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Overseen not Overlooked

Saturday, August 01, 2020

"For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

(1 Peter 2:25)

People need oversight. Employees need supervisors: the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers: the classroom with competent teachers creates an environment conducive to learning. Children need parents: homes with loving parents are better in every way. However, in all these relationships there remains the danger of being overlooked. Overlooked employees feel underappreciated; overlooked students feel left behind; overlooked children feel unloved. We have a great need to be overseen but all too often we end up being overlooked instead. In keeping with God's character, he has made abundant provision for his people in this regard.

It is God's will that Christians bind together in "teams" where they live. These "teams," or churches, work and worship the Lord together in unity (Acts 2:42-47). When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or what was lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). Elders are to act as shepherds and overseers in the local congregation (see 1 Peter 5:1-3 all three terms are used interchangeably). From Titus 1:5 we must infer that a church without elders is lacking and 'out of order.'

When a church appoints elders based upon the godly characteristics Scripture lays out in places like Acts 20, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5, that group of Christians is blessed by God. Elders are not expected to be perfect but they are to be mature in their faith. All the attributes listed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 concerning elders, with the exception of being married and having children (1 Tim. 3:2-5), are essential for every Christian to be growing in. So an elder is "not a recent convert" (1 Tim. 3:6) but a mature disciple of Christ. If mature Christians are appointed as elders according to God’s plan then a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.

One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is that of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to keep a close watch on himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to pay close attention to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). These ought to be comforting words to us. Don't mistake the watchful and vigilant oversight of our elders for intrusive meddling. These are faithful men who are watching out for us, to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We have the blessing of serving our Lord Jesus under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over [our] souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17) Are we a source of joy or groaning to our elders? It's something to always keep in mind!

When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience, we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice that God has blessed this church with capable men to serve as our overseers. Let us especially rejoice as we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect Overseer, who guides and comforts us through the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19) and that we will be overseen but never overlooked.

Humble Striving

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 

(2 Peter 3:18)

Peter knew his time on earth was ending (2 Pet. 1:12-15; cf. Jn. 21:18-19) so he wrote his second letter reminding and urging Christians to "grow in grace" (3:18). After his brief introduction, he lays out a chain of seven Christian virtues (1:5-7). For us to enter "into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11) these qualities must be evident and growing in our lives (vv.8-9).   We are to "supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." 

The apostle puts a great deal of emphasis on our part in the development of these Christ-like qualities using phrases like “make every effort” (v.5) and “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (v.10). But Peter makes it abundantly clear that this spiritual growth doesn’t all depend on us. Far from it! He points out that God is the one who has “richly provided” us with everything necessary to transform us into the people we were meant to be (v.3) and bring us to glory (v.11). So he begins and ends his admonition to "grow in grace" by highlighting God's blessing toward us that makes growth possible. Knowledge of the gospel should evoke a maturing and practical moral response from us.

This combined effort of human exertion and divine grace is the key to unlocking our salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul sums it up best when he says “… as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) God is at work when we are at work. Christian growth does not happen without our effort but neither does it happen without God's power.

But even with those caveats, does this much emphasis on “our part” of salvation contradict the doctrine of grace? Does our effort somehow negate God’s grace? Does our diligent striving turn God’s gift into a wage that he owes us? (Rom. 4:4-5

We understand no one can be justified in God’s sight by earning their salvation (Rom. 1-4). But obedience to the gospel is clearly required (Rom. 6). In fact, on this side of the cross, everything we do for God and others should come as a direct response for what God has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1, etc.). Our faith and humble obedience is always initiated by God’s gracious work. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So humble effort in no way contradicts God’s grace. The contradiction to grace is pride. Jesus lived in humble obedience as an example for us to follow (Heb. 5:8-9).

James 4:6 says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”" Peter teaches us to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Pet. 5:6) Check out the handy chart by Doy Moyer below.

GRACEPRIDE
HumbleSelf-righteous
Trust in GodTrust in self
ServeBeing served
Obey to pleaseDo to get
SubmissiveSelf-willed
Salvation givenSalvation earned
ContentDiscontent
God-exaltedSelf-extalted

God is gracious to those who humbly strive for him. Let us, then, "be all the more diligent to make [our] calling and election sure" by putting forth "every effort" to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

Christian Parenting

Saturday, July 18, 2020

“Train up a child in the way he should go, 

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6

There is a distinct difference between training our children and controlling them. It's easy to slip into control-mode when we believe we have the power to choose our child’s destiny for them. But this approach turns parenting into a joyless, frustrating experience and turns our kid's childhood into a prison of confusion and sadness. As a parent who doesn't always get it right, I am thankful to have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us wise intruction in his word.

God teaches parents to “train” (Prov. 22:6), “discipline” (Eph. 6:4Prov. 22:15), diligently “teach” (Deut. 6:6-7) and lead their children by example. Children are a blessing from God (Psa. 137:3-5) meant to be trained up in the home and sent out into the world to be a blessing to others. How, then, can we “train” our children in the way they should go? Here a few suggestions we can learn from Scripture:

Pray for your child – We should begin praying for our children while they are still in the womb. We should thank God for them when they are born and continue to pray for them as they grow and mature. Parents ought never to stop praying for their children (1 Sam. 1-2).

Create a godly atmosphere at home – As Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates, faith must be woven into the fabric of our very lives. The home should be an environment of spiritual growth and safety for our child. Children should feel comfortable bringing their questions, experiences, triumphs and defeats home to discuss and process as a family using God's wisdom.

Intentionally lead your child – When family decisions are made with consistency of purpose the family is moving in a direction. It’s not going nowhere. Joshua could not force his children to follow the Lord but he could lead with purpose, sincerity and consistency (Josh. 24:15).

Instill faith in your child – Honesty is always the best policy (Eph. 4:15, 25), no matter the relationship, but especially with children and especially with issues regarding faith. A child’s questions should never be dismissed. Like math class, parents should “show their work" by telling their children what they believe and showing them why they believe it with Scripture. Explaining the faith in an age-appropriate way is not easy but it is necessary. When parents give a one word answer or dismiss their child’s question while expecting them to "just believe" they are indoctrinating and brainwashing their child not instilling faith.

Set boundaries for your child – Warnings are just as instructive as encouragements. Both the victories and the failures are invaluable moments of instruction that condition and strengthen our children to take on responsibility, develop personal accountability and cultivate wisdom. Outlining the Do’s and the Don’ts and enforcing them with discipline will help our children enter into the promises of God later for themselves. 

Correctively discipline your child – Discipline is vital in the formation of godly character and habits (Prov. 22:1523:13). However hard it might be, we must remember that appropriate discipline is a sign of love (Heb. 12:4-11). Not only should the punishment always be swift and fit the crime but children must know exactly why they are being disciplined if they are to learn the proper lessons from it. This requires having pointed discussions before the punishment is administered. 

Reward your child – When children do the right thing, they should be rewarded. It may just be a smile, an encouraging word or a special treat. This can be done without turning them into little Pharisees. Tell your kid you noticed the kind action or word and explain the significance of “walking in truth” and the joy it brings you as a parent (3 Jn. 1:4). It is easy, perhaps especially for fathers, to discourage and provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4). Being quick to give compliments and rewards to our children goes a long way in instilling them with confidence.

Establish a pattern of devotion – Daily worship and Bible study with our children creates an expectation and perception of what is “normal.” When true worship becomes the standard at home then what is done collectively within the congregation is helpful reinforcement. Set aside some time each day to sing, pray, read and talk to your child about the Lord (Deut. 6).

Be on the same page as your spouse – A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25). Children are skilled in playing divided parents against one another if it suits their purpose. But when there is consistency of leadership and Mom’s answer is the same as Dad’s answer then children will quickly learn who is really in charge… not them. 

There is so much more to be said on the issue of parenting but we will conclude with one more piece of advice: Listen to older parents. Fountains of wisdom and experience are all around us in the church (Titus 2:3-5). Take advantage of the godly examples around you. Also, to the older Christian parents, if you notice younger parents doing something right, tell them!

Oppression

Saturday, July 11, 2020

“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

(Mt. 5:41

The Greek word aggareuein is used three times in the New Testament with the meaning 'to compel.' Jesus commands his disciples to go two miles when they are "compelled" to go one (Mt. 5:41). It is also the word that both Matthew and Mark use to describe Simon of Cyrene being "compelled" to help carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). 

This word is Persian in origin and comes from a noun (aggaros) which means ‘a courier’ or ‘an express messenger’ and later became naturalized into the Greek language. The Persians had a remarkably efficient courier system that made it possible for news to travel quickly through the empire. They lined the roads with men stationed with horses at precise intervals. A rider could travel fastest and most efficiently for one day on average. The first rider would deliver the dispatch to the second and on down the line until the important news reached the ears of the king. The Persians gave this courier system a name: aggareion.

It was the law in the ancient world that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as a guide to keep this service going. Therefore, aggareuein came to mean "to force someone into service," whether they liked it or not. Imagine how it would feel being forcibly conscripted to give up your horse or your afternoon to grease the wheels of communication for an occupying military force.

Anyone could be impressed upon to carry a soldier’s bags or any other service the occupying force laid upon him. This is exactly what happened to Simon of Cyrene (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). It is quite clear from many other ancient documents including Josephus’ Antiquities (13.2.3), the writings of Epictetus (4.1.79), Xenophon (Cyropaedia 8.6.17), Aeschylus (Agamemnon) and various Egyptian papyri that this practice of forced conscription was both widespread and flagrantly abused during the first century. Military officials requisitioned both things and people, not only for public services and for the army’s purposes, but for their own selfish profit.

This aggareia would have been one of the bitterest humiliations that subjects in an occupied country would endure. It’s not hard to imagine how one might get tired of being taken advantage of and choose to rebel against the occupying force (which is exactly what  “zealots” like Simon were doing, Mt. 10:4). Add to that the long history of the Jewish people being kicked around as slaves and exiles of one pagan kingdom after another for hundreds of years, and you have a recipe for rebellion, retaliation and compounded sin where the once enslaved become the very thing they rebelled against (Amos 2:6-8). 

That seems to be the way of history: the oppressed revolt, gain power and become the oppressors. Indeed, that is what happened after the Jewish Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids in the second century BC. Jon Hyrcanus (134-104 BC) assumed power and Jewish tyranny set in with the forced 'conversions' of the Idumeans and the destruction of the temple the Samaritans had built on Mount Gerizim (cf. Jn. 4:9). The Jews had become the same tyrannical force they fought against a generation before. And the wheel turned yet again when Jewish independence ended abruptly when the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC.

But Jesus brought good news that broke the cycle of oppression: "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two." (Mt. 5:41) If someone who is your social superior exacts the most humiliating and distasteful service, if someone conscripts you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you feel like you are being treated as sub-human, the King says don’t resent it. But his royal command of love goes deeper. He doesn’t simply teach his disciples to grit their teeth and bear it (that’s what the Jews had been doing for centuries!). No, begrudging service brings God no glory. Instead, Jesus teaches his disciples to do what our oppressors ask of us and even more. Not only that but he teaches that we should do it with a heart of love and good will. 

Brethren, this is a word for our time. In a world which is brutalizing and devouring itself, we must speak and live this gospel message of power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Christians are taught to actively love, pray for and seek the best for those in power regardless of their character (Rom. 13:1-7Eph. 6:5-92 Tim. 2:1-41 Pet. 1:13-17). And if they are oppressed, Christians are taught to love their oppressors (Mt. 5:43-48Rom. 12:14ff; 1 Pet. 234) to extinguish the fires of sin with the living water of the gospel. The way of Christ is the only way forward.

But how can the oppressed love the oppressor? The only power strong enough to motivate and energize us to do the impossible (Mk. 10:27) is the unconquerable goodwill that God showed us all when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus not only modeled how to suffer faithfully but healed us through his wounds so that we could go out into this broken world as his wounded healers (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Justice will eventually be done and evil will be punished but, in the meantime, may God help us to grasp the limitless dimensions of his love so that we may not only refuse to retaliate against oppression but bring his healing love to bear upon the world.

The Dark Hour

Saturday, July 04, 2020

King David wrote Psalm 3 “when he fled from Absalom his son” (see the title), the events of which are recounted in 2 Samuel 15. The personal grief of having raised a rebellious son (2 Sam. 18:33) was the knife-twist amid a larger aching pain of national disloyalty. Mixed with the popular public sentiment that God had withdrawn from David, this time of exile made for torturous mental agony. He had been on the run before from the previous king, Saul, but that time he had been innocent. This second flight from Jerusalem, however, was partially due to his own moral failings (2 Sam. 12:11). 

Human Enmity (vv.1-2)

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!

Many are rising up against me.

Many are saying of my soul,

“There is no deliverance for him in God.” 

David was part of a shrinking minority, which is itself a test of nerve. His opponents, pictured as multiplying, were active in their search for him and accusatory – it looked as though God had abandoned him. David had already acknowledged his sin and thrown himself at the mercy of God (2 Sam. 16:11-12). But he was facing “increasing” human enmity. Hunted, alone and weak, to whom could he turn to now?

Divine Protection (vv.3-4)

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,

My glory, and the One who lifts my head.

I was crying to the LORD with my voice,

And He answered me from His holy mountain.

Where else can anyone go in pain of fear but to the LORD? Each phrase in v.3 grows in confidence. It’s as if David begins by reminding himself who the LORD is and increases with each fresh remembrance. He considered the LORD his “shield” encompassing him in divine protection. 

David, a king to whom much “glory” had been bestowed in the form of power, privilege and possessions, had been stripped of that glory hiding as a wanted man. He had squandered those gifts, using them for his own gain and to his own ruin. But now, broken in the wilderness, David finally realized the LORD was his only true claim to “glory” (Gal. 6:14).

Though he had been weeping “with his head covered” as he “walked barefoot” in miserable dejection (2 Sam. 15:30), the LORD “lifts” his head. Despite his failures as a husband, a father and a king, and despite all the favor he had lost with his subjects, the merciful God gave him grace. 

God’s “holy mountain” was the place where David was installed as king and where the ark, the symbol of God’s earthly throne (2 Sam. 6:2) and covenant, was kept. Though Absalom was the sitting king, David knew there was another King reigning in Jerusalem (Psa. 2) whose decrees issued from Zion, the LORD himself. David cried to him and was “answered.”

Peace of Mind (vv.5-6)

I lay down and slept;

I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people

Who have set themselves against me round about.

Such was David’s certainty that his “crying” prayer had been heard (1 Jn. 5:14-15) that he “lay down and slept”! His security in answered prayer was well founded for he “awoke” by the sustaining power of the LORD. 

Awake, alive, refreshed and encouraged, David was ready to face any threat. No matter how “many” (vv.1-2) enemies encircled him, even “ten thousands,” he had the peace of mind that the LORD’s protection brings (Phil. 4:4-7).

Victory & Blessing (vv.7-8)

Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You smite all my enemies on the cheek;

You shatter the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

Your blessing be upon Your people!

For David, the anointed of God, refuge from his enemies is not enough. Anything less than total victory and being reinstated as king was tantamount to defeat. So David called upon the LORD his God for “salvation” from his “enemies,” confident God would provide deliverance. 

David trusted in God’s power to save because he realized that “salvation belongs” to God. Without the LORD there is no salvation to be had. But this is no presumptuous prayer. He was not asking anything from the LORD that the LORD had not already promised. God has always exalted the lowly and humbled the proud. Within David's humble cry for "salvation" was his desire for God to be glorified through his salvation.

So the psalm ends looking beyond David to God’s “people” and beyond David’s rescue to God’s “blessing.” God’s people will not only survive but be delivered; we will not only be delivered but be victorious; we will not only be victorious but be eternally blessed. 

David’s situation in Psalm 3 mirrors ours in so many ways. We were created to reign on God’s earth (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated our throne and exchanged our authority for slavery to sin and Satan (Gen. 3). But thank God that he sent his Anointed Son to dethrone the enemy and reinstall us to our rightful position! (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:5) “Salvation belongs to the LORD”!

(adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

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