Image is a word associated with many things in our day. People maintain an image in front of others. An image is an idea or concept still being worked out. We work on our self-image. Perhaps the word is so far-reaching because we are a so visually stimulated.
Whenever people meet one or both of my sons, the issue of image normally surfaces because they look so much like me. (We are praying that they will grow out of it.) We’ve heard all sorts of comments such as:
“You boys look just like your father when he was your age.”
“You can’t deny those two.”
“They are you’re spitting image.” (Which, by the way, is a gross description.)
They take it all in stride. At this point in life, being like Dad is not too terrible. I pray that I can be the kind of man that they will always want to emulate. I want to have an image that is worth bearing in themselves.
In thinking about the relationship we enjoy with our Heavenly Father, the fact that we bear His image cannot be over-estimated. In the account of creation, we are told in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” The image of God burned into the being of man makes all of the difference for us.
Throughout the creation account of Genesis, God’s image is not placed in anything else. The universe is made but not granted God’s image. The Earth with all of its grandeur is spoken into existence but not having God’s image ingrained upon it. Animal and plant life come into being, but without God’s image upon it. Only when God creates people does He grace us with His image.
Saints and scholars of every generation have discussed the nature of God’s image in mankind. Is it the soul? Is it our ability to have a will? Do we act like God? Or did Adam and Eve actually bear some physical resemblance to God? It is a difficult question to answer.
I would offer that a role in bearing God’s image is that it acts as a bridge for us to relate to Him. God is personal; even in the since that He is eternal. He has revealed Himself to us in personal terms. In the Bible, God tells us that He is Father, High Priest, Comforter, Shepherd, and many other personal terms. He speaks to us, reveals His will, and acts as a friend.
God desires to know us and has therefore placed His image within us. We bear a resemblance to Him in that we are designed for relationships. The relationships that we enjoy with other human beings are part of the general blessing of being alive. We love and care for those in our circles of influence. In bearing God’s image, it is obvious then that God also wants us to relate to Him.
However, in Eden, the image of God in man was marred. Sin stands in opposition to people mirroring the character and nature of God. Where God wants the crown jewel of creation—humanity—to be a showpiece of His handiwork, sin obstructs that purpose. It obstructs us from knowing the very One who has placed a reflection of Himself in us.
It is a reminder for us that sin is not just a glitch in our moral character but an affront to the very nature of our creation. More importantly, it is an affront to our Creator. As the Lord seeks to draw us close, He then does all the work necessary to reestablish His image within us through the redemptive work of Christ.
His image is within us so that we might desire Him. The Bible states that He has placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We clearly see from the whole of redemptive history that God is seeking those who do not seek Him. God has a great desire to restore the marred image of Himself in us through a saving relationship with the Messiah He has sent for us.
For the World
Now, the work done by Christ is for you. But never forget that it is also for others. The restoration of God’s image in us is not only for the benefit of the individual, but for all the world. The image of God in the people of God—both individually and collectively—is a sign and a witness to the world of the Lord’s great love for us.
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul taught through many images who we are becoming in Christ. In 2 Cor 3:18, he wrote, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The concept of “glory” in the Bible requires a great deal of deep thought. But in this one verse, Paul lays out the concept that through the saving work of Christ, we are those who reflect the God’s glory. In this, we are showcases for who God is and how He loves.
The image of God cannot be trivialized. It is a mysterious gift in which God desires for redeemed men and women to show off His nature. As you search the Scriptures and draw close to Christ, keep in mind that He wants more than to make you an educated and morally upright person. God’s great desire is for you and I to bear His image as dearly loved children.
On Sunday, I finished up the message series at our church on “Real Questions People Ask.” It has been an important series for our church family as we have dug into the ideas of God’s sovereignty, the suffering we face, sexual ethics, and the importance of the gospel reaching all the nations.
In the last message, I was aiming to answer the question “Can I trust the Bible?” As you get to the end and I take my tour through the Bible, you can find the list of all the books of the Bible and the references I make in an earlier post here.
Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Alistair Begg preach. It was a beautiful sermon, rich with doctrine and encouraging to the soul. He was preaching in our chapel at LifeWay to the employees and took a bit of time to discuss life in the ministry. Since many are serving in some capacity in local churches (either as a staff member or volunteer leader), he encouraged us in our work away from office hours. Alistair is quite witty and is apparently fond of limericks. To poke a bit of fun at the ministers in the room, he recited a poem he had heard some time ago about the great preacher Charles Spurgeon.
There once was a preacher named Spurgy,
Who really detested liturgy,
But his sermons are fine
And I take them as mine
And so do most of the clergy.
With Charles Spurgeon being known to many as the “Prince of Preachers,” it is obvious why so many of us have learned from him over the years. However, the idea of quoting, borrowing, and (dare I say) stealing sermons is a sad delineation that must be made over and over again. In order to keep myself in check as I prepare messages each week, I try to operate by these three ideas.
1. It is wise to quote from spiritually mature and intellectually sharp leaders to your sermon. I find that using a short quotation from another pastor or scholar bolsters people’s confidence in what we teach. Additionally, it allows them to hear the same truth with a different verbal flair. Quoting from wise believers allows your church family access to the great spiritual wealth of those who have gone before us.
2. It is okay to borrow from another person’s sermon outline. However, you should always tell the congregation who you are quoting. There are times when getting to the right sermon outline is just tough. On top of that, if you read enough commentaries, there really are no new outlines for passages that have existed for thousands of years. So, as you borrow from other pastors and scholars, tell the congregation about those who are helping you better understand and teach the Word.
3. It is always wrong to plagiarize another person’s sermon and preach as your own. I would also add that is is pointless to do so. If you find another person’s sermon to be exactly what you need to teach, then allow the Lord to teach you the truth and then contextualize it for your church family. Every pastor or scholar that you plagiarize worked diligently on the material as part of their daily labor before the Lord and the church. By using it without attribution, we create three problems. First, you commit the sin of stealing. Second, you puff up your ego by creating circumstances whereby you can sound more spiritual than you are. Finally, you rob the church from knowing that there are many spiritual leaders from whom they can learn.
For the last three years, I’ve served as a bivocational pastor at The Fellowship. Over a year ago, I also joined our body of Elders to serve alongside the men who give strategic and missional leadership to our church family. In comparison to the first twenty-two years of ministry, it has been a significant adjustment. I am constantly looking for the proper balance in life, work, and professional ministry. As I have thought through it all, for my own sanity, I decided to make a quick list of the top issues I am working through as a bivocational pastor.
1. Relationships. It is so tempting for me to expend all of my emotional energy on my full-time job at LifeWay first, put the church in second place, and then allow my family to fall to third. It is tempting, and it is wrong. Having two jobs requires extra diligence for me to show preference to Angie, Andrew, and Chris.
2. Rest. Admittedly, I have (or have learned to have) a driven personality. My preference is to be productive. I know I need to rest but often feel guilty for doing it. There is always more work to be done, something to read, an email that needs a response, a plan that needs refining, and a sermon that needs writing. On top of it all, I love to write. But it is an emotionally taxing process. So, I’m trying to learn to not feel guilty for simply taking a day (or half of a day) to just sit down and relax.
3. Study time. All bivocational ministers struggle with this one. We just need to find ways to study well, both efficiently and effectively. Every sermon still demands copious amounts of study and prayer. I’m blessed to serve with two other teaching pastors, and we share the load of sermon preparation.
4. Faith. Did I mention that I’m a driven person? Faith sometimes gets run over by the “I’ve got this” attitude. Faith often requires you to wait. It always requires that you surrender control. By nature, I’m not good at either waiting or surrendering. It is a good thing that the Lord is so patient and the Spirit is such a wonderful instructor.
5. Emotional frustration. Being in ministry as your full-time vocational work, it affords you the chance to connect with the church family on a deep level. As a bivocational pastor, I do not have all of the opportunities to emotionally connect with members of our church. At times, I am emotionally frustrated that I cannot be present, connected, and deeply embedded into everyone’s life. So, I have to remember that I am simply one of the under-shepherds. The Lord has not lost control of caring for His people.
6. Vision capacity. Having multiple responsibilities for leadership means that my capacity for visioneering is spread over multiple disciplines. I am a leader at church, a director of publishing at work, an author, and also travel to speak in various conferences and churches. Just doing the first two requires discipline to lean into the Word and prayer in order to stay in tune with God’s will. Returning to point number one, all of this must be subservient to living better as a husband and father. It is so apparent to me that I need to lean more heavily into the work of leading my wife and sons better.
It all stands as a stark reminder to a key reminder for all of us. There’s only one God, and I’m not Him. Thank goodness for that fact. Every bivocational pastor I meet loves the work that God has entrusted into their hands. We hope to be found faithful in our professional and ministerial work. Oftentimes, we long for the day that we only had one of the two. And you can well imagine which one we’d most likely choose.
So, for my merry band of bivocational pastors out there in the trenches today, take heart. The church is still led by the Chief Shepherd and you are deeply loved by the King of Glory.
Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as teaching pastor for the The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, Tennessee.
His works include Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. He is also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, he has written the small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.