Preach the Word: Convince!

August 20, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Bible - NT - Titus, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Preaching

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

What exactly does it mean that Timothy is, in Paul’s words, to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season”? Thankfully, Paul gave Timothy some guidance and direction, guidance and direction that can help ministers of the Gospel today understand their task. Paul continues, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” So let us consider each of these commands, beginning today with what it means to “convince.”

The Greek word behind “convince” is elencho and means “to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance” (TDNT). The ESV translates it as “reprove” in this case and that captures the sense. Paul uses the word elsewhere in the pastoral epistles:
· 1 Tim 5:20 – He commands Timothy, “Those [elders] who are sinning [reprove] in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.”
· Titus 1:9 – Paul notes that elders are to “be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and [to reprove] those who contradict.”
· Titus 2:15 – Paul commands Titus, “Speak these things, exhort, and [reprove] with all authority. Let no one despise you.”

To reprove, therefore, involves two components. First, the preacher must identify what is erroneous or sinful – he is the “reprove” those who are sinning, to “reprove” those who contradict, and to “reprove” with all authority. Second, the preacher must summon the offender to repentance. “Let no one despise you,” Paul commands, since the preacher is to speak the very words of God to the one sinning.

What this means is that the minister of the Gospel must be prepared to deal with the sins of his people. It is not the job of the preacher to tell smarmy stories that make God’s people feel good about themselves; it is not the minister’s responsibility to make people feel comfortable; his responsibility is to speak the Word of God into the lives of God’s people so that their sins are exposed and they grow in holiness and in the fear and love of God.

If this is the duty of ministers of the Gospel, if ministers are “to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance” then what corresponding duty does this require of those who are reproved? What is your responsibility? Your duty is to listen and to give heed. Your duty is not to harden your neck and resent correction, but to cultivate a spirit that longs for reproof.

So reminded this morning that preaching the Word involves exposing sin and summoning God’s people to repentance, let us acknowledge our sin: preachers often fail to speak clearly about the sin that so easily entangles us and Christians often bristle when our sin is exposed and confronted. Rather than humble ourselves before the Word of God, we are tempted to say, “What will they think of me if I say that?” or “Who do you think you are to confront me?” And so reminded of our sin and that there is only one sacrifice, Jesus the Christ, whose shed blood can cover the guilt of our sin, let us confess our sin, beseeching God’s forgiveness. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Raising Hands in Worship?

February 13, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Worship
1 Timothy 2:8 (NKJV)
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship – singing the psalms, publicly reading Scripture, reciting the creeds, kneeling for confession, etc. Every church has such traditions and it is important that we regularly evaluate them to make sure that they reflect, not undermine, biblical principles.
Today I want us to consider the practice of raising hands in worship. I raise my hands to assure the congregation of forgiveness and to pronounce the blessing of the Lord; we all raise our hands to sing at the end of the service. Why do such things? Why raise hands at all?
The answer to this question is supplied by the Apostle Paul in our text today: Paul wants us to raise hands. Paul writes to Timothy, I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands… (1 Tim 2:8). If Paul wants holy hands to be lifted up in prayer, then we need to come up with ways to obey him.
So what are the circumstances in which Scripture records the raising of hands by the people of God? First, God’s leaders often raise their hands to bless the people of God. In Leviticus 9:22, Aaron “lifted his hand toward the people [and] blessed them….” Aaron’s action was later imitated by the priests as they blessed Israel. Most significantly, Luke records that after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, Jesus “led the [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50). The lifting of hands in blessing communicates visibly to God’s people the reality of the blessing that is being pronounced. In our service of worship, this action corresponds to the assurance of forgiveness following confession and to the benediction at the end of service.
Second, God’s people often raise hands to worship or bless God. The psalmist declares, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Ps 63:3-4). In Nehemiah 8:6 we are told that “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.” So as we prepare to leave the sanctuary each week, having renewed covenant with God, the entire congregation lifts up holy hands to praise the Lord. Indeed, at certain times of the year, we summon one another to raise hands as we sing in Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord.”
Finally, God’s people, especially the men, often raise hands to lift their prayers into God’s presence. David prays in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”Similarly, the psalmist prays in 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” One of the most memorable stories associated with the raising of hands and prayer is Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses’ hands were lifted in prayer the Israelites had success; but whenever his hands wavered, Israel began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur got on either side of Moses and held up his hands until Israel achieved a complete victory (Ex 17:8-16).
It would appear, therefore, that lifting hands in worship is pleasing to God. However, while it is a good and lawful action, it is possible to do it wrongly; we can perform a faithful action unfaithfully. For example, our elders would argue that raising hands haphazardly in corporate worship rather than decently and in good order is problematic. And Paul, in our text today, wants men to lift up holyhands without wrath and doubting… He wants us to raise our hands in a particular way. So what does this mean? Consider that by lifting our hands to God we declare two things: first, we declare that our hands are clean, that they are holy, free from wrath; second, we declare that we trust Him, without doubting. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4a). If we lift up hands that are covered with filth, then this is not pleasing to God; likewise, if we lift up our hands but our hearts are far from the Lord, then this is not pleasing to God. We are to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting.

So reminded of why we lift hands in worship, let us confess that our hands are often not holy but polluted with guilt and in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. And as we are able let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the 

The Public Reading of Scripture

January 16, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God
Nehemiah 8:5, 8
“Ezra opened the book [of the law] in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. . . . They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
Every church has traditions. They are unavoidable. They span from the type of music used in worship, to the clothes the preacher wears, to the time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Every church has traditions.
This realization should cause us some concern. For when we read the Gospels we know that Jesus issues some severe admonitions about the dangers of tradition. He warns that our traditions can become subtle or not-so-subtle ways to disobey the commandments of God.
It is refreshing, therefore, when we read the Word of God and behold faithful traditions which have been established by the people of God in the past–traditions which do not violate but rather uphold the commandments of God. Such are the traditions in our text today from Nehemiah. There are three.
First, Ezra read from the book of the law. The law or Word of God, we are told repeatedly, is our wisdom, understanding, and life. It is this Word that conveys to us the truth of God and that is used by the Spirit of God to enliven us spiritually. Therefore, what better way to testify to this life transforming power of God’s Word than to read the Scriptures publicly in our worship?
Second, notice that in reading the Law, Ezra read it is such a way that the word was “translated to give the sense.” Have you ever wondered why we don’t read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek during our Sunday worship? Have you ever wondered why the Reformers objected to the Roman Church’s practice of reading the word of God exclusively in Latin? Here is your answer. When the law is read aloud, it is to be read in a manner which the people of God can understand. We must not erect traditions of language which preclude the people of God from accessing His Word. And so, our tradition is that we read the Word of God in English translation.
Third, notice that when Ezra opened the book of the law, the people of Israel stood up. Standing communicates respect, attentiveness, eagerness, and determination. It is, after all, at the most intense moments of an athletic competition that the spectators stand on their feet, on their tiptoes, straining to see the action. And when we stand for the reading of the Word we are communicating that here is one of the most central moments of worship. God is speaking to us—not through the frail mouth of the preacher, not through the symbolism of the sacrament, but through the living words of the text directly.
The tradition of reading the Word of God week in and week out, therefore, upholds the centrality of God’s Word in our worship and lives. The Word of God is that which gives us focus, meaning, and direction. Apart from it we are no more than a rudderless ship. So Paul commands Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (ESV, 1 Tim 4:13).
What then is to be our response to the reading? First, we are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the words of the living God. Our ears should be attentive; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself.
Second, we should determine to give heed to that which we hear. We are told in the 12th verse of this same chapter that “all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” Having read the law’s regulations on the Feast of Booths, the people immediately set out to obey it. The people understood the law and gave heed to it.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. So let us draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.

What is Worldliness?

February 28, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Confession, Creation, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification
Ephesians 2:1–3 (NKJV)
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
For these first three Sundays in Lent, we are addressing our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we are outside of Christ, these forces dominate our lives and compel us to sin. Consequently, God must act to deliver us from their hold. And it is this that He has done in Christ. Listen again to Paul’s words: And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh… The world, the flesh, and the devil are a deadly trio. So what is meant by “the world”?
Unfortunately many Christians throughout history have misconstrued this warning against “the world” as a repudiation of creation itself. Worldliness, in this view, is any attachment to the created order or physical things: marriage, food, beauty, drink, sexuality, technology, etc. To be “heavenly-minded”, therefore, to escape worldliness, is to reject created things. But this is to misconstrue Paul’s understanding of worldliness. After all, Paul reminds Timothy, that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). The created order is not the problem.
So what is worldliness, then? “Worldliness is,” David Wells has written, “anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal.” It is anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal. The “world”, therefore, is not the created order or mere physicality; the “world” is the collection of assumptions, practices, and desires embraced by our broader community or culture that run contrary to the Word of God. It is the assortment of unbiblical values that strive to have preeminence over God’s values. It consists of ideas, institutions, and vocations that marginalize God and His law.
It is from this “world” that we have been delivered by God’s grace; and it is against this “world” that we are to do battle through the preaching of the Gospel. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds [institutions of the world], casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God [ideas of the world], bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” We are to do battle against “the world.”
But in order to do battle against the “world” out there, we must first do battle against the world “in here.” We must root out unbiblical manners of thinking and acting that characterize us individually and that characterize us as a congregation. We must strive to resemble not the kingdoms of this world but the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And one of the first characteristics of the kingdom of God is humility – a willingness to confess our worldliness. There are many who would come here today and be asked to kneel and confess their sin and worldliness and recoil. “That is strange,” they would say. But in God’s kingdom, kneeling to confess sin is not strange, it is normal. “Worldliness is anything that makes righteousness look strange [like kneeling to confess sin] and sin look normal.” So reminded of our calling to fight against the world, let us kneel and confess that we often fail to do so.

Extortioners, Swindlers and the Kingdom of God

September 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Matthew, Meditations, Ten Commandments
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Today we bring our series of exhortations on 1 Corinthians 6 to a close. Paul has catalogued a number of sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us in Christ. While these sins did characterize us in our unbelief, they are not to characterize us in Christ. We close with Paul’s declaration that extortioners will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. Paul has already condemned thieves – those who take others’ possessions as their own – he now condemns a certain type of thievery – a thievery that uses one’s superior strength or wit in order to take advantage of others. The ESV captures the full extent of the Greek with the translation “swindle” – to put forward plausible schemes or use unscrupulous trickery to defraud others; to cheat.
It is likely that the group of people that Paul particularly had in mind were false prophets who used their slick speech to line their own pockets. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). That word “ravenous” is the same Greek word found in our text. False prophets extort and swindle people; they get from the sheep whatever they can for their own advantage, not caring for the sheep or feeding them or protecting them.
The modern church has no shortage of such swindlers from televangelists who capture gullible men and women to certain mega-church pastors who tickle people’s ears with feel-good sermons. Paul describes them well as men who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim 6:5).
But religious swindlers are just one type of a breed – we find the same type of person in politics and business and health care and social services and relationships. Swindlers include all those who twist the good gifts that God has given them – whether strength or wit or speech – and then use that gift to aquire that which God hasn’t given them. They are acting on the adage, “Might makes right.” Rather than use their strength and wit to glorify God and serve others, they use them to take advantage of others.
So what of you? Are you using the gifts that God has given you for for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors? Or are you using those gifts to swindle others?

Reminded that extortioners shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us confess that we often use our gifts to take advantage of others rather than serve them. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

The Public Reading of Scripture

January 12, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - James, Bible - NT - Revelation, Lord's Day, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God, Worship
1 Timothy 4:13 (NASB95)
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between our traditions and God’s commands so that we are able to evaluate our traditions in light of His commands. Nothing is more deadly than imagining that we don’t have traditions – for this is the first step to subverting the Word of God with our traditions.
Among the traditions which we have as a congregation, one of them is reading various passages from the Word of God each Lord’s Day. Apart from the sermon text, we read Old and New Testament passages. Why do this?
The passage today answers this question. For while many of our traditions are simply applications of biblical principles, the public reading of the Word of God is the implementation of a biblical tradition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Likewise, John in the book of Revelation pronounces his blessing on the one who was to read in worship the book he was composing. Reading portions of the Word of God each Lord’s Day is not simply a church tradition – it is an apostolic tradition.
Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach it? First, how ought we to read the Word of God? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. We ought to read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. We ought to read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense (Neh 8:8). We ought to read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, we ought to read with discretion – giving due attention to the tone of the passage – whether it is pronouncing doom upon the unrepentant or comfort to the afflicted; tone matters.
Second, how ought we to listen to the Word of God? We are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first and primary obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the Word of the living God. Our ears should be attentive to His message; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself. Taking every thought captive, let us hear what the reading is announcing to us today.
And, having heard, let us not be like the man who looks at his face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of person he is. No, rather let us not only give ear to the Word but as God uses it to poke and prod us, let us give heed to in in the alteration of our attitudes and actions.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.