and entitlement is rooted in pride.

Trusting God doesn’t mean folding our hands, it means using the hands he’s given us to hustle.

Godly Ambition Is Humble

That said, countless people hustle for the wrong reasons. They build altars of wealth, fame, and admiration, and seek their worth in accomplishments. Such self-aggrandizement has no place in the kingdom of God.

We’ve each been given gifts to steward for the glory of God, the growth of the church, and the good of our neighbors. This isn’t just about formal ministry. A CEO, a chef, a stay-at-home mom, a writer, a teacher, a doctor, a waitress, a photographer, and a farmer can all incorporate these ambitions into their work.

The only way we can fight our thirst for glory is to be consumed with his.

When we’re humbly ambitious, we’ll be far more concerned with how our work reflects on God than how it reflects on us. We’ll be far more driven to develop our skills for the sake of our neighbors rather than ourselves. We’ll cultivate creatively because we love to imitate the Creator of all good things. We’ll strive to increase our profits with godly integrity and manage them as godly stewards. We’ll go for the promotion, because we want to better serve our families and employers. Our hustle won’t be for the honor of our name, but for the honor of God’s.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with my ambition to write and sell lots of books. I love writing, believe God has called me to it, and want my labor to be fruitful. Besides, books can’t yield fruit unless people actually read them! But I know that my ambition is tainted—I do crave affirmation from others besides God—and that’s what must be crucified.

We don’t crucify pride by stifling ambition, but by refining it. And the only way to fight our thirst for glory is to be consumed with his. Nothing keeps us humble like drawing near to the Holy One. The more we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the more our work will be worship unto him.

You can read other installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.

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The Best Kind of Preaching

Jonathan Edwards believed the preacher is charged with a sacred duty: to communicate the awe of the Word. When the Word is so preached, listeners often “tremble at God’s word” (Isa. 66:2)—they find it “piercing, awful, and tremendous,” Edwards noted, and their hearts melt before it. “The Word in its powerful efficacy”—in mortifying sin and converting people to Christ—“does . . . cut the soul asunder.” As he wrote in the “Blank Bible”:

Lightning and thunder is a very lively image of the word of God. . . . ‘Tis exceeding quick, and exceeding piercing, and powerful to break in pieces, and scorch, and dissolve, and is full of majesty.

For Edwards, the effects of the Word can be felt by anyone whenever the Word is opened—which has significant ramifications for preachers and for preaching. Let’s consider Edwards’s counsel for preachers and its ongoing implications today.

To Spark Godly Tremors 

To some, the Word brings joy and fulfillment since it speaks the truths of salvation. To others, it terrifies since it lays bare their sin and the coming reality of God’s judgment. Trembling at the Word, then, could stem from either fear or sweet delight in the things of God.

To tremble at the Word isn’t to exhibit simple fanaticism or emotionalism. To help students identify God’s work amid the fervor of revival and distinguish it from Satan’s counterfeits, Edwards encouraged listeners to ground spiritual passion in biblical truth: “That spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God.” Understanding the text is essential. Yet even in studying Scripture and preparing sermons, the preacher should be confronted by its beauty.

The best preaching is a public demonstration that the preacher himself has been enthralled by the Word. This kind of preaching fulfills that sacred duty to communicate what is divine about the Word.

And so preachers should do all they can, in Edwards’s estimation, to arouse godly tremors in the saints. To be sure, “impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men” is one of the main reasons God ordained the preaching of the Word. Giving Christians good commentaries or theological works is not enough. While these may provide “a good doctrinal or speculative understanding” of the Bible, yet they “have not an equal tendency to impress [it] on men’s hearts and affections.”

To Thrill the Saints

While Edwards believed the Word’s power can penetrate all its hearers, he also believed the Christian is especially affected by it. Revelation “is a sweet sort of knowledge” to the believer:

He loves to view and behold the things of . . . God; they are to him the most pleasing and beautiful objects in the world. He can never satisfy his eyes with looking on them, because he beholds them as certain truths and as things of all the most excellent.

When Edwards’s congregation experienced revival in 1735, one consequence was that they grew to love God’s Word even more. Edwards wrote:

Their esteem of the holy Scriptures is exceedingly increased. . . . There have been some instances of persons that by only an accidental sight of the Bible, have been as much moved . . . as a lover by the sight of his sweetheart.

Scripture is sublime to the Christian; he can’t get his fill. The written Word, whether read or heard, is a unique source whereby the beauty of salvation through Jesus Christ continually appears. Edwards testified frequently that Word and Spirit do in fact enthrall the twice-born.

“Persons after their conversion often speak of things of religion as seeming new to them,” he noted. “It seems to them they never heard preaching before; that the Bible is a new book: they find there new chapters, new psalms, new histories, because they see them in a new light.”

Still True Today 

The preaching of the Word should cut through human hearts and make them tremble, Edwards thought. For believers in Jesus, the Word thrills them as they’re awakened to its life-giving glory.

In a time and situation far removed from his, these truths still stand. Scripture still remains divine. It still cuts the soul asunder. It still keeps “impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men.”

And it has not ceased to enthrall the twice-born.

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One Day Your War Will End

Nearly all Christians are familiar with the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10–20. But fewer are aware that the armor Paul describes traces its roots back to the Old Testament. In fact, the armor given to the Christian for his fight against the forces of sin and darkness is quite literally God’s armor — armor designed for and worn by God first and foremost. We fight and stand firm against Satan only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won for us.

This is why each of the various pieces of armor points us to Christ. The belt of truth is the belt that girds the messianic King (Isaiah 11:5). The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation come from the divine warrior’s arsenal (Isaiah 59:17). The feet shod with gospel readiness are the feet of those who proclaim the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 52:7). God himself is the shield of faith (Genesis 15:1). The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:2).

Christ Our Conqueror

In other words, God clothes us with nothing less than his own armor, the same armor that Christ has already worn on our behalf in his lifelong struggle with the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself. Jesus is no armchair general, who hands out the equipment but then watches the fighting from a safe distance. No, he has himself worn the armor and won the victory in our place! You are called to wear the Christian armor not because that’s what Jesus would do if he found himself in a similar situation to yours; you are called to wear God’s armor because that is what Jesus already has done, wearing God’s armor all the way to the cross.

Jesus stood firm against Satan’s schemes throughout his earthly life and ministry. Each of those specific temptations to which we have given in this week — lust, gossip, anger, pride, self-exaltation, lying, coveting — is a temptation he faced and stared down in your place. What is more, Jesus laid his life down at the cross for you, thereby accomplishing the victory that pours out God’s sanctifying Spirit into your life. Because of his victorious life, death, and resurrection, the same power that raised Christ up from the dead is now at work inside you and me through the ongoing work of the Spirit, raising us from spiritual death to new life. (In Ephesians 6:10, Paul echoes a trio of Greek words that he uses in Ephesians 1:19–20 to describe God’s power in the resurrection.)

Holiness Belongs to the Lord

However, the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life is not ultimately under your control. In John 3, Jesus compares the process of becoming a Christian to birth. Just as a baby doesn’t have control over the time and circumstances of her birth, so God chose when to regenerate you and bring you to faith in Christ. But even after a child is born, he does not decisively control his own physical growth. He may wish to be taller or shorter, but wishing won’t make it so — or hasten the natural (slow) processes of physical growth. In the same way, we are not ultimately in control of the process of our spiritual growth. Sanctification is decisively God’s work from beginning to end (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).

That perspective is enormously encouraging in our daily struggle with sin and Satan. We often imagine we are fighting on our own in our struggles against sin. Not at all. That is why Paul reminds us that prayer is such an integral part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18–20). It is not enough to put on the armor of God; we need to be in constant communication with the God of the armor. The reality is that your victory over sin is ultimately up to Jesus, not you. His struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God (Ephesians 5:25–27). His Spirit is now at work within you, growing you toward his goal of your complete purity. Your spiritual growth may be much slower than you might wish, but if you are in Christ, God will sanctify you completely.

Daily Struggle

That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to struggle with sin, of course. Quite the reverse: Paul clearly expects us to be engaged in a daily life-and-death struggle with Satan in all of his awesome power. The imagery of armor and battle shows us that our fight against sin must involve blood, sweat, and tears — our blood, sweat, and tears, as well as that of our Savior. We too are to take up our cross and follow after our Master on the road of hardship and suffering (Matthew 10:38). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet Paul tells us to work out our own salvation precisely because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).

Christ’s wearing of God’s armor in your place and his triumphant victory over sin at the cross mean that your struggle against sin is never hopeless. God will ultimately sanctify you — he has promised to do so. On that last day, you will rise to new life in Christ and stand in God’s presence, made perfect forever. No Christian will be left behind, half-sanctified. Sin and Satan shall not have ultimate dominion over you (Romans 6:14).

Distant Triumph Song

This means that in the midst of the pain of the frustrating daily struggle against sin and Satan, you can plead with God to continue to advance that process here and now, whether strengthening you to stand against Satan, or by sometimes allowing you to fall, in order to grow your humility and dependence upon him (see Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.5). The knowledge that God is sovereign over your sanctification gives you hope to keep on trying, even in areas of your life where sin continually seems to have the upper hand. It reminds you that even when you are seeing real advance in your life, it is nothing you have accomplished and gives you no reason to boast. God’s Holy Spirit deserves all the glory, not you.

And he will receive the glory on that last day, when all of God’s weary, battle-stained children enter into the gates of the new Jerusalem, with their warfare, trials, and travails now a memory of the past, and a new song on their lips — a song of praise to Christ, the victorious Divine Warrior, who won their redemption through his fight. As William Walsham How put it in his song “For All the Saints,”

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of Glory passes on his way. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest. Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Job 1:1–2:3: Who Caused Job’s Suffering?

Who caused Job’s suffering? Sin, Satan, or our sovereign God? In this lab, John Piper explains that behind the suffering Job endured stood a good God with a plan to shame the devil, bless his servant, and exalt his own name.

Some questions to ask as you read and study Job:

  1. How might you react if you lost all your income, your family, and your health? How does Job respond (Job 1:20–21)?
  2. Read Job 2:3. Who caused Job’s suffering? How does this affect how we think about God? How did James view God’s role in Job’s story (James 5:11)?
  3. How can you use the opening chapters of Job to fight cynicism in your suffering?

Watch this video offline by downloading it from Vimeo or subscribing to the Look at the Book video podcast via iTunes or RSS.

Principle for Bible Reading

Find Promises in Who God Is

Golden promises shine in the Old and New Testaments, and it is the Christian’s inheritance to find, claim, and enjoy them.

The Bible is a book full of promises. We can excavate some of them in places many do not see at first glance. Most identify promises where people swear that they will do something for someone else. But John Piper also finds implicit promises in statements concerning who God is or what he does. When texts describe God’s unchanging character or disposition towards his people, they are promises for us today.

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How to Teach Your Kids to Study the Bible

While Christians say the Bible is God’s Word, few of us—even regular churchgoers—spend time reading it every day. That’s the finding of the 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from LifeWay Research. A third of Americans who attend a Protestant church regularly (32 percent) say they read the Bible personally every day, while a quarter (27 percent) say they read it a few times a week.

While there is no command in Scripture to read the Bible every day, there is much to gain from regular Bible intake. A previous study of churchgoing Protestant parents by LifeWay Research found regular Bible reading as a child was the biggest factor in predicting the spiritual health of young adults.

But while encouraging our children to read the Bible and teaching them how to do it well are necessary tasks, they are not sufficient for spiritual development. We also need to teach them how to study Scripture so that they “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

Bible Reading Is Not Bible Study

Bible study is not the same thing as Bible reading,” David Mathis says. “If Bible reading is like raking for leaves, Bible study is like digging for diamonds. The Christian life calls for both.” (See also: How to Prepare a Child to Read the Bible.)

Two key difference between reading and study are pacing and focus. When we read the Bible, we generally do so at the quickest pace our comprehension will allow. We may consume large chunks at one time, such as reading an entire book. We also look for the broad outlines of the text to know what it’s about or to determine how it fits into the larger scope of God’s Word. Bible reading precedes Bible study because it provides the broad perspective we need before we narrow in on specific passages.

When we study the Bible, though, we slow down to focus on the meaning of the text. We read and reread shorter units of text and spend more time focusing on specific words, clauses, verses, and paragraphs. We also ask questions of the text: What does this word mean? Why did the author use this unique phrase? How does this apply to my own life?

The essence of Bible study is asking questions of the text to discover the meaning God intended. Of the many profitable ways to study the Bible, one that everyone from preteens to Old Testament scholars has found to be particularly helpful is the inductive Bible study method. The inductive study method is an investigative approach to the Bible using three basic components:

Observation: What does the text say?

Interpretation: What does the text mean?

Application: How does the meaning of the text apply to life?

In future articles we’ll drill down into interpretation and application of Scripture. But for now let’s focus on the observation component.

How to Observe a Text

Ask Basic Questions — Begin by showing them how to ask the basic questions that orient them to the text they are studying. For example, teach them to ask, Who wrote it? What is the genre (letter, narrative, history . . . )? When was it written? Where was the author when it was written? Why did the author write this letter? Study Bibles are helpful tools in answering these types of questions.

Words, Phrases, and Relationships Between Propositions — Show them how to ask about what the author meant by using specific words and phrases. Don’t assume the dictionary definition or our common understanding of terms is the same as the author’s. Have them look for words that are repeated or given special emphasis, and to pay special attention to connecting words (“but,” “if,” “and,” “therefore,” “in order that,” “because”). “Sometimes the major differences between whole theologies hang on these connections,” John Piper says.

Make Lists — In 2 Peter 1:5-9, we find a list of virtues we should combine:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

When we read this passage, we can easily jumble the virtues together. To keep them straight so your child can reflect on them more carefully, have them put the terms in a list:

• Faith • Goodness • Knowledge • Self-control • Perseverance • Godliness • Mutual affection • Love

Using such lists in our note-taking can help us track keywords, phrases, and concepts.

Contrasts and Comparisons — Contrasts and comparisons are used throughout the Bible to focus our attention. Consider in the passage cited above how Peter compares people who possess those virtues (they are effective and productive) with those who don’t (they are nearsighted and blind).

Metaphors — When we come across metaphors in our study, we should stop and use our imagination to think through the meaning. For instance, how would lacking perseverance be similar to being nearsighted?

Expressions of Time and Terms of Conclusion  — Have them be on the lookout for words that mark expression of time, such as “before,” “after,” “during,” “since,” “for,” “already,” and so on. These terms can help you see the sequence or timing of events and lead to a more accurate interpretation of Scripture. Similarly, terms of conclusion, such as “therefore,” “thus,” and “for this reason,” point to an ending or a summary.

Connections to Other Parts of the Bible — Show them how to search for connections to other parts of Scripture. For example, where can the virtues on Peter’s list be found in other passages? What do other biblical authors say about the importance of those virtues?

Teach Them to Improve Their Observation Skills — These are just a few of the ways you can teach you child to engage the text during the observation phase of study. Look for other ways by carefully considering the questions that arise during study. When they identify a broader category, have them give it a name they will remember and use in the future. For example, when asking, “What emotional response is the author expecting to evoke?” you could use that to consider other questions about affections and emotions. Give it a label like “Emotion-provoking Questions” and add it in their Bible study tool kit.

Additional Tips for Training Children

Incorporate Prayer — Bible study is about looking for God’s meaning in his Word, so we need to constantly be talking to him, asking him to reveal his meaning to us. Next to the Bible itself, prayer is our most important tool for Bible study. Build a strong foundation in your child by encouraging them to be praying before, during, and after their study efforts.

A Special Bible for Studying — Teach your child that to show reverence to God’s Word often entails messing up the pages. We need to scribble notes, underline passages, and mark key words and phrases. Give them their own Bible they can mark up. Wide-margin and journaling Bibles are ideal, though just about any Bible you have around will serve the purpose.

Life of Study

If this sounds complex and time-consuming, it is. Studying the Bible is difficult work that requires focus and attention—two traits children often lack. Be patient with them and don’t expect too much over a brief time. If you pile on too much work for each study session, the child will get the impression that Bible study is drudgery.

Prepare them for the challenges of concerted study, but don’t expect them to suddenly become Bible scholars. Keep your expectations realistic and modest, and keep the long-term goal in focus—training your child to be a lifelong student of the Bible.

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Does Jesus Teach Us to Sell All Our Possessions?

Audio Transcript

Well, Jesus was never ashamed to tell his disciples, or potential disciples, to liquidate their assets and give away all their cash first. This gives rise to today’s question, from a college student named Noah. “Hello, Pastor John and Tony! I’m a Christian Hedonist at Stanford University, finishing my third year of undergrad. I just finished reading the chapter on money in Desiring God and I’m faced with a question: Why should I not give all (or a significant portion) of what I earn to the Lord?

“Most teaching I’ve heard on money and tithing has pretty much said, ‘Give! And give generously!’ I want to give as generously as possible and invest eternally. But at what point does my giving to the Lord become irresponsible? Right now, I don’t earn very much. But I also don’t need much. Of the $10,000 I earn, I only spend about $2,000. After giving over 20 percent to God and investing the rest, I still can’t help but feeling like my reward would be greater in heaven if I gave more, which I’d happily do.

“The problem is, I think I would feel the same way after giving 30 percent or 50 percent or 80 percent to God, too. But is that a problem? Wasn’t the widow commended for giving everything? Aren’t we told not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear? Jesus said, ‘Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old’ (Luke 12:33). And you said in Desiring God, ‘Jesus is not against investment. He is against bad investment — namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world. Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven’ (193). So if God has given me a generous heart and blessed me beyond my necessities, why should I not give everything?”

Give Away Everything?

Well, I’m not going to tell Noah not to give away everything. I don’t know what God may be calling him to do. Jesus certainly called on the rich young ruler to give away everything. Jesus said to the rich young man, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).

“Jesus and the apostles never made giving away all our possessions a duty for all followers of Christ.”

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As Noah observed, Jesus commended the widow:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41–44)

I don’t know what measure of sacrifice financially Jesus may call Noah or anyone to undergo. I don’t know. I’m not assuming he shouldn’t give away everything, but here’s what I will do. I will say that I cannot biblically tell Noah that this is his duty. I can’t say this is his biblical obligation from the Lord or that it is the biblical obligation or duty of Christians in general to give away all that they have. There are reasons, and I’ll just list seven.

As You May Prosper

First, Jesus and the apostles never made giving away all our possessions a duty for all followers of Christ. The command to the rich young ruler was not a command to all.

Second, Zacchaeus was commended for giving away half of his riches to the poor: “‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham’” (Luke 19:8–9). In other words, he saw in that kind of generosity — namely, 50 percent plus — that salvation has come. He’s showing he’s really saved.

Third, Barnabas was admired as a son of encouragement in the early church. When the believers were selling their lands and houses to gather money for the poor, it says, “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36–37). So he gave one field — no doubt a very significant gift, but not everything.

Fourth, when Paul was taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem among the churches, he said to the Corinthians, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1–2). The idea seems to be this: to the proportion that you prosper, put more aside — not everything, just more for those who earn more, less for those who earn less. Put something aside.

Work, Have, Give

Fifth, Paul says, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). It seems that in the ordinary life of the church, day in and day out in the world, we should at least seek to have a stream of income that keeps us from lazy mooching. That’s what he says: “so that you will be dependent on no one, work.” That means you need to have enough to pay your bills. You don’t give everything away. You invest and create a life that keeps you from being dependent on others.

“The normal pattern is to make a living, pay your own way, and turn your whole life into a ministry.”

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Sixth, Paul said, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). There are three options here: (1) you can steal, (2) you can work to have, (3) or you can work to have to give. The assumption is that as the money passes through our hands into productive uses — whether for the poor, or invested in some way to help society — we are not dependent on others. Enough of our income is supporting us so that we can give and give and give as well as not be moochers off of others.

By the way, that does not mean it’s a sin for churches to support missionaries. That’s another whole Ask Pastor John. We can look at how Paul, in fact, took money from churches in order to make it free for others. That’s a parenthesis, and I’ll just stop there.

Seventh, Paul speaks of his own pattern of partially foregoing the right of support:

With toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:8–12)

The normal pattern in the early church — and in Christianity — for day-to-day life is to make a living, pay your own way, and turn your whole life into a ministry.

People and Percentages

Now, lots of other passages could be brought in to show that owning nothing and giving away everything was not, in the New Testament, the way Jesus and the apostles conceived of the ongoing corporate Christian life. I’ll just mention two things in closing that might give Noah some guidance against this background.

First, don’t think just of percentages for how much you give away. Think of concrete people and concrete needs as you live your life, and see if your heart really loves people. Here’s what I mean.

“Remember that all of your money is God’s, not just what you give to the Lord.”

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The good Samaritan was commended that he stopped and helped the wounded man on the road. He had some wine to give him. He had a donkey that he would let him ride. He had money for paying for his lodging (Luke 10:30–35). Jesus didn’t question him, saying,“Hey, why do you have a donkey? Why do you have wine? Why do you have money? You’re supposed to give everything away.” The point was, Do you love the person in front of you at a cost to yourself? Shift your way of thinking. Do not merely think, “What percentage can I get rid of?” but rather, “The people that I deal with and that I’m aware of — do I love them as I ought with my resources?”

Here’s the second thing I would say: remember that all of your money is God’s, not just what you give to the Lord. This means that we should think of every expenditure in a kingdom-advancing way, not just what we give away. It is all Christ’s. He owns you. He owns it. Every single thing you spend and what you give is ministry and should be designed to magnify Christ.

Noah, I’m with you in the struggle just as much now, at age 73, as I was when I was 23. Let’s pray for each other that we not be taken captive by our possessions.

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Margin notes: What’s in a word?

Acts 14:21–23 (ESV) — 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

This text is a snippet from the ministry of Barnabas and Paul. And you will notice in vs. 22 how in returning to cities where they had preached Christ previously, they strengthened “the souls of the disciples, encouraging them.” That word “encouraging” appears more in the book of Acts than it does in any other NT book. It is central to missionary endeavors of the early Chuch. But more, it indicates a perpetual and crying need within the Church – encouragement. A topic that is going to appear in nearly every NT letter.

Now in our text, this encouragement took on a very decided focus: Persevering in the faith in the face of tribulations which are certain to occur in the lives of Believers.

The truth is, we all face a host of tribulations of different species. Sickness and disease. Broken marriages and families. Battles with sin. Misunderstanding by those both in and outside the body of Christ. An anti-Christ culture. Personal failings. Economic uncertainty. War. Civil unrest. Personal spiritual apathy. Strained relationships. Loneliness. Feelings of inadequacy. Loss of meaning. Political turmoil. On and on. All which can contribute to distraction, discouragement, division, depression and despondency. And all of which point to why as Believers, we too need to be committed to the ministry of encouragement.

May I encourage you today to say a word to some brother or sister in the Lord to keep in the battle, to keep seeking the face of God, to remain steadfast in prayer, to get back into the Word, to offer up thanksgiving for blessings and to remind ourselves of the goodness of God’s grace in bringing into the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, the promise of His return and the glory of the resurrection? Oh how we need one another to “lift up the drooping hands and strengthen the weak knees” (Heb. 12:12) of our brothers and sisters.

It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God. But His Word is true, His promises certain, His indwelling Spirit available to rely upon and His people around us.

1 Thessalonians 4:18 (ESV) — 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.


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Bragging or Praying? (Part Three)

Luke 18:9-14

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (18:13-14 CSB).

Since we cannot save or help save ourselves in any way, how can we be saved? How can we be rescued from the righteous consequences of our sin, of our rebellion against God and his word, of our refusal to love God with all our being, and our rejection of God as our God? I use this longer description of sin, because we all lack a proper understanding of sin. We use the word ‘sin’ but don’t comprehend what God is communicating. He speaks of an offense against him of large proportions. The tax collector realized his guilt before God.

The only hope for sinners is found in the free grace of God (18:13-14). Jesus asserts two important truths of salvation. Let us first think of two general remarks about them. Both are spoken of in the passive voice. God does something for us, and not we for God. Both of these are teachings of Christ, and not latter “fabrications” of Paul.

Christ taught the doctrine of propitiation; that is, God’s justice has to be satisfied before God can show mercy toward a sinner. The tax collector understood his problem, and he calls himself “the sinner”. He acknowledged that he deserved wrath. He knew that God had to solve the problem. He was in way over his head and only God could get him out!

Christ taught the doctrine of justification. Justification talks about our legal standing before God. The greatest need is to be right with God, or his justice will fall on you! People are justified freely (Romans 3:24): without any cause in their hearts, attitudes, decisions or actions.

Here are a couple lessons from the whole section (18:9-14). First, God knows exactly who and what we are. Hypocrisy is a position impossible to hold before God. Yet, here is comfort for a true believer. Listen to the words of John Newton:

True, I’ve been a foolish creature,
And have sinned against his grace;
But forgiveness is his nature,
Though he justly hides his face:
Ere he called me, well he knew
What a heart like mine would do.

Second, Jesus speaks very directly to people. He does not beat around the bush and or apologize. God deals clearly and openly with us. The Lord wants you to be right with him, but that righteousness only comes through faith in him and his saving work.

Third, we must have the proper attitude in prayer. God will not hear you on account of who you think you are or because of your self-righteousness. However, God does hear sinners who confess their need of him.  Which of these men are you most like? If you say, the Pharisee, then you need to get right with God. Do you focus on God when you pray, or are your prayers a litany of self-praise in which you tell God how much he owes you? If you pray like the Pharisee, you need to change immediately and instead pray like the tax collector.

Grace and peace, David

The Wickedness of the World (Part Two of an Exploration of John 3:16)

Today we turn our attention to the object of God’s immeasurable love: the world. John uses one word: “world” (kosmos). Many try to magnify God’s love by pointing out how many people have lived in this world. “Just think,” they say, “of the multitudes of men and women who have swarmed across the face of the earth. Oh, how great the love of God must be that it could encompass such a countless multitude.”

I’m not so sure that is what John is saying here. I don’t think we learn anything about God’s love by counting heads. God’s love is not magnified when we ask, “How many?” Rather, it is magnified when we ask, “What kind?” In other words, the issue isn’t quantity but quality. The nature of the people whom God loves is crucial, not their number.

What makes John 3:16 and the love of God so marvelous is that he loved, of all things, “the world”! The contrast here is moral, not mathematical. The difference between God and the world isn’t that God is one and the world is many. The difference, the contrast, is that God is holy and the world isn’t! That’s what makes his love so astounding.

The lover is righteous and the loved are not. God loved the moral antithesis of himself! Light loved darkness. Holiness loved wickedness. The immeasurably pure loved the indescribably defiled. Thus the “world” here is not to be thought of in terms of its size but in terms of its sinfulness. The point is not that the world is so big that it takes a great quantity of love to love it all. The point is that the world is so bad that takes an amazing kind of love to love it at all.

When I first met my wife, Ann, to whom I’ve been married for over 47 years, I had several things in mind about the kind of woman I was looking for. I’m sure she had an image in mind of the sort of man she wanted to marry.

Among the many things that each of us highly valued would probably have included physical health, intellectual abilities, personality traits such as kindness and humility, as well as those things that make compatibility possible. Spiritual commitment would also have ranked extremely high in both our assessments of the other.

But I can assure you that neither of us said anything along the lines of the following:

“Of all the many traits and features of the person I hope to marry, what I’m really looking for is a person who utterly despises me. I want a man/woman who is worse than indifferent towards me. I’m hoping for someone who hates me, treats me with contempt and disdain, and who wants nothing whatsoever to do with me.”

But God did! When the Father sought a bride for his Son, he set his affection and love on a people who were his enemies. He loved a world that hated him. His heart was moved toward those who felt bitter enmity for him and refused to honor him as the most honorable Being in the universe. God chose to love his enemies. “For God so loved” this fallen, corrupt, wicked world. Such was the nature of the immeasurable love with which he loved us.

And how did he demonstrate this love? That will bring us to the third great truth in this passage.

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Jen Wilkin on Training a Child in the Way He Should Speak

“Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic phrase you can teach a child is this: ‘Do you want to come over to my house?’ Invitations to join the family of God often begin with invitations to join your family at the dinner table. Hospitality is so rare these days. If we raise hospitable children by modeling hospitality in our own home, then we develop a culture of invitation among our family.” — Jen Wilkin

Date: March 31, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Pre-Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

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


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

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Weekly Recap, July 12

Book Summary:

JUSTIFICATION: VOLUME 1, by Michael Horton

A Brief Book Summary from Books at a Glance By Mark Baker   About the Author Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California.…


A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance By Benjamin Montoya   Editor’s Note:  This “Bonus” Book Summary continues our series on culture. We hope our members are enjoying these “extra” summaries and the quick learning they afford.  …

Our Blog:

New Testament Backgrounds

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance Fred Zaspel   Someone recently inquired about resources for first-century backgrounds and customs relevant to New Testament studies. I’m not the final authority on the question by any stretch, so if…

Check Out Our Book Summaries

“Executive summaries” have a long and proven value in the business world, and we at Books At a Glance are excited to bring the same to Christian readers. In our Book Summaries we “crunch” a book into 7-10 pages, condensing…

Book Review:

A LITTLE BOOK FOR NEW BIBLE SCHOLARS, by Randolph E. Richards and Joseph R. Dodson

A Book Review from Books At a Glance Reviewed by Jeff Block   Introduction While Scripture readily speaks wisdom into the life of even a young child who is open to hearing from God, the fact is that no matter…


A Book Review from Books At a Glance by Anthony Lipscomb   The Bible took shape millennia ago in the ancient Middle East, but for many readers of the Bible this fact—let alone its implications for interpretation—goes unrecognized. Many other…

~ The Books At a Glance Team

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How Important is Having a Testimony of Salvation?

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When talking with other Christians, a common question that we may ask is what is someone’s testimony. How much weight should we give to someone’s testimony? What if someone doesn’t even have a testimony of how and when the Lord has saved them?

Margin notes: She has done what she could

Mark 14:8 (ESV) — 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.

Last evening as Ben Zwickl led us through a study of this portion of Mark, challenging us to consider what may make our own hearts dull at times – I was struck by the simplicity and power of this verse and its account.

Mary (if indeed that’s who it was) does what is misunderstood by some, scorned and questioned by others, and appreciated only by Jesus. But she did, what SHE could.

Two things stick out here:

a. She broke the flask which contained the costly perfumed oil with which she anointed Jesus for His burial. Her warm and not dull heart didn’t just uncork the vessel and dab a bit on Jesus, she “wasted” it all on Him. Oh that I had such a heart to lavishly waste all I have for Him. But she held nothing back. Breaking the flask meant there was no going back, no withholding and no thought of anything other than that this is what she had at hand, and that it was fitting to pour it all out on the Redeemer of her soul.

b. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, it was what SHE could do. Nothing more, nothing less. Bishop Lightfoot notes that Rabbins thought it was unseemly for a man to be anointed with aromatic oils. It was foppish and indecent. Culturally unacceptable and done only by someone who was boorish and gauche. And Jesus not only endured it, He praised her for it. He made her extravagant, though outwardly awkward act of adoration an example to be celebrated perpetually.

How He accepts what we do on the basis of what WE can do, at that moment with our resources. God isn’t looking for what we can’t do – don’t be paralyzed by that – but dearly receives what we CAN do, however unseemly or misunderstood that might be perceived by others.

Let the heart warmed by His love and grace pour out naturally in response, without fear that some others will look down. Offer what you can to Him. He will receive it. And proper worship will be done.

Father, grant me Mary’s lavish impulse.


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Must Church Planters Be Entrepreneurs?

Church planters care about the gospel going to new and difficult-to-reach places. They long to see the light of Christ penetrate the darkest parts of the world—whether that be just down the road or far away in some remote place among the unreached.

In order to see this happen, church planters need to consider something we call “entrepreneurial aptitude.” Here’s what we mean: Entrepreneurial aptitude is the ability to imagine new ways of engaging cultures so that the unchanging truths of the gospel can be brought to bear on the lives of unbelievers.

People who have entrepreneurial skills will often be great at starting new endeavors and highly innovative; they tend to be strategic visionaries and self-starters. Further, people who are entrepreneurial are able to enlist others to invest in new ventures they start.

But what does this look like? It’s a less straightforward topic than some of the recent things we’ve discussed on the podcast, so it’s worth us unpacking what we mean (and don’t mean) when talk about entrepreneurial aptitude in church planting.

To help us think about this, I’m excited to have Brian Howard with me on the podcast today.

Listen to this episode of Churches Planting Churches.


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