Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: The December 18, 2001 entry of Our Daily Bread seeks to apply this parable for us. I want to quote it in full in order to illustrate an important issue when seeking to interpret this parable correctly:
For 11 years, an official at a Michigan community college impressed fellow workers as a highly qualified and faithful administrator. He did his work so well that the Board of Trustees named him as a finalist in their search for a new president of the school. Then a routine background check was made on him. What it turned up surprised everyone. No documentation could be found for the man's master's and doctoral degrees.
When told about the problem in a special meeting, the man excused himself from the room to get his transcripts—and never came back. What seemed so bizarre to his fellow workers was that he had been such an excellent administrator for so long.
Just as that administrator was able to deceive his colleagues, so also spiritual counterfeits are able to deceive their friends in the church. They have cleverly faked credentials of belief and may remain undetected until God's judgment.
We know that counterfeit Christians are in our churches. So we need to be alert to problems they can cause, like false teaching and spreading strife. But we also need to be careful about making false judgments about others. According to Jesus, many of “the tares” won't be revealed until the final judgment (Matthew 13:36-43).
This interpretation of the parable makes the focus on the issue of counterfeit Christians being in the church along with genuine Christians, and it basically communicates the idea that we just have to accept this fact. But is this what this parable is really supposed to be about? I don't think so. In fact, I think this view demonstrates very well a common problem with the interpretation of this parable – and many other parables of Jesus for that matter – a problem I hope to highlight as we examine the parable today. You see, far too many commentators and preachers make the parables speak to issues that are not a central focus of the individual parables themselves. They also read more into minor details than they should, while ignoring the more explicit emphases in the context.

I hope to do better than that today. I hope to show the proper way to understand this parable in its own context. To that end, I will discuss the parable under two main headings: 1) the expression (or telling) of the parable, and 2) the explanation of the parable.

I. The Expression of the Parable (vss. 24-30)

Since we have Jesus' explanation of the parable later in the chapter, I just want to focus on some key information about the parable that will help us to better grasp His explanation when we get to it.

First, we need to discern the intended audience of the parable. To whom does the word them refer in verse 24? Let's take another look at the context to find out:
vss. 1-3 – them refers to the multitude of people.
vs. 10    – them again refers to the multitude of people.
vs. 34-36 – them again refers to the multitude of people.
So, the parable is told to the crowds, with the disciples present, although only the disciples will get to hear the explanation. This is important because it indicates that Jesus is speaking to a mixed group that includes both unbelievers and believers, both those who are followers of Jesus and those who are not. In other words, as we will discover in our further study, Jesus is telling the parable to both wheat and tares.

Second, we need some information about the plant life that grows in Palestine, information which most of the original hearers would have understood. This will help us to better understand the true focus of the parable as it is initially told by Jesus. D.A. Carson is helpful in explaining this information in his discussion of verses 25-26:
“Sleeping” (v. 25) does not imply that the servants were neglectful but that the enemy was stealthy and malicious. What he sowed was zizania (“weeds”)—almost certainly bearded darnel (lolium temulentum), which is botanically close to wheat and difficult to distinguish from it when the plants are young. The roots of the two plants entangle themselves around each other; but when the heads of grain appear on the wheat, there is no doubt which plant is which (v. 26). This weed the enemy sowed “among the wheat”; the Greek suggests thorough distribution. The growing plants gradually become identifiable, and the servants tell their master about the weeds. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 316)
This information has led some commentators and preachers to try to get a lot of mileage out of the idea that the weeds look so similar to the wheat. Thus they see an emphasis here on the fact that there will be many counterfeit Christians – who may look to us like true Chrisitans – in the Church. However, while this may be true and may be clearly taught in a number of Scripture passages and may even perhaps be hinted at here, the real issue in the parable is not the similarity in appearance of the weeds and the wheat. Rather the focus appears to be on the fact that – by the time that they were clearly distinguishable from one another – the roots of the weeds would already have been entangled with the roots of the wheat.

As Klyne Snodgrass observes in his discussion of this parable:
The surprise of the servants and the conclusion drawn by the master both presume something not explicit in the parable, that the number of weeds was far beyond normal. This presumption is again typical of the brevity of parables. The number of weeds resulting from sabotage would far exceed those occurring normally, and if the issue were merely naturally occurring weeds, neither the servants' nor the master's conclusion would have arisen.
[And he goes on to add that:] As far as can be determined, normal practice would be to weed early as much as possible, and this is implied in the servants' question. The decision not to weed can only be based on the large number of tares and the fact that at this stage of growth the two would have become entangled. Even at an early stage, tares sufficient in number to be recognized as the work of an enemy would not be easily removed without damage to the wheat. (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, pp. 201-202)
So, the primary emphasis of the parable as the Lord Jesus told it is not focused on the similar appearance of the weeds to the wheat, for they were clearly distinguishable to the servants at this time in their growth. Rather it is about the fact that the Sower wants a good harvest, and this means waiting until harvest time to reap the wheat, which in turn means that the weeds will have to grow with the wheat until then.

Third, we must recognize that there are details in the parable that are not repeated in Jesus' explanation. For example, in His interpretation Jesus does not say anything about the men sleeping or about the enemy leaving after he sowed the tares in the field (vs. 25). Nor does Jesus mention again the servants and their questions (vss. 27-28). We must be careful, then, not to make more of these elements in the parable than the context warrants. For, although these details add color to the story and give it an additional note of realism, Jesus' interpretation of the parable does not emphasize these details as crucial to the point He is seeking to make. And this leads us next to an examination of …

II. The Explanation of the Parable (vss. 36-43)

We will examine Jesus' explanation of the parable verse by verse, beginning in verse 37.
NKJ  Matthew 13:37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.”
The term Son of Man is, of course, one of Jesus' favorite ways of referring to Himself as the Messiah. Let's take a look at just a couple of examples earlier in Matthew:
NKJ Matthew 8:19-20 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
NKJ  Matthew 9:2-6 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” 3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” -- then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”
That this title is one way in which Jesus claimed to be the Messiah is clear, since it is taken from an Old Testament Messianic prophecy:
NKJ  Daniel 7:13-14 I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
As matter of fact, later at His trial before the High Priest, Jesus clearly alluded to this very passage from Daniel:
NKJ  Matthew 26:63-64 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” 64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
So, when Jesus refers to the sower in this parable as “the Son of Man,” He is referring to Himself as Messiah as well as the ultimate Judge of men – as we will see emphasized later in verses 41-43.

But before we go any further, there is one more point worth making: Since Jesus is the Son of Man, who is the sower of the good seed in the parable, then He is also the owner of the field in the parable. For example:
1) Verse 24 says that the field is “his field.”
2) Verse 27 says that the “servants of the owner came to him.”
This is an important thing to realize as we approach the next verse.
NKJ  Matthew 13:38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.
The implication is that the world belongs to Jesus. It is a claim that He makes for Himself in the way that He tells and explains the parable, and it is tantamount to claiming that He is the God and Creator of the world.

Notice also that, when Jesus says that the field is the world, He is not talking about the Church and how there are going to be counterfeit Christians in the church, as so many commentators seem to understand this parable. Rather He is talking about how it is that believers will have to co-exist with unbelievers in the world for the time being. And the reason that this needs to be emphasized is because the disciples were consistently of the mindset that the Messiah would bring judgment and the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom at that time, whereas Jesus teaches that this will only come about at His second coming.

Earlier in the passage – in verses 10-11 – when the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Well, this is one of the “mysteries of the kingdom,” namely that their will be an intervening period between the first and second coming of Christ, which was not so clearly revealed in the Old Testament. The disciples were going to have to wrap their minds around this idea. Jesus isn't yet going to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth, and He is not yet going to take believers out of this world. Remember also His prayer the night before He was killed:
NKJ  John 77:14-16 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
And so in this parable Jesus refers to His disciples as living now in this world as wheat among the tares. This is His will for them, even if they cannot yet fully understand it. They must live as “sons of the kingdom” among “sons of the wicked one,” and this will be the case until the harvest time comes. He takes this up in the next verse.
NKJ  Matthew 13:39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.
Jesus makes three unambiguous assertions here.

First, He makes it clear that living in this world means that the devil is the ultimate enemy to be faced. Yes, we will have to deal with many wicked people, but these are merely “the sons of the wicked one” (vs. 38), of the devil. As Peter later warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Second, Jesus makes it clear that the harvest will not occur until “the end of the age” (συντέλεια αἰῶνός). But, although we must battle the devil and his minions until the end of the age, it is important to observe that Jesus uses essnetially the same phrase later in the great commission, where He promises that He will be with us until the end of the age:
NKJ  Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age [τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος].” Amen.
We need not fear the devil, therefore, since our Lord Jesus – who is always with us – is greater than the devil and has given us the victory over him!

Third, Jesus tells us that the reapers will be “the angels.” This fact also helps to locate the time of the harvest as being when Christ returns. For example, Jesus later gave prophecies about His return that included the angels:
NKJ  Matthew 24:31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
NKJ  Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
So, the angels will play an important role as the reapers in the end time harvest. This role is further described in the following verses.
NKJ  Matthew 13:40-42 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
These verses are pretty self-explanatory, but there are three matters I would like to highlight.

First, the Lord Jesus will be the one in charge of the harvest and thus also of the judgment that places the wicked in the furnace of fire. This is a side of Jesus too many people today try to minimize. They don't want to think about judgment or punishment for sin. They would rather sing “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners” and forget that He is a friend only to those sinners who repent and trust in Him to save them from their sins!

Second, this “furnace of fire” will involve intense pain and anguish for the wicked, which is denoted not only by its being a place of fire, but also by the phrase “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Those cast there will cry out and grind their teeth in pain. Later – in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – Jesus describes this place of punishment as “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41) and as a place of  “everlasting punishment” (25:46).

Michael Green speaks of the unpopularity of this message today:
All this is very unacceptable to people today: we do not treat evil with great seriousness, and many do not even believe in a future life, a heaven and hell where the great separation will be finalized. But it is an undeniable part of the teaching of Jesus. Are we going to claim to know more about it than he? (The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven)
Third, Jesus' statement that the angels will “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend” has led some to see this parable as a reference to the Church. For, they argue, the term kingdom refers to the Church. Hence their interpretation that sees this parable as referring primarily to counterfeit Christians in the Church. But this is wrong. Jesus explicitly said in verse 38 that the field is the world.

So, when Jesus speaks of the kingdom here, He must be speaking more broadly of His reign over the whole the world. The term kingdom (βασιλεία , vs. 41) certainly can refer more broadly to Jesus' reign over the whole world, but the term world (κόσμος, vs. 38) cannot refer to the Church.
NKJ  Matthew 13:43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
This is an allusion to a prophecy in the book of Daniel:
NKJ  Daniel 12:1-3 At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
Thus Jesus has the resurrection in mind, which will takes place when He returns.

As D.A. Carson aptly puts it, “These righteous people (see on 5:20, 45; 9:13; 10:41; 13:17; 25:37, 46), once the light of the world (5:13-16), now radiate perfections and experience bliss in the consummation of their hopes” (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 327).

Conclusion: I would like to conclude by emphasizing that it is only the righteous who are said to be “sons of the kingdom” and to “shine forth in the kingdom of their Father.” But how do we qualify? How can we be numbered among the righteous? Only through Christ, as Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus we are numbered among the righteous only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, on account of whom we may be justified – declared righteous – in the eyes of God, through the imputation of His own righteousness to us. As Paul again says to the Roman Christians:
NKJ  Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 Teaching Outline)

Introduction [After having read all of verses 1-23]: I recently read a testimonial from someone who attended the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Here is a part of that testimonial:
I have, for a long time, been passionate about making the Bible relevant in contemporary culture and talking to people where they are at. So when I found that LICC was running a course teaching practical skills on just this subject, I thought it would be good to take part.
Notice the emphasis on the need to “make the Bible relevant in contemporary culture.” This statement betrays a bias that sees the Bible as inherently irrelevant. It can only become relevant to those in our modern culture if we make it so.

Contrast this with a statement from John MacArthur in an online article entitled What Does This Verse Mean “to Me”?:
We don’t make the Bible relevant; it is inherently so, simply because it is God’s Word. And after all, how can anything God says be irrelevant? 
You see the difference? One approach sees the ultimate determination of relevance as rooted in what our contemporary culture thinks is relevant, whereas the other approach sees the ultimate determination of relevance as being rooted in the authority of God Himself. The Bible is relevant because He revealed it, and if we do not think it is relevant – and therefore resist hearing it on its own terms – then the problem is with us, not the Bible.

The reason I bring up this issue is because I believe that the Parable of the Sower speaks to it as well. And today, as we examine the parable in context, it will become apparent that Jesus simply preached the Word faithfully, expecting that not all would see its true relevance. But He saw the problem as lying within those to whom He preached, not the Word itself.

So, let's take a look at the parable and observe first of all that it is an allegory, in which the various elements of the story correspond to people or things outside it. Thus, we will see that the sower in the parable refers primarily to Jesus, although he can also refer to others who share the Word as Jesus did, i.e. the disciples and all of us who follow in their footsteps. In the parable Jesus is describing the different reactions to His teaching ministry and why these different reactions exist. The seed, then, refers to the Word of God that Jesus preached and that we share with others as well. And the various types of ground refer to the various types of people who hear the Word, or, even better, to the condition of the hearts of those who hear.

As we examine the parable and Jesus' explanation of it, we will focus upon what happened to the seed as it was sown on each of the four different types of ground. So, without further ado, lets take a look at each of these.

I. The Seed That Fell by the Wayside

Jesus first spoke of this ground in verse 4:
NKJ  Matthew 13:4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.
The “wayside” refers to a path along the field. This path had become hardened due to the foot traffic it received. Thus the seed couldn't penetrate the soil, and it just lay there so that the birds were able to eat it it up. Jesus explained the meaning of this ground in verse 19:
NKJ  Matthew 13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.
Notice a couple of important things about the wayside person:
1) Jesus says that this person hears the Word but does not understand it. But notice that the fault does not lie here with the sower or the seed, but rather with the ground. The sower has done His job well enough, having sown good seed, but the ground is unable to receive it. This explains the many people who heard Jesus teach but who lacked the spiritual understanding necessary to take it in.
2) Notice also that, since these people were unable to understand and thus respond in faith to Jesus' message, the “wicked one” –  that is, the devil – was able to snatch it away. Now, Jesus doesn't explain how the devil accomplishes this. He just says that somehow the devil deprives these unbelievers of the word they had heard.
As Paul told the Corinthian church, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

Application: There are a couple of ways that we can begin to apply what Jesus is saying here.

First, we can learn from the way that Jesus operates versus the way the devil operates. We do know that the devil is a deceiver, and that he seeks to prevent people from believing the truth by filling their heads with lies that they find more acceptable than the truth. In other words, he is quite willing to tailor his message to fit what sinful people want to hear. But Jesus would never distort the message in this way! And neither should we! We must understand that there will be many hardhearted people out there who simply cannot and will not receive the word of God. But it is never our job to try to alter the message inorder to make it more acceptable to them. It is our job simply to be faithful in proclaiming the message as we have received it from the Lord.

As James White is fond of saying, “the Gospel is ours to proclaim, not to edit!”

Second, we can reflect upon what kind of ground we are. Ask yourself, “Am I a hardhearted person? Have I really understood the Gospel?” I suspect that most of you here this morning can answer, “Yes,” to this question. I suspect, for example, that you can say, “Yes, I understand that I am a sinner, as the Bible says, and that the only way for me to be saved is to trust in Jesus' death on the cross, where He bore the wrath of God for sinners, and to believe that He rose from the dead that I might have everlasting life. I know that I must repent and seek His forgiveness for my sins and give my whole life to Him.”

Now, assuming you understand all this, let me ask you another question: Do you really believe it? Have you really trusted Christ – and Christ alone – to save you from your sins? Have you relinquished all your own efforts as worthless and relied solely upon the work of Christ and the grace of God to save you? If not, then perhaps you are not so different from the wayside person after all, since you have done nothing with what you claim to understand. Or maybe you are just a stony ground kind of person, about whom we shall read next.

II. The Seed That Fell on Stony Ground

Jesus first spoke of this ground in verses 5-6:
NKJ  Matthew 13:5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.
This ground is not ground that just has a bunch of rocks in it. Rather it is ground found in many parts of Palestine, where there is a thin layer of soil with limestone beneath it. The seed germinates quickly because the soil is warm and loose, but as it grows in the sun it cannot take root deep enough to survive. Jesus explained the meaning of this ground in verses 20-21:
NKJ Matthew 13:20-21 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
The stony ground person is different from the wayside person in that he appears to understand the Word. He thus receives it with great joy. Such a person apparently has quite an emotional and excited reaction to the Gospel. But herein is the problem. This person's acceptance of the Word seems to be no more than an emotional reaction, because when difficulties come because of the Word he does not persevere.

William Hendriksen, in his commentary on Matthew, observes that:
Today’s evangelical revival gatherings, undoubtedly sources of blessing for many, add illustrative material. Investigation has established that by no means all those who at the spur of the moment – emotionally affected by the message and personal appeal of the evangelist, as well as by the music and the words of the old familiar hymns – were led to come forward and to sign the pledge card, have remained faithful. (BNTC, e-Sword)
But most of these people have nothing like the reasons Jesus gives here for some people's lack of perseverance in the faith. He speaks of “tribulation and persecution because of the Word.” One can only imagine how many more people today would fall away under genuine persecution for the faith. But, as the author of Hebrews says to true believers, I trust that “we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39).

Application: Again we can begin to apply what Jesus is teaching here in several ways.

First, we can remember that not everyone who seems enthusiastic about the Gospel is necessarily a true believer. Emotional reactions are not necessarily the best measure of a genuine acceptance of the truth.

Second, since we know this is true, we should not seek to emotionally manipulate people into expressing faith in Christ, as is too often done in evangelistic crusades and so called “revivals.”

Third, we can again reflect upon what kind of ground we are. Ask yourself, for example, “After the initial excitement about my new-found faith in Christ began to wain, did my faithfulness to Him seem to go with it?” Perhaps you are still going to church and going through all the religious motions, since there is not the kind of persecution that would have weeded you out of the body of Christ by now, but you know you really don't trust Christ in your heart, and even the smallest problems in your life begin to reveal your lack of trust in Him. It could be that you are not so different from the stony ground person after all.

Or maybe you are just a thorny ground kind of person, about whom we shall read next.

III. The Seed That Fell Among Thorns

Jesus first spoke of this ground in the parable in verse 7:
NKJ  Matthew 13:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.
Here Jesus refers to seed that is sown in a part of the field where there are thorns growing. Perhaps the thorn bushes had been burned off by the farmer, but the roots were still intact, so that, when the seed began to grow, the thorns grew up with it and kept it from getting the nourishment it needed. Jesus explained the meaning of this ground in verse 22:
NKJ  Matthew 13:22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
The thorny ground person is so filled with the cares of this world and the thought that they may be relieved by worldly means that there is no room for the Word of God. He may not actually be a rich man, but he has succumbed to the deceitfulness of riches nonetheless.

Again William Hendriksen is helpful in driving home the point:
[A] heart filled with worry with respect to the workaday world and beclouded by dreams about riches thwarts any influence for good that might otherwise proceed from the entrance of the kingdom message. Such a heart is preoccupied. It has no room for calm and earnest meditation on the word of the Lord. Should any such serious study and reflection nevertheless attempt to gain entrance, it would immediately be choked off. Constant anxiety about worldly affairs fill mind and heart with dark foreboding. When this person is poor he deceives himself into thinking that if he were only rich he would be happy. When he is rich he deludes himself into imagining that if he were only still richer he would be satisfied, as if material riches could under any circumstances guarantee contentment.
The man in question cannot be richly blessed nor can he be a blessing. The word as it affects him cannot be fruitful. There is nothing wrong with the sower. Also, there is nothing wrong with the seed. With the man, however, everything is wrong. He should ask the Lord to deliver him from absorbing cares and dream-world delusions, so that the kingdom message may begin to have free course in heart and life. (BNTC, e-Sword)
Or as Kent Hughes illustrates the point:
This is the divided heart – like the heart of the girl to which a young man once proposed. He said, “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I'm not rich. I don't have a yacht or Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.” (Mark, Vol. 1, p. 108)
You see, such a person may appear to be a a true believer at first, but as time goes on and growth is expected, it just never seems to happen. Fruit is sought but never found. This is because they are never truly serving Christ, who Himself warned that, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).

Application: Again we can begin to apply Jesus' teaching to our own situation in a couple of ways.

First, we can recall the deceitfulness of riches and denounce those who would seek to preach the Gospel as a means to personal wealth. In my view, this is exactly what the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” seeks to do. It is a false gospel that appeals to people's love for riches and essentially tells them that God and mammon are one and the same! But the so-called churches that teach such heresy are filled with many, many false believers.

Second, we can again reflect upon what kind of ground we are. Ask yourself, for example, “Do I allow worldly cares to crowd out any real relationship with God?” Or, “Am I so focused on worldly things that I have no time for God's Word?” If the answers to these questions are not what they should be, then you may be more like the thorny ground kind of person that you may have thought.

But there is still one more kind of ground, and that is good ground. It is the kind of ground I believe there is a great deal of here in this congregation! So let's turn our attention now to this kind of ground.

IV. The Seed That Fell on Good Ground

Jesus first spoke of this ground in verse 8:
NKJ  Matthew 13:8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
This ground obviously refers to soil that is ideal for planting. It is not too hard or too shallow or infested with thorn bushes. This kind of ground can thus produce crops with varying degrees of fruitfulness. Some parts of the field may be more productive than others, but all produce. Jesus explained the meaning of this ground in verse 23:
NKJ  Matthew 13:23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Notice a couple of important things here about the good ground kind of person:
1) This person is the only one whom Jesus says understands the word. He has earlier said that the wayside person doesn't understand the Word at all, but now it becomes apparent that even the stony ground or thorny ground person doesn't really understand the Word either, however much they may seem to understand it. All the kinds of people described by Jesus hear the Word, but apparently only the good ground person truly understands it. The good ground person is, then, the only one that is a genuine believer.
 2) The good ground people demonstrate their true understanding of the Word in that they bear fruit. Of course, they don't all bear the same amount of fruit. Some bear less and some bear more. But they all bear fruit because they all truly understand the Word and thus have genuinely received it.
As Jesus told the disciples on another occasion:
NKJ John 15:3-8 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
Thus, a genuine believer bears fruit because he genuinely understand and believes the Word. But what kind of fruit does Jesus have in mind? Well, we can say from John 15 that such fruit consists of whatever in our lives brings glory to the Father. But we can also look at passages such as:
NKJ Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Or perhaps to Paul's example:
NKJ Romans 1:13-15 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
Here Paul speaks of what we might call “Gospel fruit” – the fruit of others coming to know Christ through the preaching of the Gospel. But we can all produce fruit in whatever ministry we have been given by God, whether it be the fruit of children who come to know the Lord, or others growing in their faith because of our teaching or encouragement, or perhaps the way in which we meet the needs of others through giving of our time and money. Whatever we do that magnifies Christ and glorifies God in our lives is fruit, and the true believer will always bear such fruit to some degree.

Application: The application here is pretty obvious. You and I can be assured that we have genuinely understood the Word and have been transformed by it when we see genuine fruit in our lives. Do you have such fruit? Even just a little? Then be encouraged, for you have passed the test that Jesus gives here. It is the same test that Paul put to the Corinthian church, when he said, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Conclusion: I will conclude where I began today, by emphasizing that God's Word is relevant, and we do not need to make it relevant. We may try to help people see how it is relevant – as I have sought to do in suggesting its applications for us – but this doesn't mean trying to tailor the message to what people want to here. For, if they are good ground, they will hear it and receive it as it is. And if they are any other kind of ground, telling them what they want to hear will only exacerbate their problem. Let us be the kind of sower that Jesus was, faithfully sowing the same seed, and trusting God to sort out the rest.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Final Reminder - The Christmas Giveaway is Coming!

This is a final reminder to the blog's readers that the Christmas giveaway drawing is next month. As I announced on September 23, this year the Reformed Baptist Blog would like to thank our readers by offering an opportunity to two of the blog's email subscribers to receive a free book for Christmas this year. Two of our readers will receive a free copy of Dr. Jeff Johnson's upcoming book The Kingdom of God: A Baptist Expression of Biblical and Covenant Theology when it becomes available, which we hope will be this December. We will keep you posted and let you know just as soon as possible. This book promises to be perhaps the definitive work to date on Covenant Theology from a Reformed Baptist perspective. You can read more about this publication here.

On December 15 I will draw from the addresses included in the email subscriber list from FeedBurner. So, if you want to have a chance to receive one of these books, then make sure you sign up as an email subscriber to the blog using the Subscribe in a reader link on the right panel of this page. And make sure you click the "Get Reformed Baptist Blog delivered by email" option. Current email subscribers are already in the running.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates

There have been times that I have felt – that’s right, I said the word “felt” – prompted to get up out of my warm bed in the middle of the night to pray. At other times, I have had a sudden and spontaneous burden come upon me to give an offering to a person without hearing any external solicitation. I can firmly testify that my heart has felt tremendously close to Christ in private and corporate worship. I have not only experienced a love and devotion for my Savior, but more importantly, I have experienced His deep love for me. The inexpressible joy of the Lord, at times, has been so real in my life that all the logic of the wisest men in the world could not have convinced me that I was not in the presence of God. Moreover, I earnestly seek to remain in constant fellowship and communion with God and seek to become more and more sensitive to His leading in my life.

Though the Spirit’s leading is a vital part of my life, and I place great value upon my personal feelings, I did not marry my wife because I thought she was my “soul mate.” Rather, I married her because I thought she was godly, friendly, and pretty.

By saying that I do not believe in “soul mates” I do not mean that God does not have every detail of our lives (including whom we will or will not marry) already determined in His eternal council. Because God predestinated every detail of history, God knew in eternity past that I would marry Letha.

When speaking about “soul mates,” however, most people are not talking about God’s eternal council (a.k.a., God’s secret will), but rather they are referring to the idea that there is a “perfect will” of God for their lives that can be and often is thwarted by their failure to discern the Spirit’s leading in their lives. Those who hold onto the idea of “soul mates” generally believe that it is their responsibility, out of all the other permissible possibilities, to find that one single person that God has designed just for them. As if to say that Lisa is John’s soul mate, but John failed to discern the leading of the Spirit and mistakenly married Robin, which forever messes up the lives of Lisa, Robin, John, and whoever God had intended for Robin to marry. This sounds silly, but countless Christians really believe that they are called to find that one needle from out of a large haystack, or otherwise they may miss out on their intended “soul mate.”

I, on the other hand, believe that we are free to marry whomever we like as long as we submit ourselves to God’s Word and choose a spouse within the permissible boundaries of God’s “revealed will.” With this in mind, here are a few reasons why the idea of a “soul mate” is unbiblical.

It Confuses God’s “Revealed Will” with God’s “Secret Will”

There is a difference between God’s “secret will” and God’s “revealed will.” God’s “secret will” is said to be “secret” for a reason. It is secret because it includes everything that will transpire in time – things that God has not chosen to reveal to us until after they occur in time. That is, it is only after something happens that we can say with certainty that that event was a part of God’s eternal plan.

God’s “revealed will,” on the other hand, is not a secret. Rather it includes all that which God has clearly revealed to us in the Bible. For instance, God's “revealed will” is for us to obey the clear commands found within the Scriptures. We are called to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the will of God for us. We are to live and make wise decisions based upon the teachings and principles of God’s objective Word.

Yet, those who feel that they cannot decide to marry a person until they know that practical person is the one and only person for their lives, end up creating a new category of God’s will – God’s “perfect will.” This “perfect will” of God becomes a mixture of God’s “secret will” and “revealed will.” This is an unbiblical category because it opens up the real possibility of sinning against God’s “perfect will” for our lives while remaining obedient to God’s “revealed will.” For it is one thing to say that within God’s “revealed will” all things are lawful but not all things are equally profitable, but it is another thing to say that within God’s “revealed will” not all things are lawful.

We Are Not Commanded to Discover God’s “Secret Will”

With good intentions, a friend of mine said that we should not decide to marry someone until we know that it would be ‘sin to do otherwise.’ That is, until we knew that person was our “soul mate.” Yet, not only is this line of reasoning impossible to constantly live out, there is no biblical warrant for such a practice. Yes, it is a sin to go against God’s “revealed will,” but nowhere in the Scripture are we commanded by God to uncover God’s hidden/perfect will for our lives before making a decision upon a matter.

How did I know that Letha was the one that I should marry? I prayed, I talked to my parents, but mostly I searched the Scriptures to learn what God has to say about a godly wife. After spending time with Letha, I concluded that it was a no-brainer.

We Are Called to Live Under God’s “Revealed Will”

The Bible is not only sufficient for the preacher in the pulpit, it is sufficient for the life of the believer (2 Tim. 3:16). You see, we are not called to look for some new, mystical revelation about the perfect will of God; we are called to submit ourselves to God’s “revealed will.”

Moreover, those who refuse to say that Scripture is sufficient for uncovering God’s will for their lives end up undermining their duty to live under God’s “revealed will.” I am not just talking about the extreme cases, such as the professing Christian who files for divorce because he feels that he had made a mistake and married the wrong person (missing out on his soul mate), but those who refuse to follow what God has said in the Scriptures until they hear an audible voice from God. This may seem super-spiritual, but often it displays a lack of faith in God’s written Word. Rather than diligently studying the Scriptures, seeking wisdom from a multitude of counselors, and learning how to apply biblical principles of discernment, many mystics seek some extra-biblical and subjective experience. Many Christians are more interested in hearing new revelation than they are in following God’s inspired revelation. Thus, they neglect to follow God’s revealed will in order to uncover God’s secret will. They like signs more than they like Bible study. The point is that the objective “revealed will” of God, the Bible, teaches us to live by God’s infallible Word rather than by our subjective and fallible feelings and experiences.

Thus, we are free to make choices within the boundaries that God places upon us. For example, when I take my son, Martyn, to the store to pick out a new toy, I generally give him a price limit. I allow him to pick out the toy he wants as long as he does not go above the given amount. Within that price range, which toy do I want him to pick? I want him to pick out the toy that he wants most. In the same way, God has given us certain boundaries and wise principles to follow, and if we seek to live within those revealed boundaries, we are free to do what we want—and we can be assured that we are in the will of God.

We Are Called to Be Wise and Discerning
 Granted, making decisions can be hard, especially important decisions, like whom to marry. The more variables to consider, the more difficult it is to know what to do. When we are faced with decisions where we honestly do not know what to do, we often would love to receive a sign or hear an audible voice directly from heaven. This would make things much easier. However, God has not called us to live life without the exercise of wisdom. And godly wisdom is the skill of appropriately applying the principles of Scriptures in difficult situations. Thus, wisdom only comes with spiritual maturity. Babies and young children need to have step-by-step promptings on what to do. This is because they lack the spiritual discernment to make wise choices for themselves. However, we are called not to be babes in knowledge but mature (1 Cor. 4:12). We are called to be discerning. We are called to be wise. This does not imply that we trust in our own human wisdom and cease to acknowledge God in all our ways. It implies that we cast ourselves upon God by submitting ourselves thoroughly to the commands and principles of God’s Word.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:12-14).
The Spirit Communicates in the Objective Word of God

Finally, living by the objective Word of God, the Bible, does not remove the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. As I alluded in my introduction, I depend upon the comfort, prompting, leading, and conviction of the Holy Spirit. I want to be sensitive to the voice of God and seek to live in the Spirit and not be controlled by my flesh.

However, I do not believe that seeking to be submitted to God’s objective Word, the Scriptures, is merely a dry mechanical process, like following the instruction manual on how to construct a swing set. Rather, I am convinced that the voice of the Spirit is to be heard and experienced within the pages of Scripture. Illumination, conviction, understanding, spiritual wisdom, and spiritual guidance come from the Spirit speaking through, by, and in the truth found within God’s Word. This is not dead intellectualism at all. It is personal, lively, and experiential.

Furthermore, the Spirit can speak to us even when our Bible’s are closed. I say this not because I believe the Spirit is seeking to give us new and extra biblical revelation, but that the Spirit uses the truth and the principles of the Scriptures that are stored in our memories to convict and lead us throughout the day. Just as we hear the voice of God in a preached sermon, we hear the voice of God in our conscience (that is filled with God’s Word). Preaching speaks to us not merely when the preacher is reading the Word but also when he explains and applies the Word. Likewise, the Spirit speaks to us when our biblically trained conscience convicts and leads us along the way.

For example, when I am prompted to give money to a person in who is in need or when I am convicted to get out of my warm bed to pray, I truly feel that the Holy Spirit is leading me. Yet this is not new revelation, but the Holy Spirit convicting and applying biblical truth and principles, which are stored in my memory, to my conscience. I can be certain that it is God’s voice, not because I trust my feelings, which are often very deceptive, but because I trust the objectivity of God’s Holy Word. As I test my feelings and conscience, and when they are confirmed by the Word of God, then I can be confident  that I am in the will of God.

Conclusion
So, if you are contemplating if you should marry a particular person, you don’t need to hear an audible voice from heaven saying that he or she is your one and only “soul mate.” Rather, you should seek to be led by the Spirit in prayer and submission to God’s “revealed will” as you apply biblical wisdom to your decision. Is he or she a Christian? Is he or she godly? Is he a spiritual leader or is she a submissive helper? Are you attracted to him or her? Is he or she friendly? Many more questions like this should be asked and biblical wisdom should be used when answering them. If you are convinced by God’s Word that he or she would be a good match, and if you want to…go for it!   

      

Thursday, November 07, 2013

"Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession" by Shawn Mathis

Earlier this year Shawn Mathis, pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC), Denver, Colorado, wrote an article entitled What Is a Family Integrated Church? which I alerted this blog's readers to here. Now I would like to bring to your attention a follow-up article written by Shawn entitled Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession.

In this article Shawn criticizes the confession of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) and argues that "There are a number of reasons I will not sign the online family integrated church confession. And it has nothing to do with animosity. It has to do with principled objections to the substance, nature, purpose, and effects of this confession."

In the conclusion to the article, Shawn writes:
There are various other problems with the confession: vague generalizations, undefined terms, simplistic proof-texting, questionable assertions and the like.  These alone would prevent me from signing the confession. But throwing all churches under the evolutionary-secular-unbiblical bus for practicing age-segregation goes too far.
Whatever a church or Christian believes about the FIC movement as a positive or negative, all should agree that the NCFIC in particular has certain definable and public views that are codified in this confession. It is my hope this essay will bring these views to bear so that churches may prayerfully reconsider their association with this confession and organization.
In my continuing endeavor to keep this blog's readers informed about the issues and debate surrounding the Family Integrated Church Movement, I recommend that you read Shawn's article in its entirety. As always, comments are welcomed here.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Doug Phillips Resigns From Vision Forum Ministries

Last Wednesday Doug Phillips resigned from his position as president of Vision Forum Ministries and discontinued his speaking responsibilities as well. Here is the official statement of resignation from the ministry's website:
With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities.
There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries. I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.
This is a time when my repentance needs to be proven, and I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier, not a ministry leader. Though I am broken over my failures, I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family, nurturing my wife and children and preparing my older sons and daughters for life. So, for these reasons I want to let my friends know that I have stepped down as a board member and as president of Vision Forum Ministries. The Board will be making provision for the management of the ministry during this time. To the friends of this ministry, I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you will pray for the Phillips family at this time, and for the men who will be responsible for shepherding the work of Vision Forum Ministries in the future.
Doug Phillips
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had my disagreements with the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM), of which Doug Phillips had been a prominent leader for many years, but I am saddened by this news. It breaks my heart whenever a pastor who has taught the true Gospel for many years succumbs to such temptation and moral failure, and my prayers are with Doug and his family.

I also hope that those who have disagreed with some of the positions taken by Vision Forum Ministries, as I have disagreed with them, will not see Doug's failure as in any way indicative of the positions he has taken or of those who have agreed with him from within the FICM. As I have looked around the internet at various reactions to this terrible news, I have been deeply troubled and grieved that some have taken this opportunity to malign the FICM because of Doug's confessed moral failure. Let us not be among such people! Let us be fair-minded and loving toward our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And, where we disagree with them, let us focus our attention on the actual points of Scriptural disagreement rather than on the moral failures of those who have failed to live up to their stated positions. After all, how many of us ever lives up to our own moral ideals as faithfully as we would like? And how many of us would not be just as easily led astray into such moral failure but for the grace of God?

Update 11 November 2013

The following announcment was posted at the Vision Forum Ministries website:
In light of the serious sins which have resulted in Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interests of all involved to discontinue operations. We have stopped receiving donations, and are working through the logistical matters associated with the closing of the ministry. While we believe as strongly as ever in the message of the ministry to the Christian family, we are grieved to find it necessary to make this decision. We believe this to be the best option for the healing of all involved and the only course of action under the circumstances.
This is a reminder of the devastating fallout when a Christian leader succumbs to serious moral failure. Let us continue to pray for those involved as the aftershocks will no doubt continue for quite some time.

Update 20 November 2013

Last Wednesday Scott Brown, longtime close friend of Doug Phillips and director of the National Center for family-Integrated Churches, delivered a sermon in which he commented very wisely and Scripturally on Phillips' public fall (although he didn't mention his name). The sermon is entitled How Sin Deceives & Destroys the Soul and the comments are found a little more than halfway through the message. Scott warns about how every public sin was first a private sin for a long time and admonishes us to mortify such sin lest our own work of ministry, which we may have been building for many years, be burned to the ground around us.

Update 17 November 2014

In An Update Regarding Doug Phillips, there was a formal announcement that "the Elders of Boerne Christian Assembly have moved to excommunicate Doug Phillips from the Body of Christ. In doing so, we have sought in good faith to follow diligently the process set forth by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18:15-17. This has been a process in which BCA has demonstrated great longsuffering and patience, has offered many and earnest appeals, and has sought much counsel from men of other churches."

This story just seems to be getting sadder and sadder by the day.