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Archive for August, 2008

The following is a sermon preached on Sunday morning at Sunnyside Baptist Church on August 31, 2008.

The worship of God is a serious matter… isn’t it?  I believe the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets it right in the first question…“What is the chief end of man?”  The answer…“To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  In other words…we are created to worship Him… and to assist others in worshipping Him by making Him known.

Yet it is so easy to fall short of this.  How often are we more concerned about what we want in worship rather than being concerned solely for the glory of God alone? How easy it is for us to pollute the worship of God by seeking our own selfish desires… our own selfish gains.

Doesn’t this mar the name of God?  Doesn’t this pollute the worship of the living and true God?

What should our response be to this?  What should our response be to selfishness in the name of God?

I think we will see quite clearly in our passage of Scripture today what Jesus’ response was to those seeking their own selfish gain in the worship of God.

John 2:12-22 (ESV) – 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

We are told that Jesus went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and disciples… where He stayed for a short while.  This seems to have been His “base of operations” while He was in Galilee. 

Although this may be something of a bunny trail, it is interesting that here we have a mention of Jesus’ “brothers.”  Mark also speaks of the brothers of Jesus.  In fact, Mark gives us their names (and tells us that He had sisters as well)…

Mark 6:3 (ESV) – 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”…

I know that there are some who try to say that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus and that these are “cousins” of Jesus, rather than half-brothers.  But the Greek won’t support that.  The term here is δελφός…brother, not νεψιός… cousin.  This isn’t the major point of the text, but it is important for us to notice.  Jesus had brothers and we will see them again later in this gospel and we will learn that they did not fully believe in Him as the Messiah… at least at this stage in the ministry of Jesus.

 Jesus went down to Capernaum with His family and His disciples, but He didn’t remain there long before He had to make a trip to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

We talked about the Passover a couple of weeks ago when we looked at John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), but we would do well to refresh our memories again today.  The Passover was one of the most important religious celebrations of the whole year to the 1st century Jew.  It was a time when the Jewish people remembered the way in which God had delivered them out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  You remember the story… Pharaoh repeatedly refused to let the Israelites go and God brought judgment down upon them… 10 plagues in all… culminating in the death of the all the firstborn among the Egyptians.  But in pouring out His wrath on the Egyptians, God provided a way for the Israelites to be “passed over” in judgment.  They took a lamb… a spotless lamb… a lamb without any blemish… and they shed its blood.   And the blood was spread on the door frame of the house.  And when the angel of death passed by and he saw the blood on the door posts, he passed over that house.  They were saved because the lamb’s blood was shed for them.

The Passover feast was the time when all the Israelites would remember what God had done that night.  And ultimately it wasn’t an option whether they wanted to remember this or not.  God had commanded them to remember this feast and to do so every able-bodied adult male was required by the Law to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast (Deut 16:16.)

There is a theological point to be had here.  It tells us something about God.  God expects His people to remember the salvation that He has provided for us.  In fact, it tells us a little more than that, doesn’t it?  He demands that we remember His salvation.  God commanded the Old Testament saints to gather together and remember the salvation which God had provided for them during the Passover and other religious feasts celebrated annually.  As New Testament Christians, we gather together and specifically remember the salvation which God has provided for us when we partake of the Lord’s Supper (among other times as well.)

How often do we take the time to stop and remember what God has done to save us?  How often do we stop to simply meditate on the gospel and worship the God who gave His only begotten Son to save us from our sin?

God expected every Jewish male to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate their salvation and worship Him.  Think about how this would have impacted the city of Jerusalem.  It is estimated that the average population of Jerusalem at this time was somewhere between 120,000 to 200,000 people.  But during Passover, the population would swell to over 3 million people (New Bible Dictionary, “Passover.”)

Picture this for a moment.  Think about what that would do in the city of Jerusalem.  It would be overflowing with people.  There wouldn’t be enough room for everyone.  Wouldn’t all the room rates at the local inns go up?  Wouldn’t you expect the price of food to spike as well?  When there are that many people around, there tends to be a lot of opportunities to make money.  Even though this was intended to be a time when God’s people would come together to remember the free gift of their salvation, there were still those who were concerned about making a buck.  More on this in just a minute…

Jesus is obedient to the Law of God.  He travels to Jerusalem in order to remember the way in which God had delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and, when He arrives, He enters the temple.

Now what was the significance of the temple? 

The temple was the dwelling place of God among His people.  It was the place where God’s glory dwelt in a very real, observable sense.  When someone wanted to draw near to God… they went to Jerusalem.  But not just Jerusalem… they ascended Mount Zion and entered the temple.  This is where people would come to commune with God.

Which leads to the second purpose of the temple… it was the place of worship.  If fact, in the Old Testament, it was the only appointed place where acceptable worship could be offered to God (i.e. Deut 16:5-6.)  Jerusalem was the place where God chose for His name to dwell and the temple in Jerusalem was the only acceptable place to worship God.

Third, it was the place where atonement was made for sin.  It was the place where sin was taken care of.  The pious Jew recognized that they were a sinner and they knew this needed to be dealt with.  And for this to be accomplished, something had to die on their behalf for them to be saved.  The temple was where the sacrifice would die.  The temple was the place where the sacrifice would be presented before God.  The temple was the place where sin was dealt with.

This was a holy place.  It was set apart to God for His glory.  It was a place which was intended for God-honoring purposes alone.  It was intended to be a place where humble, repentant sinners would come to worship the God of their salvation. 

Yet this is not what Jesus finds at the temple in Jerusalem.  When He arrived there, instead of humble worshippers seeking forgiveness of their sins, rejoicing in the God of their salvation, what He finds is appalling to Him.  In the Court of the Gentiles, there was a multitude of animals… oxen, sheep and pigeons or doves.

What were these animals there for?  They were on sale.  Worshippers could get their sacrifice for the Passover right there in the temple.  One-stop shopping.  Buy your sacrifice… take care of your sin… all in one fell swoop.

Now this business had begun some time before in an effort to assist people who were traveling great distances to Jerusalem.   They didn’t have comfortable cars and trailers and freeways in order to make travel easy.  Most of them had to walk.  And anyone who has ever taken children on an extended road trip knows how difficult it can be.  Can you imagine having to bring along the family sheep as well?  So a business sprung up outside Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley where worshippers could purchase an animal for their sacrifice.  Now there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but as things often do, it continued to morph into the sinful thing which Jesus found this day.  You see… if it was convenient to buy your animals just outside of Jerusalem rather than bring them over the road, then it would be even more convenient to purchase them right there on the temple property.  It made things much easier.

But there was also another ulterior motive for moving things inside the temple.  It was easier to control the business, for there in the temple, it would fall under the sole authority of the chief priests.  And they had a good system for making money here.  All sacrifices offered to God had to be “without spot or blemish.”  To do otherwise was sinful and forbidden by God (Deut 17:1.)  In other words, the sacrificial animals had to be perfect.  If they weren’t… then the priests would refuse to offer them on the altar to God.  There is some evidence to suggest that the priests would simply judge many of the animals brought “from home” to be blemished and, therefore, unacceptable.  Unless, of course, you purchased one of their fine, spotless animals right there on the temple property.  They kind of had the corner on the market.  And things were pretty profitable for them.

And this wasn’t the only way to turn a profit in the temple.  There were the moneychangers there as well.

The Law demanded that every male over the age of 20 pay a ½ shekel temple tax (Exodus 30:13.)  Now it was debated as to how often one had to pay this tax, but the Sadducees, who controlled the temple, interpreted this to be a ½ shekel tax every year.  And they were pretty nit-picky about how you paid the tax.  You couldn’t just pay it with any old coin. It had to be paid in Tyrian silver coins, because of their high level of purity.  Now these were not the typical coins which most people used in day-to-day business.  So, in order to pay in Tyrian silver coin, the common coinage of the day had to be exchanged.  And you could get this done right there in the temple for you… for a small fee, of course.  It is said that the moneychangers charged a fee of approximately 12 ½ percent to perform this transaction (F.F. Bruce, page 74.)  12 ½ percent so that a person could honor God and provide for the needs of His temple.

Do you see what was going on here?  People were getting rich off the worship of God.  Jewish people and some Gentile God-fearers traveled from all over the ancient world to celebrate their salvation and worship the God who had delivered them.  They traveled from all over the world to come to the one place… the only place in all the world… where they could seek the forgiveness of sins.  And people were there to greet them.  Not in an effort to point them to God.  Not in an effort to assist them in understanding God and seeking salvation from their sin.  No.  People were there to make a buck off of them.  People were there to take advantage of the humble, repentant sinners as they strived to worship God.

Unfortunately this hasn’t gone away.  There have always been unscrupulous people trying to get rich off those who are honestly and humbly seeking God.  Whether it is through the selling of indulgences in the days of Martin Luther or televangelists today,  promising prosperity and financial blessing in this life…if only you will send in your “seed money” to their ministry.  People are still trying to get rich off the worship of God.

And God is not pleased by this.  In our text here, Jesus is infuriated by this.  Here we see Jesus in the fullness of righteous anger.  In fact, His zeal has caused many people to pause, because we tend to think of Jesus as this soft, mild-mannered, even feminine teacher who walked around barefoot and hugged children.  Now it is true that Jesus was abounding with grace.  The mercy of God flowed from Him upon virtually everyone He encountered.  He was full of grace… but He was also full of truth (Jn 1:14.)  He is the holy, holy, holy Son of God in human flesh and He will not tolerate unrepentant sin in the presence of God, especially, as in this case, when it takes advantage of the poor and the weak. 

He makes a whip out of cords (probably the cords used to tie up the animals) and He drove them all out of the temple.  Many commentators will say that he only used the whip to drive out the animals, but notice carefully what the text says… “He drove them ALL out of the temple.”  In context, this seems to mean, not only the animals, but those selling the animals and the moneychangers as well.  He forced them all to leave.  He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and dumped out their ill-gotten gain.  And He speaks specifically to those who were selling the pigeons or doves, “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.”  Why does He speak specifically to the sellers of pigeons or doves?  If you remember in the Old Testament, if you were particularly poor and you couldn’t afford to sacrifice a bull or a lamb, then you could offer a pigeon or dove as a sacrifice to God.  These men were taking advantage of the poorest of the poor among the people.  There is some evidence that they were selling pigeons worth roughly a nickel (in our modern economy) for approximately $4 each (William Hendriksen, John 2:14.)  They were getting rich off of those who had next to nothing.  They were taking advantage of the poorest of the poor.

Notice that Jesus does not tolerate them.  He tells them to get out and take their wares with them.  The temple is not to be a house of trade.  It isn’t a place to do business.  It isn’t a place to earn money.  It is the place to worship God and seek the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus is extremely passionate about this.  He is zealous for the glory of His Heavenly Father and the sanctity of His worship.  And the disciples, seeing this, were reminded of an Old Testament passage found in Psalm 69:9… “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The original verse reads “Zeal for your house has… past tense… consumed me.”  But here they reinterpret this verse, rendering it “Zeal for your house will… future tense… consume me.”  This passion for the glory of God and the sacredness of His worship will devour Him… it will eat Him up… it will be His undoing.

This is so true.  Although some see Jesus as only cleansing the temple once during His earthly ministry, it seems more likely that Jesus cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and those who sold sacrifices both here on two separate occasions… once at the beginning of His earthly ministry… and again at the end of His ministry (i.e. Matt 21:12-13) (see D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary, 177-178.)  After this second cleansing of the temple, the religious leaders decided that Jesus was too dangerous to be left alone.  He had disrupted their business.  He had hit them in the pocket book too many times and they wouldn’t tolerate that anymore.  So they plotted in earnest to kill Him (Mark 11:15-18.)  This zeal… this passion… for the worship of God would ultimately lead to His crucifixion.

Should we be any less zealous for the pure worship of God?

Now we need to be careful here.  We must remember that Jesus is the divine and sinless Son of God in human flesh.  He knows all things.  He sees the heart of man perfectly…something we can never do.  He is without sin in His anger and zeal.  We should take care before we rebuke people as Jesus did here, because we don’t always know the whole story and we are never without sin in ourselves.

But we can certainly turn and examine ourselves… can’t we?  Do we seek selfish gain in the worship of God?  Do we take advantage of others in the name of God?  May it never be!  God forbid that we should be a stumbling block to anyone who is seeking to enter into the presence of the living and true God!

We, too, should be zealous for the glory of God and His worship.

Jesus was zealous for the glory of God and His worship and it would consume Him in time.  But, here, the religious leaders in Jerusalem are not quite sure what to do with Him yet.  So they come to Him and ask Him a question, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?  This is a fascinating question.  Notice that they don’t deny that the temple needed cleansing, but, instead, they basically ask, “What gives you the right to do it?

You see, there are passages in the Old Testament which speak of the Messiah cleansing the temple and making the worship of God right again among His people…

Malachi 3:1-4 (ESV) – 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me (i.e. probably a reference to John the Baptist.) And the Lord whom you seek (i.e. the Messiah) will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant (i.e. the Messiah) in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 

Zechariah 14:21 (ESV) – 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.

Now, in part, this speaks of things which are yet to happen… things which will take place when Jesus Christ returns to this earth in glory and power to take possession of the earth which is His rightful inheritance from God the Father.  But this was fulfilled in part right here.  Jesus cleansed the temple.  Like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap, He washed it and made it pure.  But only for a moment.  It would go back to its perversion and that is why Jesus would be forced to cleanse the temple again in a couple of years.

But don’t miss the Messianic implications of what Jesus did here.  The religious leaders certainly didn’t.  They were expecting a Messiah to come and purify the temple and the worship of God.  And this man shows us out of nowhere and cleanses the temple.  It had to be in the back of their mind that this One might be the Messiah.  So they ask Him for a sign… something which will clearly demonstrate to them that He has the right to cleanse the temple.

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t give them a sign, but He promises them a sign to come…“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  This statement would come back to haunt Jesus later.  At His trial before the Sanhedrin Council, they would accuse Him of threatening to destroy the temple (Mk 14:58.) But notice carefully, Jesus doesn’t threaten to destroy the temple.  He says they will do it.  The religious leaders will tear down the temple.  And the word which Jesus uses for “temple” is different than the word we have seen back in verses 14 and 15.  The word here is ναός (pronounced naos), not ερός (pronounced hieros.)  It refers, not to the temple complex as a whole (ερός), but to the sanctuary itself.  In many ways, they had already destroyed the external courts of the temple by allowing them to be used for sinful purposes.  They had polluted the temple complex so that it was no longer honoring to God.  But the worst is yet to come.  Jesus is speaking about them destroying the holiest of holy places… the very place where God’s presence dwelt.  They will obliterate the presence of the glory of God in their midst and Jesus Himself, as a sign, will raise it up again in three days.

They don’t understand what Jesus is saying.  They think He is referring to the actual temple itself.  But He is referring to something else.  He is referring to His own body.  He is the true Temple of God.

1)      After all, He is the dwelling place of God among humanity…

Isn’t this what the Apostle John has already told us in the first chapter of His gospel?

John 1:14, 18 (ESV) – 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.  (See also Col 2:9.)

2)      He is the place… the only place where God is worshipped. 

Remember, back in John 1:51, Jesus made the following statement…

John 1:51 (ESV) – 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus is referring to Jacob’s dream at Bethel, where he saw a ladder extending all the way to heaven (Gen 28:11-17.)  Jesus says that He is Jacob’s Ladder.  He alone connects heaven and earth.  The only way into the presence of God the Father is by Jesus.

3)      He is the One… the only One… who can make atonement for our sin.

He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”!  (Jn 1:29)  There is no answer to our sin problem apart from Him. He alone can forgive our sin.

Do you see what Jesus is doing here?  He is saying two very distinct things:

1)      He is saying in no uncertain terms that He replaces the Old Testament temple. 

Everything that the temple once was in the Old Testament is now replaced with Him.  God not only dwells among humanity, but He has taken on humanity. We no longer come to a place to worship God, but we come to a Person… Jesus… in order to worship God.  We no longer have to offer sacrifices over and over again, for Jesus has offered Himself… once-for-all… as a sacrifice for our sin.  He is our Temple.  He is the place where we commune with God.  He is the place where we worship.  He is the place where our sins are forgiven.  He is the One we are to be zealous for. He is the true Temple of God.

2)      But He is also predicting His own death and resurrection. 

He is stating that they will destroy Him… the true Temple.  But that won’t stop Him, because He has authority and power to raise Himself from the dead.

After His resurrection, the disciples remembered this and they believed the Scripture, meaning the Old Testament passages which predicted His coming, death and resurrection.  And they believed the words which Jesus had spoken. 

1)      They came to believe that He is the dwelling place of God among men.  In Him, the glory of God dwells for people like us to see.

2)      They came to believe that they could worship God only through Jesus.

3)      They came to believe that Jesus is the only One who can take away their sins.

Do you believe this?

Do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God?

Do you believe that He alone can connect you God?  He is THE Way and THE Truth and THE Life… no one comes to the Father, but by Him (Jn 14:6.)

Do you believe that He alone can forgive your sins and grant you eternal life in the presence of God?

As we bring these various lines of thought together, I really have just one question for us… “Are we zealous for the Temple of God?  Not some building in some faraway place that may or may not be rebuilt some day, but are we zealous for the True Temple… the living Temple… Jesus Christ?  Are we passionate about His name and His glory?  Do we strive to keep His name and His worship pure and holy?  Are we willing to go to great lengths to see His name exalted and His worship expanded over the earth?  Are we willing to be consumed…wholly consumed… in an effort for His name to be lifted up… pure and holy… unblemished and unstained forever and ever?

In contrast, are we ever guilty of seeking our own selfish desires as we gather together to worship Him?  Are we ever more concerned about what we want and what we can get out of worship than in exalting Him and assisting others to see Him high and lifted up?

Are we zealous for the true Temple of God?

Are we zealous for the name and glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?

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The Desiring God National Conference is coming up in September and, in preparation, Desiring God ministries has posted several Q&A video clips from some of the speakers.  They are all worth listening to (most are only 2-3 minutes long), but I found Bob Kauflin’s words on singing and preaching to be of particular value.  You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1362_kauflin_on_singing_and_preaching_and_2_other_conference_interview_clips/

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Logos is giving away a free download of the new Cornerstone Bible Commentaries on Matthew and Mark… no strings attached.  This is only good as long as the product is in pre-production, so act quickly.  You can find out more by going to their webpage located here http://blog.logos.com/archives/2008/08/matthew_mark_cornerstone_biblical_commentary–free.html.

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James 3:1 is a sobering verse for those of us who teach in the church on a regular basis…

James 3:1 (ESV) – 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Although this passage should cause teachers to tremble as we open up the Word of God, Lionel Windsor over at the Sola Panel blog points out the Greek does not actually limit the “stricter judgment” to teachers (i.e. “we who teach” is not in the original Greek.  Literally this verse should be translated something like, “(Stop) letting many become teachers, my brethren, having known that a greater judgment we will receive.”)

“…the application of James 3:1 is wider than is often assumed. It’s not only a verse with application to Christian teachers, or those considering taking on such a role. Certainly, the first half of the verse contains a word to potential teachers. But why, according to James, shouldn’t many of us become teachers? Not because teachers will be judged more strictly than non-teachers, but because, through the gospel, all Christians have a far greater standard of behaviour than just external conformity to the law: we will all be called to account for every little word that we speak. Teachers have greater opportunity to speak, and greater power to influence others for good or evil when they do speak, and so it is a huge responsibility that must be considered with great care. However, this doesn’t let ‘non-teachers’ off the hook: all of us will be held to account for the way we speak to one another, and for the way that we have allowed the gospel of mercy to influence our attitude to others.”

You can read the whole thing here http://solapanel.org/article/the_greater_judgment/.

 

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As I have said before on this blog, I am a homeschooling father.  I take the biblical commands to evangelize and disciple my children seriously (i.e. Deut 6:4-9, Eph 6:4, etc.)  In an attempt to accomplish these God-given responsibilities, my wife and I have made the choice to keep our children home for their education.  Although I would not say that homeschooling is the only way in which a parent can fulfill the God-given mandate to evangelize and disciple one’s children, this is our way of striving to apply this teaching of Scripture to our life.  With this said, despite my best efforts, I am a sinner and I know that I fall short of God’s expectation of me as a father on daily basis.  But this is something I take very seriously.

I am also a pastor.  As a pastor, I am called to “shepherd the flock of God” (I Pet 5:2.)  Paul gives us a helpful (and convicting) description of what this is in Acts 20

Acts 20:18-21, 28-31 (ESV) – 18 And when they (i.e. the Ephesian elders) came to him (Paul), he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

Again… I am humbled by the awesome description of my responsibilities as a pastor.  Far too often, I fall short of what God expects of me as a shepherd of His flock.  Praise God for my Savior, who died to forgive all my sins!

But one of the most pressing questions upon my mind over the past couple of years has been how to bring these two aspects of the Christian life together. And, as a pastor, how do I strive to integrate these two aspects (family-based evangelism/discipleship and church-based evangelism/discipleship) in the local church I am called to shepherd?

There seems to be a movement among evangelicals today to try to pit the family and the Church against one another.  I see this tendency often among homeschooling families who, like myself, see the home as essential for the evangelism and discipleship of children in a wicked world.  But, unfortunately, more and more families (particularly homeschooling families) are leaving the church all the time in an effort to retain a family emphasis on evangelism and discipleship of children.

Now I am not going to say that churches (note:  “churches”, not the “Church”) are perfect.  Many churches have usurped the role of the family in evangelism and discipleship. And many parents have been more than willing to turn over the spiritual nurture of their children to “professionals” (i.e. Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, etc…) rather than accepting this daunting responsibility which God has given to them. 

But we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The family and the church should not be odds.  The family is important to God.  Parents are COMMANDED to train up their children to know and love God (Deut 6:4-9, Eph 6:4.)  A man whose family is not in order cannot be an elder in the church (I Tim 3:4-5.)  But at the same time, Christ shed His blood for the Church (Acts 20:28, Eph 5:25-27)… not the family.  There is no question that the Church is central in the New Covenant era.  In fact, Jesus seems to state that the relationship of believers to one another is more intimate and central than natural, familial relationships (Matt 12:46-50, Lk 9:59-62, Lk 14:26.)  Not to mention the fact that, by and large, the majority of the New Testament is written to churches… not to individual families (i.e. epistles…)

This is not a white and black… either/or issue.  The family is ordained by God to be a center of biblical instruction (Deut 6:4-9.)  But the Church is uniquely ordained by God to reflect His glory.  In fact, Ephesians 3:8-10 seems to say that the Church is God’s ultimate plan of redemption.  Note this carefully. The Church… not the family… is the focus of God displaying His glory and has been for all eternity.  However, with this said, both are critical in God’s plan of redemption in bringing glory to Himself.  We cannot do without one or the other.  The family and the church should not be at odds with one another.  They should be seamlessly joined together for the glory of God.  One should support the other with the ultimate goal of God’s magnificence being seen by all creation!

I find that I have been highly ineffective as a pastor in trying to integrate these two strands of teaching in Scripture in the local church.  People on both sides of the issue are always mad at me.  Those who believe in age-segregated programs of evangelism and discipleship in the church get angry that I am not more supportive of their efforts to reach children for Christ (which I believe is a uniquely parental role.)  While, at the same time, those committed to the centrality of the family in evangelism/discipleship often accuse me of not being committed enough to a “family-integrated model.”  However, that doesn’t change the fact that I think both extremes are quite wrong.  We need to affirm both the centrality of the family and the Church.  And how this is applied will look different in differing contexts.

This brings me to the reason why I started writing this post.  Dr. Michael Lawrence has written an excellent review of Dr. Voddie Baucham’s book “Family-Driven Faith” over at the 9Marks website.  I greatly respect both of these men and have benefited from the teaching of both of them.  Dr. Baucham is an articulate advocate for the “family-integrated” side of the argument and his book is a helpful read.  It will challenge you as a parent to take seriously your God-given role as a parent.   However, I have always been a little uncomfortable with some of his applications, particularly in regards to the local church.  He seems to say that the family “trumps” the church (my word, not his.)  Dr. Lawrence does a far better job than I ever could of identifying these issues and attempting to bring balance between these two extremes.  I would highly recommend Dr. Lawrence’s review, even if you aren’t going to read Dr. Baucham’s book.  It would be time well spent.  You can find it here http://9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598014%7CCIID2438258,00.html.

In the end… pray for the family and the Church.  Raise your children to know and love God!  Teach them diligently!  And love the Church… after all… Jesus shed His blood to save Her!

 

 

 

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There is an excellent audio clip over at the Sovereign Grace Blog of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney talking about how to teach our children to love the church.  In an age when evangelicals seem to be jettisoning the church left and right… their comments are truly timely.  You can find the audio here http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Teaching-Children-to-Love-the-Church.aspx. 

Listen and be edified!

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Over at the new Christian Communicators Worldwide (CCW) blog, Jim Elliff has posted 35 reasons not to sin.  Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Reason # 1 – Because a little sin leads to more sin.
Reason # 2 – Because my sin invites the discipline of God.
Reason # 3 – Because the time spent in sin is forever wasted.
Reason # 14 – 14. Because the supposed benefits of my sin will never outweigh the consequences of disobedience.
Reason # 17 – Because my sin may influence others to sin.
Reason # 18 – Because my sin may keep others from knowing Christ.
Reason # 19 – Because sin makes light of the cross, upon which Christ died for the very purpose of taking away my sin.
Reason # 20 – Because it is impossible to sin and follow the Spirit at the same time.
Reason # 28 – Because my sin is adultery with the world.
Reason # 29 – Because, though forgiven, I will review this very sin at the Judgment Seat where loss and gain of eternal rewards are applied.
Reason # 30 – Because I can never really know ahead of time just how severe the discipline for my sin might be.
Reason # 31 – Because my sin may be an indication of a lost condition.
Reason # 32 – Because to sin is not to love Christ.

You can read the whole thing here http://www.ccwblog.org/2008/08/35-reasons-not-to-sin.html

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