Archive for May 2008
To those who complain about this grace of an undeserved election and about the severity of a just reprobation, we reply with the words of the apostle, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20), and with the words of our Savior, “Have I no right to do what I want with my own?” (Matt. 20:15). We, however, with reverent adoration of these secret things, cry out with the apostle: “Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways beyond tracing out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).
- Synod of Dort, 1.18
This is my second to last sermon in 1 Thessalonians. This particular passage is Paul’s admonition to those who denied the role of prophecy in the early church. I hold a cessationist position on the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit but also see a dirth in the church concerning a biblical view of the work and role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life. The emphasis I tried to draw out of this passage was God’s gracious provision in the Holy Spirit and how that Spirit continues to speak through the word of God.
I closed by asking the same five questions of my congregation that Paul gave in exhortation form to his.
- Can we still quench the Holy Spirit
- Can we despise prophecy?
- Should we still test things according to Scripture?
- Do we still need to cling to the good?
- Do we still need to throw out the bad?
In the end I may have tried to cover too much in this sermon though I did get some thoughtful questions afterward. You can be the judge.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 – Illumination
There is such a thing as spiritual grandfathers.
True? Many Christians think so. The prevailing attitude among many Christians is that evangelism is for the young. The old have the benefit of enjoying the labors of the young. The burden of church growth, of reaching the community is often placed on the shoulders of the young. Is there any reason why Starbucks should be any more a mission field than the nursing home? Is there any reason why the little league baseball game should be a venue for relationship evangelism but not the bridge game?
The problem here is the “grandparent” mentality. The grandparent gig is a great thing. You get to spend meaningful time with children without having to give birth to them or hold them accountable. In short, it is close familial benefits without the dirty diapers.
Grandparents are wonderful things in the Christian family. They are horrible things in the Christian church. Spiritually speaking, there is no such thing. Both the responsibility to evangelize and to disciple are not age contingent. There is no spiritual menopause. There is no holy infertility. Christian are spiritually reproductive until their death.
Take for example, the words of Paul in Philemon 9-10.
Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you–I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Jesus Christ–I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
Paul here admits two things. One, he is an old man. Two, he is still producing spiritual children. If anyone had reason to take spiritual grandparent status it would be Paul. By this point in his missionary career Paul had lead countless souls to Christ, not to mention fathered entire churches. It would be perfectly understandable for him to sit back and wait to hear of all the things those converts and churches were doing for the advancement of the Kingdom.
That is, if there were such a thing a spiritual grandparents.
Instead, Paul–an imprisoned old man–is still producing spiritual children for the Kingdom. Onesimus–run away servant of Philemon–finds his was to Rome. There he runs into this godly old man who tells him about the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. Onesimus is glorious converted and sent back bearing the spiritual heritage of the Apostle Paul.
There are no spiritual grandparents in the church.
Older man, have you left evangelism to the young? If so, repent. You rub elbows with the unconverted everyday. Call them to faith in Christ. Tell them of the redemption God has wrought in you. Point them to the cross. Would that your death bed have the spiritual savor of a life long evangelist. Do not shirk your responsibility to disciple the less mature. You may be a grandparent or great grandparent in biological terms but in spiritual terms you are still a father. God has designed you to be spiritually reproductive until your death.
Younger man, do not let your evangelistic fire go out. Missions and evangelism are not just for the young. Has the Lord placed you in business? Has he provided financial vehicles to sustain you later in life? Then plan now for missions and evangelistic labors in your 50′s, 60′s, and beyond. Encourage older men to participate with you in sharing the gospel. Call an older man and go to the retirement home with him. Call an elderly man and invite him to your next social gathering. Encourage older men to be spiritual fathers and make plans to always remain one yourself.
Because there are no spiritual grandfathers in the church.
Conclusion: This the last of my four part series on godly old men. It is my hope and prayer that this series has served to encourage men to life long service in Jesus’s church. May the biblical admonitions to old men be heeded with passionate diligence. I long to look on the church and see an army of older men serving, leading, and growing the church. If you are already a soldier in that army, God bless you and your work! To Christ be the glory, now and forevermore.
Young men–rather than older men–should bear the greatest responsibility for the work of the church.
True? Many Christians think so. Sociologists make the distinction between traditional societies and progressive societies. A traditional society believes its greatest resources are in the old and the wise. A progressive society believes its greatest resources are in the young and the vibrant.
Biblically speaking, the church must be a traditional society. This pattern starts in the Old Testament “gate” and ends in New Testament discipleship.
The gate of city in the Old Testament was the location of wisdom and old age. Whether in official capacity or not older men served the city by offering advice, wisdom, and judgment in the gate. Imagine a counseling office, the better business bureau, and the court room all in one location–this was the gate. And this gate was where the wise men of a city served the people in this most crucial of roles.
For an example of this gate-work performed by godly old men consider Ruth 4:1-12. Boaz desired to be the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth. Where did he go? He went to the gate–the location of official transactions. The “ten men of the elders of the city” sat in the gate and judged Boaz’s claim. This particular event highlights the messianic theme in Ruth as Boaz not only serves the role as the kinsman-redeemer but also preserves the Davidic lineage to Jesus Christ (Luke 3:32). This was all dependent on these elder men serving the city in the gate.
For a negative example consider Lamentations 5:14.
The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music.
Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem. As his eyes pan the ruins they fall upon the gate. The rubble is only a small part of Jeremiah’s grief. More than this it is the absence of the old men that Jeremiah weeps over. When old men cease to provide spiritual leadership in the church it is a cause for deep sorrow.
This gate theme carries over into the New Testament. The whole concept of the eldership and the position of old men in the church assumes the highest responsibility in the church. The qualifications of elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 assume a man who is old enough to have been tested by the trials and responsibilities of life. The exhortations regarding how older men should be treated resound with words like respect, fatherly, and wise.
The New Testament retains the view that older men should bear the bulk of responsibility and leadership in the church.
As far as teaching on young men, the Bible is unanimous. Wisdom very seldom dwells in the young. The young are prone to foolishness. They are particularly prone to deep struggles with sin. They are maturing, growing in grace, and learning wisdom but…they are not there yet.
The church has forgotten the purpose of youth and unwittingly fallen prey to the “retirement” philosophy of American luxury. The general perception of most men is that they will work hard until their 50′s or 60′s and then retire from hard work in order to focus on themselves.
The bitter fruit produced from this kind of thinking is churches where older men are noticeably absent from roles of spiritual leadership. No one disciples men in their 30′s and 40′s anymore. Young men are being entrusted with huge responsibilities in the church while lacking the wisdom and strength to serve well. This is not because “young men need to take ownership and serve.” Rather older men need to lead younger men in godliness, service to Christ, gospel living, and leadership in the church.
Older men, the church is suffering from your absence. You are needed in the gate. You are needed as pastors and leaders, as disciplers and deacons. You are desperately needed. There is no such thing as retirement from serving Christ in the church. Repent of your selfishness. Find great satisfaction in wearing out for the Lord rather than rusting out on the passing pleasures of the world.
Younger men, be very careful about bearing too much responsibility too early. If you have a young marriage or young family, do not sacrifice them for the sake of ministry you shouldn’t be doing. IN the end you will find you’ve destroyed your marriage, family, and your church. Let older men lead. Encourage them to lead. Place them in the gate if you have to. Ask for their counsel. Invite them to disicple you. Make conscious efforts to remind yourself and your church that the wisdom and resources of the church are richest in godly old men.
Your spiritual prime occurs at the same time as your physical prime.
True? Many Christians think it is. The next time you get an advertisement for a Christian conference in the mail make a quick survey of the people pictured and their average age. What do you think it will be? 40? 35? 30? Lower? 25? We’ve been taught to believe that physical virility is synomous with spiritual vitality.
And we have pews full of older men who think that the days of profound affections for Jesus Christ have passed. They believe they have already learned all the biblical doctrine they need. They are asleep, awaiting death, filling pews.
Is this biblical? Are God’s sovereign purposes displayed in the cross of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit reserved only for the young. Joel 2:28-32 and Peter’s quotation of it in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:17-21) lead us to believe otherwise. Pay attention to Acts 2:17.
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Peter is announcing the fulfillment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has been poured out like a fire hydrant wrenched open. And who will be the objects of God’s culminating redemptive work? All types of people. Yes, all types of people, but Peter and Joel are more specific than that. Sons will know the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Daughters will know the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Young men will know the blessing of the Holy Spirit. And…old men will know the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Drawing upon this promise and its fulfillment we must confess that old men are just as much the objects of Gods ongoing redemptive work as any other age group. Though our bodies grow old the Holy Spirit does not grow old within us. Though our outer man wastes away our inner man is renewed daily.
I have 29 years under my belt. I’m passed my physical prime. I’ve owned up to the fact that I will never dunk a basketball. However, I have great hope that I am only an infant in Christ. How little I have learned! How great is my sin! How little I’ve accomplished for the kingdom of Christ! Yet, if the Lord should tarry, I have a life of growth in spiritual maturity ahead of me as the Holy Spirit daily conforms me to the image of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius–late in life–said in his letter to the Ephesians,
I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. For though I am bound for His name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I begin to be a disciple. 
“For now I begin to be a disciple!” How could an aged saint and father of the early church say something like that? It is because he knew spiritual growth was always in front of him not behind him. He knew that physical virility had nothing to do with spiritual vitality.
He refused to believe one of the lies old men are tempted to believe.
Older Christian man, will you not rouse yourself from your spiritual slumber and pursue Christ with spiritual recklessness? What you think is spiritual death is only spiritual apathy. The remedy is not slumber but exercise in the means of grace. Run after Christ and know that you are–in your old age–an object of God’s ongoing redemptive work.
Younger Christian man, will you not prepare now for the marathon before you? It is no sprint that you have endeavored to begin. Do not aim only for productive 20′s and 30′s. Aim to be productive in your 50′s, 60′s, and 90′s. Prepare now for unabaited growth in Christ. Does your sin weigh you down? Take heart, you are young in the faith. Look to those elderly soldiers of Christ in your midst–full of the Spirit and truth. Place yourself in their discipleship. Train now to be a godly old man.
 ANF, 1.50.
I preached last Sunday on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. I’ve been taking my time preaching through Paul’s closing exhortations in this rich letter. I tried to answer what a Christian’s response should be to God’s grace displayed in the covenant of grace.
Paul summarizes Christian virtue under three responses to God’s grace:
I took time to examine how these responses are part of the restoration of God’s original intention for man. Man was intended to respond to God’s glory with deep affection–joy. Man was intended to respond to God’s invitation to relationship–prayer. Man was intended to respond to God’s gracious and sovereign provision–thanksgiving.
I then turned to examine the nature of the three responses, each being modified with the concept of “never ceasing”. It is “always” joy. It is “ceaseless” prayer. It is “all circumstances” thanksgiving. I attempted to show how the cross alone enables the Christian to posses these “ceaseless responses” to God’s grace regardless of the circumstances of life.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Ceaseless
Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.
- Synod of Dort – 1.17
There are few as sensitive theological topics as this one that touches the election of those who die in infancy. Dort here teaches the grieving Christian parent to cast his sorrows onto God’s gracious covenant and find their hope. Note that Dort lays down the hermeneutic of determining God’s will from his Word in situations where the Bible is not explicit–these are deductions from good and necessary consequence. When discussing sensitive topics like this one a firm biblical understanding of “covenant” becomes imminently practical. By nature of the covenant, infants of believers are declared holy by God. For more on this topic I commend to you two blog posts written by Rick Phillips after he and his wife experienced a miscarriage.
I spoke at a mens’ prayer breakfast a few weeks ago on the topic of old men. This may seem like an odd topic. I chose it based on three conclusions I came to in my preparation.
- The Bible is very concerned to instruct different types of people in applying the gospel. The New Testament gives pointed exhortations to young men, young women, children, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, widows, orphans, older women, slaves, masters, preachers, and sinners–to mention a few. If the NT does this, so should we.
- The Old Testament and New Testament contain a consistent doctrine on the importance and responsibilities of older men.
- Having drunken deeply of the “retirement” approach to old age, the church has lost a key age group that I’m affectionately calling “godly old men”.
Over the next three posts I plan to address what I see as the three lies that older–and younger–men believe about aging and growth in godliness. They are…
- Your physical prime is equivalent to you spiritual prime.
- Younger men–rather than older men–should bear the most responsibility for the work of the church.
- There is such a thing as spiritual grandfathers.
This is meant to stimulate your thoughts as we decimate these lies to God’s glory in the coming posts.
Today is one day closer to the return of Jesus. Believer in Christ, isn’t that comforting? Like a child waiting at the door counting down the hours until grandma and grandpa arrive for their visit so the Christian counts the days for that great day. Laughter may mark your day. Or sorrow may lay siege to your soul. But as it passes and tomorrow comes, the calendar of heaven shows one more red “X” closer to the unveiling of all that God has wrought through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Come Lord Jesus, come!
Those who do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith in Christ or an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ, but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised to work these things in us—such people ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the reprobate; rather they ought to continue diligently in the use of the means, to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace, and to wait for it in reverence and humility. On the other hand, those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to him alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and faith as they would like—such people ought much less to stand in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful God has promised that he will not snuff out a smoldering wick and that he will not break a bruised reed. However, those who have forgotten God and their Savior Jesus Christ and have abandoned themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh—such people have every reason to stand in fear of this teaching, as long as they do not seriously turn to God.
- Synod of Dort, 1.16
The old pastoral adage goes, “If someone is worried about not being a Christian it is a good sign that they are a Christian.” This portion of Dort teaches this very truth. If you are concerned that you are “reprobate” because of a lack of assurance or a weak faith, do not dwell on the fear of reprobation. Rather, run to Christ and cast yourself upon him knowing that he will in no way cast out those who come to him by faith. However, if you love the world and are unconcerned about the things of Christ, you have great reason to worry that you are indeed one of the reprobate. In this case, you fear should drive you to repent of your sin and believe on Christ to salvation.
Last Sunday I preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15. I had made the decision in planning this sermon series that I would take my time with Paul’s concluding remarks. My tendency–in reading Paul’s letters–is to speed up and overlook details as I get to the end of his letters which usually are comprised of short exhortations and greetings. I realized that in doing this I was robbing myself and my hearers of potions of Paul’s letters that are rich in gospel application.
The particular section that I’ve entered into is one that shows similarities with various other letters of the New Testament, some written by Paul and some not. If you were to study these “house rules” portions of the NT epistles you would find a standard doctrine of basic Christians living. We find the NT authors incredibly unified in the way that they think the gospel should “work itself out” in the lives of those who call themselves by the name of Christ.
Paul’s particular outline in verses 12-22 roughly falls into the following five catagories.
- A Christian’s responsibility to church leaders
- A Christian’s responsiblility to other Christians
- A Christian’s responsibility to those outside the church, especially enemies of the church
- A Christian’s responsibility in daily living
- A Christian’s response to prophecy
My sermon from last Sunday covers the first three topics of this list with my next two sermons closing out the list.
My goal in preaching this sermon was to show how the gospel of redemption in Christ Jesus–which Paul just finished talking about–has direct and specific application to the Christian’s life.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15 – Radical Other-centered Grace
I’m currently ploughing through Thomas Boston’s biography found in volume 12 of his works. Aside from some humorous sections, I’m finding in Boston a kindred spirit in matters of the application of grace to my soul. Take, for example, his advice to himself when he was facing the particular difficulties of illness, an impending marriage, and no call to a local church.
To carry Christianity in these perplexing circumstances, I proposed to myself, that I should,
- Live near God, so as my heart should not have wherewith to reproach me, Job 27:6; Acts 23:1.
- Beware of anxious thoughts about them; lay them before the Lord in prayer, and leave them on him, trusting him with him, though in a manner blindly, Phil 4:6;
- Believe the promise, that all things should work together for my good, Rom 8:28;
- Remember man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, with my former experiences of the same, Gen 22:14;
- Use of the means [Bible study, prayer, sacraments] with dependence on the Lord for success;
- Be diligent about the work of my station, and ply my studies more closely; and for this end, beware of sleeping too much;
- Lastly, Not think that, because God doth not presently answer, therefore he will not answer at all, but wait on him; Isa 28:16;
and if at any time I begin to faint under my difficulties, I should press myself to hang by the promises, remembering the shortness of my time, and that no man knows love or hatred by all that is before him; and should read Heb 12. And my conscience bore me witness, that to be helped so to live in a course of filial obedience, would be more sweet to me, than to be rid of all these difficulties.
- Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (1853; repr., Tentmaker Publications: Stokes-on-Trent, 2002), 12:65.
Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election— those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision:
to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.
And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.
- Synod of Dort, 1.15
The secret of rugged joy in the battle with sin is to fight to become what we are in Christ.
- John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Crossway: Wheaton, 2004), 85.
I’ve been reading When I Don’t Desire God–complements of T4G–to help wake me up in the morning. I ran across this particular quote this morning. It is a reminder to me of the identity I have in Christ. I am fighting to become what I already am–a justified son of God–rather than fighting to become what I might-possibly-could-be-one-day-with-enough-hard-work.