20 Quotes from David Platt’s (Vulnerable) New Book on Making Your Life Count

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read David Platt’s challenging new book, Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need (Multnomah, 2019). I’m excited to interview him at the conclusion of tonight’s live simulcast event. Join us!


We talk a lot about the need to know what we believe in our heads, yet I wonder if we have forgotten to feel what we believe in our hearts. How else are we to explain our ability to sit in services where we sing songs and hear sermons celebrating how Jesus is the hope of the world, yet rarely (if ever) fall on our faces weeping for those who don’t have this hope and then take action to make this hope known to them? (2–3)

What we need is not an explanation of the Word and the world that puts more information in our heads; we need an experience with the Word in the world that penetrates the recesses of our hearts. (3–4)

It’s a pretty empty feeling to pray for someone when deep down inside you’re not actually believing it’s going to matter. (31)

As you trek these trails, creation all around you is shouting out the splendor of the Creator. Yet as beautiful as this landscape is, I realize in a deeper way that it’s ultimately insufficient to communicate the depth of the Creator’s love. For more than 2,000 years, these spectacular mountains may have been declaring the glory of God, but not for one second have these majestic peaks ever said a thing about Jesus. God has revealed his greatness to every person in these villages, but hardly any of them have ever heard about his grace. (69)

The purpose of a symbol is to express a reality greater than what can be expressed in words, so it should bring no solace to think that the Bible’s descriptions of hell might be symbolic. (71)

“If there’s no struggle with what you believe about hell, then you really don’t believe in hell.” (72)

[There’s a danger of convincing] myself that somehow I have more compassion than God himself, such that if I were in charge, I would never create a place called hell. In other words, I can quickly convince myself that I know better than God and his Word regarding what is right and good in the world. The more I think about this . . . the more I realize it is the essence of sin. Way back in Genesis, sin entered the world when the created ones thought they knew better than the Creator. Sin entered the world when man and woman convinced themselves they were right about what was good and God was wrong. (75–76)

“Do you see those lights?” he asks. We nod and he tells us, “Those are church members. Remember that grueling hike you climbed today to get up here? That’s the hike they’re making to get to church.” Humbled, I see these tiny lights in the distance slowly making their way up the trail. I think about the stress people in our culture sometimes have over a 15-minute-or-longer drive to church. How about a two-hour hike up a narrow mountainside in the freezing cold, followed by a two-hour hike back down the same mountainside in the pitch-black darkness after the service? (100–01)

This [village] church has so little of the things you and I think about when it comes to church in our culture. They don’t have a nice building. They don’t have a great band. They don’t have a charismatic preacher. They don’t have any programs. They just have each other, God’s Word in front of them, and God’s Spirit among them. And, apparently, that’s enough. . . . As I sit in the middle of this family of brothers and sisters on this remote mountainside, I can’t help but think of how easy it is to get caught up in so much extra stuff in the church that we miss the essence of who God has called us to be and what he has called us to do. (104–05)

“This is not an easy way to live,” I say out loud, not thinking about anyone being around me. “They didn’t move up here because they thought it would be easy,” Nabin hears me and replies. (119)

I can’t help but wonder if God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplace to open up avenues for the spread of the gospel around the world. (125)

[Jesus exhorts disciples] to live for long-term treasure they can never lose, not short-term treasure they can never keep. . . . Jesus is calling his followers to gain as much ultimate treasure as possible. (128, 129)

People and places in the world not reached with the gospel are unreached for a reason. They’re difficult to reach. They’re dangerous to reach. I’m pretty sure all the easy ones are taken. (147)

The life of a Christian is always costly—for those who are actually following Christ. (148)

As he shares his story of one failed attempt after another, Aaron leans over and whispers, “This is why many people who move here don’t make it. This is hard work, and it doesn’t succeed overnight. What’s needed are people who are willing to work hard for 10 or 20 years until a breakthrough happens. But a lot of Christians, and most churches in America who send them, aren’t willing to stick it out that long.” (156)

Why are Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in America so focused on what is not in the Bible? As I ask myself this question, I can’t help but think that one of the greatest needs not just in the church in the Himalayas but in the place where I live is for us to open up our Bibles with fresh, unfiltered eyes and ask, “Are we really doing church the way this Book describes it?” (158)

God has a universe to run, galaxies to uphold, governments to rule, and more than 7 billion people to sustain, yet the Bible doesn’t say that heaven rejoices over these cosmic mysteries and universal realities. Instead, something special happens in heaven when one person who was separated from God in sin is restored to God in love. (164)

It’s easier to stomach poverty as long as you just look at numbers on a page. The poor are easier to ignore if they’re a statistic. But everything changes when you know one of them. Everything changes when you spend time with one and then two days later he’s dead. Not only does he die, but he’s dead because he was poor. (167–68)

There’s really only one thing worse than being lost. What’s worse is being lost when no one is trying to find you. (178)

[Lost people] don’t need me, and other Christians, living as if somebody somewhere will do something someday about their urgent spiritual and physical needs. (189)

How would you want a person on the other side of the world to live if you were on a road leading to an eternal hell and no one had ever told you how you could go to heaven? Answer that question, and then live accordingly. (201)

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Is It Biblical to Say, ‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’?

It wasn’t until high school that I began to notice my mom would repeat a proverbial phrase in response to my anxious musings about the future. “Bloom where you’re planted,” she would quip, as I fretted about what I should do with my life.

I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I was in the thick of my teenage years, so these sayings—she had a host of others—would, to borrow another idiom, float in one ear and out the other. What hath horticulture to do with a young man’s concern over his future?

When I trusted Christ during my sophomore year of college, my passion for the Scriptures turned insatiable. I desired to know the truth and discuss it with others. My parents were already Christians, so it was natural that our conversations often turned to the Bible. Sometime after my conversion, I was talking with my parents, probably pondering the future, when Mom again unearthed her agricultural wisdom: “Bloom where you’re planted.” But this time she added, “Where is that in the Bible?”

It sounds biblical, doesn’t it? The Bible is replete with agrarian references and illustrations, and there’s something about the prima facie wisdom of the phrase the makes it sound like it fell straight from the lips of Solomon or Jesus.

Catchy Colloquial Phrase

The problem, of course, is that there is no such phrase in your Bible. Pull out your concordance, open your Bible-search program, scour the Proverbs and the Gospels—you won’t find “bloom where you’re planted.” The law and prophets won’t help you; neither will Paul, Peter, James, or Jude. The phrase is simply not there.

Many colloquial phrases get tossed around that are often mistaken as biblical statements. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is one with which you might be familiar. It’s not in the Bible. The famed “Footprints” poem isn’t either. How about “Cleanliness is next to godliness”? Nope. “God moves in mysterious ways”? He does, but that sentence is nowhere in Scripture.

As we grow in our walk with Christ, we should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible. This is a matter of basic discernment and the responsibility of every Christian.

But our task doesn’t stop here.

We should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible.

In the case of “bloom where you are planted,” it’s not enough to object, “That’s not in the Bible!” We should bring the whole teaching of Scripture to bear not only on the words of a phrase, but also on its meaning. This practice honors Paul’s admonition, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9; cf. 1 Thess. 5:21–22). In other words, ask what’s true about a statement—and what’s false.

What Does It Mean?

So what does “bloom where you’re planted” mean? While I can’t speak for all believers who use it, the likeliest meaning is, “Be content where God has placed you in life and make the most of your opportunity.” If that’s what we mean, then we’re close to capturing a biblical principle.

Theologically, the doctrine of creation teaches us that God has designed and outfitted his creatures with particular skills, interests, and abilities, and he has sovereignly placed them in their circumstances to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26–31; Acts 17:26).

Martin Luther and John Calvin rediscovered this biblical doctrine and taught Christians to fulfill their individual callings, whether serving society as a banker, farmer, or homemaker. Giving careful attention to your calling will produce valuable goods for the community and, in the case of mothers, train the next generation. Careful attention to fulfilling your calling will also help keep you out of trouble. Calvin wrote:

The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named the various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore, each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.

In other words, constantly daydreaming about a different life, a better line of work, or a new community will lead to instability and lack of productivity. There’s a good chance Calvin would have endorsed my mom’s idiom.

Live the Life God’s Given You

More importantly, it appears that Paul might have approved the parental counsel I received as a young man. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, he tells those anxious over getting married:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. . . . In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Cor. 7:17, 24)

Paul doesn’t make this an absolute rule, for he tells the slave to be content with his status in life but to seek freedom if possible (1 Cor. 7:22). Those married must remain so, but the unmarried are free to either marry or stay single (1 Cor. 7:9, 27–28).

Nevertheless, Paul recognized wisdom in burrowing yourself into your God-given calling and seeking contentment and productivity there— rather than constantly looking around and pining for something else (cf. Prov. 17:24). Nor does genuine repentance necessarily require a change in one’s work (Luke 3:10–14). But it might—and that’s where we come to a deficiency in the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.”

When to Uproot

The problem isn’t so much in what the phrase says, but what it doesn’t. Without the larger biblical context, the statement “Bloom where you’re planted” could imply that remaining in your calling is all you need to worry about in life.

But this approach wouldn’t account for stations that are overtly sinful and from which a person must “uproot” if they know Christ. Christians cannot abide in Christ and work in the pornography or abortion industry. In such cases, true repentance would lead to “planting” elsewhere.

Short, but Sweet

Yet we can’t fault a proverbial saying for being proverbial. Solomon’s catchy couplets don’t always give us the whole picture, but we don’t chide him.

Diligence, most of the time, leads to abundance (Prov. 12:27; 13:4; 21:5)—but not when famines ravage the land.

Generally speaking, a slack hand causes poverty (Prov. 10:4)—but it’s possible for a sluggard to inherit a large estate.

Whoever keeps his tongue keeps himself out of trouble (Prov. 21:23)—unless unsolicited trouble finds him.

In other words, a good proverb doesn’t need to say everything in order to be helpful or true. For Christians, sayings like “Bloom where you are planted” can be insightful and encouraging since we understand them within a biblical framework. That’s the blessing of biblical discernment all Christians can enjoy, no matter where we’re planted.

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Margin notes: 1 Cor. 3, building into people’s lives and a recommendation.

Yesterday, Pastor Jim preached to us out of 1 Cor. 3. In doing so he helped us to see Paul’s diagnosis of the core Corinthian problem, and then Paul’s treatment for it. He gave us a central truth and then 2 implications. One of those implications was how we must be careful in instructing one another in the faith – what we build into other’s lives and our own, in spiritual terms. That what we pass on to others must be ready to stand the test of God’s fire in the last day. How it must accord with the foundation we have in Christ. Part of that is to be careful about what we recommend to others as resources for their souls. This is an issue the Elders at ECF consider all the time in making book and resource recommendations to you all. We want to build into your lives things that will stand the test not only of time, but of eternity.

It is in that spirit that I make a recommendation to you today: a fine little volume titled “365 Days with Calvin.” It is a wonderful little daily devotional where Joel Beeke takes just a snippet from Calvin’s comments on scripture in bite-sized portions that are wonderfully useful. Now some haven’t the foggiest who John Calvin is, or have preconceived negative or positive views of him. But in this volume, Calvin’s usefulness as an expositor of God’s Word comes through with his Pastor’s heart in a wonderfully useful and accessible way. And I submit the following from yesterday’s reading to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men. Colossians 2:21–22

Paul points out to what length the waywardness of those who bind consciences by their laws is likely to go. From the very beginning they are unduly severe; hence Paul begins with their prohibitions not simply against eating but even against slightly partaking.

After they have obtained what they wish, they go even further than the command, declaring it unlawful even to taste what they do not wish should be eaten. At length they make it criminal even to touch such food. In short, once leaders have taken upon themselves the right to tyrannize people’s souls, there is no end of daily adding new laws to old ones and starting up new enactments from time to time. Hence Paul admirably admonishes us that human traditions are a labyrinth in which consciences are more and more entangled; nay, more, they are snares, which from the beginning bind people in such a way that in time they are strangled.

In sum, the worship of God, true piety, and the holiness of Christians do not consist of what they drink and eat and wear, for those things are transient, liable to corruption, and perish by abuse.

Second, Paul adds that such observances originate with men and not with God, who, by his thunderbolt prostrates and swallows up all traditions of men. Paul says God does this because “Those who bring consciences into bondage do injury to Christ, and make void his death. For whatever is of human invention does not bind conscience.”

For meditation: In the church today, we create many laws and think that obeying them recommends us to God. We even bind them upon the consciences of others. But some of those laws are simply the creations of men and cannot gain us favor in God’s sight. Such favor can only come through the Son, Jesus Christ. Man-made laws often hinder people in pursuing salvation.

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Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

I am constantly amazed that this question is still being asked, and even more amazed that some Christians respond by saying, Yes.

May I remind you of a few important things that Muslims believe, or conversely, don’t believe?

Muslims deny the truth of the Trinity, that the one eternal God exists in three co-equal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims also deny the incarnation. We are told in John 1:14 that the eternal Word or Second Person of the Trinity “became flesh,” a notion that is abhorrent to all Muslims. Yet, Muslims also do their best to speak highly of Jesus. He is given a prominent place in the Qur’an. He is called the Messiah, the virgin born Son of Mary, Messenger, Prophet, and Servant. He is revered by Muslims much in the same way as are Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. But Jesus, so say all faithful Muslims, is not himself God.

As all of you know, the death of Jesus on the cross as a substitute for sinful men and women, followed by his bodily resurrection from the grave, is the very heart and soul of Christianity. There is no gospel, no good news, indeed no Christianity, apart from the sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. But Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross. And since he never died physically, he never rose from the dead. Someone disguised as Jesus suffered crucifixion, while Jesus was taken up into heaven by God.

For quite some time there was an interesting billboard on Broadway Extension, just north of Bridgeway Church, here in OKC. On the right side of the sign, in huge letters, is the word ISLAM. On the left side, under the title One Family, are the names of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. No! We are not one family with those who deny that Jesus is God. Abraham and Moses are two of the great saints of the old covenant, but they lived in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Their words and deeds and prophetic utterances pointed forward to the coming Son of God, the one true Messiah, Jesus. To suggest that Jesus is merely one of a long line of revered prophets that includes Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad, is blasphemous. Worse still, it is damning. To believe this lie is to consign your soul to eternal death.

In John 5, Jesus is making a clear and unmistakable claim not only to being equal with God the Father, but also a claim to being God himself. In fact, he says in John 5:23 that “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

Consider how this speaks directly to the question of whether people of other religions worship the same God as do Christians. That question is easily answered: Do they honor Jesus Christ. Do they acknowledge who he is? Do they believe and affirm that he is the Word who became flesh and made a sacrifice for the sins of men and women? Do they know and celebrate Jesus as the true Messiah? Do they honor and praise him for being equal with God the Father in deity, glory, and majesty? If they don’t, then they don’t honor the Father either. Clearly, if you don’t honor the Father you don’t worship him, you don’t know him, you have no relationship with him.

So let me speak to the question that constitutes the title to this article: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? No! Definitively and decisively, No! Muslims do not honor the Son. They deny about Jesus everything he himself claimed to be. They reject his being the Son of God. They reject his atoning sacrificial death on the cross. They repudiate any notion of his bodily resurrection. And any suggestion that only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ can someone be saved is abhorrent to them. Says John Piper,

“In other words, if you want to know if someone in another religion, or no religion, honors God (has a true worshipful relationship with God), the test that you use to know this is: Do they honor Jesus for who he really is—as the divine Son of God, the Messiah, the crucified and risen Savior of the world, the Lord of the universe and Judge of all human beings? If they don’t, then they don’t honor God” (John Piper).

John the Apostle wrote much the same thing in his first epistle: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23). The “liar” par excellence, the one who embodies and gives expression to the spirit of the Antichrist himself, is the person, be it male or female, who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come in human flesh (see 1 John 4:1-6).

The reason why I expressed my continual shock that knowledgeable Christians would persist in asking the question, Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? is because of the simple yet profound declaration here in 1 John 2. “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” If you do not “have” the Father, you do not know him, you cannot honor or worship him. End of argument. Case closed.

My prayer is that any who are reading this article, be they Muslim or atheist, who deny the Son, may by the grace of God open their eyes to the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). He is the one whom we must honor and adore with the same passion and conviction with which we honor and adore his Father.

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When You Want to Stay at Home with Kids But Can’t

My husband doesn’t make enough money to support us alone. I’d love to stay home and care for the children, but I can’t. How can I keep loving and supporting him without growing bitter?


Because you would rather stay home with your children—which is a great desire—your work outside of the home may feel more like a “have to” than a “want to” or a “get to.” And that sort of situation can be the breeding ground for contempt and bitterness, not only toward your husband but also toward your coworkers and your work itself. So, what can you do about it?

I think you have two options. With God’s help, you could either change your situation or change your heart.

Changing Your Situation

The internet abounds with tips on how to transition from being a “working” mom to a stay-at-home mom. One author has even written a book with 100 tips on how to make it happen.

If you want to stay at home, you could ask your husband to seek a better-paying job or take on a second job. My friend’s husband is a pastor and Uber driver. You could work in the evenings. I have known a few superwomen who worked night shifts a few days a week in order to earn income and be with the children during the daytime hours. You could even work part-time from home while caring for your children. My husband often jokes about how I completed my PhD during naptime.

You could revisit your budget to see where cuts can be made. Or you could relocate to an area of the country with a lower cost of living.

But each of these changes comes with a cost. Cutting the budget could spark financial stress. Moving could take you from the vital support of family and friends. Working long or late hours could interfere with sleep and affect moods. And working part-time from home may mean sometimes meeting with clients or fulfilling orders with a toddler on your lap and graham-cracker crumbs falling onto your keyboard.

Changing Your Heart

Even as you consider changing your situation, I recommend cooperating with God’s Spirit to change your heart.

First, actively work to change your heart toward your husband. Heed Paul’s advice: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31). We must actively reject bitterness, replacing it with gratitude. Give thanks for your husband. Give thanks for your job. Give thanks for every minute you get to spend with your precious children. Give thanks for your coworkers.

We have to actively choose against bitterness. Replace it with gratitude.

Second, try to change your heart toward your work through “job crafting.” Two management scholars coined the term based on their research on how people experience their work. In their book Make Your Job a Calling, Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy describe job crafting as “those things that workers do to elicit a strong sense of purpose, meaning, engagement, resilience, and thriving from their jobs.” Dik and Duffy contend that, through job crafting, people can experience the same psychological effects as those who feel a sense of calling to their work.

You can approach job crafting three ways: task crafting, relational crafting, and cognitive crafting. In task crafting, you work to rearrange your job responsibilities so that your job feels like a better fit. Such task crafting may require a conversation with your supervisor and is not possible in every line of work. In relational crafting, you invest in your work relationships. When you invest in those relationships, you might look forward to going to work in order to spend time with your coworkers. In cognitive crafting, you reframe how you understand the purpose of you work. It’s about more than a paycheck. How can you partner with God in his work through your job?

Trust God

Regardless of which path you choose, I encourage you to trust God. When work is a “have to,” we may place trust in our paycheck when it is ultimately God who provides for us—often through the income and benefits we earn at a job. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). And he challenges us not to toil anxiously to meet our everyday needs (Matt. 6:25-32).

He encourages us instead: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). Seek to honor God in your marriage, in your home, and in your work. And trust him to provide what you and your family need.

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Finding God in Life’s Waiting Room

“You have a plan for me.”

Each day I wake to these words, the opening lyrics to a worship song I set as my alarm some rejections ago. If I’m untroubled, I stop the song there and start my day. Other mornings, when my pillow is still damp from the previous night’s cry or my heart worn from waiting—35 years for a spouse, 15 months for a job, indefinitely for the resurrection of friendships lost—I let the whole thing play. Battling waves of envy, frustration, and shame I wait, echoing the psalmist’s heavenward cry: “My eyes fail, looking for your promise” (Ps. 119:82).

Delay can often feel like a burden. I used to squander such seasons, longing in vain for timely answers to tired prayers. I’d launch a countdown to God’s yes—and withhold praise until it arrived. Sadly, I knew nothing of the power that could transform a seemingly fallow, horizonless wait into one of lush, redemptive possibility. My eyes failed, looking not for Christ but for escape.

Waiting isn’t the wasted space around the greatest blessings of our lives; it’s their incubator. It tutors us in the way of faith, that divine vision beyond human sight (2 Cor. 5:7). It forces us to confront our insecurities and cross-examine our doubts. Above all, waiting invites us to retrace the well-worn paths of grace back to a bloody cross and empty tomb.

Weary and impatient, I’ve pelted God with questions: Will I ever be loved? Will unemployment ruin me? When will you reconcile this? However I articulate them, though, I’m convinced my questions sound to his ear more like, Are you really in control here? Are you trustworthy? Are you . . . enough?

Yet with patience, God has accompanied me through valleys of acute need. Along that terrain, he’s revealed his character in three profound and personal ways.

Is He Trustworthy?

For years, I made a lifestyle out of being faithless while hoping God would remain faithful. Although I’d once known the thrill of believing in a kind and able God, I’d begun, conditioned by disappointment, to bow before a god worth second-guessing whenever our timelines clashed.

As I examined my heart, I grieved my lack of faith. I sincerely wanted to trust God through my story’s unfinished middle. One romantic rejection away from breaking, I finally weighed my options: I could choose to see God’s blessing only when his yes aligned with my will, or I could take him at his word and trust the perpetual yes secured for me in Christ.

To trust God as I wait requires practicing the discipline of remembrance. Recalling his wondrous works re-magnetizes my heart Godward. My Bible reminds me I serve a loving and committed Savior. My life reminds me I’ve already experienced deliverance after deliverance by unpredictable grace. Rather than train myself, in disbelief, to be satisfied only with my will, I learn to suck the nectar of faith from disappointment and to find Christ both sufficient and sweet. Oh the fear-defying joy of trusting an almighty and attentive God!

Is He Enough?

I had already been unemployed for eight months when I learned I’d gotten neither job for which I’d been a finalist. But as fresh disappointment enveloped me, God’s Word did too. I told my friends, “It’s a comfort in my sadness that he gives me himself. I don’t know the details of my future, but I don’t need to know them. I need only to know him.” What a sweet place to be—and how different from the past, when I’d treated God like a temporary solution for longing rather than its greatest fulfillment.

I began to pray differently, too. Instead of just requesting provision, I focused on his sufficiency. I didn’t want the magnitude of “I will be your God” (Lev. 26:12) to be lost on me like it was on the Israelites. The more they focused on the perks of the promised land, the more their greatest possession became an afterthought. Instead, I wanted the psalmist’s boasts—“I have no good apart from you. . . . The LORD is my chosen portion. . . . In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:2, 5, 11)—to be my own.

In my wait, I use my lack to plumb God’s plenty. I lamented not being romantically pursued—but God reminded me of the lengths he went to make me his. I had no job to validate my significance—but I relished the worth Christ conferred. Over the years, I had prayed for both the gift and the Giver. I’ve watched with wonder as the Giver has revealed himself to be the gift.

Is He in Control?

I once listened to a group of women list reasons they were single: challenging city dating-scapes, demanding careers, passive men in their churches, unattainable beauty standards, clueless ex-boyfriends, and so on. I too had my list. Even as I worked to change certain circumstances in my life, singleness stubbornly remained. Marriage isn’t a respecter of physique, age, education, or experience.

Underlying the list of reasons for my singleness is the unseen, fundamental one: singleness is God’s will for me right now. Neither geography, statistics, nor some dating pool can thwart God’s plans.

So I wait, trusting Scripture’s insistence that God’s sovereign will prevails (Job 42:2; Ps. 37:23; Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1; Isa. 14:27; Jer. 10:23; Eph. 1:11). Though I dream of a thousand elsewheres while I wait, here is where God longs to be found. I cry, “How long, O LORD” (Ps. 13:1), and he answers: not a moment longer than necessary. He knows the agonizing blessing of saying, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). I neither resign myself to the uncertainty of the wait, nor do I stop praying for my unfulfilled desires. Instead, I surrender it all to God, trusting him to use it for my good.

Waiting Is Holy Work

Hope and joy have come to me through one-moment-at-a-time maintenance: remembering God’s faithfulness, meditating on his sufficiency, and resting in his sovereignty. I rehearse these truths multiple times a day, whether dry-eyed or teary. I ask friends for help. I confess when I struggle. I seek grace to do what I cannot.

Waiting has turned out to be holy work. We don’t learn endurance without it and without endurance, we have no hope. With hope, however, we disarm despair (Rom. 5:3–5).

But when we welcome waiting as heaven’s instrument—when we don’t simply endure it but mine its riches—we become a God-assured, God-satiated, and God-led people, radiant and readied for our King.

He has a plan for us.

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1 Corinthians Ch. 2 – 3 Foundations

Reid A Ferguson

A few weeks ago when we began this study – we were introduced to the 1st Century city of Corinth. A thriving multi-port city that had everything one could wish for – at least in earthly terms.

Wealth, art and culture abounded. It was a city that thrived on intellect, success, fame, self-promotion and sex. It didn’t abide fools, bumpkins, or anyone who wasn’t striving for recognition among the social elites.

The Apostle Paul went there to plant the Church of Jesus Christ. To preach the Cross of Jesus to a people who thought they had it all, and a salvation that stood in stark contrast to everything they held dear.

And it worked!

In a culture smug in its superiority – that loved its sports, its politics, its money and its immorality – within 18 months Paul had established a thriving band of Believers. A Church we saw in the opening to this letter that flourished in “all speech and knowledge” – rich with spiritual gifts.

But it was a Church which was also deeply troubled by a host of issues.

Topping the list of those issues was its fractured membership. Beginning to mirror its culture, it was a church which had divided itself up in cliques. Each group clinging to its identification with various figures like Paul himself, Peter, Apollos and even Jesus. Each vying for some measure of recognition and superiority over the others. And Paul seeks to address this problem head on before he even begins to touch on the other matters he was aware of, and that they themselves had written to him about.

And as Jim so ably unfolded for us last time – the first thing Paul does is take aim at what was threatening to tear them apart and lose the witness for Christ in that city. Thus we saw for ourselves as well how God graciously destroys our self-confidence – so that our confidence is in Christ alone. Confidence in their factions, in their heroes, in their intellect, in their goodness, and in their imagined status over and against each other – all of it needed to be abandoned. NEEDS, to be abandoned. For God receives us only in, and because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Church is not rooted in its own perceived wisdom, power, goodness, status or accomplishment. It is founded upon the finished work of Christ to reconcile lost and justly condemned sinners to the Living God through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the Cross. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.

But Paul’s work in healing these factions has only just begun. In fact, as we turn to chapter 2, we see how he needs to put 3 critical foundation stones in place, before he can tackle the faction problem more directly. That is what brings us to our text this morning.

Now the passage breaks itself up fairly naturally in discussing 3 problems which lurk below the surface. The disease underlying the symptom of division in the Church.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.
  4. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.

Paul had done his homework. He knew what made Corinthian society hum. And he took aim at it in the very way he approached ministry there. So he reminds his readers and us of the 3 things he intentionally avoided in bringing them the Gospel:

  1. 1 Cor. 2:1-2 He made no impressive presentation:

1 Corinthians 2:1–2 ESV / And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Knowing Corinthian culture and how they placed such great value on people sounding smart and “with it” – he intentionally went in the opposite direction.

He wanted nothing to get in the way of their ultimate need, and his ultimate aim – to reconcile them to God through the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

What did that look like? Paul will recount it in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 ESV / For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Nothing in all the world is more important for anyone to know than these things: Who Jesus is, why He came and what He did. Everything in Biblical Christianity flows out of this incredibly simple declaration.

Paul is a strategist and loves this approach of opposites. On Mars Hill where the culture was all about hearing something new, he stood up and said: “I’m going to tell you about something you already know – but don’t know well enough – your “unknown god.” And here, where high ideas spoken by gifted speakers ruled the day – he started with the simple, unadorned Gospel. He refused to feed into their appetite, but aimed at creating a new one.

He aimed at making no impressive presentation – so as to spotlight the message rather than the medium.

  1. 1 Cor. 2:3 He refused to present himself as an impressive person:

1 Corinthians 2:3 ESV / And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

When Paul got to Corinth, he was arriving after facing a raft of difficulties. Rabid opposition had turned everything to chaos in Philippi. In Thessalonica, a riot broke out and he had to be secretly dispatched. Things at Berea started out better, but then trouble-makers from Thessalonica arrived and the brothers sent him away again. At Athens, the response is tepid.

Years ago I sort of always thought of the Apostle Paul a bit like Yosemite Sam – coming into town guns blazing and taking no prisoners. But then I read this, or 2 Cor. 10:10 where he admits his detractors say his in-person persona is weak and he is not a great orator.

Trauma leaves its mark. At this point Paul was no doubt a bit gun shy. In 1972 I was mowing a lawn when I slipped on the grass and lost a portion of a toe to the power mower. And to this day I cannot see or hear a power mower without a certain inward twinge.

After a number of beatings, riots, threatenings and narrow escapes, can we imagine Paul unfazed? No. Now it didn’t stop him, but it didn’t make him look like much in human terms either. And He let that weakness be seen.

From the text here we gather that he did not try to pass himself off as a person to be admired, followed or emulated – but as a weak and trembling man simply relying on a great Savior. The message, not the man took precedence.

  1. And 3rd, 1 Cor. 2:4 He made no attempts at making the message more plausible – why in earthly wisdom it should be believed.

1 Corinthians 2:4 ESV / and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

The message was sufficient on its own – preached within the Biblical framework. As he would remind us in his letter to the Romans – he was not ashamed of the Gospel because IT – THE MESSAGE – is the very power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16)

The demonstration of its power being nothing other than the changed lives it produced. It raised people from spiritual death to new life in Christ. It caused people to be born again.

Now don’t get me wrong, he never tried to obscure the message or detract from it any other way either. He didn’t work to make it objectionable – just clear and not dependent upon anything other than the Holy Spirit creating life in the hearers by it. Clarity was always a concern. So he says in Colossians 4:3–4 ESV / At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

He made no impressive presentation;

Didn’t advance himself as an impressive person;

And refused to try to make the message plausible – more reasonable – to unaided human reason.

All 3 of which had evidently begun to seep into the Church there from the culture – and were contributing to competition and factions in the Church.

And here is a massive warning needed in our own day.

Christian, do not center your own Christian life around ministries that major on slick presentations, magnetic and persuasive personalities or what might sound like high-flying insights: Keep to the Gospel, the simple, unadorned Gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving work to bring to you the Father in due time – robed in His righteousness.

  1. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.

Now Paul had already mentioned in Ch. 1 that the message of the cross is foolishness to most people, and that God Himself ordered this world so that unassisted by the Spirit, people cannot reason themselves to God’s means of salvation.

We read the same thing in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17  / “When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth— even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night— then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth. Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it. Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.” NET

But when the Church losses its confidence in the message of the Cross, or, as in this case they were laboring in a culture that put an excessively high premium on logic and human persuasiveness, the temptation is to try and strip away anything from the Gospel which seems contrary to a thoughtful, logical, scientifically oriented mind.

And this has remained a problem in every generation.

So some try to downplay the parts of Scripture which others might find troubling. Let’s deny or modify special creation. Make Noah’s flood merely local. Skip the bits about angelic visitations, Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus walking on the water, etc.. Let’s make our message more palatable to the rational mind and get rid of the supernatural bits. So Jesus dies as a great example but not as an actual substitutionary blood sacrifice in our place. And His resurrection is just a spiritual thing, not physical. Let’s make salvation merely a matter of intellectually assenting to a certain set of religious propositions rather than insisting – like Jesus – that one “must be born again” – when that is an act of God after all and we have no control over it. Let’s make the whole thing plausible to an unregenerate mind. Never mind if it is what the Bible teaches, can we make it sound OK? Can we make it acceptable to people who are still enemies of the Living God?

But it can’t be done – no matter how many times it has been tried. Because it isn’t God’s method. His, is to preach this bare message, and leave it to the Holy Spirit to make it reasonable by opening their eyes to the truth of it all. But that WILL exclude us from certain company. It will not gain the Church its highest acceptance in society. And it will create and artificial elite within the ranks of the Church. The intellectual elite who know better than to buy all this supernatural stuff, but let the hoi polloi cling to it if they need to. And these elite then can rub shoulders with the more sophisticated in society having rejected the stuff of the low-brow, slack-jawed Luddites.

That said – Paul goes on to say we DO NOT speak utter nonsense, but true sense – to the awakened soul. 1 Cor. 2:6-7

1 Corinthians 2:6–7 ESV / Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

The word mature here isn’t meant to bring up the issue of age, but one of capacity.

You can discuss the properties of the visible spectrum all day long with a blind person, but they cannot see that light, even though they can understand every single scientific fact and concept. Apart from the faculty of sight, the facts remain true, but simply talk.

So as our text here says, to those who have been born again, the realities surrounding Christ and the cross make perfect sense, they are realities, not mere theories or ideas. This is the hidden or secret wisdom which He alone imparts to us by opening our eyes. And He designed it this way that our glory comes from Him, from His “well done” on the final day and not from men as though the one with the highest intellect is the most spiritual.

So John Flavel would write: “All other knowledge is natural, but this wholly supernatural, Mat. 11:27. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The wisest Heathens could never make a discovery of Christ by their deepest searches into nature; the most eagle-eyed philosophers were but children in knowledge, compared with the most illiterate Christians.”

So, 1 Cor. 2:8 goes on

1 Corinthians 2:8 ESV / None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But men cannot know these things with bare intellect – thus 1 Cor. 2:9-10  ESV / But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

The significance of Paul referring to Isa. 64 here is that it is a passage proclaiming the seeming impossible restoration and salvation of God’s people in light of their sin and captivity. No one would ever imagine God could make a way! But out of the hidden depths of His magnificent mercy and grace – He makes a way. And it is the express domain of the Spirit to make that impossibility known to us.

The glories and benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ – these are the deepest things in the heart and mind of God – 1 Corinthians 2:10–11 ESV / these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

These are what the Spirit of God alone searches out and knows and what He alone reveals to us. And this is why the Spirit of God is given: 1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV / Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Did you get that last phrase? We must have the Spirit of God within us, in order to understand the things which are freely given to us by God in Christ.

Seeing Jesus for who He is and what He has done; God as Creator; Mankind as created; Mankind as rebelliously fallen; God’s plan of reconciliation; Jesus Christ the substitute and risen Lord; The gift of The Spirit; The truth of The Word; The reality of coming judgment; Resurrection; Heaven and Hell; The Church of the redeemed – only the Spirit knows all of God’s mind, and only the Spirit can bring that light to ours.

Apart from this quickening, this awakening by the Holy Spirit – they remain words we can understand, but realities we do not possess.

This is why there are so many today who claim Christianity in one form or another, who nevertheless live as though the Spirit of God is not in them leading them to love and live in holiness. And why their Christianity consists not in growing into the image of Christ and seeking to walk intimately with Jesus and arrive at an eternal destiny in the presence of their redeeming God – but who are driven more by social issues, bare morality, and a fixation on how God can simply make my life better, or this world a better place.

This is why so many who claim to be Christians and sit in Christian pews week after week are in fact still dead in their trespasses and sins. Because we have made salvation a matter or mere reason, and abandoned the need for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in bring men and women to new life in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

And that brings us to Paul’s 3rd foundation stone:

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

This obviously is an extension of the previous 2.

Those who have been given the Spirit, have their eyes opened to the truth of all that the Bible teaches – especially in relation to the person and saving work of Jesus Christ – and then we – we instruct one another in THESE things, with the Biblical language and concepts He has given us: 1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV / And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

And here is a most timely word to us. For as it was then, so it is on our own day that people will say “I’m not religious”, or “I don’t subscribe to organized religion”, or “I don’t go to Church”, but: “I’m spiritual.”

But as our text notes we use a Spirit bred vocabulary which the world sometimes tries to borrow, but in fact strips of the meaning God has given to it.

For this is the Biblical reality: No one is “spiritual” unless they have been born again by the Spirit of God, and given new life in Christ – believing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one. No matter how nice, how sensitive, how religious sounding, etc.

Once again the lines become blurred and even the Church can become comprised of a largely unregenerate membership when we accept as “spiritual” that which God says is NOT spiritual – but merely natural.

And when this happens, the words, the ideas, the teachings and methods of people who claim this spirituality, are accepted into the Church and the insistence upon the Gospel, upon regeneration, the authority of God’s Word, upon the pursuit of Christ and eternal life with Him – become mixed, muddled, and eventually lost altogether. It ALWAYS results in one of two things – or both: Legalism, because Christianity becomes external moralism rather than Spirit motivated holiness – or Cross-less political correctness bowing to the trends of the culture.

Biblical words and concepts like redemption, regeneration, salvation, justification, righteousness, holiness, penal substitution, resurrection and even faith and God – all get reinterpreted and robbed of their true significance and power.

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

Evangelism and proselytizing are looked upon askance and as unspiritual because they call people to know they are sinners who need to be redeemed by grace. Biblical truths declare some things are really wrong, some views are really wrong, some lifestyles are really wrong, some religions are really wrong – and people are lost and undone apart from Christ.

But when the Church can no longer differentiate between those who profess Christianity but manifest nothing of His Spirit changing them – bringing the loves into them that the Spirit invariably does for His Word, His people and confidence in the revelation His Word brings – then the Church loses all of its power and authority to preach the Gospel and call men to salvation.

It cannot help but degenerate into a mere social and religious organization – with some priority other than seeing people reconciled to God through the Gospel – and seeking the glory of God in all things through the revelation of Him in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul is going to show what this failure looks like as he opens up ch. 3. When spiritual men and women begin to act as though they are still only natural. It brings wicked division.

Now the truth is – the truly spiritual – those supernaturally in Christ, will always be misunderstood by those outside of Christ – no matter what they profess.

1 Corinthians 2:15 ESV / The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

I saw a movie this week where a little boy of about 10 witnessed a terrible crime. But when he was brought to be questioned by the Police, he was completely uncooperative. At first they chalked it up to shock. But in time they began to suspect he was withholding for some reason – and was being stubborn in not answering a single one of their questions. As exasperation grew and they were about to get really tough on him for his unresponsiveness – one of the Policemen got an idea. And kneeling down before the lad he made a gesture with his hand. And the little boy smiled and gestured back. He wasn’t being stubbornly unresponsive, he was totally deaf, couldn’t read lips, didn’t know sign language. And, he was scared out of his wits. Once they knew his condition, all of his actions made perfect sense. But until then, they were all misinterpreted.

The World, natural men and women, will not understand why we do what we do at times. They cannot. Even though we can fully understand why they do what they do. We were there once too. We know what it was to be blind back then. To be bound in darkness and sin. To think these things of Christ silly and senseless. We get it. They can’t.

So Paul puts a final label on that difference: 1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV / “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

This is the great dividing line in all of humanity – those who have the “mind of Christ” the Spirit of Christ, and those who do not.

As the Church we must be willing to retain the reality that people are not all the same. That there are those who are born again, who have the Spirit and the mind of Christ – those who are spiritual, and those who are not – those who are natural. It does not make the spiritual superior, it only makes them recipients of grace. A grace that moves them to desire the same for the others. It calls us to compassion, understanding, but also to say they cannot be considered as part of the Church so as to have influence in its call, mission or message.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

While we’ve made a few applications along the way, let me take a moment to leave us with just a couple of very important takeaways.

  1. Very briefly, do not be taken in by what is so often labeled as “spiritual” out there.

If they will not make a bold profession of saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary atonement on the Cross – accepting the whole of the Word of God as authoritative and true – and pursuing a life of holiness – they are NOT spiritual, but natural. Fallen man apart from Christ. And their lessons and teachings are to be rejected as not having any true spiritual import. Not when it comes to salvation and life in Christ.

I cannot emphasize this enough beloved. It may be clothed in Bible terms, they may say “Jesus” etc. But everything hinges on the true Gospel and submission to Christ as Lord. Apart from that, do not receive them as spiritual authorities in your life.

There are books, programs, shows, podcasts and articles galore which purport to be Christian, but have nothing to do with leading you to greater trust in Jesus, the fullness of His work on the Cross, His Word and growing in Christ – and everything to do with secrets to success, power, money, happiness and well-being – as though they are legitimate after-market add-ons to give you the REAL Christian life. DON’T BUY IT! If they don’t take you back to Christ and the Cross, they are fakes.

2 – And of absolute supreme importance – Let no one ever make you ashamed of or shy away from the simplicity of the Gospel.

No, it doesn’t sound cool. It cannot be made to sound cool and retain its power.

The message of the Cross is that all humankind has rebelled against God the creator by wanting to be lords over our own lives, and that we are guilty and condemned before Him. That we need a savior to rescue us. That salvation is beyond our power to accomplish. And the only savior God has provided is Jesus Christ, God in human flesh – dying on the cross to take the just punishment due to us for our sins. And that His satisfaction of the Father on our behalf must be received by faith in the power of that work alone to reconcile us to the Father. He alone is the truth, the life and the way, and no man can come to the Father but by Him.

And that salvation rests in being reconciled back to God in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Never let that simple message be obscured for any reason. It is in fact foolishness to others until the Spirit uses it to open their eyes. But don’t try to escape the raw reality of it.

You don’t have to make some snazzy presentation.

You don’t have to be a great speaker.

You don’t have to pretend to have everything together, know all the answers or defend every objection.

You just have to state the facts as clearly and simply as possible. And look to the Holy Spirit to make it real to their souls.

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Don’t Sell Your Birthright for Sex

I have a friend who grew up in a Christian home with amazing Christian parents. They raised him “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). At a young age, he put his trust in Christ as Lord and Savior, and faith began flourishing in his life. When he was 18 years old, he went off to an evangelical Christian university, where his faith only continued to grow. But as time went on, feelings and attractions toward the same sex became more and more evident in his mind and heart. These feelings alarmed and confused him, since he knew and believed what the Bible says about homosexuality; as his feelings increased, so did his inner turmoil. He was torn between Scripture’s sexual ethic and his same-sex attractions.

He hid his struggle from others, especially from his parents, during his college years. But feeling ashamed and at times hopeless, he sought help, eventually opening up to close friends and even his parents. Reactions were mixed. His parents were initially distraught, but soon became compassionate and understanding. They hoped he would remain faithful to the Word of God and wanted to be there for him in any way they could. Some of his friends rejected him, while others tried to help him through this difficult and confusing period.

After college, he seemed to be in a good place with the Lord. He felt he had a handle on things and was willing to deny himself to follow Christ. But then he met a guy and fell in love. Although he was torn about this new relationship, knowing it was wrong, he had never felt so good and so free. And his boyfriend assured him over and over that their relationship was not sinful. How could love this deep be sinful? Wasn’t the Bible outdated when it came to these matters? He just needed to be true to himself, and everything would work out fine.

My friend ultimately surrendered to his feelings, and to his boyfriend’s pleas, and made a conscious decision to walk away from the Lord and pursue this relationship. He knew deep down that living a homosexual life is incompatible with the teaching of the Bible, but he was tired of fighting his desires.

Like Esau in Genesis 25:29–34, he wanted his stew now.

Heartbreaking Tradeoff

I’ve seen this phenomenon over and over again, and it breaks my heart. I’ve watched many who profess to be followers of Christ give up their birthright for a single meal, choosing their desire to satiate their appetite now over the amazing promises of Christ. When I talk to young people who struggle with same-sex attraction and are about to throw in the towel and give in to that temptation, I try to help them see what a vapor this life is. Funny as it sounds, I try to make them understand that eternity is a very long time. I try to convince them that selling their birthright is not worth it. I always reference these powerful verses:

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18)

These verses are often a salve to the soul when I struggle with temptation. Sometimes I remember the wedding feast of the Lamb, and everything else evaporates. It’s hard to fathom the eternal weight of glory, but I know it’s infinitely more gratifying than any ephemeral pleasure on this earth. As Matthew Henry observed regarding Esau’s tragic decision, “The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls.”

I’ve watched many who profess to be followers of Christ give up their birthright for a single meal, choosing their desire to satiate their appetite now over the amazing promises of Christ.

In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews makes a chilling reference to Esau’s fate:

See to it . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Heb. 12:15–17)

Only True Meal

There will come a day when we will meet Christ face to face. That day will be either the greatest or the most devastating day imaginable, depending on whether or not your name is written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). What do you want to hear on that day? “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21) or “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:23)? The latter are the most terrifying words a human being could ever hear. What would you be willing to give up to avoid that outcome? What would you refuse to do if it meant spending eternity with Christ?

Let us “fight the good fight of the faith” and “take hold of the eternal life to which [we] were called and about which [we] made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Let us, “as obedient children, . . . not be conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance, but as he who called [us] is holy . . . be holy in all [our] conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet.1:14–16). Let us “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb. 10: 23).

The only true passion worth living for is passion for Christ. The only true meal is the Bread of Life. The only true drink is the water that will never make us thirsty again—the living water of a loving Savior.


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The LORD Regretted That He Had Made Man?

The Bible plainly says that God is sovereign over all things. But if this is so, then how are we to understand the Bible verses that say that God was grieved or sorry that He did something?

Genesis 6:6 – And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Margin notes: Simple Faith

Luke 5:4–6 (ESV) — 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.

There are some principles in Scripture which need to be revisited over and over. They are like the foundation stones of a skyscraper. If they give way, everything gives way. If they are compromised, instability is the inevitable result. And, as in this text, they can appear quite inconspicuously, unless you really stop to consider them. And they greatly inform key strands in Scripture and the Christian life in such a way that they prevent the Believer from very destructive and debilitating thought patterns.

Of these, developing right thoughts about faith, Biblical faith, is truly one of the utmost importance. I’ve beat this drum before, but rehearse it with me again today.

In vs. 5, the words and actions of Peter in response to Jesus’ “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” hold the clearest and most succinct exposition of faith. It reasons in the face of everything else “but at your word.”

So note carefully, faith does not groundlessly hope. It does not pluck its expectation from the air. It is not the product of imagination, or a contrived desire. We cannot have faith regarding that which God has not said. No. It roots itself firmly in one place: What God HAS said. And then acts accordingly.

So many, sadly, do almost irreparable harm to their own faith. They do so when they hold God to promises He never made, or to impressions they thought came from Him. Then, when He appears not to have come through, they inwardly undermine their own ability to believe Him in the things He HAS said.

Though stated in another context, Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 4:6 have broad application and especially in this issue: “learn by us not to beyond what is written.” What God has said, what He has inspired by His Spirit to have written down for us in His Word – these are the things (rightly interpreted) in which we can have absolute faith. And when we go beyond that into thoughts, desires, impressions or hopes of our own creation – we open ourselves to faith-destroying disappointments.

Let Peter’s example be your guide – “But at your word.” And you will find a safe haven for your soul. A truly firm foundation for your faith.

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A Biblical and Pastoral Vision for the Office of Deacon (Part Three)

Whereas the NT is quite clear that the office of Elder is restricted to qualified men, there is considerable and on-going dispute among evangelicals on the question of whether women can serve in the office of Deacon. Here are my reasons for saying Yes to this question.

(1) Although the word for “deacon” can describe a non-technical ministry of serving to which all Christians are called, I believe Romans 16:1 is speaking of the office of deacon to which one may be appointed. Phoebe is not merely said to be a servant or minister but is “a servant of the church at Cenchreae.” She is also said to be “a patron of many” and of Paul himself, an indication that she likely supported the apostle financially.

(2) Benjamin L. Merkle (40 Questions about Elders and Deacons) confirms this and points out that “When the generic meaning of diakonos (i.e., “servant”) is intended, the text usually reads, “servant of the Lord” or something similar. This is the only place Paul speaks of someone being a diakonos of a local church. Tychicus is called a “minister [or servant] in the Lord” (Eph. 6:21), Epaphras is named a “minister [servant] of Christ” (Col. 1:7), and Timothy is labeled a “servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). Because only Phoebe is specifically said to be a servant of a local congregation (the church at Cenchreae), it is likely that she was a “deacon” of her church” (251).

(3) Robert Strimple, long-time professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, points out that when Paul refers to Phoebe as (literally), “being (ousan-feminine accusative present participle) . . . diakonon” he is using a participial phrase that is consistently used to identify a person’s performance of office in the New Testament. Examples of this usage are found in John 11:49 (‘Caiaphas, being high priest that year’), Acts 18:12 (‘Gallio, being the proconsul of Achaia’), and Acts 24:10 (‘Felix, being a judge to this nation’). The case for reading Phoebe’s description as one of office is a strong one. Indeed, Calvin says that Paul is commending Phoebe ‘first on account of her office’ to aid her as she discharges her ministry in Rome.”

(4) In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 the question is whether Paul is referring to the “wives” of deacons or to “women” as those who, much like men, can be appointed to this office. The evidence seems to be evenly weighted in this debate, but I find the arguments for women as deacons to be persuasive. Among the several considerations are these.

First, contrary to the ESV translation, the possessive pronoun “their” at the start of v. 11 does not appear in the Greek text. The insertion of this word reflects the view of the translators that the females in view here are the “wives” of the male deacons. In fact, if Paul had wanted to speak unmistakably of the wives of deacons it seems reasonable to think he would have included the possessive pronoun. It speaks loudly to me that he didn’t.

Second, Paul introduces the office of Elder and their qualifications in vv. 1-7. He then introduces the office of deacon in v. 8 with the phrase, “Deacons likewise . . .” He begins v. 11 in much the same way, suggesting that he is introducing yet another office, namely, deaconess. He writes in v. 11, “Women likewise . . .”

Third, although there is evidence for both sides, the word translated “women” in v. 11 (or “wives” in the ESV) can refer either to females generally or to wives in particular. The word itself does not provide decisive proof of either position. However, it must be admitted that the use of gunaikas in vv. 2 and 12 to refer to “wives” suggests that it might also means the same thing in v. 11. But this alone is not sufficient to convince me that Paul is talking about the “wives” of deacons rather than “female” deacons.

Fourth, an argument that carries much weight with me is the fact that Paul says nothing about the qualifications of Elders’ wives. Why would he list qualifications for the wives of deacons but say nothing at all about the wives of Elders, especially given the fact that being an Elder carried far more spiritual authority and responsibility than being a Deacon? Why would Paul hold the wives of deacons to a higher standard than the wives of Elders?

Therefore I conclude that there are two offices in the NT: that of Elder and that of Deacon, and that whereas the former office is restricted to men, the latter may be filled by both qualified men and women.

One final question is whether we should refer to a female deacon as a deaconess. Although it is surely permissible, I don’t think it is helpful. In fact, in the one text where a woman is specifically said to be a deacon (Rom. 16:1), the masculine form of the noun is used, not the feminine form. So, there are not three offices in the local church: Elder, Deacon, and Deaconess, but only two.

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The Best Biographies of William Wilberforce

Today’s post is by Michael Morgan (D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). Michael is researching a PhD on Wilberforce and the clergy at the University of Leicester, under the supervision of Professor John Coffey. He works for William Tennent School of Theology (williamtennent.org) and is the author of Catalyst for Compassion: John Newton, Justice, and the Power of Friendship to Change the World (forthcoming, Fall 2019, Acoma Press). He and his wife, Catherine, have three children.

Few people have leveraged their lives for the goodwill of humanity or the cause of the gospel to the extent that the British abolitionist William Wilberforce did for almost fifty years. Through his long tenure in Parliament, his support of various missions and ministries, and his lifelong campaign for abolition and eventually emancipation, Wilberforce, to an admirable degree, did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his God. Studying his life forces us to consider issues of our own day, including race, empire, missions, and how Christians intersect with the public sphere.

The place to begin any list of Wilberforce biographies is with the five-volume tome compiled by two of his own sons, shortly after their father’s death. Every biography since has relied heavily on this massive work, filled with copious extracts from Wilberforce’s diaries and correspondence. For the general reader, however, The Life of William Wilberforce (1838) is exceedingly tedious to slog through (not to mention expensive). It has little to no narrative arc, and only gluttons for punishment would read it for fun when there are other options on the table. Fortunately, for all of our sakes, there are.

Two older biographies needing mention include John Campbell Colquhoun’s William Wilberforce: His Friends and His Times (1866) and Reginald Coupland’s Wilberforce: A Narrative (1923). Both are out of print, though scanned reproductions can be found on Amazon (or downloaded for free at archive.org). Colquhoun’s work, though not scholarly, is helpful as it gives a reader a short sketch of a handful of those who ran in Wilberforce’s far-ranging circle. Coupland’s, while extremely well written and engaging, doesn’t delve deeply into the primary source material.

After Coupland, it would be some fifty years before any biography of note would appear on the scene. Robin Furneaux’s William Wilberforce arrived in 1974, and three years later, John Pollock would follow up that impressive act with one of his own, entitled simply, Wilberforce (1977). Both are remarkable in their own ways. While Furneaux has a great sense of historical and political context, Pollock did extensive new archival research, and wrote from the vantage point of an Evangelical Anglican clergyman. Furneaux is fantastic, but less sympathetic to Wilberforce’s Christian convictions—just read their chapters about Wilberforce’s conversion side by side. Pollock’s analysis is insightful, nuanced, and familiar, while Furneaux’s leaves a Christian reader looking for something more.

Kevin Belmonte’s William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (2002), while shorter and less researched, follows in Pollock’s sympathetic vein, and builds on it, rightfully giving John Newton, the former slave ship captain and author of “Amazing Grace,” a larger role in the narrative. (This lack, my primary complaint with Pollock, isn’t really his fault. He was not allowed access to the John Newton-William Wilberforce Correspondence, which at the time of writing, was in possession of the family.) To be sure, Belmonte’s is a great entry point for those interested in Wilberforce.

The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce (2002), from John Piper’s “The Swans are Not Silent” series, is a compilation of three of his biographical messages, creatively packaged together in one slim volume, as Newton, Simeon, and Wilberforce were all collaborators and friends. Piper characteristically concedes, “If academic historians say, ‘Farewell,’ I don’t blame them. I only hope that what I write is true and helps people endure to the end” (11, footnote). To this purpose, his book is a valuable read.

Finally, several good biographies came out around 2007 as bicentenary commemorations of the passing of Britain’s Abolition Bill. Eric Metaxas’ Amazing Grace, is, as my Ph.D. advisor describes it, “a rattling good read,” but rather simplistic (and, thankfully, not nearly as controversial as his Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy). In the same year, the former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague (who already had written a biography of Wilberforce’s good friend, Prime Minister William Pitt), brought his expertise to the politician in the massive William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner. Perhaps the best of 2007 is Stephen Tomkins’ William Wilberforce: A Biography, who followed it up with The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce’s Circle Transformed Britain (2010). Tompkins’ writing is well-researched, admiring, and yet honest.

Wilberforce biographies tend to divide in rather neat categories, written either with academic heft, or for popular appeal, written by those who share his Christian convictions, or those who admire his abolition work, regardless of faith. For those who want one book “to rule them all”—a biography that combines engaging storytelling with historical finesse, theological sensitivity with social and political acumen—for the Christian who has read George Marsden’s masterful Jonathan Edwards: A Life, and is looking for the Wilberforce equivalent, the closest comparison at present would be John Pollock’s Wilberforce.

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The Way to Have a Good Fight

“We should not approach conflict as a nuisance, but as an opportunity to join Christ in his sanctifying work in our lives. God is not busy making us comfortable, making us wealthy, making us happy, He is busy conforming us to Jesus. So we can accept conflict as a tool through which he’s showing us our weaknesses, exposing our sinful tendencies, and training us in love and patience.” — Danielle Sallade

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast. Find more audio and video from the 2018 Women’s Conference on the conference media page.

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Stephen Um on Teaching Micah

Many believers are familiar with only two verses in Micah—the prophecy that a ruler will come from Bethlehem (5:2), and the answer to the question, “What does the LORD require?” (6:8). In this conversation, Stephen Um—senior minister at CityLife Church in Boston and author of Micah for Youhelps teachers understand the legal setting of the book of Micah with its charges, witnesses, evidence, verdict, sentence, and mercy. Um explains the difference between biblical justice and modern understandings of social justice, as well as key themes and images in Micah such as shepherds, kings, and mountains.

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