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

Why Preach through Books of the Bible?

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I had a conversation with a minister friend who had been involved in discussing what pastors were preaching in their churches. While most seemed to agree that exposition of the biblical text must have priority in the church, few thought it wise to preach consecutively through books of the Bible—particularly with series that extended beyond twelve weeks. I understand the challenge of longer series but also see the value in the long run. The forty-four sermons that I preached through Ephesians in 1990–91, literally transformed my life, theology, and congregation. Eight or ten sermons would not have sufficed to uproot faulty theology and set us on a right course. The fifty-two sermons in Hebrews in 2000–01, sharpened our understanding of the gospel and its application to the whole of life.

What would you say had you been involved in the discussion? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve ruminated on since that conversation.

(1) Pastors have the responsibility to preach the whole range of biblical revelation. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He could not simply address his favorite issues but intentionally sought to address the issues of God’s will for sinners and for the redeemed. Do we address the range of God’s will for the Galatians or to those who first received First and Second Samuel, by picking one or two texts to expound to the neglect of the others?

(2) Preaching consecutively through a book allows the pastor and congregation the opportunity to better absorb the purpose of God and the impact upon the original audience. I recently completed preaching fifty sermons through Genesis (Jim Boice did 180!). What amazed me as I studied and preached was how the biblical narrative presented several points of crescendo that we would have missed had I only picked selected texts. For instance, Abraham offering Isaac at God’s command is certainly one of the most magnificent Old Testament scenes that gave assurance to God’s purpose for His people, as well as pointing to Christ as our substitute. But if we simply preach Genesis 22 without having walked through that long journey from Genesis 12, where God called Abraham out of paganism and then faithfully preserved him through many ups and downs as he waited for the unfolding of God’s promise of a son, then we miss something of the pathos intended for the original audience. Can you imagine those first hearers of Genesis listening to the build up of the story—hearing the promises of God that depended upon the solitary heir of the patriarch—gasping at the seemingly out-of-the-blue command of God to sacrifice his “only son”? The knife raised above the very one that held the key to all that God had promised in the previous ten chapters. Then God provided a substitute—and in so doing preserved the line of Abraham that eventually came to the grand fruition of blessing to the nations in the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, we can just preach Genesis 22, and it will be powerful, but I suggest that it loses something of its effect when we skip over living together each week in the previous ten chapters.

(3) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible gives the pastor and congregation a better understanding of a particular book, and if properly expounded, a fuller grasp of biblical theology. I can preach Ephesians 2:8–10, and exhort my hearers to depend upon the grace of God in Christ alone. But if I’ve taken my congregation to the mountain top in chapter one, descended to the darkest depths in the opening of chapter two, and then listened to Paul’s declaration, “But God,” in Ephesians 2:4, then I find the familiar 2:8–10 to come with greater weight to my hearers. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, until we’ve dealt with the doctrines of the text we’ve not really dealt with the text. Short series that skip over the broader doctrinal context may shorten the preaching but also weakens the doctrinal impact.

(4) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible focuses the pastor onto the biblical storyline lest he skip those uncomfortable texts he otherwise would never preach. In my Genesis expositions, I wrestled through Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s incestuous acts, and Judah’s adultery with his daughter-in-law. I would not voluntarily pick those texts for topical expositions! But they are part of the storyline of Scripture that helps us to understand the fallen condition and the necessity of God’s grace to redeem sinners. Those texts helped my congregation to better grasp the message of Genesis hammering home that the living God preserves His people despite their messy lives.

(5) Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible gives congregations a chance to meditate more deeply upon a particular book, mining its riches, soaking up its doctrines, and making pointed applications to daily life. For instance, if you work through a book, you are regularly considering the context of that book until it begins to stick into the minds of the congregation (not to mention your own mind!). That way, as they read and think upon passages in that book, the understanding of context informs their interpretation. As a bonus, they are actually learning hermeneutics as the pastor works through the book! Their meditation upon the text, consequently, will be done contextually, by which richer understanding of doctrine and application will be developed. One can microwave a beef roast and serve it to guests (short series through books), but the slow roasting in the oven (full book exposition) will soak up the flavors, tenderize the meat, and make for a more satisfying meal.

So, am I suggesting that we all preach thirteen years through Romans, as did Martyn Lloyd-Jones (without finishing it)? Or preach 40+ years through Job, as did the Puritan Joseph Caryl? Not at all! Rather let’s think of a measured way to work adequately through a book of the Bible, giving us time as preachers to absorb it, and giving our congregations a chance to grapple with its message. The preacher has to decide what he can handle and what the congregation can listen to—that will vary from one congregation to another. Admittedly, many congregations are not ready to spend a year or two in a Genesis or Romans or John. The pastor may not quite be ready either. That takes training for pastor and congregation through starting with smaller books and working toward longer ones, all the while teaching the congregation how to read, listen to, meditate upon, and interpret the Word. But in the end, as pastor and congregation grow together in expounding and hearing God’s Word, a depth and satisfaction with God’s Word will certainly take place. I cannot imagine any pastor preaching through books of the Bible, and then looking back and saying, “I wished that I had not spent so much time preaching through books of the Bible to the people for whom I will give an account to God.”


Preparing for Gathered Worship: Make it a Priority

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Preparing for worship means making time and making choices. Worship, especially corporate worship, takes time. It takes commitment. We must set aside time to come. We need to guard our schedules and consider times of corporate worship a priority.

Listen to what the Word of God tells us about gathering together:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Here the writer of Hebrews highlights the importance of regularly meeting together with the church. He also acknowledges that “neglecting to meet together” was a problem in the early church, and had even become a habit of some. The word used here in the Greek for meeting is episunagogen. We are not to neglect the “coming together,” “assembly,” or “gathering” [synagogue].

Though we should daily encourage and pray for one another as we have opportunity to invest in each other’s lives, there is a measure of encouragement, participation, and life in the church that cannot be attained or replicated apart from the regular assembly of God’s people in corporate worship. We need to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed together. We need to pray and sing God’s praise together. Listening to sermon recordings or broadcasts can’t replicate it. Singing worship songs along with your iPod can’t match it. We need to see and hear and know and feel the testimony of lives changed by the power of the Gospel, covenanted, unified and gathered together all in one place, in the same room, for His glory.

We live in a sad day when for many the church and worship have been pushed to the periphery. It is a sad day when people are willing to profess Christ, but unwilling to identify with His body. It is a sad day when making time to gather for worship is more a matter of senseless habit or convenience than spiritual hunger or conviction. It is a sad day when, awaking to a beautiful day outside, the idea of skipping church to go to the beach or a golf course is even an option that Christians would entertain.

The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They were constant and committed to worship: being under the preached Word, breaking bread, and praying. And their worship was together, fellowshipping—encouraging and strengthening one another by being together as God’s people.

As you prepare for gathered worship, make worshipping God together with your church family a priority. Remove hindrances that might keep you away and apart from worship. Set aside one day in seven for rest, as God commands. Cherish that day. Regard it as special. Make it clear to family and friends that gathering with your church family is the priority of that day. If you are providentially hindered by illness or circumstances beyond your control, or by a work schedule that requires you to miss the gathered worship of your church, then make it a priority of prayer.

And don’t stop making worship a priority when you arrive for a worship service. We live in a day when it is a simple thing to bring our distractions along with us. We open our Bibles on our phones and iPads, where Facebook, Twitter, email, and messaging all reside alluringly close by. Tune out the world and enjoy the rest of adoring Christ and delighting in His Word with your brothers and sisters in gathered worship.

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). He obtained it “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church was a priority to Jesus. And it should be for us as well, not just in theory or theology, but in practice and attendance. Make it a priority to worship God regularly and faithfully together in the church.


The Inward Reality of Worship

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Worship propels us to mission. And our mission is to go and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We want others to find and know the same joy and peace that we experience in Christ. We want others to come and add their voices to the prayers and praise of God’s people. We are zealous of God’s glory and desire to see the glory of God fill the earth. And so we go and we tell.

When Isaiah worshipped God, in Isaiah 6, he saw the Lord high and lifted up; he saw his own sinfulness in the face of God’s glory and holiness; he experienced the wonder and joy of God’s forgiveness for his sins; and he responded to God’s call to go and preach God’s Word.

But Isaiah was given the difficult task of preaching to a people whose hearts were hard against truth. They were stubborn and would not listen. Isaiah was willing to be God’s messenger. We hear him say, “Here am I, send me.” But he longed to see the stirrings of faith and the fruits of repentance. When God told Isaiah that the people would turn away and not listen, the cry of his heart in verse 11 was “How long, O Lord?” He wanted the darkness and coldness of men’s hearts to end.

God did not leave Isaiah without hope. In response to his cry, God gives a promise at the end of chapter 6 of a remnant that would remain. Though it looks like the tree is cut down and the promise that God had made since the fall of Adam in the garden of a holy seed is in doubt; God declares at the end of verse 13: “The holy seed is its stump.” The rest of the book of Isaiah goes on to shed more light on God’s purposes in the preservation of Israel and the coming Messiah.

As you continue reading in Isaiah, it is as if God pulls back the curtain, providing more and more light, revealing what the Messiah will be and what He will accomplish. For example, we read later in Isaiah of the day when God’s praise will fill the earth:

From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One (Isaiah 24:16).

Isaiah celebrated the day when God would shine the light of the gospel of Jesus.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1–3).

He looked forward to the day when the darkness would fall away and people from every nation, tongue, and tribe would see the light of Christ. He longed for the day when the glory of God would cover the earth.

This is another inner stirring of true worship. Worship cannot be contained in the sanctuary. Its desire is to fill the earth! You will know you have worshipped, when you leave this place and worship stays with you—you can’t leave it here! It continues to burn in your heart and engage your soul—so much so that you not only remember it—you must share it—you cannot contain it.

If you have ever experienced the glory of God and the joy of communing with Him in worship, you know that nothing else will ever satisfy your soul like God. We can never be satisfied with anything else. And we want this joy, not just for ourselves, but for others.

May God grant us a longing and a heart like Isaiah’s. May we be willing to go and to tell. And though our testimony may be to some a “fragrance from death to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16), may we never be resigned to see people turn away from God and perish in their sins. In the face of hardness and stubbornness and rejection, may the cry of our heart be: “How long O Lord?” It is God who commands light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6) and opens hearts (Acts 16:14). May He pour out His mercy and grace in our day.

Excerpt from a study on Isaiah 6: The Inward Reality of Worship.


The Gospel is about Words

Paul did not pantomime the gospel to the Corinthians. He declared it in words. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1). The word for “preached” is literally “to announce the good news.” So, he reiterates the gospel and how it consists in a body of truth communicated verbally about the person and work of Jesus Christ: ‘the good news which I announced good news to you.’

Paul’s statement implies that the gospel must be proclaimed in some fashion. It’s not about how we live or what we do that proclaims the gospel, although, no doubt, our faithfulness in living out the gospel gives credibility to what we say about it. That’s why Paul spent so much time throughout this epistle correcting the selfish, prideful behavior of those professing to be followers of Christ! Yet the adage wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi (13th C.), “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” fails to square with Paul’s assertion. We cannot preach the gospel without words. We can demonstrate it, beautify it, give credibility to its power, and illustrate it through faithful, holy lives. And indeed, we must! But we cannot preach it, proclaim it, announce it, testify of it, or explain it without words.

Duane Litfin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, clarifies. “There is both a carelessness of thought and sloppiness of language inherent in the claim that we can preach the gospel without words.” He makes this important distinction concerning deeds versus words. If we think that it is our deeds that proclaim the gospel without words, then we might think that the power to save lies in us. “If the gospel is powerful—which the Bible assures us it is—its power resides not in us but in the gospel itself” [D. Litfin, Word Versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance (Crossway, 2012), 41, 50].

Let me illustrate it in this way. If I happened to travel to a remote tribal area in Kenya, where they knew virtually nothing of American sports’ traditions, do you suppose that I could explain without using words the football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn or Mississippi State and Ole Miss? To begin with, how would I explain the game of football to them? I suppose that I could take a football with me, motion for a tribesman to hold out his hands, and then loft the ball to him, hoping that he would catch it rather than allow it so smack him in the nose. Supposing he actually caught the ball, I could then run toward him, lower my shoulder, and drive it into his chest, tackling him to the ground. Of course, I could give him a “high five” upon helping him from the ground.

Would he think this to be an act of aggression? Would he think it some strange gesture of friendship that would throw an oddly shaped object at him and then knock him to the ground? Or would he immediately have an ‘aha’ moment, understanding, “Oh, you’re trying to declare to me the game of football”? I think not.

Additionally, how could I communicate the intense, passionate rivalry that I grew up with in Alabama in this sport that he does not understand? Would I start doing fist pumps, and imitating the stadium wave?

I could spend hours and days attempting to explain without words the game of football and the rivalry between those teams, yet it would never work. Without words and the long, patient process of explanation and example, that tribal member would never understand about football rivalry. He would only know that I had some kind of odd belief and behavior that seemed to influence the way that I acted toward him.

Far, far more importantly, verbal communication is necessary to understand the gospel. Dr. Litfin explains, “The biblical gospel is inherently a verbal thing, and communicating it by definition requires verbal behavior” [36]. That’s why we have one example after another throughout the Gospels and Acts of Jesus and His followers declaring the good news to sinners. We have no indication that they simply relied upon their behavior as sufficient to communicate the gospel. The gospel is about words.

If we skip words and just focus on behavior as the means to communicate the gospel, then we’ve communicated, as well, that one can become a Christian by following our example. In such a case, we’ve boiled the gospel down to works righteousness. As Ray Ortlund Jr. notes, “The gospel is not law, demanding that we pay our own way. The gospel is a welcome announcement, declaring that Jesus paid it all” [The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches; Crossway, 2014), 15; italics added]. Paul gave that welcome announcement to the Corinthians and others in his missionary journeys. Along the way, for all who are believers, someone offered the welcome announcement that Jesus paid it all. They believed and were changed forever.

Words matter. Words explaining and declaring the gospel matter most. Let’s be clear with our gospel words so that all may hear the good news that Jesus paid it all.


3 Reliable Ways to Overcome Sin

by Jon English Lee

Recently, in Genesis 39, we saw Potiphar’s wife demonstrate that sin is often perception-driven and that unchecked sin produces boldness. Now we will let Joseph show us the proper response to sin and temptation.

1. He Refuses (vs. 8)

Joseph’s first and continual response is to refuse to give in to temptation. Notice, though, the reasons that he gives for his refusal are some of the same reasons that others would give in favor of the sin: “my master has no concern about anything in the house… he has put everything that he has in my charge… he is not greater in this house than I… nor has he kept anything back from me….” Joseph saw rightly that the situation was full of providential blessings, not divine markers pointing him into further sin. Beware the temptation to read circumstances as infallible road signs. Furthermore, not only did Joseph refuse the woman’s advance, but as vs. 10 says, he refused her day after day… even refusing to be with her. He doesn’t let sinful temptation stay in his presence. That’s just foolishness. We must consciously and zealously avoid any temptation (more on that later).

2. He Recognizes Sins True Nature (vs. 9b)

Joseph knew that sin is ultimately, “great wickedness and a sin against God.” We have a tendency to think that the little sins that don’t have any visible victims aren’t a problem. But the problem is huge, and the problem is our view of sin and our view of God. We serve an infinitely Holy God. Even the tiniest sin that we could think of becomes an infinite offense, not because of the size sin itself, but because of the One against whom the sin is committed. It is the one whom is offended that determines the magnitude of the offense. In our own lives, we must see BOTH that our sins are an infinite offense AND that the offense is against God. In God’s eyes, there are no small sins, and all sins are against Him.

3. He Runs! (vs. 11-12)

She lays the perfect trap: no witnesses around, husband isn’t home, and no one will know. Plus, if he doesn’t give in, his career can be in jeopardy. In the face of extreme temptation, Joseph gives us the proper response: he flees. Notice what he doesn’t try to do: he doesn’t try to reason with her. This isn’t the time to try and be a noble evangelist and convert her to Christ. This isn’t a time to try and pull out the Bible and do a word-study on “pornea” in the NT; he rightly sees that the situation is critical and he needs to get out. When temptation reaches a boiling point the best thing to do is to flee from that temptation.

We must recognize the chinks in our own armor and flee from situations that might exploit those weaknesses. Recovering alcoholics are taught never put themselves in situations where they might be tempted to drink. When they find themselves in sticky situations, they are taught to leave immediately. As recovering sin-addicts, we must use the same approach. We must never put ourselves in compromising positions of temptation. But when those temptations do arise, we must flee immediately.

Joseph gives us a great example to follow regarding sexual purity and proper perception of sin. Like Joseph, our vision of sin and of God must be biblically informed if we are to properly judge the extent of our offense. May we be ever vigilant in avoiding temptation and quick to flee when the scene becomes deadly.

2 Ways that Sin Sneaks In

by Jon English Lee

Recently I have been working through Genesis 39 and the story of Joseph. I have been thinking about Potiphar’s wife and how she demonstrates some common sin-related themes. I thought I could jot down a few notes regarding sin and temptation:

1. Sin is often perception-driven

In verse 7 we see that she “cast her eyes on Joseph.” We must remember that whatever we expose our eyes to can often be the beginning of our undoing. We can look back to Genesis 3 and remember Eve who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… she took the fruit and ate.” Staying in Genesis, we see in chapter 38 Judah is tempted to sleep with Tamar because he saw her veiled face and believed she was a prostitute. What about David and Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11) “When David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” We must always be careful of what we expose ourselves to; of what we focus our gaze upon.

Humans were designed with a desire and capacity to look upon something and to worship it. The problem comes when we place our vision, and ultimately our worship, on something other than the Crucified Christ. When anything other than Christ occupies our vision, we will be led astray and will wander down the path of sin.

2. Unchecked sin produces boldness

In verse 12 we see that Potiphar’s wife “caught him by the garment.” Sin will lead us to do things that we would never do in our right mind. It lures us in with false promises of happiness and fulfillment, and we are subtly convinced to commit further sins. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother Abel. When those sinful desires weren’t corrected and repented of, he then murdered his own brother. Look at King David. He stole another man’s wife. Then, when he is unable to cover his tracks, he has that man killed. He commits several heinous sins that he would never have done when in his right mind. His lustful desires brought about a boldness for sin that led him into further sins.

Unchecked sinful desires lead us into further sin. We must beware of our sinful desires and snuff them out before they give birth to further sins and, eventually, spiritual death. James 1:15 says, “Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Unchecked sin can lead us down the path toward spiritual death. We must constantly be on the lookout for signs of sin in our own lives.

What idols occupy your vision? What desires run unchecked in your heart? Ask yourselves these things and constantly guard your heart. Check back tomorrow to see how Joseph demonstrates the proper response to sin.


How to Meditate on God's Word

by Ken Puls

I love God’s Word and delight in its truth. Yet too often I find that after reading my Bible or hearing a sermon, the truth, so necessary to the wellbeing of my soul, can too easily slip away. The truth that had for a moment captured my attention and my affections can quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to practice the spiritual discipline of meditating on God’s Word. It is a discipline that takes time and intention, but one that brings great benefit to the soul. We need to carve out time to lay hold of the truth of God’s Word.

It is a bewildering paradox of our day that the Bible can be so accessible and yet so marginalized. On the one hand our technology has brought God’s Word close at hand. It’s on our phones and tablets and computers and iPods. We have almost immediate access to several versions of the Bible as well as a wealth of sermons and commentaries. But this same technology also threatens to distract us and drown out God’s Word. We have become a culture obsessed with noise and comfortable with clutter. So many sources are bringing input into our lives: TV, radio, online news feeds, Facebook, Twitter.... More than ever we need to make time to meditate, to dwell in God’s Word.

Meditation is pondering the Word in our hearts, preaching it to our own souls, and personally applying it to our own lives and circumstances. It is how we sanctify our thinking and bring it into submission to Christ—taking every thought captive. Paul tells us in Romans 12:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

[All Scripture references are ESV unless otherwise indicated.]

In Psalms 77 Asaph uses three verbs that capture the essence of meditation. When he finds himself perplexed and troubled and cries out to God, he determines to steady his soul by looking to God and laying hold of truth. He says in verses 11 and 12:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:11-12).

Asaph uses 3 verbs in the Hebrew to describe what it means to lay hold of truth: He says: I will remember, I will ponder, and I will meditate.

He begins with remembering (zakar)—calling to mind “the deeds of the Lord” and His “wonders of old.” He intentionally takes note of truth and draws it back into his thinking. Asaph reflects on what God has accomplished for His people in the past—events and epics like the Exodus and Passover, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land. He makes an effort not to forget all the Lord has done.

David also speaks of remembering God:          

When I remember you upon my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 143, when David is overwhelmed with trouble, he uses the same three verbs as Asaph, beginning with “remember.”

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands (Psalms 143:5).

We are a forgetful people and God would have us to remember. Meditation begins with remembering, bringing back into our minds the truths and praises and promises of God.

But, second, Asaph also uses a word that is translated in Psalms 77:12 “I ponder.”

I will ponder all your work,
And meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This is the verb hagah in the Hebrew. It is found in numerous places in the Old Testament and is translated as “ponder” or “meditate”:


This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8).
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night (Psalms 1:2).          
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night (Psalms 63:6).

In Psalms 2 it is used of the nations “plotting” against God.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalms 2:1)

The word literally means “to let resound.” It is used in Psalms 92:3 of the sound or tones of a musical instrument as it resonates.

On an instrument of ten strings,                
On the lute, And on the harp,
With harmonious [or resounding] sound (Psalms 92:3).

It is used also in Psalms 9:16.                                

The LORD is known by the judgment He executes;
The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.
Meditation. Selah  (Psalms 9:16).

It is not entirely clear if the use of the word here is a musical instruction for the musicians to play an interlude—letting the instruments resound—or if it is an instruction to the congregation—let this truth resound within yourselves.

We find the term also at the end of Psalms 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalms 19:14).

In other words: Let the inward tones of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord...

This is how we want the truth of Scripture to fill us and impact us—as we hear it and sing it and pray it—as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly! Let it dwell in us in a way that resounds and reverberates in and through our lives.

We see another use of the word in Isaiah 31:4 that helps us understand its intent. Isaiah uses the word in reference to a lion:

For thus the LORD said to me,
 “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey” (Isaiah 31:4)

The word for growl or roar is this word for meditation. Have you ever heard a lion when he roars? He does not just use his voice. His entire being reverberates. This is meditation. Letting God’s Word resound from within the very center of our being.

Meditation involves remembering, and resounding, but finally Asaph speaks of meditating.


I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:12).

This word siyach means to muse and wonder and dwell on—to think deeply about something. Used literally it means to murmur, mumble or talk to yourself.

In a negative sense it can mean “to complain.” It is the idea that something has so taken hold of your thinking that you can’t stop thinking about it. So on the negative side—it troubles you and disturbs you and draws out complaint; but on the positive side—it captivates you and enraptures your thinking so that you “dwell on” it. This is the way we want God’s truth to lay hold of us—so that we can’t but dwell on it, so that it captures our thinking and finds it way into our choices and decisions.

The Puritans thought of meditation this way as they described it as “preaching to yourself.” We take the Word of God that we hear and read, and we mull it over in our minds and then bring it to bear upon our lives in personal exhortations.

It is a word that is found often in the Old Testament, especially in the psalms.


May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD (Psalms 104:34).          
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalms 119:15).          
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (Psalms 119:97).

When we meditate we think about God’s Word. We dwell on it and then as opportunities arise, we preach it to ourselves. We inject it into our thoughts as we make decisions, as we admonish and instruct our souls to choose right things and walk down right paths.

This is the essence of meditation. It is evoking the truth, embracing it and embedding it in our lives. It is intentionally focusing on recalling God’s truth that it might resound in our hearts and become that grid through which we sift and measure our thoughts and actions.

Meditation is a crucial Christian discipline and a vital means of grace that we must treasure and practice. But it is a discipline that takes time and effort. Accessibility can never beat intentionality. Don't assume that having God's Word close at hand means you have it close at heart. Carve out time in your day to remember, time to ponder, time to preach to yourself. The world around us can too easily choke out what is needful and good for our souls. Don’t allow God’s truth to slip away from you. Be intentional and diligent and your meditation.

Dr. Kenneth Puls is the Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL. 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 journalregional conferences and eventsminister search listfriends list, and church list. In addition to this their  website is filled with resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.


Zeal Needs Humility

by Tom Ascol

Too often zeal for truth is used as a license to be harsh, condescending or downright mean. Where such professed zeal is wedded to such attitudes you can be sure that something more than love for truth is motivating the one who is advocating it. Anyone who uses commitment to his Lord's doctrines as an excuse to violate his Lord's commandments reveals that he holds neither gospel nor law as fervently as he thinks.

The same Master who teaches us the doctrines of divine election ("All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out, John 6:37) and spiritual inability ("No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" John 6:44) also commands us to love the brethren ("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," John 13:34) and even our enemies ("But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44). And Paul explains that love is "patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude... it is not irritable or resentful" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

What kind of devotion is it that excuses sin in the name of truth? Uninformed and immature at best and blind and deluded at worst.

John Newton understood this very well and made the following observation on the combination of humility and benevolence that is found in true Christian zeal. His words are worth just as needed today as they were in the 18th century.

The Christian, especially he who is advanced and established in the life of faith, has a fervent zeal for God, for the honor of His name, His law, His gospel. The honest warmth which he feels, when such a law is broken, such a Gospel is despised, and when the great and glorious name of the Lord his God is profaned, would, by the occasion of his infirmities, often degenerate into anger or contempt towards those who oppose themselves, if he was under the zeal only. But his zeal is blended with benevolence and humility: it is softened by a consciousness of his own frailty and fallibility. He is aware, that his knowledge is very limited in itself, and very faint in its efficacy; that his attainments are weak and few, compared with his deficiencies; that his gratitude is very disproportionate to his obligations, and his obedience unspeakably short of conformity to his prescribed rule; that he has nothing but what he has received, and has received but what, in a greater or less degree, he has misapplied and misimproved. He is, therefore, a debtor to the mercy of God, and lives upon His multiplied forgiveness. And he makes the gracious conduct of the Lord towards himself a pattern for his own conduct towards his fellow creatures. He cannot boast, nor is he forward to censure. He considers himself, lest he also be tempted; and thus he learns tenderness and compassion to others and to bear patiently with those mistakes, prejudices, and prepossessions in them, which once belonged to his own creature and from which, as yet, he is but imperfectly freed. But then, the same considerations which inspire him with meekness and gentleness towards those who oppress the truth, strengthen his regard for the truth itself, and his conviction of its importance. For the sake of peace, which he loves and cultivates, he accommodates himself, as far as he lawfully can, to the weakness and misapprehensions of those who mean well; though he is thereby exposed to the censure of bigots of all parties, who deem him flexible and wavering, like a reed shaken with the wind. But there are other points nearly connected with the honor of God, and essential to the life of faith, which are the foundations of his hope, and the sources of joy. For his firm attachment to these, he is content to be treated as a bigot himself. For here he is immoveable as an iron pillar; nor can either the fear of the favour of man prevail on him to give place, no not for an hour. Here his judgment is fixed; and he expresses it in simple and unequivocal language, so as not to leave either friends or enemies in suspense, concerning the side which he has chosen not the cause which is nearest to his heart.


Self-Deception

By Tom Ascol

Have you ever noticed how many times and how many ways the Bible warns of being deceived? By clear admonition as well as by graphic example God repeatedly calls us to be on our guard against believing lies. That's what deception is--believing what is not true. It is one of the great works of the enemy of our souls. So the Lord repeatedly warns us about it in Scripture:

  • Luke 21:8, Jesus warned His disciples: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am [He],' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
  • Romans 7:11, Paul describes the role of deception in his spiritual bondage: "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed [me]."
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul identifies "cheap grace" with deception: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'"
  • 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
  • Galatians 6:7, Paul warns those who think that they can get away with sin: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
  • 2 Timothy 3:13, This is a problem that will constantly threaten us in this life: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
  • Titus 3:3, It is the very condition out of which we have been converted: "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another."
  • James 1:16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."
  • Revelation 20:8, 10, It is the devil's design to "deceive the nations."

This is a mere sampling of the Bible's warnings. Deception is spiritually deadly because at every point that you believe lies you cannot believe truth, and it is the truth that sets us free and by which we are sanctified (John 8:32, John 17:17).

If deception is dangerous, self-deception is disastrous. When you have been deceived by another, that person shares the blame for your condition, but when your deception is self-imposed, you alone are accountable. Further, self-deception is perniciously destructive. It is hard to detect and harder to eliminate.

Think about it. Have you ever met a person who admitted to being self-deceived? The very nature of self-deception is that there is no conscious awareness of believing lies. Self-deception emerges from living on a self-referential basis. Such people measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves to themselves and, Paul says, "are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This is the problem that Jesus exposed to the church at Laodicea. They were self-deceived. Their evaluation of themselves was radically different from Jesus' evaluation of them. Their self-assessment went like this: "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." But Jesus' assessment of them was this: "[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). They believed lies. Their press reports on earth were completely opposite of their record in heaven. In this regard their condition was the same as that of the church at Sardis, to whom Jesus said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1).

Can you imagine a more spiritually dangerous position to be in? To have a reputation of being alive--written up in denominational newspapers as a model church--and yet, in the eyes of the Lord, to be dead! To think that all is well when in fact, according to Jesus, all is rotten!

The mere possibility of falling into this kind of deadly trap ought to be enough to breed extreme humility in the most experienced believer and most accomplished church. It ought to call us to radical commitment to measuring our lives by what the Scripture calls us to be and do and by nothing else. It ought to make us willing to listen to criticism--even criticism from those who openly oppose us (in this regard some of my strongest opponents have served me best because had no interest in sparing my feelings, as friends sometimes do, and therefore have spoken honestly, if harshly, about my faults).

Our prayer should be that of David's in Psalms 139:23-24,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Finally, the ever-present danger of self-deception should keep us running to Jesus Christ as the great Shepherd of our souls. We desperately need Him to secure our standing and our walk. We need His protection and provision at every step of our journey. Our only hope and our certain supply is His righteousness and His sacrifice which is ours through faith and faith alone.


Does God Command Us to Rest?

by Jon English Lee
 
Last time I looked at evidences for the Sabbath rest rooted in creation. But does the fact that God rested mean that Adam, and all humanity, should keep the Sabbath? Not all think so.[1] Frame offers four compelling arguments, of increasing persuasiveness, for man to imitate God by resting on the Sabbath: (1) man as God’s image, (2) the work/rest pattern, (3) Mosaic authorship of Genesis, and (4) the fourth commandment itself.[2]
 
God creating man in His own image means that man should usually imitate his Maker. There are times when this is obviously not the case (e.g., killing the firstborn of Egypt), but “there does not seem to be any metaphysical, ethical, or historical reason why we should not imitate God’s cycle of work or rest.”[3]
 
Secondly, the cycle of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest would be difficult to understand if God had not made it for the benefit of his creatures. Because God never needs rest Himself, why would God take a day off if not to set a pattern for His people? Third, Frame points out that Moses was the primary author of Genesis. The Jews were already out of Egypt and under the Covenant. “A Jewish reader of Genesis during the wilderness period would see Genesis 2:2-3 as the beginning of the Sabbath observance, the background of the fourth commandment…. The Jewish reader would see that, as in the fourth commandment, God in Genesis 2 institutes a day of rest, which he blesses and makes holy.”[4]
 
And finally, the most compelling argument for the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is the fourth commandment itself: Israel should keep the Sabbath because, “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 and made it holy” (Ex 20:11). God rested,
"From his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because…God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own."[5]
Would not the claim of our Lord, that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” be applicable to Adam preeminently? He was the only man present when the Sabbath was made! The Sabbath was a gift given to man at the end of the creative week.[6] This gift, a gift that sinners like to forsake, was meant to be a perpetual reminder of God’s masterful work in creation. Because man is made in God’s image and should therefore imitate Him, because of the pattern of 6 work days and 1 day of rest, because of Mosaic authorship, and because of the fourth commandment itself, the Sabbath is established as a prescriptive creation ordinance along with work and marriage.
 
Additionally, Chantry argues that because Exodus grounds the command primarily in creation[7], the Sabbath is not then “rooted in anything unique to the Jewish experience.”[8] Rather, Sabbath is a creation reality (See Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4, 10). Furthermore, if the Sabbath is not a particularly Jewish reality, it is not then limited to the Jewish Covenant (Old Covenant). In this sense then, the Sabbath command is ‘above’ Mosaic Covenant because it was set in place prior to Sinai, even though it was part of the Mosaic commands.
 
That the Sabbath is a creation reality is also clear because unlike the other commandments, the fourth begins with “remember.” The command to remember is telling for two reasons: (1) this is not a new command, and (2) some were already guilty of not keeping the Sabbath, as is the sinful tendency of all mankind. As William Perkins wrote: “This clause doth insinuate, that in times past there was great neglect in the observation of the Sabbath.” [9] The call to remember raises another question: to whom or what are the Jews pointed when being reminded to remember? It was not to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It was to the very beginning; specifically, the Lord’s rest at the end of His creative week. The Jews would already be aware of the pattern of work and rest that God has built into creation.[10] While the Mosaic Law would bring peculiarly Jewish ceremonial and civil laws built off of the Sabbath commandment, the core of the moral law was derivative off of God’s example in creation.
 


[1] E.g., see DA Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[2] Doctrine of the Christian Life, 531ff.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 532.
[5] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 532.
[6] Richard Barcellos states that it would be ‘clumsy’ to separate the creation of man from the creation of the Sabbath by thousands of years (Eden and Sinai). He argues, “Since we know that man was created… in the Garden of Eden, Christ would have us to conclude that the Sabbath… was made at the same time and place. This corresponds to what we saw in Exod. 20:11.” The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath in RBTR, Vol 3, No 2. July 2006.
[7] I say ‘primarily’ because the Deuteronomic recount of the commands recalls the Israelite deliverance from Egypt as a reason for Sabbath (Dt. 5:15). The Sabbath, as will be argued below, is not merely retrospective, but prospective: retrospective by looking back to creation and redemption; prospective by looking forward to Christ’s work and to the Promised Land (and ultimately the New Creation). The different motives for Sabbath obedience are not competing; nor does the second (redemption) nullify the first (creation). Regarding the different motives given for the Israelites to obey the 4th commandment, Frame explains, “Creation and redemption are not antagonistic. Redemption is the work of the Creator. Creation and redemption do not generate two different ethics, but rather the same one” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 514).
[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 24.
[9] William Perkins. A Golden Chain: or, the description of theologie : containing the order of the causes of salvation and damnation, according to Gods word, Printed by John Legate (Cambridge, 1600), 61. Found at http://archive.org/stream/goldenchaineorde00perk#page/n1/mode/2up (Accessed May 2, 2013).

[10] Chantry cites Cain and Abel bringing their sacrifices ‘at the end of days,’ which he takes to mean they understood one day a week was devoted to worship. He also mentions that, “Noah gave great attention to the seven day cycle of time,” and that the Jews in the wilderness were to respect the Sabbath when the manna was given. Call the Sabbath a Delight, 26.


4 Signs of True Contentment

As fallen men, even redeemed fallen men, we will never be entirely content in this life. Our hearts are too prone to wander, far too apt to flirt with idolatry, for us to be completely content in Christ. As Calvin famously put it, the human heart manufactures idols day and night every day. Still, we pray for contentment and, like Paul in Philippians 4:11, we seek to learn the secret to contentment in Christ.

If we are content in Christ, what shape will our lives begin to take? What is the contented heart drawn to? When my contentment is in Christ, then four things ought to be true of me.

  • I will exhibit a deeper love for God’s Word. Because my contentment is in Him, I will want to know Him more. We know Him more through His Word. Contentment is a plant that must be tended daily, as Spurgeon said in his inimitable style: “Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated. It will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in it.” One of the primary means is by hiding His Word in our hearts and having it on our person as a constant reminder that apart from our Lord, we can do nothing.
  • I will exhibit a deeper and more mature love for God’s church. When your satisfaction is found in Christ, then you will want to be in His church and with His people. It will also transform the way you see the church. This building is not the church; you are. And when your contentment is in Christ, you will love God’s people, all of God’s people, not just those people with whom you are comfortable. And you will love His church, even though it is imperfect and stained with sin. If I am content in Christ, then it will set me free from false expectations in others and will set me free to love people who come from a different background than do I.
  • I will not fall apart when adversity comes. I will rest in the absolute sovereignty of God and in His prerogative. You and I have a very limited ability to exegete our circumstances. Because we are weak and lack omniscience (though we crave it), there will be many moments in life when we simply do not understand what is going on. We will face moments when the God whom Scripture calls good brings or allows things into our lives that will not seem good. They may even seem very bad: The doctor said it was cancer. Stage four. The boss said my position has been cut. Your son continues to reject the God I taught him to love. ISIS beheaded another Christian. Your daughter admits same-sex attraction. There will be times when all you have is Christ, but if you are content in Him, He will be enough. When we our content in Christ, we can say with Paul, in Phil. 3:7–8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” When it pleases the Lord to take away some earthly blessing I cherish, then I should be able to say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • I will want others to know the great gain that comes from godliness with contentment. I will want my friends, neighbors and family members to find the peace that passes understanding. Thus, I will not be embarrassed to proclaim to them the only path that leads to the Celestial City.

I have written this series, not because I am always content or am an expert in the doctrine of contentment. Actually, I have written this because I am an expert in discontentment and am seeking contentment in Christ. May it please God to grant it. So far, I must say, it comes and goes. I have to repent much of discontentment.

I close out this brief series with memorable words from Spurgeon on the absurdity of discontentment for the follower of Christ:

“Permit me to remind you again, that you should be contented, because otherwise you will belie your own prayers. You kneel down in the morning, and you say, “Thy will be done!” Suppose you get up and want your own will, and rebel against the dispensation of your heavenly Father, have you not made yourself out to be a hypocrite? The language of your prayer is at variance with the feeling of your heart. Let it always be sufficient for you to think that you are where God put you. Have you not heard the story of the heroic boy on board the burning ship? When his father told him to stand in a certain part of the vessel, he would not move till his father bade him, but stood still when the ship was on fire. Though warned of his danger he held his ground. Until his father told him to move, there would he stay. The ship was blown up, and he perished in his fidelity. And shall a child be more faithful to an earthly parent than we are to our Father, who is in heaven? He has ordered everything for our good, and can he be forgetful of us? Let us believe that whatever he appoints is best; let us choose rather his will than our own. If there were two places, one a place of poverty, and another a place of riches and honour, if I could have my choice, it should be my privilege to say, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” (Spurgeon’s entire sermon from Phil. 4:11 simply titled “Contentment” is available here.)


How to Have Healthy Churches

The conversations tend to go like this: “I like my church. My pastor preaches the Word. There are some wonderful people in the church. But something is wrong. There’s no life together. People don’t seem to really care for each other. Conversations are superficial. I’m not sure that people even know one another in our church.”

Have you had those conversations? Maybe you have even said the same thing to someone out of concern for your church. That seems to be a good starting point for doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthy church.

Many of you reading this post have found help in Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Dever identifies nine essential characteristics of healthy churches: expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical understanding of conversion, biblical understanding of evangelism, biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. While we might add to that list, e.g. biblical understanding of mission, we would not subtract anything from that list to characterize healthy churches.

Yet how does a church get out of the starting block toward a healthy condition? Obviously, it starts with expositional preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to institute biblical church membership or biblical church discipline or biblical church leadership without first laying a solid foundation in the church’s understanding through expositional preaching. Otherwise, any attempt to do so will result in either a church split or a short pastorate.

But here is where I want to offer one thought to consider in the process toward establishing a healthy church. Teach and preach about the nature of the church. I know that seems obvious, or should, but it appears to be presumed by pastors and leaders. We can think that a church surely knows what it is as the people of God, the pillar and support of the truth, the body of Christ, the temple of God corporately indwelled by the Spirit, et al. We can presume that one who consciously joins a church at least understands what the church is.

However, may I suggest that we delete that presumption from our memory banks? Over and over in conversations with both members and leaders from one church to another, I’m brought to the stark reality. Church members, as a rule, do not understand what the church is. They do not understand the price of its existence through the bloody death of Christ. They do not grasp its corporate standing before God and corporate functioning as the people of God in community with one another. They do not see that they have responsibility for one another to love, exhort, serve, forgive, be kind to, encourage, bear burdens, and accept. They fail to see that the church is the focus of the redemptive work of Christ rather than merely the individual. They are more influenced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in their thinking than Jesus, John, and Paul. They think individually rather than as a family of believers in covenant with one another to live out the gospel.

So, in the journey toward church health, please don’t neglect intensive teaching, preaching, and training in what the church is. That understanding and practice won’t happen overnight or in a year or two, in all likelihood. It takes much patience to set forth that essential foundation for church health. And it must be constantly repeated, rehearsed, and gloried in. It cannot be programmed into existence. As a matter of fact, understanding the nature of the church takes the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of a congregation to understand the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.

But our gracious God kindly opens eyes and transforms understanding about the church. Let’s be faithful, not presumptuous, in laying the foundation for the church to know what it is in Christ.