Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

Contributors to the blog include:

John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.

Jesus’ Ethics: Four Observations

by Jared Compton

One of the lectures I give each year in my Gospels class is titled “Who’s Invited and What Should They Do?” In the first part (“Who’s Invited?”), I talk about who it was Jesus invited (invites) to follow him, to repent and believe, to enter his kingdom. Here we talk about what the label sinner meant in the first-century and how it described those who’d transgressed both God’s law and the “laws” of Palestine’s religious establishment. In the second part (“What Should They Do?”), I try to sketch Jesus’ ethics. What sorts of behavior did (soon-to-be-king) Jesus require of his disciples? Here we look at the epitome of Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). I’ve yet to finish off this talk feeling like I’ve done justice to Jesus’ sermon. And, considering its importance—these are Jesus’ ethics, after all!—I’m very interested in doing a better job. Just yesterday, in fact, I received in the mail a new book I’d ordered on the sermon. It’s part of a new commentary series (!) by Zondervan entitled “The Story of God Bible Commentary.” It’s by veteran Gospels scholar and teacher Scot McKnight. In his introduction, McKnight summarizes Jesus’ ethics with four observations that I found helpful. Here I thought I’d simply share them and encourage any of you puzzled by the sermon to get McKnight’s book and see how (if?) each observation plays out in Jesus’ ethics. (That’s, at least, what I’m going to do.) Before I list them, let me also say that the first three are what, it seems to me, McKnight thinks sets Jesus’ ethics off as biblical ethics, over against the ethical programs of Aristotle (virtue ethics), Kant (duty or deontological ethics), and Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism; cf. consequentialism). And the last one sets his ethics apart as fulfillment-era ethics. That is, it reflects the fact that these are ethics coming from one who came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17–20). So, according to McKnight, Jesus ethics are...

(1) ethics from above. Jesus’ ethics are divinely-revealed ethics. Just as the Torah came from God, so also does Jesus’ “law.”

(2) ethics from beyond. Jesus’ ethics, like the prophets of old, encourage the people of God to live in the present in the light of the future. (Here I couldn’t help thinking of the way Peter puts this in 2 Pet 3:11.)

(3) ethics from below. Jesus’ ethics, like Israel’s wisdom traditions, encourage the people of God to live in God’s world in God’s way. Live in light of the way the world works (or, is supposed to work).

(4) messianic ethics. Jesus’ ethics are ethics for the new era brought about by messiah’s death and resurrection and, moreover, they are possible only for those filled with the eschatological spirit, Jesus’ new community.

Unchurched Christians, Minotaurs, and Other Mythical Beasts

by John Aloisi

From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken, but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.

Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.

More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.

The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.

Don’t Abandon Children’s Ministry!

by Pearson Johnson

This past Sunday evening, we had our annual Ministry Equipping and Training Seminar here at Inter-City Baptist Church. During this time we have ministry-specific seminars and also general sessions. I did a general session on “Discipling the Next Generation: The Mission and Goals of the ICBC Children’s Ministry.” There is a lot of discussion in families and churches, much of it critical, of the role of age-graded children’s ministry–especially among those in favor of so-called family integrated churches (for a brief, helpful article on that movement, see Doug Brown’s article here.)

Here at Inter-City, we don’t just have Sunday School, Junior Church, AWANA, and other programs just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” For us, our children’s ministry has as its mission to honor God by making and maturing disciples who are becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ among the children of our church and community.  This mission reflects our church’s mission and is specific to children. Paul’s exhortation and Timothy’s experience in 2 Tim 3:14-17 guide us in setting our goals, which are as follows:

  • To see children in our church and community led by the Scriptures to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (v. 15, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”)
  • To see children of all ages learn from the Scriptures and learn to honor the Scriptures (v. 14–15, “continue in the things you have learned... and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings…. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”)
  • To see children live under and in accordance with the Scriptures, being prepared for adulthood (v. 14, “continue in the things you have… become convinced of”)
  • To provide mentors and examples for our children in the body of Christ, allowing a variety of church members to exercise their gifts and abilities in influencing our children (v. 14, “knowing from whom you have learned them.”)
  • To see children matured in the faith, prepared for a life of service to God through the local church (v. 16–17, “All Scripture is… profitable… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.)

We believe discipled parents are key to those who have one or both parents in the church, so we provide nurseries to lovingly care for small children so parents and others are not distracted in giving their attention to preaching and teaching. We provide Sunday School to give regular, systematic teaching of the Bible and theology to children. We provide Children’s church on Sunday mornings to give opportunities for age-specific preaching and singing, yet still in a God-honoring format similar to our adult services. We provide AWANA both for outreach and discipleship on Wednesdays. All of these programs serve our mission and goals, not vice-versa.

Parents have the responsibility to evangelize and train their children, but it is also the responsibility of the church to evangelize and disciple people of all ages, and a well-organized children’s ministry can help accomplish these goals. Don’t abandon ministry to children!

Stay Sharp, Pastor!

by Pearson Johnson

If you have been in ministry for a number of years since seminary, you know how easy it can be to get into a ministry routine and allow other things in your life to become your first love, whether it is a hobby, a recreational pursuit, or other amusement. We, as pastors, need help in staying sharp, setting priorities for continued growth in knowledge and ability in that which is our main calling–the ministry. Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Take a class. Perhaps every other year or once a year, enroll in a class at a nearby seminary or online that will push you to read, study, and interact with others. At DBTS we allow grads to audit a class and provide a discounted audit rate for non-grads. We are now offering a few remote classes and other schools offer good online courses. You may even want to pursue another degree if your circumstances permit it.

2. Form a reading group with other nearby pastors. Many pastors form a regional reading group, reading through a book together and meeting to discuss it weekly or monthly. This exercise provides mutual encouragement and edification.

3. Start a new series or class. Pastors, you can offer an elective Sunday School class on a particular topic, a Bible Institute level class, or small group study that will push you to read and study in a new area.

4. Submit book reviews or articles. Many blogs and journals will receive book reviews from pastors willing to invest the time in reading newer books and offering a critical review. Others accept submissions of articles. Set a goal to do one or two of these per year for your benefit and hopefully for the benefit of others as well.

5. Read biography and history. Reading biography and history will usually lead to a refreshing of your desire to re-engage in ministry growth. When you see how others poured their lives into people or how others erred in history, you will be all the more passionate about your ministry and careful with the truth.

6. Attend a conference. Ministry-specific conferences on preaching, counselling, or theological issues can be helpful in keeping us sharp. The large rally-type conferences are encouraging (and often expensive) and helpful to a point, but smaller, more interactive conferences and seminars can be most profitable for the purposes of staying sharp.

These suggestions are some ways I have sought to stay sharp in ministry–now over 15 years past my M.Div. Do you have other ways you have sought to stay sharp in ministry? Please feel free to comment.

Who is Jesus? Mark’s Two Options

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark together with some Christians and “seekers” over the past several weeks. (We’ve been using a fantastic study put out by the folks at The Good Book Company entitled Christianity Explored.) One thing that has struck me while re-reading Mark is that no one in the narrative doubts that Jesus had power. No one doubts he’s a wonder-worker. That part of his identity was really unmistakable. You don’t find anyone going around trying to dispute it, trying to prove that Jesus really didn’t heal the fellow with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), the lame guy who’d been lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), or the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Maybe some did—though I suspect they would have had a difficult time, considering the nature of the maladies Jesus cured. (They were slightly higher up on the difficulty—and conspicuous—scale than headaches or insomnia.)

What you find instead are his religious opponents waiting around “to see if he would heal [anyone] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2), because, in their view, that would prove that he was colluding with the devil. In fact, this is what leads his opponents to make the implausible suggestion that Jesus healed sickness and cast out demons—i.e., that he brought order out of the chaos sin created—by the power of devil (Mark 3:20-30 and par.; see also Matthew 9:27-34; John 8:48-59; John 10:1-21)! Considering Jesus’ unmistakable power and his attitude toward the law, that was the only option open for them.

What I’ve tried to say to my friends throughout our study is that this is precisely how Mark wants to leave his readers. He only gives us these two options: either Jesus was in league with the devil and was justly crucified as a messianic pretender OR he was Israel’s long-awaited messiah, sent from God to do away with humanity’s sin once-and-for-all (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). There’s really no middle ground.* There’s no version that allows readers to conclude that Jesus was simply a good teacher or an inspiring example. His amazing works and attendant claims refuse to fit into such tight quarters. They will not be domesticated like this. They demand a more profound verdict.

*Editor’s note: For early non-Christian corroboration of Mark’s portrait, see, e.g., the Jewish tradition preserved in Justin, Dial. 69.7 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5); Jos., Ant. 18.63–64 [XVIII, iii 3]; and b. Sanh. 43A.

What was the "Star of Wonder, Star of Light"?

by Jared Compton

One of the major “characters” in the Christmas story is—perhaps surprisingly—a star, one that some wise men follow from the East all the way to Bethlehem. The star makes a brief appearance in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:2-10), before passing off the scene (and into nearly every Christmas carol). Have you ever wondered what it was the Magi saw? After all, I doubt they left on holiday every time they saw something peculiar in the sky. (Otherwise, the adjective “wise” would be rather ill-fitting, wouldn’t it?) Well, as far as I can tell, there are four common explanations. First, some think the wise men saw a supernova that left a trail of light in the sky for several days—long enough, at least, to guide the wise men’s journey. There are Chinese and Korean records that indicate that this sort of thing occurred around the time of Jesus’ birth (5/4 B.C.). Second, some think the wise men followed the blazing tail of a comet. (Whether the tail was as big as a kite, is, of course, another matter altogether.) Scientists note that Halley’s comet was active at this time, though probably appearing a few years too early to be a real contender (12–11 B.C.). Third, some suggest the wise men saw a planetary conjunction, something that occurs when two or more planets approach each other’s orbits. Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) noted that a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars occurred in 7–6 B.C. Other records indicate that a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurred in 3 B.C., near the luminous star Regulus, and still others that one between Jupiter and Venus took place in 2 B.C. In fact, the latter conjunction is said to have occurred right over Bethlehem on December 25! Fourth, some suggest the wise men followed something that was, in the final analysis, simply miraculous.

So, which of these did the wise men see and follow? Was it a supernova, a comet, a planetary conjunction or something miraculous? Matthew gives us a hint when he says that the star “went ahead of [the wise men] until it stopped over the place where [Jesus] was” (Matthew 2:9). In other words, as one author puts it, “The star is not described realistically, i.e., as astronomically plausible.” If Matthew means to tell us what actually happened, then we’re probably looking at a miracle here. If, however, as some suggest, Matthew invented this bit about the star to add significance to Jesus’ birth—perhaps to make sure his audience knew Jesus fulfills Numbers 24:17—then the historicity of the account doesn’t matter quite as much as what it tells us about Jesus. What points away from this is that Matthew probably would not have invented a story about Gentile astrologers (!) identifying and worshipping Israel’s messiah. In short, what the wise men saw and followed was indeed a star of wonder, guiding them—and now us—to the perfect light.

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A Pattern for Preaching that Meets People’s Needs

by Pearson Johnson

I heard recently of a church seeking a new pastor. Some said, “We want a pastor whose preaching is practical and encouraging.” Others said, “We need a doctrinal, expositional ministry.” Still others prefer preaching heavy on confrontation. It is easy to identify what some people want in the preaching they hear (sometimes they will tell you!), but what, exactly, do they need? Pastors, we should strive as preachers to provide preaching that truly meets peoples needs.

Now, I am not talking about felt needs, as in the “give them what they feel they need and they will come,” seeker-driven church model. Neither am I talking about the need of the moment preaching that identifies cultural trends and is constantly addressing the latest headline. Nor, just what we think they need, based on our perceptions or personalities. I am talking about seeing the needs God has designed the Scripture to meet and then providing preaching that, in a balanced way, reflects that design. God has given us a simple pattern to follow in Scripture’s stated purpose that can guide us in providing preaching that meets people’s needs.

2 Timothy 3:16–17, a very familiar passage, says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). The Bible is God’s revealed means for the growth of lives into maturity, and preaching this Word, according to the purposes for which it has been given, will produce mature people. We know that in all of Scripture we find passages that are particularly good for teaching doctrine, or for correcting wrong thinking or behaving, or encouraging practical growth in sanctification. However, sometimes we fail to realize as well that in every part of Scripture, there is truth to be taught, reproof to be given, correction to be made, and practical training to be provided.

When you approach your study of the Word for preaching, ask yourself questions about the text that reflect these purposes, and then preach them all in the sermon. This will help provide a well-balanced preaching and teaching ministry that meets the needs of the people God has given you to shepherd. It will also help us avoid the tendency to over-emphasize certain types of preaching based on our personalities and our or others’ preferences.

This may seem too simple and too obvious to qualify as a “homiletical model.” Maybe so, but are you willing to try it? Here are some steps for application.

  • First, review your notes before preaching and mark the categories in the margins or headings of your notes. Understand the text drives the sermon, so some texts will be more heavily weighted in one area or the other. Each text will have its “big idea,” but all of the people’s needs can be met from each text as well.
  • Second, ask several trusted members (including your wife and children) to take notes on your sermons for a month—specifically looking for the four general purposes—teaching (truth to be believed), reproof (confrontation of wrong belief or behavior), correction (truth that specifically corrects what is reproved and edifies), and instruction in righteousness (practical application in righteous living). See how balanced your preaching is between these categories in the minds of your hearers, and be willing to make adjustments.
  • Finally, talk to people about your sermons. Ask them what they learned and how they think that should make a difference in their lives.

God has told us what people need, so let’s provide preaching that meets people’s needs!

The Secret to a Successful Pastoral Ministry

by Pearson Johnson

Many people promise to provide the secret to a successful pastoral ministry. Conferences, curricula, and consultants like to offer products for discouraged pastors. Attend this conference and you will come away with a ministry-changing model. Purchase this curriculum (with video of guy with fashionable glasses or foreign accent!) and you will regain interest (and keep purchasing so you will maintain interest). Listen to this expert who can diagnose your problem and lead you to renewal. Pastors soon feel as if they cannot possibly lead a ministry with only the Word and the Spirit’s gifts.

In quite another manner, Paul encourages Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, verses 2 and 5, with the not-so-secret “secret to successful ministry.” He renews our focus even when people will not endure sound doctrine and seem to want novelty. Though his instructions may not fill a conference schedule or provide an eight-session video series, it is expert advice from God the Spirit through Paul.

1. Preach the Word — In verse 2, Paul emphasizes that a steady diet of preaching the Scriptures will keep your flock on course. The preaching is not just explaining the text, but our preaching is also characterized by timeliness, correction, rebuking, exhorting, encouragement, patience, and careful instruction in how to handle life’s circumstances.

2. Be serious about the ministry — the Scripture calls us to a relatively simple ministry even though performing it is not always easy. In contrast to the drunkard, who is unpredictable and unstable and tries to escape real life, we as pastors should be sober, diligent, consistent, and focused on the ministry of the Word and prayer both publicly and privately. Our responsibility for souls warrants a serious and sober mindset in ministry.

3. Endure hardship — there will be tough times and difficult people that will bring hardship in ministry. We are to endure it—not react to it or run from it—endure it. Trust the ministry of the Word and the power of the Spirit to change the wrong attitudes of those causing the hardship. We really cannot speed the process of endurance, but we can appreciate what endurance produces even while enduring.

4. Work hard to share the gospel — in the area of evangelism like no other, we tend to look for a silver bullet—a new program, event, or emphasis that will reach people. Our desires our honorable, but Paul tells us that sharing the gospel is going to take work. Someone once said, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” I fear it is the same in some of our ministries—we need to do the work of proclaiming the gospel to those in our community to see the church grow. Otherwise, weeds of discord, selfishness, pride, and distraction will grow in our church.

5. Keep a well-balanced ministry — Paul rounds out his instruction with this little phrase—“fulfill your ministry.” In essence, maintain a well-balanced approach to the various aspects of your ministry. Balance public ministry with personal relationships. Reach the world, but also the neighborhood. Work for outreach, but also for edification. Exhort, but also encourage. Consider the proportion of your ministry in light of what we are called to do here.

Pastor, if you are discouraged, perhaps you are really going through a time of endurance. Keep working hard using your gifts while trusting the Spirit. This is the secret to a successful pastoral ministry!

Priorities During the Holiday Season

by John Aloisi

For some reason it seems to have started earlier than usual this year. Naïvely perhaps, I’ve always thought “Black Friday” referred to the day after Thanksgiving (i.e., Friday). The reality is that we’ve all been receiving emails and seeing print ads about Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales for a couple of weeks now.

It has been estimated that last year Americans spent more than $59 billion during Black Friday weekend (Thurs–Sun). Assuming a U.S. population of 315 million, that works out to about $187 spent per person (every man, woman, and child) in the country during a single four-day weekend. Incidentally, total holiday spending for 2012 came to about $580 billion.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing gifts for other people and even spending money on one’s self. But somewhere along the way, we as a nation seem to have crossed the line from enjoying God’s good gifts and displaying generosity toward others to blatant consumerism and greediness.

Many biblical principles come into play when considering how much to spend on gifts and such during the holiday season. One of the first to come to mind is “The borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov 22:7). Admittedly, the Bible nowhere forbids borrowing altogether, but the Scriptures do repeatedly warn us about the dangers of debt. Browse the ads and enjoy some holiday shopping, but don’t let Christmas spending become an entrée to the realm of slavery.

If God Knows Everything, Why Should We Pray?

by John Aloisi

In his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, John Calvin discusses Jesus’ statement that the “Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8). Calvin addresses the question of why believers should pray if God already knows what we need. He suggests the following as at least a partial answer:

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things (Calvin, commentary on Matt 6:8).

When praying, believers never tell God something he doesn’t already know. But God has chosen to use prayer as a means by which God’s people express their dependence upon their Father who knows all things and can actually do something about the most puzzling problems of life.

Walk by Faith: A Misused Verse?

by Bill Combs

Most of us are familiar with how 2 Cor 5:7 reads in the KJV, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” If you do a Google search on this verse, you will find explanations of what this means, such as, “the Bible challenges us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you are to “walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you ought to “walk by faith, not by sight.’” You have probably heard the same kind of thing in sermons. Just to clarify, the word walk in this verse is, of course, used in the metaphorical sense of “live”; so the NIV, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thus, Paul’s words are taken to be an exhortation or command to “live by faith.” According to this view, we are challenged to rise above our normal Christian experience, and rather than operating from a worldly perspective (“living by sight”), we should conduct our lives and make our decisions based upon our faith and trust in the God and his Word. There is nothing wrong with this idea in and of itself. It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances.

The problem is that this is not what the text says, nor what it means. Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to “live by faith”; he is making a statement: the Corinthians are living by faith.

Our text is also popular in the Word of Faith movement, which I won’t take time to describe at this point. Another popular TV preacher in that movement, Frederick Price, closes every sermon by citing 2 Cor 5:7.

But in all these instances, this text has been stripped of its context and a new meaning assigned to it. Paul is not saying that we “should live by faith” or that we “ought to live by faith.” No, he directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith. But why does Paul make this statement?

Verse 7 is rightly understood to be a parenthesis in the thought of vv. 6–8.

(6) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) For we live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter 5 in order to get the broader context. Paul begins in v. 1 by explaining what happens to a believer who dies, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” Fortunately, Paul says, we can look forward to a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” But until then “we groan” (v. 2), knowing that our present bodies are subject to ailments, injury, and disability. And since we know that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away [in a spatial sense] from the Lord” (v. 6), we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). All believers here on earth are presently “away from the Lord” in the sense Paul means in v. 6.

But Paul’s reasoning in vv. 6 and 8 could leave the wrong impression. That’s why he interrupts v. 6 with 7 before he completes his thought in v. 8. The “for” that begins v. 7 is what the standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) calls a “marker of clarification.” One could easily take Paul’s statement in v. 6 to mean that since believers are presently “away from the Lord,” they enjoy no fellowship with him at all. But, of course, that is absolutely false, for, you see, Paul says (v. 7), “we presently live in the realm of faith ["by faith"], not in the realm of sight.” Paul is contrasting actually seeing the Lord (“at home with the Lord”) with our present experience of believing in the Lord without seeing him (“away from the Lord”). For now believers “live in the realm of faith,” trusting in the Lord whom they have not seen, but one day they will “live in the realm of sight.” This is same sort of contrast we see in John 20:29 and 1 Pet 1:8.

So although we are presently “away from the Lord,” this does not mean that we are cutoff from fellowship with the Lord. But for now we live “in the realm of faith,” which is no hindrance to communion with our Savior, though truly we look forward to the day when we will live “by sight.” Then, as the hymn writer puts it, our “faith shall be sight.”

Wanting to Be Noticed

by Mark Snoeberger

We live in a hyper-sexualized and semi-pornographic culture. The problem dominates popular advertising, pervades our entertainment choices, and even weasels its way into our churches. The concept of modesty is no longer a legitimate standard for censure, but an object of censure. We’ve come to the point that modesty is sincerely regarded as a vice and not a virtue. To advocate for modesty is to advocate for legalism, intrusiveness, outdated traditions, and overbearing patriarchy: don’t tell me what to wear and don’t tell me what to do.

Stunning as it has been, though, the triumph of immodesty and hyper-sexuality is not itself the root problem. Instead, these problems are symptomatic of a more serious one: the problem of celebrity. The English word celebrity derives from the Latin word celebrer, “to frequent” and more remotely from the Latin celer, “to hasten.” The desire for celebrity is, at its heart, the desire of a person to be “frequented”—to turn heads and command the notice of others. To become a celebrity is simply to succeed in being noticed regularly.

The bestowal of esteem or “notice” is a ubiquitous practice among humans, and is intrinsically unobjectionable. What makes the bestowal of esteem good or bad is the basis upon which it is awarded. Traditionally, one earns the right to be noticed, heard, and otherwise esteemed through modest means (a carefully constructed, holistic montage of age, experience, education, wisdom, gravity, industry, skill, refined rhetoric, etc.). In our electronic age, however, it is possible to turn heads apart from any of these. One can be noticed without any sort of success at all. I can become an instant e-celebrity (or is it an iCelebrity?) almost by accident. The modest path to earning notice is no longer honored; indeed, those who take this route are fools. There is a shorter way.

Perhaps nowhere is the desire to be noticed more evident than in social media, where a single question infects us all: Will anyone notice? Every regular user of social media, no matter how virtuous, has asked this question at some point. This guiding question can be subdivided into sub-questions such as “How many friends do I have?” “How many ‘likes’ have I received?” and the gold standard, “How many comments (positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter) have I generated?” And it doesn’t take long to discover that the most reliable way to be noticed is by shocking others through immodesty.

We tend to associate immodesty with the quest for celebrity through the inordinate visual exploitation of that which should remain secret. And when all other means of celebrity fail, this particular form of immodesty remains the best way to generate celebrity (ref. Miley Cyrus). But immodesty is not limited to the exploitation of one’s visual qualities; it really encompasses in its scope every inordinate exploitation of self designed to accelerate personal celebrity. And it is a virus that infects us more deeply than any of us imagine.

So what are we to do?

  • First, we must confess our pride—this is, after all, what immodesty and the desire for celebrity truly are. Life is not all about me; I have a larger purpose.
  • Second, we must identify and purge immodesty in all of its forms from our lives, not only from what we wear (though it may include this), but also from what we do, what we say, what we tweet, and even how we worship and evangelize.
  • Third, we must self-consciously divert our own attention away from that which is immodest and instead value what legitimately earns our notice through sober and dignified means.
  • Finally, we must make room in our lives for seasons of withdrawal from public discourse to cultivate chaste thoughts, affections, and good works that are entirely secret. In other words, we need to break away from the debilitating need to be seen by men and instead practice living without distraction for the God who sees the heart.

The world sees the call to modesty as a call to counter-culturalism, to traditionalism, to introversion, or worse. And we must admit that sometimes modesty can take on these illicit forms. But at its heart, the call to modesty is nothing more than a call to humility—a call to take the attention that has unduly accrued to me and redirect it to that (and ultimately to That) which truly deserves our attention.