Posts Tagged ‘Preaching


how would you persuade christians to turn away from adultery?

I have regularly argued that the way to holiness is not through teaching that the Mosaic law is binding on the Christian conscience and that it must be obeyed.  A mentality of ‘law-keeping’ is not the way to grow in grace.  This does not mean that we cannot learn from the OT  law.  We can.  Christians living in the Spirit mine the Scriptures, for they know that among other things  they are profitable ‘for training in righteousness’ ‘(2 Tim 3:16).  Yet they frame all they discover about righteous living within gospel realities.

Let me illustrate what I mean.  How should a preacher persuade believers to turn away from adultery?  Below is an example of how such an exhortation may be made.  Note it uses the OT but does so recognising its redemptive-historical setting.  And note too that the gospel provides the main framework and rationale for rejecting adultery.

My brothers and sisters, we ought to loathe adultery.  David’s adultery, although forgiven, brought ramifications that devastated his family.  God is opposed to adultery and adulterers.  Don’t you know that in the OT the very heart of the law of Moses condemned adultery in its Ten Words.  So great was God’s hatred of adultery among his OT people that the law demanded the sentence of death for adulterers.  Does this not tell us how seriously God views it?   Indeed the law was only codifying and formally forbidding what men universally know in their hearts.  All cultures oppose adultery.  All codes of behaviour condemn it.

But brothers and sisters, unconverted folks may need to be reminded adultery is a sin and will bring judgement for they harden their hearts against God, but we should not. We have the life of God in our souls. This life finds adultery unthinkable. Every instinct of your renewed nature is repelled by adultery. God’s Spirit within lusts for purity not impurity. 

It is to this end of purity that we have been justified in Christ.  Why did we seek justification? We did so because we wanted to be cleared of sin. We wanted to be done with it. We saw how sinful and offensive it was and how deserving of judgement. We wished to be finished with it.  That is what we were saying when we came to God in repentance seeking his forgiveness.  How then can we allow ourselves to be attracted again to that same sin that we died to in the death of Jesus that we may be freed from it?  We wished to cease being slaves of sin and become instead slaves of righteousness (Rom 6).  That is what we have been freed from accusation and sin to become.  Our calling is to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness and not impurity.

How can you abuse your body in this way? Your body is not yours to do with what you will. It is bought with a price and belongs to the Lord. Glorify God with your body do not use it to bring disgrace on his name. Christ’s death was precisely because of the horror and ugliness of adultery. He died that we may be cleansed from sins like this and lives that he may enable us flee them.  The grace of God renews us and recreates us in the image of Christ.  Don’t you want to be like Christ?  Of course you do, this is the desire of every renewed heart.  It is the longing of every son of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God and Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, loyalty, truth and faithfulness. Adultery is the very opposite of this. Don’t you know that no adulterer will inherit the Kingdom of God.  The Eternal City of God in which the righteous dwell has no adulterers.  Nothing impure enters there.  We read in Revelation that ‘outside are adulterers’

Brothers and sisters, we are people who have been delivered from sin, we have a nature that is altogether new, we are a new creation in Christ living for a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells let’s put off these impurities of the old life because of which the wrath of God is coming and let us live as the people of God with pure hearts that hate every suggestion of sin and unrighteousness…’

Much more of course could be said but I think this sample-sermonette illustrates how the gospel creates a godly people and how turning away from adultery can be considered an imperative of the gospel.


too many rules

An extract from an article by Mike Horton on the church’s call in the world.

‘Pastors aren’t authorized to create their own blueprint for transformation, but are servants of the Word. Where Scripture has clearly spoken, he must speak. Where it is silent, he must keep his personal opinions and perhaps even learned conclusions to himself. Of course, pastors are called to preach the whole council of God… That’s enough to occupy our prayerful action in the world, without piling up commands that God never gave. We’re never called to transform the world (or even our neighborhood). We’re never called even to bring millions to Jesus Christ. We’re called to be faithful in our vocations at work, at home, in our neighborhoods and in our witness to those individuals whom God brings across our path in ordinary ways every day.’



re-discovering biblical language

Language clothes truth.  It gives shape to what is otherwise amorphous.  Biblical language, expressed in context, is truth.  For this reason I  worry when self-evidently biblical language and language that is not obscure begins to disappear from the Christian vocabulary.  When we abandon the vocabulary are we abandoning the truth?  Below are a few common biblical words no longer generally current in evangelical Christian writing and preaching as far as I can see.  Am I right?  Can you think of others?

  • believer  –  the common NT word used by Christians to describe Christians is ‘believer’.  Why is it rarely used today?  Is it too inconsequential?  Is it too non-partisan?  Do other labels appear to have more status?
  • saved  –  ‘saved’ is the NT word used to describe those who trust in Christ.  Then as now its implications required       fleshing out but it was championed nevertheless.  Why are we so reluctant to speak of people being saved?   Are we ashamed to admit we need ‘saved’?  As a word, does it reduce perceived human dignity too much
  • godliness  –   a key NT word to describe Christian character is godly/ungodliness/piety.  Why are we afraid of being defined as godly?  Does it lack machismo?

None of these words is ‘cool’ in Christian-speak.  Perhaps each needs to be re-instated, and soon, or we may lose more than the word; we may lose the reality it expresses.


clergy, laity, and the bible

Ben Witherington has a first class article on the unbiblical divide of clergy and laity,  Here and there I may quibble but over all this article is excellent and deserves to be widely read.  Below are a few tasters from the article.

‘… This [1 Pet 2]  friends is the Magna Carta of Christian identity and Christian freedom, and among other things it means we are all laity, and we are all priests.  We will unpack the implications of this wonderful verse in a moment, but first we need to answer a question— if what I say is true, what went wrong with Christian religion, and when did it happen?   Why do we continue to have a clergy club and laity conferences for non-clergy?   I’m glad you asked.

What happened, already beginning in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. is the same thing that happened to God’s people as recorded in 1 Samuel— they wanted to be like other nations, other peoples.  They wanted a king and a kingdom–and of course you remember that God obliged them and gave them Saul, not exactly what they were hoping for.  Be careful what you wish for, as God may let you have it–and then he will let you have it (in another sense), when you use it to distance people from God.   Well the church, especially after it became a licit religion in the 4th century A.D. thanks to Constantine, the church longed to be like the other religions with priests, temples and sacrifices, and more to the point they longed to be like God’s OT people with priests, temples, and sacrifices, and they got what they wished for.   The OT hermeneutic was applied to NT ministry and so it was that ministers became priests, churches became temples,  the Lord’s Supper became a sacrifice, Sunday became the Sabbath sacrificial giving became tithing— all in defiance of what Peter says and means in 1 Pet. 2.9.  And of course the ultimate irony happened when Peter who wrote 1 Peter was turned into the first Pope— and he is still surprised about that!!’

‘Frankly I have run into too many ordained clergy who think: 1) it is their job to do most all the ministry (though they complain bitterly they are over-taxed and under-appreciated); and 2) instead of “equipping the saints for ministry”  they have in fact disabled, discontinued, even destroyed the ministry of those who are not, like them, ordained clergy.  What is all too often put in the place of every member a minister is the pastor-American idol syndrome, the pastor super-star model, which feeds on America’s love of the cult of personality.  This is not a good, much less a godly approach to ministry and it leads to Humpty-Dumpty syndrome— ministers who put themselves up on a pedestal and are bound to have a great fall.  Remember Ted Haggard?   Remember Jim Bakker?   For everyone one of them, there are hundreds of not well known clergy who fall into the same trap.  And of course a lot of this has to do with people in ministry with: 1) serious ego deficiencies and problems with feelings of low self-worth;  2) people in ministry who are tremendously talented and enormously spiritually and emotionally immature;  3) people in ministry whose family life is not stable and whose most intimate relationships are not what they ought to be.’

‘Are there any ministry tasks that those we today call lay persons should not do, at least from time to time?   My answer to this question is no.  We need more preachers, more teachers, more evangelists, more Stephen’s ministers, more soup kitchen workers, more doctors, not less.  But again because of the nature of the ministries of Word, order and sacrament,  because they are the very lifeblood which keeps the congregation going and on task more training, more education,  more full-time commitment is required for these tasks.  As the Bible suggests, to those to whom more is given, more is required, and if you have been given the gift of regular performance of the ministries of Word, order, and sacrament, you need to study to find yourself approved, just as a medical doctor has to commit himself to life long learning to be a good doctor. Sometimes preachers say to me “I’m no expert in the Bible, but I preach each Sunday’. My response to this is— if you are not the expert in the Bible for your people, who is?’


can you say shibboleth

Cultures are defined by their history and their language. In fact, their history creates their language and their language preserves and explains their history. Thus a culture is a community of people who share in a common history and language.

Language is powerfully cohesive (and divisive). When God wanted to scatter peoples across the earth he simply divided their language. People groups are language groups. Indeed all subcultures within a main culture find their identity in a common language. There is the language of the dancer, the footballer, the lawyer and so on. Without their own ‘language’ these community groups would have no real identity, could not function and actually would cease to exist.

Where is all this going?

It is simply to observe that the Christian Church must of necessity have its own language. To be a Christian is to share in a common community history. It is to be part of a ‘peculiar’ people, part of a story that has generated its own language and vocabulary. This language expresses all that is rich and valuable in its heritage. Without its language the Christian Church loses its links with its past. It loses its understanding of the past. It loses its distinctiveness. In fact, it loses its gospel.

If the Christian Church discards for the sake of cultural engagement its own vocabulary and so history it will become so culturally assimilated that it loses its identity. This is what happens to communities that assimilate.

Thus, the church must preserve and protect its language and heritage, just as other communities seek to do. It must make its members familiar with its biblical history and with its distinctive language for in this language and history lie its identity, its cultural richness and its very existence. It is important that Christians understand words like justification, reconciliation, redemption, creation, providence, the fall, sin, Messiah, Son of Man, and so on for these are its life blood. Phrases like ‘the stone the builders rejected’ are meaningless to outsiders but to those in the Christian heritage they are culture- rich.

Christians are often eager to rid themselves of ‘in-house’ language. More about this in a moment, but for now I want simply to observe that this is mistaken for all the above reasons. More, we should not be embarrassed by a degree of ‘oddness’. Every alien culture seems odd to a resident culture. And Christians are ‘resident aliens’. They belong to a country with a different heritage and different values and so different language to the one in which they live and as a result will always be ‘different’.

Now a word of balance is needed here. This is no plea or excuse for unnecessary eccentricity unrelated to the gospel heritage. Nor is it an excuse to avoid engagement with an alien culture. We cannot excite others about the Christian heritage, nation and commonwealth to which we belong unless we engage with them. If we live in a foreign country we must learn its language. However, learning its language is one thing, losing our own is another. When we lose our language, we lose our history and so we lose our identity. We are culturally assimilated. We lose the gospel.

Do you speak the Christian language? Are you familiar with its vocabulary? Does it identify you? Can you say shibboleth?


is the first commandment relevant to pagans?

One of the things I am always chipping away at is what seems to me to be the thoughtless and, worse still, unbiblical way that many impose the Mosaic Covenant, on folks today – pagan or Christian folks.  Now there are lots of issues here.  Let me focus on one.  We are told the Ten Commandments are for everyone.  But are they?  As they stand in Scripture can they simply be addressed to everyone.  Take the first commandment as restated in the Second Law of Deuteronomy.

Deut 6:5 (ESV)
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

At first blush we may say, surely this is for everyone.  But as it stands, is it?  The commandment demands love for ‘the Lord Your God‘.  But who is ‘the Lord‘ or ‘Yahweh‘ to the nations of the world?  Did the pagan nations know  ‘the Lord’?  Only Jewish people knew Yahweh.  The name ‘Yahweh’ was revealed only to Israel and therefore only to the covenant people is the command, ‘You shall love the Lord, Your God’ truly meaningful and immediately appropriate. A command based on personal relationship (the Lord, Your) was meaningless to the pagan nations.   Israel were to worship ‘the Lord‘ because he had made himself known to them.  He was, rightly to them, ‘Your God’.  The preface to the Ten Commandments makes this clear.

Exod 20:2 (ESV)
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Now don’t misunderstand me, the gospel involves pointing out to a pagan world that they have not worshipped and served their Creator, that this is the essence of sin (Roms 1:18-24) and incurs God’s wrath.  But that is somewhat different from preaching to pagan society that the Ten Commandments say, ‘You shall worship the Lord Your God…’ .  Such a statement is neither meaningful, nor, as it stands, relevant.

Thus Paul, when speaking to pagans of his day, does not cite the Ten Commandments, instead he says,

Acts 17:22-28 (ESV)
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

There is no mention of ‘the Lord’ or the Ten Commandments.  Instead Paul points to God as the Creator in whom they have found life and being and ties his claim to words of their own poet (not the Ten Words of the Law).   He then proceeds to reveal to them what they do not yet know that this God has made himself known savingly for them in Jesus Christ (not in redemption from Egypt).

Acts 17:29-31 (ESV)
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Their responsibility rests on their relationship to God as Creator, Provider, and Redeemer through Christ, not as Lawgiver to Israel.

My point is simple, we must avoid using the Law and the Ten Commandments in a blatantly non-historical sense.  If we are to use the Law effectively and as intended then we must first place it in its redemptive-historical context.  The need for this clarity is all the more imperative the further we become a post-Christian pagan culture.

For some further reflections on this topic see my article on the Greenview Evangelical Church Website.


I am of…

‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Calvin, I am of Luther, I am of Wesley, I am of Darby, I am of Carson, I am of Piper, I am of … I am of Christ’ (1Cor 1:12)

There is something deeply ‘fleshly’, worldly,  about such an attitude – voiced or unvoiced.  The premise is elitist, partisan, sycophantic, divisive, self-regarding, self-promoting and embarrassingly childish.  Yet it proliferates in Christian circles, not least among those interested in theology.  It tends to blinkered vision and bad-tempered exchanges.  It privileges people, confessions, and traditions over Scripture.  It creates highly sensitized ‘doctrine police’ and  incites theological pugilism.  Spiritual vigilantism flourishes.  It produces a stunted and limited orthodoxy.  If our spiritual understanding is only as big as our grasp of the ideas of a favoured guru then it is narrow and rutted.

Of course, it is as bad if not worse to disdain not what some say but what any say.  To be so spiritually lethargic that we don’t care who teaches or what they teach is just as debilitating.  What is taught is important.  Men don’t matter but the message does.  Preachers don’t matter, what matters is the preaching, not its rhetoric but its content.  We are called to ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’.  We are given a surfeit of preachers not so we can pick and choose, have favourites, and pit one against the other but because no one teacher has a monopoly of truth.  God teaches us his ‘manifold wisdom’ and ‘variegated grace’ through a kaleidoscope of voices.  Not separately but in conjunction and harmony they lead us into God’s mind and reveal God’s heart.  They are neither heroes nor gurus but servants through whom God gives his blessing.

Prov 11:14 (ESV)
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

For a helpful sermon on this topic go here.


biblical theology and preaching

(I picked this up from somewhere and I can’t remember where or I would acknowledge it.  Friend has just informed me.  It can be found in  SBTJ Forum 2006.  This is available as a pdf file here)

D.A. Carson has written an excellent summary of how biblical theology should impact our thinking and preaching. Here is an excerpt:

The habit of thinking through the magnificent diversity of the biblical books—which of course is so much a part of responsible biblical theology—is likely to help the preacher devote time and care to the way the genres of Scripture should affect his preaching. How do I handle lament, oracle, proverb, apocalyptic, narrative, fable, parable, poetry, letter, enthronement psalm, theodicy, dramatic epic? Not to think about such things, of course, may still leave you orthodox: you may find principles and truths in all of these kinds of texts, incorporate them into your atemporal systematic theology, and preach them. Yet God certainly had good reasons for giving us a Bible that is shaped the way it is: not a systematic theology handbook, but an extraordinarily diverse collection of documents, with one Mind behind the lot, traversing many centuries of writing, in many different forms. The fact that one Mind is behind all of the documents makes systematic theology both possible and desirable, but not at the expense of flattening out and domesticating the documents that still remain the “norming norm.”


unanswered prayer

In our Church God has greatly blessed us with a team of preachers clearly gifted by God.  The team is led by Andrew Hunter whose preaching is backed by a life that exhibits the fruit of the Spirit.  Biblical fidelity and realism mark his preaching.  Biblical depth and knowledge is coupled with clear and uncluttered presentation.  Today was an example of such preaching.  As part of a short series on prayer, Andy was considering what we think of as ‘unanswered prayer’.  It was a model of biblically informed, textually exposited, straightforward yet sensitive, pastoral preaching.  Below are a few of his points.  I recommend you listen to the audio that is available here. (Or will be in a day or so).

Unanswered prayer

  • Misguided prayer
  • Selfish prayer
  • Deferred answer that we may learn patience

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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