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Founders Ministries Blog

Founders Ministries Blog

Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.

Contributers to the blog:

Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).

Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA

Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN

Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL

Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

Preparing for Gathered Worship: Come to Christ


Those involved in leading gathered worship know that much planning and preparation go into each service. The time we spend worshipping God together as His church is valuable. So time is invested praying and preparing the message, selecting and rehearsing the music, checking the sound and media, cleaning and making ready the building. When we arrive, we expect all to be ready. We assume that our leaders and those serving in various ministries will be in place.

But what of the church family? What should be expected of us? What are our role and responsibilities in gathered worship as a congregation?

This is the first in a series of posts in which I hope to probe these questions. How can we best prepare for, participate in and respond to corporate worship? We begin with preparing. The first thing we must do to prepare for worship may seem obvious, but is the most important.

We must come to Christ.

If we are to come to God and worship God, we must have Christ! Jesus said in John 14:6 that He alone is the Way, the Truth and Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Our greatest need, as we prepare for worship, is knowing and loving and being in Christ.

In John 4 Jesus enters into a discussion with a Samaritan woman at the well. He asks her for a drink and then tells her in verse 10:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

He then explains to her that He is the source of living water. Verses 13-14:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

As the conversation continues, Jesus confronts the woman with her sin in verse 18 by asking her to call her husband. She responds by changing the subject and asking Jesus a question about worship in verses 19-20.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

She was asking about the place of worship, but what she needed most to know was the Person to worship. Notice how Jesus answers her question. He tells her in verses 21-24:

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

She needed the Spirit of God to quicken her spirit that she might receive truth and know and recognize and come to Christ. Her reply in verse 25 indicates that God was indeed opening her eyes. She says to Jesus:

“I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

Jesus then tells her plainly in verse 26: “I who speak to you am he.”

What the woman does next is marvelous. She has found Christ. And now she is no longer curious about this mountain or that mountain. She leaves her water pot, goes into the town, speaks with people she may have otherwise avoided, and tells them in verse 29:

“Come, see a Man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

This is our great need as well. If we are to worship God, we must first “come see a Man.” We need our eyes and hearts opened that we might see and know and come to Jesus. We need this certainly when God first rescues us from our sin and draws us to Himself. But we need it continually. We need always to look to Christ and stay anchored in the hope of gospel (Hebrews 12:2).

So, as you prepare for worship, keep your eyes on Jesus. It is only because of Him that you can come into the presence of God and fear no condemnation. It is only because of Him that God receives you and delights in your worship. You can come into the gathered worship of the church and enjoy great fellowship, sing favorite songs, hear the reading of God’s Word and the prayers of His people, learn right answers to good questions—but if you miss Christ, you will miss worship.

6 Battle-Tested Ways to Become More Content

As Tom Hicks outlined in a recent post here, so unusual is contentment in a fallen human being that Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called it “a rare jewel.” Nothing exhibits Christian maturity like contentment in Christ and nothing unmasks our immaturity like discontentment, which I examined in part I of this series. Yet, contentment is elusive. The writer of Proverbs alludes to this in 27:20b, “... never satisfied are the eyes of man.”

What is contentment? Burroughs defines it this way: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.... It is the inward submission of the heart.” Similarly, Michael Scott Horton asserts that “Being content with life means accepting the circumstances in which God’s providence has placed me.”

My own definition is brief but strikes at the heart of the sin of discontentment: contentment is the opposite of covetousness. It is the opposite of covetousness because the coveting heart says, “I deserve better than what God has given me, a better ministry position, a better job, a better spouse, better children, a better socioeconomic position... better.” Discontentment runs at cross purposes with the tenth commandment. And fallen man is a discontented lot.

But there is good news for followers of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4, Paul says he learned the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance. Paul, the great apostle, Paul the author of Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and much more, Paul, whom the Lord took up into the third heaven, who encountered Jesus tangibly on the road to Damascus, had to learn contentment. That fact alone encourages us with hope and reminds us that sanctification indeed progresses in fits and starts over the course of a life.

How did he do it? Paul cultivated contentment in his life by reaching a settled conclusion that Christ was enough for him. He was willing to say in fashion similar to Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also….” As I pointed out previously, that is at the heart of the meaning of Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not a promise that adding a little Jesus to my daily repertoire will push me to perform superhuman feats, but a promise that is far more expansive: I can find peace and joy in this life, no matter the intensity of the storm that swirls around me, when Christ is my pearl of great price.

But how may I cultivate this most elusive of virtues? With a little help from Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his exposition of Philippians coupled with few of my own insights, here are a six thoughts:

1. Conditions and circumstances in life are always changing, therefore my satisfaction and joy must not be tied to circumstances. Jesus must not be one who merely meets our material and physical needs. Jesus is not a divine ATM. John Piper’s words are sobering and penetrating here: “I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful. It’s when you smash your car and your little child smashes through the windshield and lands dead on the street, and you say, through the deepest possible pain, ‘God is enough. He is good. He will take care of us. He will satisfy us. He will see us through this. He is our treasure.’ Whom I in heaven but you and on earth there is nothing that I besides you, my flesh and my heart and my little child may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. That makes God look glorious as God, not as giver of cars or safety or health…. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss, not prosperity.” Thus, contentment comes when I melt my will and my desires into Christ’s will and desires, even when I struggle to understand my circumstances.

2. What matters supremely in life is my soul and my relationship to God. Christ’s death and resurrection is my only hope. Hope may be our most powerful possession. Hope is the sunshine and rain of our life—it is what makes us grow and thrive. Without it, we won’t flourish. An old saying applies here: “Human beings can live 40 days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air, but we can’t live four seconds without hope.” And we have a sure and settled hope as the anchor of our souls (Heb. 6:19).

3. God is concerned about me as my Father, and nothing happens to me apart from His will. Even the hairs on my head are numbered. He is meticulously sovereign. He is good and he delights to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:7–11).

4. God’s will and God’s ways are a great mystery, but I know that whatever he wills or permits is for my good. Every situation in life is an unfolding of some manifestation of God’s love and goodness. Therefore, my business is to look for each special manifestation of God’s goodness and be prepared for surprises and blessings. Romans 8:28 is not a trite cliché, but a glorious promise for God’s children that serves as solid ground for their feet.

5. I must not regard my circumstances and conditions in and of themselves, but as part of God’s dealings with me in the work of perfecting my soul and bringing me to final perfection. In a life east of Eden, suffering will be a major part of this. We must burn into our minds and hearts the words of the psalmist in 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.”

6. Whatever my conditions may be at this present moment, they are only temporary, they are passing, and they can never rob me of the joy and the glory that ultimately await me in Christ. To be content, I must realize that my inheritance is in heaven and it is being guarded to be revealed on the last day (1 Peter 1:4). Paul called his affliction momentary and light (2 Cor. 4:16–18), even though he suffered in ways the vast majority of us never will. See his ministry resume in 2 Cor. 11:16–29 for a stunning laundry list of Paul’s sufferings in service of the gospel.

Next time, in part 3, I will examine what a contented life in Christ looks like in the full-court press of everyday life.

You’ve Heard God’s Word... Now What?

One of the great benefits of gathered worship with the church is that it keeps us regularly under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. As God’s people we must give attention to God’s Word. We must be diligent to listen as it is taught. We must be willing to place our lives in its light and ask God to shine upon us.

As the Word of God shines on us, exposing our sin, we are to respond with repentance. God’s Word has a penetrating gaze into the life of the believer. It is like a light that shines into a room. When the light is dim, the room may not look too bad. It may look rather pleasant. But as it shines more brightly, we begin to notice spills and stains, dirt and dust—messes we never even knew were there.

This is what Christ does through His Word each week as we sit under the preaching and teaching of truth. He comes into our lives and opens drawers, and goes through closets, and looks behind our cherished possessions. He exposes our darkness and smashes our idols. He makes us aware of our sinfulness, and we begin to realize just how dark and deep our sins really go. Our repentance deepens as we learn to confess sin, fight sin, flee temptation and turn away from sin.

But for us to have hope, repentance must be accompanied by another response in worship. Though we must see ourselves in light of God’s Word, we must look even more intently at Christ. As the Word of God shines on Christ, revealing Him as the way of salvation, we must respond with faith. In ourselves we have no hope. But in Christ there is mercy and forgiveness. In our sinfulness we face fear and condemnation. But in Christ we find joy and redemption. We must put our hope and trust in Christ alone. We turn away from sin, but we turn to Jesus.

Because of Christ our faith is strengthened, even as our repentance grows deeper. Our sin is great; our need is certain. But our Savior is greater, and the promise of the gospel is more certain. As we look to Christ by faith we realize more and more just how precious He is, how much we need the gospel, how much we need His perfect righteousness to clothe us. This is why we so need the gospel—even after we have professed faith in Christ. We never outgrow the gospel. We must day by day learn to walk in faith and repentance.

Faith, like repentance, is not something we can find or create in ourselves. Faith is a gift of God rooted in His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8–10).

By faith we believe the gospel and walk in its light, trusting that all God has said in His Word will certainly come to pass. Faith allows us to lay hold of the promises of God, though we have not yet seen the final outcome.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

We have every reason to trust God and rest in Him. Over and over the Bible exhorts us:

You keep him in perfect peace 
whose mind is stayed on you, 
because he trusts in you. 
Trust in the LORD forever, 
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. 
(Isaiah 26:3–4)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. 
Commit your way to the LORD; 
trust in him, and he will act. 
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, 
and your justice as the noonday. 
(Psalm 37:3–6)

Trust in him at all times, O people;
 pour out your heart before him;
 God is a refuge for us. Selah
 (Psalm 62:8)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. 
In all your ways acknowledge him,
 and he will make straight your paths. 
(Proverbs 3:5–6)

Even in times of trials, the promises of God remain true. Trials, as Peter teaches us, can be God’s means to increase and test our faith, that Christ would be magnified in our lives:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3–9).

This is how we respond rightly to worship—trusting Jesus by faith.

As we go out from worship, we must go out into a life of faith, a life where we are not trying to sort things out on our own, but a life where we are committed to walking in the light of God’s Word and trusting in His promises. Responding rightly to worship is anchoring our hope and securing our faith in Christ alone.

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

by Jon English Lee

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - Ex. 20:8-11 (ESV)

It is of no small importance that Exodus grounds the Fourth Commandment upon God’s example in creation.[1] Chantry offers this reason for referring back to creation: “God’s written fourth commandment recalls the first historic observance of the Sabbath in order to stir up our own compliance with Sabbath-keeping.” 
Using the text of Genesis 2 as a guide, this post will examine three creation narrative observations, followed by a discussion of whether God’s rest should be viewed as descriptive or prescriptive.

Sabbath as Imitation of God

First, six days of work followed by a Sabbath day of rest imitates God’s own pattern (Gen. 2:2). Ryken puts it simply: “We are called to work and rest because we serve a working and resting God.”[2] Frame, borrowing from Meredith Kline’s work, offers three categories in which to classify the rest of God: consummation, enthronement, and consecration.[3]
God's rest on the seventh day is the consummation of His creative work: “As a celebration of the finishing of the world-temple, the Sabbath proclaims the name of the creator to be Consummator.”[4]

The Sabbath rest of God, foreshadowing Christ's future rest at the Father's right hand, also demonstrates Divine enthronement: “God created the heaven and the earth to be his cosmic palace and accordingly his resting is an occupying of his palace, a royal session. The dawning of the Sabbath witnesses a new enthronement of Elohim.”[5] Christ has always reigned as Lord, but now He has new territory over which to rule. 
Finally, the Sabbath is tied to consecration: “Consecration here means, then, that all creation recognizes, affirms, and honors God’s lordship and behaves accordingly.”[6] Man is present for the very first Sabbath day, and he is not without a role: “All the creation of the six days is consecrated to man as the one set over all the works of God’s hand, as the hierarchical structure of Genesis 1 shows, but man himself in turn is consecrated to the One who set all things under his feet.”[7]

God Blessed the Sabbath

A second creation-based reason to keep the Sabbath commandment is because the Lord Himself “blessed the Sabbath day” (Gen. 2:3a). Chantry ties this to a blessing that falls on those who enter into God’s rest with him.[8] Regardless of whether or not this refers to blessings being bestowed upon Sabbath keepers, the language of the passage does point toward a perpetual Sabbath pattern. In Genesis 1, God’s blessing is given over the fish in the sea, the fowl of the air, and of humans. This blessing is for the ongoing production and multiplication of each group. God likewise blesses the Sabbath day, setting it apart for ongoing observance.

God Sanctified the Sabbath

A third creation-based reason for seeing the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is that God made the Sabbath holy (Gen. 2:3a). This should give us even more reason to strengthen our resolve to keep the Sabbath. “He who is king over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He does not advise or request but decrees that it is so. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.”[9] Because the Lord himself has sanctified, or set apart, one day a week for reflection upon His work, it would be foolish to carelessly disregard such a pattern.
We should follow the Sabbath pattern set forth by our Creator. That claim is not without its detractors; so, in subsequent posts, I plan to defend God's Sabbath rest as prescriptive for us, rather than merely descriptive.

[1] See also David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 81ff.

[2] Ryken, Written in Stone, 107.

[3] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[4] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, as quoted in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 530

[7] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 530.

[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 27.

[9] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 28.

What are You Teaching?

“I’ve been a Southern Baptist all of my life but I’ve never heard these things. Why didn’t they teach this to me?”

The question struck a nerve. I had just finished an hour-long discussion with several people, including the lady who asked the question. We had talked about basic things concerning the Old Testament and New Testament. Our talk focused on what Jesus declared to the religious elite who hid behind their religious façade, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). Jesus also set the example for what He meant when He met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). All of Scripture points to Jesus Christ, God’s work of redemption through Him, and how He has accomplished the work necessary to bring sinners and rebels into relationship as sons and daughters of the living God.

Yet this lady had not heard of this basic kind of teaching. So how would that affect the way that she reads the Bible? Would she grasp the continuity between the testaments? Would she understand the first gospel statement in Genesis 3:15, and the way that God’s redemptive message continued through Malachi? Would the statement of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), make sense to her? Would she grasp what redemption, atonement, propitiation, and reconciliation meant through how both testaments develop these doctrines?

I could understand if she had not been taught some intricacies in historical theology or the various interpretations of Hebrews six or even the different theories of the atonement. But what we considered should be basic in every congregation.

Questions to Consider

To help us think through on this subject, let me offer a few questions to consider as we reflect upon our local congregations.

1. Do we take seriously teaching “the whole counsel of God”? Paul told the Ephesian elders that he did not shrink back from this kind of full-orbed teaching of God’s Word with them (Acts 20:27). What does that include? It certainly goes far beyond the so-called “Roman Road!” Would it not be useful to consider how our confessions of faith offer a compendium of what we must teach over a period of years with our churches? Should not these doctrinal standards work out in our regular preaching?

2. Do we preach through books of the Bible in order to show the continuity of God’s Word? Here’s what I mean. Preaching through a book, if done properly, can never be done in isolation from the rest of Scripture. Each biblical book has been informed by and/or connected with other portions of Scripture. Faithful exposition does biblical theology as the sermon unfolds. Plus, preaching/teaching consecutively through a book also teaches good hermeneutics, so that those listening learn through that process how to properly interpret God’s Word. Expositions should model how to study the Word.

3. Do we organize opportunities to help our members grasp biblical theology, church history (and historical theology with it), biblical discipleship, ecclesiology, and missions? Obviously, I can add more fields of study, but surely, the ones that I’ve mentioned are essential for church members to understand their relationship to the body of Christ, their part in God’s mission, the practice of spiritual disciplines, and their growing understanding of God’s Word. These might take place in small groups, Sunday bible classes, discipleship groups, men’s and ladies’ studies, student studies, Wednesday night classes, etc. Shouldn’t we be embarrassed when cult groups understand their “faith” better than evangelicals? Let’s take away the excuses that our people make for not knowing the Christian faith well enough to explain it with passion!

4. Do we prepare our congregations to face trials, adversity, and even death by having saturated them in the Word? Several years ago, it hit me that a major part of my pastoral role is to help people face trials, adversity, and death. Rarely do we have warning that these ever-present realities of living in a fallen world are about to meet our people with shocking force. But if they are prepared by having steeped in the richness of the Word, then when we come to the moments of bringing comfort and encouragement, we’re not scrambling to make up for lost years when we should have made them ready for most everything that providence lays at their feet.

Over a two or three-year period, we walked through great trials with three of our families, each of whom lost a child. We wept with them as we sought to encourage them through the weightiness of a child’s death. Yet as we journeyed, each made some comment to the effect that the Lord had been preparing them through His grace to bear up under their loss. Scripture they had stored up came to the forefront of their need.

What are you teaching your congregation? Let it never be said of us, “They didn’t teach me these things.” Instead, proclaim Jesus Christ, admonish and teach every person under your charge with all wisdom, in order that you might present him and her complete in Christ. Labor and strive to do so in Christ’s power that works mightily within you (Col 1:28–29).

How to Distinguish a True Christian from a Hypocrite

How can you tell whether you’re a genuine believer or a false professor? One of the best books describing the true nature of conversion is The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie. The great Puritan theologian John Owen highly commended it and wrote, “The author [of The Christian’s Great Interest] I take to have been one of the greatest divines that ever wrote; it is my Vade-mecum [that is, “handbook”], and I carry it and the Sedan New Testament, still about with me. I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in it than in them all.”

Consider what William Guthrie says in chapter 5 of his book about the differences between the true Christian and the hypocrite. Here are some ways in which the hypocrite may be like the Christian.

1. A hypocrite may be influenced by the gospel in every part of himself. He may come to great knowledge of God’s truth (Heb 6:4). His emotions about Christ may be high (Matt 13:20). He may even experience drastic changes in the outward man, like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, etc.” (Lk 18:11–12).

2. A hypocrite may look to others like he’s a true believer. He might talk of the law and the gospel (Ps 50:16), openly confess his sin to his own shame (1 Sam 26:21), and humble himself in sackcloth (1 Kgs 21:27). He may even carefully consider what duties he needs to perform and seek after them (Is 58:2), persevere even in hard times, give his possessions away to God and the saints, or even give his body away to be burned (1 Cor 13:3).

3. A hypocrite may advance far in God’s ordinary graces. He may come under great convictions of sin, just as Judas did (Matt 27:3–5). He may tremble at the word of God, just as Felix did (Acts 24:25), rejoice in receiving the truth (Matt 13:20), and have many experiences of tasting the good graces of God (Heb 6:4).

4. A hypocrite may have some characteristics very similar to the saving graces of the Holy Spirit. He may have a kind of faith, like Simon Magus who “believed also” (Acts 8:13) but then proved to be a false believer. He may have a kind of legal and outward repentance that looks very much like true repentance (Mal 3:14). He may have a great and powerful fear of God, like Balaam did (Num 22:18). He may experience a kind of hope (Job 8:13). The hypocrite may even have some love, as Herod had of John (Mk 6:26).

5. A hypocrite can even have great and powerful experiences of God. He may have “tasted of the heavenly gift” and become “partakers of the Holy Spirit” and experienced the “powers of the age to come” and yet not be genuinely converted.

So, what are the marks of a true believer? How is genuine conversion to be distinguished from false conversion? Guthrie provides five marks of a true believer that are not possessed by the hypocrite.

1. A true believer’s heart is changed forever. In Jeremiah 32:39 the Lord says, “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever.” Hypocrites never have a changed nature. Hypocrites want Christ for the good that He might do them in the world. But a true believer’s heart loves Christ as the all-satisfying treasure of this life and the next.

2. A true believer’s changed life comes from a heart of love to Christ. Hypocrites can clean up their outward behavior to be seen by men, to ease their troubled consciences, or to keep themselves from the consequences of their sins. But true believers love Christ and keep His commandments for His sake, to serve Him, to know Him, and to bring glory to His name (Ps 119:6).

3. A true believer seeks Christ and His kingdom above all else. This is the one thing necessary: Christ’s friendship and fellowship. But that is never the “one thing” and heart-satisfying choice of the hypocrites. True believers, on the other hand, desire that this “better part would never be taken from them” (Lk 10:42).

4. A true believer submits to the righteousness of God. He abandons all hope in himself and his own righteousness, and rests wholly in the righteousness of Christ for his acceptance before God. A true believer rests in Christ and Him only as his Savior. Hypocrites don’t do this (Rom 10:3). They depend, in some degree, upon their own righteousness.

5. A true believer has the three great essentials of genuine Christianity. First, he is broken in heart and emptied of his own righteousness so as to loath himself (Lk 19:10). Second, he takes up Christ Jesus as the only treasure and jewel that can enrich and satisfy (Matt 13:44). Third, he sincerely closes with Christ’s whole yoke without exception, judging all His “will just and good, holy and spiritual” (Rom 7:12). A hypocrite does none of these things.

Tom Hicks serves as the Pastor of Discipleship at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He's happily married to Joy, and they have three children. You can follow him on Twitter @TomHicksJr.


Preparing for Gathered Worship: Put on Love


If we are to worship God in a way that honors Him, we must first be in Christ, resting in His righteousness alone, trusting in Him alone for our acceptance before God. But we must also, as people called by His name, put on love.

In Colossians 3:12–15 Paul tells us:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36), He did not say: “Know all that you can know about God so you can understand and explain all the great mysteries.” He did not say: “Have great faith so you faith can move mountains.” He did not say: “Give all that you have to feed the poor” or “be willing to die a martyr’s death in the fire.”

Note what Jesus did say:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Love to God and love to one another is what should mark us out as followers of Christ.

We should love God supremely—with every part of our being—all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. And we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus concludes: “On these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

It is our love for one another in the body of Christ that identifies us as disciples of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

This love is manifest in numerous ways. It exults and celebrates with those who are rejoicing. It reaches out with compassion and hope to those who are struggling. It offers encouragement to those who are discouraged and weighed down. It shares in both joys and sufferings, in trials as well as triumphs. It pursues with discipline those who have strayed and turned down bad paths. It admits wrongs, seeks forgiveness and accepts with open arms those who repent and seek reconciliation.

Jesus sets our priority on love.

This is what He taught Moses, when He gave His law on Mount Sinai. It is what He lived out when He perfectly fulfilled His law and went to the cross to die for desperate, needy sinners. It is what He taught His disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another (John 15:9-17)

As we prepare for worship, we must put on love. Without love—it does not matter how well we go through the motions or say the right words. Without love—it does not matter how good we sound in our prayers and our singing and our preaching. Without love we are a sounding brass and a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13).

20 Ways to Find Contentment

Jeff Robinson has started a great series on contentment, but the topic has been on my own heart as well. I’ve been reading Jeremiah Burroughs’ classic book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and wanted to share a bit of it here. If you haven’t read this book, let me encourage you to get it and read it. American culture fosters discontentment and all the miseries and heartaches that go along with it. Discontentment is coveting what we do not have, longing for it, believing that if we have it, then we will be satisfied.  To be content is to obey the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet” in the power of Christ and the gospel of grace.  Here’s my summary of 20 ways that Burroughs describes contentment.

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

1. Contentment is a sweet, inward matter of the heart. Many people appear to be calm on the outside, but inwardly, they are frantic emotional basket-cases. True contentment is an inward peace and calmness of soul no matter what kinds of terrible trials and sufferings may be happening on the outside.

2. Contentment doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain of your suffering. In fact, in order to learn contentment, you have to feel the pain of your sufferings. The pains and sorrows of whatever crosses you’re bearing are the things God uses to teach you to find comfort in Christ. If you ignore the pain, belittle it, or mindlessly muscle your way through it, you’ll never learn the lesson of contentment in Christ.

3. Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cry out to God and to your friends in Christ. It’s only by crying out to God in faith and submission that you’ll find contentment. God brings you into a state of contentment through communion with Himself. And often, God uses godly friends to speak the truth to you in love, to remind you of the graces of Christ, and to comfort you in His love.

4. Contentment doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to end your suffering. You should certainly seek every God-honoring and lawful means of ending the sufferings you’re experiencing in life. Particularly, if an injustice is being committed against you, and it’s causing you suffering, then it’s your Christian duty to try to end it in any lawful way possible.

5. Contentment means that you should not grumble under God’s good hand. If you’re content, you’ll remember that God Himself has a hand in your suffering. Some people complain that God isn’t good or wise in what He does in their lives, and they think they know better than Him how their lives ought to be. But grumbling and complaining is forbidden because it fails to rest in the knowledge of God and receive His comfort and strength.

6. Contentment means that you mustn’t become bitter or angrily lash out at God and others. Some get so deeply angry when trials come into their lives that they lash out at God and others. But God calls you to quietly accept His loving Fatherly rod of discipline.  He kindly calls you to contentment for your own good.

7. Contentment means that you’re not distracted from your God-given duties.  Some are so discontent in their trials that they neglect the responsibilities God gives them in life.  They may begin to neglect family, church, or their job responsibilities because their present circumstances are so full of sorrow.  But this isn’t how a Christian should respond to suffering.  Often it’s by doing what God calls you to do in a disciplined way that you can grow in contentment.

8. Contentment means that you don’t neglect communion with Christ. It’s possible for your fears and anxieties to become so great that you neglect vital union and communion with Jesus. But knowledge of Christ’s love and communion with Him is the very foundation of contentment and the source of peace with God and joy in this fallen world.

9. Contentment doesn’t sink into dark discouragements. The believer who is content in God remembers God’s power and love, that He’s able to rescue sinners, to heal the sick, to make the blind see. God calls us to trust that He will deliver us from our sufferings in His time and in His way, according to His good pleasure.

10. Contentment doesn’t sin to try to get relief from pain. Sometimes when things are particularly dark, Christians are tempted to find comfort in their sin. They look for a sinful escape or distraction from their trials. Or they may be tempted to believe false doctrine as a means of escaping their pain and fostering some false hope of temporal rescue. But Christ would have us to be content in Himself and to flee from sin and heresy.

11. Contentment doesn’t rebel against God. When people are least content, they’re often tempted to shake their fists in God’s face. They blame God and accuse Him for their troubles. They believe the worst of Him for brining trails into their lives. But God only has thoughts of love in everything He does to those who belong to Him.  It isn’t from ill-will that God brings suffering into the lives of His beloved children.

12. Contentment is a grace that spreads through the whole person. That is, a content person’s thoughts, emotions, and will are all content in Christ. Sometimes people have a very hard time even understanding why they should be content in their situation. Other times, they may understand the reasons they should be content, but they have a very hard time actually feeling content. And still other times, people will not act with contentment. True contentment involves the whole man.

13. Contentment comes from within, from the heart. It’s possible for a person to warm up by a fire for awhile, but he gets cold again when he leaves the warmth of the fire. Some people get temporary contentment by surrounding themselves with external arguments, with people, and with circumstances that make them feel content for a little while, but when their circumstances change, their contentment also leaves them. True contentment, however, radiates from within by the Spirit of Christ. Christian contentment isn’t conditioned upon outward circumstances.

14. Contentment is a habitual character of the heart. Someone who has learned to be content has a habit and discipline of bringing his heart into a state of stable and peaceful contentment, even though the world around him is constantly changing. He practices contentment during lesser trials so that he is strong and able to practice contentment during greater trials.

15. Contentment does not come from a naturally sturdy disposition. Some people have a natural ability to stabilize themselves by sheer force of will. They do this by dulling their emotions and distancing themselves from attachments to the world in a stoic way. But true godly contentment is not dull. The source of godly contentment is Christ. It longs for Him, trusts in Him, rejoices in Him, and wants to honor Him in all of life.

16. Contentment submits to God’s sovereign will. A content person bows under God’s sovereign hand and submits to what God has ordained in his life. He acknowledges that God has appointed this hardship in life and so accepts it from God’s hand. A submissive Christian realizes that he is under authority and he does not resist God’s authority.

17. Contentment takes pleasure in God’s sovereign will. Far more than just submitting to God’s will, a content person knows that there must be good in what God has ordained. Burroughs wrote, “I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand. No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.’”

18. Contentment submits to every kind of affliction. For example, some people may be able to submit to God striking their own personal health. But they wouldn’t be able to stand God striking their spouse or their child. True contentment submits to all of God’s wise providences.

19. Contentment submits to God’s time-table of affliction. Some would say, “This affliction has lasted too long. The affliction itself is bearable, but the length of time I’m required to endure this affliction is unbearable.” But true contentment acknowledges that God’s time-table is good and wise.

20. Contentment submits to afflictions when many come at the same time. Some may say, “This one affliction is bearable all by itself, but it has come with so many other trails and troubles at the same time.” One suffering often comes with many other sufferings. But true contentment submits to God’s wisdom in brining more than one kind of affliction at once.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, and you’re convicted of your own discontentment, as I am of mine, then the law has done its most basic work. The 10th commandment declares: “You shall not covet.” But the law cannot save you or change you. The law, which commands you to be content, has no power to make you content. You can’t simply decide by force of will that you’re going to start keeping the law and become more content.

Rather, you need Jesus. Only a believing sight of Jesus, our glorious Savior, can quiet your heart and make you content. If you are a believer, remember that Christ died for your sin of discontentment. His blood washes you completely clean. His righteousness covers you so that you’re accepted in the courts of heaven before the bar of God’s justice. It’s only by thinking on Christ, His glories, His wisdom, His greatness, and His perfect love for you, that you will be able to grow little by little, more and more, into contentment for your own joy and for the glory God. It’s when you purposely, and in a disciplined way, draw near to Christ from the heart that you can learn to keep God’s law, to be content, and reap the blessings of it.

Responding to Opposition and Persecution

It is impossible to live a faithful Christian life without experiencing opposition and persecution. Jesus promises his disciples that in this world we “will have tribulation” (John 16:33), and Paul warns Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly live in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Given this inevitable reality, how then are followers of Jesus to respond to such treatment?

Jesus clearly answers that question when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). This is what apostles teach, as well. “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14); “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

It is natural to become defensive or combative when mistreated, but the way of Christ calls us to respond with humility and love. As we remember our sin and what we actually deserve, we are humbled. As we remember our opponents and what they actually need, we desire to see them blessed.

Two examples stand out in my mind as illustrating this kind of grace at work. The first comes from a fascinating scene in the life of King David. When his son Absalom usurped his throne, David was forced to flee Jerusalem. Early in his journey Shimei confronted him and his entourage by throwing stones at them and cursing David, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and theLORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood” (2 Samuel 16:7–8).

Those words had enough truth in them to pierce David’s conscience. One of his mighty men, Abishai, wanted to decapitate that “dead dog” Shimei, but David, reminded of his own sin and God’s sovereignty over even these events, refused to allow any vengeful response and to leave the matter with God.

The second example comes from the life of George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist who was greatly used in the Great Awakening. He was often abused by opponents, even having rotten fruit and dead cats thrown at him on occasion. Perhaps nothing wounded him more deeply than to be vilified in the name of Christ by fellow ministers of the gospel. He describes one such occasion that took place on a Sunday morning in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1740.

In the morning, I went to church, and heard the Commissary [representative of the Bishop of London] preach. Had some infernal spirit been sent to draw my picture, I think it scarcely possible that he could have painted me in more horrid colours. I think, if ever, then was the time that all manner of evil was spoken against me falsely for Christ’s sake. The Commissary seemed to ransack church history for instances of enthusiasm and abused grace. He drew a parallel between me and all the Oliverians, Ranters, Quakers, French Prophets, till he came down to a family of the Dutarts, who lived, not many years ago, in South Carolina, and were guilty of the most notorious incests and murder.

How would you have responded to being singled out, lied about, and scorned in such a way in a Sunday morning sermon? Whitefield’s response shows us the way of Christ.

To the honour of God’s free grace be it spoken, whilst the Commissary was representing me thus, I felt the Blessed Spirit strengthening and refreshing my soul. God, at the same time, gave me to see what I was by nature, and how I had deserved His eternal wrath; and, therefore, I did not feel the least resentment against the preacher. No; I pitied, I prayed for him; and wished, from my soul, that the Lord would convert him, as he once did the persecutor Saul, and let him know that it is Jesus Whom he persecutes. In the evening, many came, I was informed, to hear what I would say; but as the Commissary hinted, that his sermons should be printed, and as they were full of invidious falsehood, I held my tongue, and made little or no reply.

This is precisely the way that our Lord responded when he suffered to accomplish our salvation. In doing so he has provide us with an example of how we who follow him are to respond. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Christians must remember that our Master secured our salvation through suffering and crucifixion. The path that we are called to walk as we work out that salvation in our own lives is no different. As servants, we are not above our Master. By the grace that comes from our Lord, we can learn to live by faith in him so that we do not respond to opposition and persecution in the same way as those who do not know his grace. As we do so, we demonstrate that there is a power greater than our own strength at work in our lives and provide a platform for the source of this power to be proclaimed with persuasive credibility.

Participating in Gathered Worship: Worship with Eager Submission

In the last several posts we have asked the question: How are we to join in the gathered worship of the church? We must make an effort to come and gather. We must enter fully into worship when we arrive. And we must worship God in spirit and in truth.

Another key element of our participation in worship is a submissive, teachable heart. When we come to worship, we should pray that God will subdue and humble our hearts. We too often show up to corporate worship with our own agendas and assumptions. We get set in our ways and no longer expect God’s Word to challenge and change us. We need God to come and work in us—to bend our will to His. We need to pray and then obey: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). We need to learn submission so we can joyfully love and serve and follow Him together.

This includes submission to church leaders, pastors, and elders who shepherd our souls. We are told in the book of Hebrews:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

And it includes submission to one another in the fear of God, as we walk together in the light of the gospel.

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)

Most importantly, we are to be attentive and submissive to the Word of God. We must come ready to hear and receive and do what God teaches us in Scripture. This is the desire of the psalmist in Psalm 119: “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end” (Psalm 119:112). James admonishes us: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). It should be our predisposition as followers of Christ to believe and to do all that He says in His Word. We see this mindset displayed in Peter (Simon) in Luke 5:

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking (Luke 5:1–6).

Peter had just heard Jesus teaching the Word of God. He had provided his boat so Jesus could teach the crowd. But then Jesus asked Peter to do something that did not make sense. He told him to go out to the deep part of the lake and cast his net. Peter was a fisherman and he knew the lake well. He knew the best times and the best places to fish. He had been out fishing the previous night without catching any fish. Yet, because Jesus told him to go and cast the net, he did so. He was predisposed to obey his Master. “But at Your word, I will let down the nets.” Peter obeyed and a bountiful catch was the result.

We need to nurture such a disposition in our own hearts. Let’s cast off reluctance, hesitation, and lethargy, and pursue a readiness and inclination to do what God says in His Word. Participation in worship requires a submissive, teachable heart—one that is opened, humbled, and readied for obedience by grace. May God work in our hearts by the power of His Spirit, each time we sit under the preaching and teaching of His Word, and grant us an eager submission—ready to hear, ready to learn, and ready to obey.

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Participating in Gathered Worship: Worship in Spirit and in Truth

What would you consider essential to worship? What is truly necessary if true worship is to occur? Is it a certain style of preaching? Is it a certain type of music? Is it a sense of reverence and awe? Is it a sense of excitement and praise? Of course it is important to be intentional and thoughtful about our preaching and singing in worship. And it is important that we respond in appropriate ways as we worship. But Jesus points us to something deeper at the heart of worship.

In John 4, in the midst of a conversation at the well with a woman from Samaria, Jesus revealed the essence of true worship. He said in verses 23–24:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24).

In these verses Jesus teaches us two essential truths about worship. Those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth. These are not two different or distinct ways of worshipping God, but two essential parts of the same worship.

If we are to participate rightly in worship, we must worship in spirit.

Our worship must be heart-felt and alive in the power of Holy Spirit. In order for us to worship in spirit, we need the Spirit of God to seek us out and make us alive. God must first come and draw us to Himself, awaken us, quicken us, and enable us to come. As the Holy Spirit indwells us and enlivens our spirit, we see Christ as precious—we see our great need to be in Him, clothed in His righteousness alone—and we are able to worship God in spirit.

If we are to participate rightly in worship, we must worship in truth.

Our worship must be saturated with God’s Word and offered in submission to God’s Word. In order for us to worship in truth, we must pursue God and know God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. John begins His gospel pointing us to the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

If we are to worship in truth, we must have Christ. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus said of Himself:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

God gives us Christ, who is truth, and His Word. His Word is truth (John 17:17). It is through the Word of God that we know Christ and know the gospel, as the Spirit of God illumines the Word in our hearts and gives us understanding of truth.

God would have us worship Him in spirit and in truth. This is the essence of true worship. God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. We see this in both the Old and New Testaments.

In Isaiah 66 the prophet delivered the truth that Jesus was teaching in John 4: God cannot be confined to one place. He cannot be contained in a temple of stone.

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD (Isaiah 66:1–2a).

But notice where God’s presence does abide:

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b).

God looks upon those who are humble and contrite in spirit (worship in spirit) and who tremble at His Word (worship in truth).

Worship in spirit and in truth described the worship of the early church:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).

They were filled with the Holy Spirit (worship in spirit) and they spoke God’s Word with boldness (worship in truth).

Worship in spirit and truth framed Paul’s instruction for music in the church in the parallel passages in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that speak of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs:

Worship in Spirit:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19).

Worship in Truth:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

“God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” This has significant implications for us as we worship God today. As we plan worship, and lead worship, and participate in worship, there are two things we must do that are most essential:

  1. We must saturate our services with the Word of God. We must read it and preach it and pray it and sing it. We must obey it and follow its instructions as we order our services of worship.
  2. And we must pray for the presence and power of the Spirit. We need God’s Spirit to enliven our spirits and illumine His Word if we are to hear and understand and respond rightly to His Word.

May God grant us hearts that are sensitive to the presence of His Spirt and submissive to His truth as it is proclaimed whenever we gather in His name to worship.

We confess, without Your grace,
Vain our efforts in this place.
You must come and warm and stir,
For true worship to occur.

For Your Word, O Lord, we yearn;
Empty, let it not return.
Come, accomplish all Your will—
Draw, convict, give life, and fill.

(from “Lord, We Come to Hear Your Word”)

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Why Expository Preaching?


A few years before his death, I was talking with Dr. Stephen Olford about trends in preaching. The notable British expositor spent the last twenty years of his fifty-plus years in gospel ministry teaching biblical exposition from his preaching institute in Memphis and around the globe, influencing thousands of pastors over the years to “preach the Word.” He told me of sitting in an office discussing preaching with one of the country’s best-known young pastors. That megachurch pastor was not then and, to my knowledge, not presently given to weekly exposition. Rather his focus has been on topical sermons, typically lively and visually illustrated, even elaborately choreographed. In a somewhat shocking reprimand to the older preacher, this young man said, “Expository preaching is a thing of the past.” He went on to espouse his style of preaching as in vogue with the present generation.

I have often thought of that conversation with Dr. Olford, whose influence on my understanding of preaching from the time I was a junior in college continues to the present day. Olford rightly turned away from the trendy styles of preaching to stick with the practice that continues to transform lives and congregations after twenty centuries: biblical exposition. Does that mean that some of the trendy approaches to preaching cannot minister to people? Certainly not, for if God’s Word is read and opened to any degree, that Word goes forth to accomplish His purposes. Paul even gloried in Christ being preached by those who were antagonistic toward him, stating, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Phil 1:18). So even with styles that will fade when the next trend rolls around, the Lord is pleased to use weak, faulty messengers to convey truth that gives life.

Yet does that suggest that we may be careless when it comes to our approach to preaching? God forbid! As those who will give an account for the way that we handle God’s Word and shepherd His flock, we must guard against allowing opinion polls and marketers to shape the way that we preach the Word. Consequently, one does best to steer clear of any approach or preaching method that hinders or clouds or confuses the message of God’s Word. Desiring to be “trendy” melts before the gaze of Him before whom we will one day stand to give an account.

While not wanting to discourage, but rather, to clarify, all attempts at expository preaching are not genuinely expositional. I know that I have failed to expound the biblical text many times in my attempts at exposition. Some have the idea that if a nice, alliterated outline is used then the sermon is expository. But finely crafted outlines and rhyming terms do not an exposition make! Others provide a running commentary laced with quips and quotes that lacks clear explanation and application. That, too, falls short of exposition by unfortunately coming across more like a sterile, historical, or linguistic lecture than the Word of God opened and applied to the hearers. Does that also mean that all exposition is monolithic? Absolutely not! One can see the variety in the sermons recorded in the New Testament, as well as faithful expositions throughout the centuries.

I have found J. I. Packer’s explanation of biblical exposition to be most helpful. “The true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, talking only in order that the text may speak itself and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner ‘that the hearers may discern how God teacheth it from thence’ (Westminster Directory, 1645).” Let’s consider a few things that Packer brings out.

First, the basis of biblical exposition is the Holy Spirit inspired, divinely authoritative text of Scripture. One must be convinced that the Bible is the revelation of God before he approaches it with a passion to expound it. God has no more to say to us than what He has spoken in His Word, yet that is much more than we can fathom in a thousand lifetimes! In reflecting on the present power of God’s revelation, Packer notes, “Which means that when we read, or hear read or expounded, the biblical record of what God said in Old or New Testament times, we are as truly confronted by a word of revelation addressed by God to us, and demanding a response from us, as were the Jewish congregations who listened to Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or Peter, or Christ, or the Gentile congregations who listened to the sermons of the apostle Paul.” With that pinpointed revelation the expositor begins his work.

Second, since the Word is divinely inspired, then the burden of coming up with something clever or unique or provocative no longer rests on the preacher as though he is just another orator attempting to impress his audience enough to keep them coming back. Instead, a different burden weighs upon him—that of serving as a mouthpiece for the biblical text to speak to the hearers. In his preparation, delivery, and after the sermon, the expositor must keep the question riveted in his thoughts: ‘Am I a mouthpiece for the text or am I using the text to say what I want to say?’

Third, as a mouthpiece for the text, the preacher engages in “opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers.” Here’s where the spade work in the study pays off, as the preacher (1) so digs into and wrestles with the biblical text until he understands it well enough to explain it, and (2) meditates on the implications and applications of the text to his hearers. Only after he has understood the text and applied it to his own life will he be ready to expound it to his hearers.

Why biblical exposition? Quite simply, because the thing that matters most to those who listen to us preach is not what we say but what God has already spoken. Our responsibility in preaching, therefore, must always be to serve as a mouthpiece for the text to speak effectively to those who listen. We’ll think more upon this subject in subsequent blog posts.