28 Apr 14 at 11 am

Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible | Kevin DeYoung, T4G 2014

"As you stand behind the pulpit to preach - verse after verse, year after year, decade after decade - what will your people sense is the final word? You or the Bible? Their experiences or the Bible? Peer-reviewed journals or the Bible? Their sense of God’s own inner workings in their soul or the Bible? Biology or the Bible? Cultural acceptance or the Bible? … This is the only word that will never be wrong. What will you and your people trust completely and unreservedly?"

A fascinating study that confirms that the purported ‘decline of religion’ is little more than a Western anomaly.

http://wwwgordonconwell.com/netcommunity/CSGCResources/ChristianityinitsGlobalContext.pdf

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It is saddening and surprising how divisive music can be in a local church. While difference in preferences over styles and arrangements do arise, one commonplace area of contention is the place of emotions in corporate singing. While some churches unhealthily elevate emotions and others unhealthily demonise emotions, the Bible instructs us to pursue a healthy, nuanced expression of emotion as we meet, worship and sing together.

1. The place of emotion in corporate worship

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:10-12

Romans 12 may initially seem like an obscure place to think about emotion and singing but it is in many respects an important foundation for how we are to see the relationship between the two. Moving from Paul’s famous words on spiritual worship in verse 1-2, he goes on to illustrate the nature of this worship as we serve other believers as members of one body. Here, the Biblical definition of corporate worship is much greater than merely singing; in verses 6-8 we see that it encompasses prophesy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and acts of mercy.

It is important to note two things here: the inherent place of emotions in our corporate worship, and the broad spectrum of emotion in our corporate worship. In verses 10-12 we see that we are not just to be devoted to one another but devoted to one another in brotherly love. We are not just to serve the Lord but to serve the Lord with spiritual fervour. We are not only to hope but to be joyful in our hope. The expression of emotions in corporate worship is necessary and good.   

 

2. The place of emotions in corporate music

“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” – Psalm 95:1-2

One of the amazing things about the Psalms (a songbook) is the raw expression of emotions, ranging from joy to grief to despair to reverence and fear. The great reformer Martin Luther wrote:

“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions…which control men or more often overwhelm them… Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to subdue frivolity, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate or to appease those full of hate…what more effective means than music could you find.”

Music is a powerful medium. Through it we learn God’s word. Through it we can express our emotions. Music has been peculiarly and particularly appointed by God as a means by which he implants his word in us and a means by which we can corporately rejoice, weep and plead.  

 

3. The dangers of ‘emotionalism’

Given the power of music to evoke emotion it is not surprising that there are also some dangers. The foremost danger of course is that the emotional experience of the music becomes the focus, rather than the subject of the music. The danger is that we begin to worship our feelings rather than God. John Calvin warned, “We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words.”  Likewise, Augustine wrote in the 4th century, “Yet when it happens to me that the music moves me more than the subject of the song, I confess myself to commit a sin deserving of punishment, and then I would prefer not to have heard the singer.”

A central criticism of Pentecostal models of corporate music worship is their perceived emotional excess. Yet, more conservative Evangelical churches generally have a shallow and inadequate doctrine and practice when it comes to the corporate music and the place of emotions (as well as in the Christian life more generally). If there is anything that they have reacted too far against, it is the expression of emotion in church. However, the problem is not emotions per se. Bob Kauflin, director of Sovereign Grace Music, provides a helpful distinction between emotions and emotionalism:

Some Christians repress their emotions as they sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly and think maturity means holding back. But the problem is emotionalism, not emotions. Emotionalism pursues feelings as an end in themselves. It’s wanting to feel something with no regard for how that feeling is produced or its ultimate purpose. Emotionalism can also view heightened emotions as the infallible sign that God is present. In contrast, the emotions that singing is meant to evoke are a response to who God is and what He’s done. Vibrant singing enables us to combine truth about God seamlessly with passion for God. Doctrine and devotion. Mind and heart.

Is emotionalism a danger? Absolutely. Is ignoring the emotional dimension of corporate music the answer? Absolutely not. Emotions are not the problem; emotionalism is. This means that rather than rejecting emotional expression we ought to engage in developing a robust theology and practice of emotional expression in corporate worship. 

 

4. Rethinking how we sing

As music coordinator one constant challenge I face is encouraging my congregation to Biblically and practically think through the place and purpose of emotions in singing. Often I find it discouraging that our wariness of encouraging emotionalism has led us to ignore the place of emotions all together. But often it is more of a reflection of our cultural inclinations and traditional partialities than of Biblical thought. Often we overcorrect to the point that we become routine in our attitude and nonchalant in our singing. We risk entering into a sort of pious stoicism.  

Could it be that in our justified rush to anti-emotionalism we have hastily become anti-emotion? Could it be that our right fear of emotionalism has degenerated into an unhealthy fear of any emotional expression?

We need to rethink how we sing.

I am not suggesting that we awkwardly force ourselves to be outwardly emotional if we are not inclined that way. However, I think a lot of the time we lack normal, genuine, emotional expression when we sing. A good song – and indeed God’s word – should move us to respond appropriately, as we hear of God’s greatness, our wretched sin and the truth of salvation in Jesus. It is sad and discouraging to see brothers and sisters in Christ sing about the most profound truths without engaging their hearts. After all, we are emotionally expressive in almost every other area of our life: during a sports game, at a concert, spending a night out with friends. How much greater reverence, sadness and joy should we feel when singing of the gospel that saves sinners!

Another way of rethinking how we sing is to consider how we can encourage one another by expressing emotions while singing. At my home church we like to speak of corporate music in both vertical and horizontal terms: we seek to both praise God and encourage one another in our singing. Often, however, I suspect that when we speak about emotions we exclusively speak about them in the former (i.e. emotional expression reflects my praise of God). While true, such a view of the purpose of emotion is incomplete and can be unhelpful.

What if we viewed emotion in more holistic terms? What if we viewed expressing emotions in corporate singing as both as an appropriate response to who God is and what he has done and a means by which we can encourage one another?

The expression of emotion (or lack thereof) is not a private, individual matter when it comes to corporate singing. How we sing effects those with whom we sing. Let us therefore serve one another as we join our voices with those of the hosts of heaven, and prepare ourselves for that day when we will see our Lord face to face and serve and sing his praises gladly forever.

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“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections” 
– Jonathan Edwards

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Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Beacon Hill (15.12.13)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV84)

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” 

external link here.


Know Thyself. These are the words painted across my high school emblem. In many ways it was a valuable motto; after all, knowing who you are is important. It shapes your identity, purpose, morality, and how you live. Yet in our society our self-knowledge is often informed by genetics, biology, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. While these disciplines can be useful and informative they fail to explain the world in which we live, much less who we are. The Bible speaks of humanity as God’s image-bearers created to glorify Him in all that we do. But our first parents – Adam and Eve – chose to rebel against God in the Garden and in that moment the entire universe fractured. The perfect harmony of creation was shattered. Sin and death entered the world. Humanity was severed from God. The moral and spiritual condition of mankind was profoundly tarnished. If we are to gain a deeper understanding of God’s actions in salvation we need to come to terms with our state as humanity; we need to know ourselves.


Defining Total Depravity

The doctrine of Total Depravity (also known as Radical Corruption) is the Bible’s description of humanity’s fallen state. Protestant Reformers such as John Calvin strongly asserted the gravity and pervasiveness of the effect of original sin on fallen human nature, “Everything which is in man, from the intellect to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with this concupiscence.” The effect of original sin is universal in its reach. There are all but four chapters in the entire Bible where our sin does not figure predominantly. This leads the apostle Paul to conclude in Romans 1-3 that all of humanity – both Jew and Gentile – are under sin, falling short of the glory of God, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Total depravity is the unwillingness and inability of humans from birth to love or please God because sin corrupts every part of our being and everything that we do.

Another biblical grounding for the doctrine of total depravity is found in Ephesians 2:1-3:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Two observations can be made here:

1. Humanity is dead and enslaved

The Bible’s diagnosis of fallen humanity in fallen society is that we are spiritually dead. We are by our nature unwilling to love or please God because we are enslaved to the ways of this world, the work of Satan and our own sinful nature. We are in spiritual bondage. We think that we control sin but the truth is that sin controls us. Sin not only controls us but it also corrupts every part our being. In the words of Romans 3:10-18, our sin affects our “throats”, “tongues”, “lips”, “mouth”, “feet” and “eyes”. Our minds, our intellect, our will, our affections, our desires, our morality – every part of us is affected. This means that no one desires to seek God. And in our natural state we willingly submit to this master. We do not try and fight it. We let our passions and desires dictate what we do.

2. Humanity is powerless

Fallen humanity is not only unwilling to love or please God but also unable to do so. It is more than just a problem with desires; it is a problem with ability. In our modern age, we live in a culture of self-help: I can fix myself, my problems, my life. I can work harder, dream bigger, think smarter, become better. Our culture says, “You have the power to within yourself to change yourself.” Ephesians 2 says the exact opposite. We are born dead. We are utterly powerless. We are not only spiritually dead but justly condemned; for as Paul concludes, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” We are not the solution to our deepest problem. No amount of positive thinking, no amount of cultural unity, no amount of social reform, no amount of generational education, no amount of moral-self-improvement can or will save humanity from its hopeless state. We were entirely unwilling, completely powerless; altogether unable to escape our condition. Moreover, all our good deeds and decisions are unable to please God or merit His favour. They are like filthy rags in His sight. We cannot do anything to earn or contribute to our salvation.


Misconceiving Total Depravity

The Bible presents a shocking picture of our sinful and corrupted nature that is both solemn and depressing. Yet, total depravity does not mean that humanity is as bad as it could possibly be. Part of God’s common grace to this world is that He restrains evil so that for example, all humans still have a conscience and knowledge of a glorious Creator-God, though we suppress this truth. Additionally, God continues to use and enable people to do ‘good’ acts of benevolence, though such acts ultimately cannot be seen as truly righteous in God’s sight, as they neither proceed from faith nor are done for His glory.

Total depravity also does not mean that there is nothing good about humanity. We continue to bear the image of God. While this image has been shattered it has not been destroyed.

Even the most depraved person still enjoys the dignity of God’s original glorious creation of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity does not contend that humanity is now completely worthless; as Francis Schaeffer argued, “Though the Bible says men are lost, it does not say we are nothing.”


A Doctrine of Grace?

In some ways it may be difficult to understand why total depravity is a doctrine of ‘grace’. After all, it is a doctrine that depresses and deflates our egos and cuts us down to our true size. Where is the grace in that you may ask? In many ways the doctrine of total depravity is not one that is often taught clearly and extensively in churches today. For one thing it rubs fervently against the grain of our middle-class niceties. There is a temptation to soften or shy away from the bad news of our depraved nature in an attempt to minimise the offence of the gospel. But the sad irony is that by doing so we inescapably diminish the cross. The only way to grasp the greatness of the gospel is to see the depravity of our condition. Through the lens of a Biblical understanding of ourselves we come to more truly appreciate the God’s radical grace in Christ.

Therefore, the doctrine of total depravity needs to be preached, not just presupposed. Where we think little of our sin we will think little of our Saviour.

Instead, as Richard D. Phillips writes, “It is from the pit of our lost condition that we gaze up towards a God so high and perfect in His holiness. But from that vantage point we come to see fully at least one of these four dimensions of the cross that Paul would long to have us know: its height. The cross of Christ then rises up to span the full and cast distance that marks how far short we are of the glory of God, and that cross becomes exceedingly precious in our eyes.” Why is total depravity a doctrine of grace? Because when we view the ugly stain of our wretchedness against the absolute holiness of God, we see more clearly the gospel in all its glory. We cherish more deeply the cross of Christ where the sinfulness of man and the love of God meet. We believe more sincerely like Paul that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” And in order for us to understand the rest of the Doctrines of Grace it is important that we be real and understand who it is who is being shown grace. It is us, fallen humanity, and unless we understand how big the divide is between us and the one true God we will be unable to see why it truly is amazing grace that God has shown to us.


original footnotes omitted for readability.

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Originally written for the LAS Article Series (September 2013) - Doctrines of Grace

http://www.thelas.info/2013/09/total-depravity/

 

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Australia Ling Liang Church (25.08.13)

Ephesians 2 (NIV84)

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


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Dear Heavenly Father,
 

We praise you this Easter Sunday that you mightily raised your Son, Jesus, from the dead. This was your doing and it is marvellous and spectacular in our eyes. Death could not hold him! Our last enemy has now been defeated by the triumph of Jesus over the grave. O death where is your sting? O hell where is your victory?

Lord God, help those of us here this morning who are yet to trust in Jesus, the risen King. Overcome our doubts and in your great mercy open our eyes so as to see and believe that Christ has indeed been raised. To behold Him as Lord of all; with authority over all things in heaven and on earth, including our very lives. That in our doubt we might cry out – even this morning – “My Lord and my God. Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.”

And now, O Father, grant us all to behold all that Jesus’ resurrection means: that all authority belongs to Him in heaven and on earth; that no power and no enemy can prevail against Him; that faith in Him is not futile, but fertile; that we are no longer enslaved in our sin; that we are fully forgiven and wrapped in His righteousness; that it is not death to die; that the best life is yet to come. Help us to see that the resurrection changes everything.

 Jesus, your death is the death of all death, and your resurrection is the resurrection of all things. By your compelling love free us from the fear of death and the emptiness of living for ourselves. Bring your resurrection power to bear in our lives, homes, churches, community and world. Never let us forget the ultimate reality of your final triumph over death. Re-capture our hearts when they drift.

O Father, we want our lives to count for the display of your Son’s greatness. May the rest of our days be spent for his glory and his gospel. Work in us to this end, and with all your might we pray. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

The following is an extract from an essay I wrote in 2012 on Jewish and Christian receptions to Roman imperium in Judaea under the Julio-Claudians.

 

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”[1]

– Mark 1:15

 

So much we may conclude, in general terms, of the Jewish receptions of Empire.[2] But where in this spectrum we should place Jesus of Nazareth? As the cornerstone of Christianity did his life, teachings and death represent a departure from common Jewish attitudes, or an adherence to a particular form? Horsley argues,

As we have domesticated Jesus, so we have domesticated his background, so that we talk of ‘the Jews’ as if they were a single entity, when in fact the society in which Jesus lived was immensely complex, involving many realities other than the religious. The peoples of Palestine in the time of Jesus appear as a complex society full of political conflict rather than a unitary religion.[3]

Yet such a conclusion is a categorical fallacy. The attempt to suggest a division here between the ‘religious’ and the ‘political’ is artificial as Judaism was an all-embracing commitment.[4] But rather, as we have seen, different perspectives on all matters, political or otherwise, were derivative of common, overarching theological truths. Thus to ‘interpret’ Jesus as a leader who “stands shoulder to shoulder with these other leaders of movements among the Galilean and Judean people, and pursues the same general agenda…[of] independence from Roman imperial rule…”[5] ought to be critically examined.

 

A central point of contention is the matter of taxes, which perhaps best typified Roman imperial rule in Judaea. In Mark 12 Jesus is questioned about taxes to the emperor and its legality:[6]

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.[7]

 

The interpretation and exegesis of this passage is highly disputed amongst scholars from a range of confessional and theological perspectives.[8] However, various observations can still be made. Firstly, it is important to note here that the ‘tax’ [kēnsos] referred to is the tributum capitis or Roman head tax, the precise form of which Judas the Galilean had objected to.[9] Secondly, Jesus’ response, “Render [apodote] to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” suggests not merely general payment but also an obligation of restoring the denarius to its original possessor.[10] It is not only lawful to pay Caesar’s head-tax but also an appropriate response to his authority. Thirdly, the words, “…and to God the things that are God’s.” implies a degree of analogy. Jesus seems to purport that it was necessary to render to Rome, and the imperator, what is owed, and also to God what was owed. As Bryan argues,

Jesus does not, apparently, see a contradiction here…. The basis on which he has said that something is owed to Caesar is that it bears Caesar’s image. What then bears God’s image, so that it should be owed to God? No Jew, Pharisee, or even Herodian could fail to know the answer to that. They themselves bore God’s ‘image’[11]. They owed a mere head-tax to Caesar, because the coinage was Caesar’s. But they owed themselves to God, because they belonged to God.[12]

However, there is a risk of overemphasising the analogy: that is to say, Jesus accepted Roman imperium because he perceived it as an “as an irrelevant distraction from the real business of receiving God’s kingdom.”[13] As much as Jesus was not foremost political in his agenda, his was neither apolitical. A more nuanced understanding suggests that acceptance of and submission to Roman rule was part of accepting and submitting to God, for all things belonged to Him.

 

Ultimately, Jesus did not reject or counsel rejection of Roman imperium but rather accepted its authority as that which derived from the authority of God. Simultaneously, however, he was willing and sought to critique and challenge Roman imperium, yet not necessarily as a means to dismantle or replace them.[14] Importantly, when understanding Jesus’ attitudes towards Empire, our tendency towards a post-colonial reading of texts ought to be considered. For as Sugirtharajah affirms, “What is strikingly clear is that Jesus’s alternative vision did not challenge or seek to radically alter the colonial apparatus.”[15]



[2] In summary, what can be concluded with certainty is this: that Jewish reception of Empire were varied, and ranged from full acceptance of Roman imperium to violent resistance. With the revival of messianic movements and the emergence of bandits in the later period of Roman rule, resistance towards the Empire also increased, although the exact nature, extent or depth of that resistance was very much variegated and for the most part we can only surmise.

[3] Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 10.

[4] Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 27.

[5] Horsley, Jesus and Empire, p. 104.

[6] Also see Luke 20:20-26 and Matthew 22:15-22 for parallel accounts.

[7] Mark 12:13-17, ESV

[8] For a more comprehensive commentary see R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 451-496.

[9] Bryan, Render to Caesar, p. 44.

[10] Ibid., p. 45.

[11] Genesis 1:26, ESV

[12] Bryan, Render to Caesar, pp. 45-46

[13] Oliver O’Donovan, Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) p. 92.

[14] Bryan, Render to Caesar, p. 9.

[15] R. S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 88.


The book of Ephesians is profoundly personal and yet breathtakingly global. So far in this series we have seen that Christians are those who by grace have been chosen by God, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. This was achieved by Christ’s death on the cross by which He has reconciled all people – both Jew and Gentile – to God. These adopted, redeemed and forgiven people from all cultures, nations, peoples and groups now form one body – the Church. Yet, a primary question remains unanswered. How are we (the Church) to live? More specifically, how are we to live as a corporate body? And how are we to live as individual members? It is the first part of this broader question that this article seeks to answer.


Training is important. What may at first seem fruitless and repetitive over time produces strength, perseverance and excellence. As a society I think we recognise this. It’s why we admire athletes, musicians and professionals. It’s why we ourselves go to the gym, show up at team practice and attend workshops. Training is important. This is no less true for the body of Christ.

The church is to be trained in the word so that they might reach unity and maturity in Christ.



1. Training in the word

 “…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

– Ephesians 4:11-13

Through His victory over sin and death Jesus has gifted His Church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their role is to build up the body by enabling and training God’s people in order that all members of the body may build the body, each in their own unique way; as chapter 4, verse 7 notes, “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

The body of Christ is to be enabled and trained through the teaching of God’s word. The Bible is God’s provision for the edification and care of his Church. Therefore, the teaching of God’s word is central to the growth of a church. It is why we must keep the Bible at the centre of our ministries and lives, letting it shape our communal gatherings, minds and hearts. As Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Preaching the Word is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are set in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need.”1 Ephesians 4 offers two motives for goals for this training: Unity and Maturity.



2. Training for Unity

 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

– Ephesians 4:3-6

Churches are diverse places. You will find people from religious backgrounds sitting next to former sceptics, professionals sharing communion with the homeless, high schoolers and the elderly, businessmen and former drug addicts, refugees and immigrants. Churches are a melting pot for learning and acceptance. But due to our sinful hearts more often than not our diversity leads to exclusivity and conflict. The ultimate, cosmic reality is that as Christians we are all one in Christ Jesus2. There is but one Church, one Spirit that binds us together, one hope that we yearn for, one Lord that we worship, one faith that we profess, one baptism that we share, and one God and Father to whom we belong. Knitted together by the blood of our Christ, united as one by His resurrection. The basis for our unity, in the midst of our diversity, is our oneness in Christ. Paul appealed to the Ephesians, and he appeals to us, to make every effort to maintain this unity. Naturally we scorn that which is different; gravitate towards that which is familiar but Christ is like a magnet; drawing us together to Himself through the gospel.

We may resist and struggle all we like but the ultimate reality is unchanged: we are one in Christ. We need to train and be trained to live and love in unity.

The goal of training is to “reach unity in the faith”3. “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”4 Through teaching God word, we need to train our people and ourselves to put aside partiality and selfishness, to value and honour our different roles and gifts, and to engage and do life with one another, not just on Sundays but throughout the week.



3. Training for Maturity

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

– Ephesians 4:14-15

Imagine a toddler being thrashed about in the ocean. How would you feel?

That is the image that Paul presents in verse 14. Where Christians are not being trained in God’s word they are being captivated by the false teachings and empty philosophies of our world. It is not only dangerous but deadly. I wonder if you have ever seen the world in this way? As a billowing depth that seeks to drown us in its ‘truths’ and values. I wonder if you have ever thought of the Bible in this way? As an anchor that grounds our life, minds, hearts and souls in a world that tries to drown us with these ‘truths’ and values. The desperate picture painted by Paul ought to drive us to grasp the necessity of growing in Christian maturity.

We need to train and be trained to grow in maturity as one people. The goal of training is to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”5 Through teaching God word, we need to train our people and ourselves to speak the gospel into the lives of those around us, to grow in knowledge of God, and to live and think in our society and culture.

 Where training God’s people in His word is not primary, unity is feeble and maturity missing.


The church is to be trained in the word so that they might reach unity and maturity in Christ. As a Christian how are you being trained in God’s word to grow in unity and maturity? Do you see it as an optional extra if time permits or a core necessity of your life? Be trained in the word and in so grow in unity and maturity. For those of us who have the gracious privilege of teaching and equipping God’s people, let us be reminded: We preach and teach the Bible, not our own opinions, anecdotes and hobbyhorses. We don’t just offer good wisdom and advice that informs but good news that transforms. We extend to others God-breathed Scripture that is sufficient for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Let us never grow weary of doing so.



*****

Originally written for the LAS Article Series (March 2013) - Ephesians

http://www.thelas.info/2013/03/ephesians-training-saints/

 1
10 Feb 13 at 8 pm
tags: Bible  hermeneutics 


Audio: How to Read the Bible (Part 3: Putting it into Practice)

Speaker: Michael Tong
Date: 26/01/13
CrossWord Youth Training Days

Additional Resources
1. Handout (7 Tips for Better Bible Study)
2. Bible Reading Plans: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/
3. Devotionals: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/
http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/new-devotional-app

…..
The overarching aim of the series is to be equipped with practical tools and mutual encouragement to cultivate a daily desire to read, interpret and apply God’s word it in our lives as He transforms us to be more like Christ through them.

 1
10 Feb 13 at 8 pm
tags: Bible  hermeneutics 



Audio: How to Read the Bible (Part 2: Content and Context)
Speaker: Michael Tong
Date: 19/01/13
CrossWord Youth Training Days

Additional Resources
1. Summary Notes
2. Handout (Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction)
3. ESV Study Bible
4. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth by Gordon Fee & Stuart Douglas
5. New Bible Dictionary and New Bible Commentary

…..
The overarching aim of the series is to be equipped with practical tools and mutual encouragement to cultivate a daily desire to read, interpret and apply God’s word it in our lives as He transforms us to be more like Christ through them.

 1
10 Feb 13 at 8 pm
tags: Bible  hermeneutics 

image


 

Audio: How to Read the Bible (Part 1: God’s Big Picture)

Speaker: Michael Tong
Date: 12/01/13
CrossWord Youth Training Days

Additional Resources
1. Handout (God’s Big Picture - An outline of Biblical history)
2. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts
3. According to the Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

…..
The overarching aim of the series is to be equipped with practical tools and mutual encouragement to cultivate a daily desire to read, interpret and apply God’s word it in our lives as He transforms us to be more like Christ through them.

 4
04 Feb 13 at 8 pm
tags: money  theology  creation  LAS 



Oscar Wilde once said, “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” He is not alone. Money matters to us. We exist in a society that not only craves money but functions on it. We ourselves pass our lives working to earn money and to spend it. In one sense of course money is entirely worthless. It amounts to little more than copper and plastic, digits and figures. In another sense, it is indispensable . It’s value is found in what it can provide: physical possessions, power and experiences.

1. The Doctrine of Creation

To understand what God says about money we must begin with creation. It is the fundamental starting point. The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning, God…” Notice that it doesn’t begin with detailed descriptions of subatomic particles or ten proofs for the existence of a Creator. It simply begins, “In the beginning, God.” Genesis 1 and 2 then go on to speak of this triune God as a good Creator who sovereignly created all things in the heavens and the earth as well as human beings – men and women – in His image. It is made clear that the God of the Bible not only controls and ordains all things but that He also owns all things, including our very lives. Psalm 24:1 says it like this; “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”. We are never the ultimate owners; God alone lays claim to our physical possessions and experiences. He declares in Psalm 50:

“I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

God does not need our money precisely because He already owns it. Money, is part of God’s good creation, and He owns all physical possessions, power and experiences.

2. A good gift

In recent years, in lieu of the ‘prosperity gospel’, there has been a shift towards a poverty theology of sorts amongst conservative churches whereby poverty is elevated as a barometer of holiness. Often, faithful Christians tend to avoid, demonise or fear money. Yet the doctrine of creation reminds us that money is intrinsically a good gift. Indeed, God made everything and saw that it was very good. In the Garden of Eden we see a God who is generous in providing a paradise of plenty to His people. Similarly, the new creation to come is cast in images of great extravagance and prosperity – a great banquet, a golden city.

Money is a good gift. Money is a good gift because it is a means by which God provides for us and allows us to enjoy aspects of His good creation. Physical possessions and experiences can and should be enjoyed. Additionally, money is a good gift because it points us to a good God who provides and cares for us.

And yet it’s not that simple is it?

The Bible speaks clearly concerning the danger of money. Paul writes, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Jesus himself declares, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

3. A false god

God is Creator. He is distinct and separate from his creation. He not only controls and ordains all things but He also owns all things. Therefore He is worthy of all glory and praise. Revelation 4:11 declares, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” But that’s our problem isn’t it? None of us give God all the glory and praise that He deserves. We do not find our boasting and pleasure in Him but ourselves. We boast in our physical possessions and find pleasure in our experiences. Instead of money being a good gift it becomes a false god. Like in Romans 1 we exchange the Creator for His creation by enjoying his creation more than the Creator himself.

We distort money from being a good gift to a false god when our view and use and enjoyment of money finds its ultimate purpose and meaning in creation and not the Creator. It’s when we find our deepest pleasure and boasting in the gift and not the God who gave it. It’s when we find our joy in our overseas holidays and travel plans. It’s when we advertise our cars and bank accounts. It’s when we say to God, ‘I care more about what you can give me rather than who you are.’ It’s when we enjoy creation more than the Creator.

4. Whose money is it?

God made everything. He gives some of it for us to enjoy and yet all of it is His. God alone lays claim to our physical possessions and experiences. For all of creation comes from His hand. He not only controls and ordains all things but He also owns all things. He alone is worthy of all glory and praise.

So then, money is either a good gift or a false god.

When you recognise that your cars, your wardrobe, your job, your holiday, your home, your savings; your very life is not your own, it changes everything: from the way you view money, to the way you use it, to the way you enjoy it.

So let us not pretend and act like any of it is ours. Let us not rob God of His creation or His glory.


*****

Originally written for the LAS Article Series (February 2013) - Money
http://www.thelas.info/2013/02/whose-money-is-it/

 6
10 Jan 13 at 11 pm

Here I Am, Send Me by Matt Papa

Here am I, send me! I’ll follow wherever you lead. I will tell the world that Jesus is the way. Send me Lord, Here I am! I offer my dreams and my plans.I will give my life a living sacrifice. Lord here I am.

by His grace let this be our prayer. 

tags: amen  matt papa  mission  Isaiah 
 1
02 Jan 13 at 11 am

happy new year.

Bayview Foreshore Walk

tags: 2013  happy new year 
happy new year.
Bayview Foreshore Walk