Friday, April 25, 2014

Parable of the Lamp (Luke 8:16-18 Teaching Outline)

Note: Begin reading in verse 1 in order to get the full context. This will become important as we try to correctly understand the parable.

Introduction: Steven Cole offers the following illustration on the importance of being careful how we listen to the Word:
Challenging his wife with a riddle, the man began, “You’re the engineer of a train. There are 36 people on board.  At the first stop, 10 get off and 2 get on. At the next stop, no one gets off, but 5 get on. At the third stop, 4 get off and 2 get on. Now for the question: What is the name of the engineer?”
“How should I know?” snapped the wife.
“See, you never listen! Right at the start I said, ‘You are the engineer of a train.’”
That little story shows how we often fail to listen carefully. What husband or wife has not had the experience of mumbling “Uh huh” while his partner is talking, but his mind is tuned out? One husband dropped his newspaper, looked directly into his wife’s eyes, and gave her his full attention while she was speaking. “Stop it,” she snapped. “You’re deliberately listening just to confuse me.”
Just as we often fail to listen carefully to other people, so we often fail to listen carefully to the Lord. His Word is often clear on the issue we are facing. But our minds are already made up and we don’t want to hear what God says because it confronts the direction we want to go. God can speak clearly, but if we are not listening carefully, we miss His will for our lives. (Take Care How You Listen!)
I think this pastor has hit on an important issue that is stressed in the parable before us this morning. Here we will see that Jesus is very much concerned with how we listen to the Word. And He stresses how being a good hearer of the Word is seen in the way we live our lives and in the way we share this same Word with others. Let's see how our Lord Jesus stresses these truths beginning with verse 16.
NKJ  Luke 8:16 No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.
The context for these statements is Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Sower, and it is crucial to understanding His meaning. So let's briefly examine what He says in the preceding verses:
NKJ Luke 8:9-15 “Then His disciples asked Him, saying, 'What does this parable mean?' 10 And He said, 'To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” [Citing Isaiah 6:9] 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.'”
The emphasis Jesus' places on the importance of hearing the Word in the right way will resurface again in verse 18, but the point we want to focus on for the moment is found in verse 10, where Jesus tells the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”

The disciples are those who – as Jesus says in the parable in verse 16 – have lit their lamps, and now they will be responsible for what they do with the light that they have been given. They have had the mysteries of the kingdom revealed to them. They have been given the light, and now they must not hide what they have been given. They must set it “on a lampstand,” that others “may see the light.” They must go about sharing the truth that has been made known to them with others who need to know it as well.

I think John Gill gets the meaning right when he observes in his commentary:
Christ by this, and some proverbial sentences following, observes to his disciples, that though the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven were delivered in parables for the present, that they might not be seen and understood by some; and though he gave to them the explanation of such parables, as of the above, in a private manner; yet his intention was not that these things should always remain a secret with them; but as they were the lights of the world, they should communicate them to others; and that that light of the Gospel, and the knowledge of the doctrines of it, which he had imparted to them, were not to be retained and concealed in their bosoms, but to be diffused and spread among others …. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
Those who have been given the light – who have had the Word revealed to them and have understood its implications – are responsible to share it with others. They are expected – as Jesus said in verse 15 – to “keep it and bear fruit with patience.”

So, the fruit Jesus seeks in His followers can be summed up in two ways: 1) He expects that they will keep His Word, living it out faithfully, and 2) He expects that they will share His word with others, telling them what they themselves have heard. These two things must always go together. We must always sincerely live out the Word that we proclaim to others if we are going to bear fruit for the kingdom. This is how we set our light on a lampstand for others to see.

Application: I think we all need to remember today the importance of being good hearers of the Word. We did not come here to listen to the teaching of God's word in order to leave unchanged. If we are good hearers of the Word, then we will leave here transformed by it! We will go out and live it! And we will go out with a desire to share it with others! For if we do not live it out, and if we do not share it with others, then we have only pretended to be good hearers of the Word. Remember the admonition of the Apostle James in this regard:
NKJ  James 1:22-25 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
How easily we may deceive ourselves into thinking we are good hearers of the Word just because we may regularly attend church on Sunday morning or listen to good preaching on the radio or watch good preaching on TV – what little of it there is! How easily we can forget that the true test of whether or not we have been good hearers of the Word is found in the difference that it makes in our lives. It is seen in a love for the Word that leads to a desire to live it out and to share it with others.

We should actually be excited by the fact that we have been privileged to know the mysteries of the kingdom and to have a relationship with the Lord, and we should want to share these kingdom secrets that have been revealed to us, as Jesus goes on to stress in the next verse.
NKJ  Luke 8:17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
Here again I think John Gill is correct when he writes:
Meaning, whatever was then wrapped up in parables and dark sayings, or was secretly, and in a private manner, committed to them, should be made manifest by them to others hereafter …. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
Remember again verse 10, where we saw one important reason that Jesus said He spoke to the disciples in parables. He told them, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'”

He was for the time being giving them private explanations of much of His teaching, intending that only they should know the mysteries of the kingdom, but this was to prepare them for the time when they would declare all these things openly to others. These things are “secret” and “hidden” now, but they will be “revealed” later. In fact, Jesus began giving the twelve experience in such open proclamation of the kingdom when He sent them out on a special preaching ministry recorded in Matthew 10. There Jesus told them, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).

Jesus did not want the disciples to assume that they shouldn't proclaim His teachings openly in the future just because He wasn't revealing everything openly now. But, of course, He also warned them in the Parable of the Sower that not everyone will genuinely receive the Word even when it is openly proclaimed. In fact, He told them that only some will be among “those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (vs. 15).

Application: I think we must all learn from what Jesus is saying here. We cannot assume that, just because we have been called to share the Word openly, we will necessarily always see great results. And we cannot necessarily assume that, when we do not see fruit in those who hear, we have somehow failed to be good witnesses to the truth. We are not responsible for the response of others. We are only responsible to be faithful in sharing the Word with them as we faithfully live it out before them.

But we must also remember Jesus' warning recorded in the next verse.
NKJ  Luke 8:18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.
Given what we have seen so far, we cannot be surprised that Jesus warns the disciples to be careful about how they hear the Word. As we have seen, they will be held responsible for what they do with it, for how they live it out and for how they share it with others. But notice that Jesus adds another reason to be careful how we hear, and He states it both positively and negatively.

First –  positively – Jesus says that we should be careful how we hear because “whoever has, to him more will be given.”

Here Jesus has in mind those who were described in verse 8 as having “ears to hear” and those who were described in verse 15 as “good ground” in the Parable of the Sower. Because they have really grasped the truth of the Word and have receive it with “ears to hear” and “with a noble and good heart,” they will be given even more truth. And they will also be given the ability to “bear fruit with patience,” as we also read in verse 15. So, those who really posses the truth in their hearts – however little it may seem to them – can be assured that they will be given even more truth. And those who have really born fruit as a result of hearing the Word can be assured that they will be given more fruit.

Second – negatively – Jesus says that we should be careful how we listen because “whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”

Here Jesus must have in mind the first three soils from the Parable of the Sower recorded in the preceding context. In each case, those represented by the various kinds of soil seemed to have the Word only to have it taken from them. Let's look again at these three soils in order to see what I mean:
NKJ  Luke 8:12-14 “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
It is my view that Jesus sees each of these three soils as examples of those who are not good hearers of the Word and whose subsequent lack of zeal for the Word, together with a lack of fruit in their lives stemming from the Word, demonstrates this fact.

Application: But what about us? Are we truly good hearers of the Word? Have we all been good hearers of the Word today? If so, then I expect we will all leave here with a deeper desire to live out what we have heard and to share it with others. If not, then we must realize the spiritual danger we are in and seek from the Lord ears to hearnoble and good hearts to listen as we should, for only He can do this for us!

Conclusion: In closing, I want to remind us all again that we cannot be good hearers of the Word aside from God's enabling grace. This the Psalmist knew full well when he was inspired to write Psalm 119, and I can do no better than to take you to his words, in which he repeatedly cries out for understanding:
NKJ  Psalm 119:33-37, 73 “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way…. [And again:] 73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments…. [And again:] 144 The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding, and I shall live.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

James White Responds to Adam Harwood's Challenge to Reformed Theology

Dr. Adam Harwood, the Associate Chair of Theology and the McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary located in New Orleans, Louisiana, recently delivered a sermon at Truett-McConnell College, in which he directly challenged specific points of Calvinistic theology.
 
In this sermon, it is my view that Dr. Harwood demonstrates -- to put it mildly -- a very poor understanding of what Calvinists actually believe, and that he consistently misrepresents our point of view. Here is the video of that sermon:


Dr. James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries and an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, has offered the following response:


Needless to say, I am in agreement with James White here, because he correctly understands and proclaims the teaching of Scripture concerning our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7: 36-47 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: In the Bible there are a number of metaphors used to express the meaning of the forgiveness of sin. For example, forgiveness can be described as the hiding of sin (Ps. 32:1), as the taking away of a burden (Ps. 32:1, 5), or as the wiping away of a stain (Ps. 51:1, 9). But we will see how in this parable Jesus makes use of the metaphor of a debt being remitted in order to express the meaning of forgiveness. As a matter of fact, this idea was both common in ancient Judaism and prominent in Jesus' ministry.

As Klyne Snodgrass aptly observes in discussing this parable:
The idea that sins are debts to God is well known in Judaism and appears elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus [e.g. Matt. 18:21-35]. Canceling of debts may have been subversive to some since it went against the inequality and hierarchy of the client-patron relationship, but it would not have been subversive to Jews familiar with Deut. 15:1-3 [about granting release of debts every seven years] and the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10-55), both of which call for canceling of debts. Jesus' adaptation of Isaiah 61 recorded in Luke 4:16-21 is almost certainly to be understood as an announcement of the eschatological Jubilee, and this parable, like the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, assumes that the Jubilee has begun and that God is in the process of canceling debts, i.e. forgiving sins. This parable expresses the grace and the goodness of God. When it comes to forgiveness, God is like a moneylender who does not care about money. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 87)
I think this description really brings out some of the rich background of this parable, which helps us to have the right mindset when we read it. So let's examine the parable together. In doing so, we will look at 1) the context of the parable, 2) the communication of the parable, and 3) the consequences of the parable.

I. The Context of the Parable 

The context of the parable is found in verses 36-39.
NKJ  Luke 7:36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat.
Ever the friend of sinners, Jesus went even to the house of a Pharisee, who had invited Him to supper. But, as we shall see, this Pharisee had the same problem so many other Pharisees had, namely that he didn't seem to get just how sinful he was himself. But the important thing to recognize here is that Jesus didn't necessarily spurn the self-righteous, since they too needed a Savior. If a Pharisee showed any openness to Him, Jesus was apparently inclined to try to reach him where he was, just as He would any other sinner.
NKJ  Luke 7:37-38 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping [Pres. Act. Part. > κλαίω, continually weeping]; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped [Impf. Act. Ind. > ἐκμάσσω, NASB appropriately has kept wiping] them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
Here we have a description of very lavish and humble acts of service toward Jesus. This woman has obviously been greatly affected by Jesus, given her persistent weeping and the tenderness of her actions toward Him. But we will not see until later in the text exactly why she was so overwhelmed with emotion. We only know at this point that she was a known sinner, so we might assume that her tears were those of repentance and remorse for her sins. But we will see further on that her response is due to far more than this!
NKJ  Luke 7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Notice that the Pharisee seems utterly unconcerned by the woman's persistent weeping. All he seems concerned about is the fact that she is a known sinner and that Jesus is apparently flouting the Pharisees' fastidious purity regulations in even allowing her to touch Him! How, he wonders, could Jesus possibly be a prophet if He doesn't seem to know just how bad a person is touching Him?! But we will see that this Pharisee is wrong on several levels when we we look next at the parable itself.

II. The Communication of the Parable  

The communication of the parable is found in verses 40-42a.
NKJ  Luke 7:40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
Here we finally find out the Pharisees' name – Simon – when Jesus addresses him, and this indicates Jesus' personal focus. He has picked up on Simon's attitude and thinking, and He is going to tailor His remarks to suit Simon's personal issues and needs.

But we also see that – in spite of the fact that he questions whether or not Jesus is truly a prophet – Simon does show Him some respect, which is indicated by his calling Jesus “Teacher.” However, as the story unfolds, we will see that his use of this title of honor is not all that sincere.
NKJ  Luke 7:41-42a  There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave [χαρίζομαι, NASB has graciously forgave] them both.
Now, there are at least three significant points to notice in this parable.

First, it is significant that there are two debtors, which, given the context, would appear to stand for Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The debtor who owed the most would represent the sinful woman. The debtor who owed the least would represent Simon the Pharisee.

Second, it is significant that neither debtor could repay the debt that was owed. The implication is that Simon was just as incapable of paying his debt as the sinful woman was of paying hers. However small he may have thought his debt was in relationship to her debt of sin, he really was in the same desperate situation she was in.

Third, it is significant that both debtors were freely forgiven. Simon should have realized that, whether he viewed his own sins as being as great as the woman's or not, forgiveness for both can only come as a free gift and not something that is earned. In fact, Jesus emphasized this idea with the very word He used to describe forgiveness, the Greek verb charízomai, which comes from the noun charís, meaning grace. It definitely carries the meaning, then, of freely forgiving or, as in the NASB, graciously forgiving.

All of these ideas are clearly communicated in this parable, although Jesus will highlight not so much the meaning of the forgiveness communicated in the parable, but rather the response one should have to such forgiveness, when He goes on to press Simon regarding what He has said.

III. The Consequences of the Parable  

The consequences of the parable are found in verses 42b-47.
NKJ  Luke 7:42b-43 “Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him,
“You have rightly judged.”
Here Jesus asks a question that has an obvious answer, but one which Simon needed to consider. What is surprising about the question, though, is that it doesn't really focus on the issues highlighted by the parable. Simon definitely needed to consider that, despite his own thinking of himself as a little sinner rather than a big one, he still couldn't pay his own sin debt, and thus he still needed the grace of God. But Jesus focuses instead upon what a person's response ought to be when he has been so forgiven. For a person's response reveals just how much he has been forgiven, if at all. And it reveals just how deeply a person realizes how much he has been forgiven.

We are not surprised, then, when Jesus openly does just what Simon has been doing in his own mind – He compares Simon to this woman who was a known sinner. But, as we shall see in the next few verses, Simon doesn't fare so well when Jesus is done making the comparison!
NKJ  Luke 7:44-46 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.”
Notice the emphasis Jesus put on the contrast between Simon's actions toward Him versus those of this sinful woman. Simon clearly thought he was better than her, but Jesus indicated that she had shown him up in his own house! And Jesus did this for the obvious reason that Simon was oblivious to what had really been going on.

Klyne Snodgrass is again helpful when he notes the significance of Jesus' having to point out the woman to Simon, even though He already knew that Simon had seen her there:
After Simon answers [Jesus' question] correctly, Jesus asks if he sees “this woman.” Clearly Simon sees her reputation, not her, and is this not frequently still the problem, that we see systems and concerns but not people? This is not to say that concerns about sin or other issues are not important, but if Jesus did anything, he actually saw people. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 87)
But not only did Simon fail to really see her, he also completely failed to see the significance of her actions toward Jesus, actions which revealed her own love for Jesus and served as an indictment on himself. You see, like so many of us can do at times, Simon focused solely on the woman's past and allowed that to eclipse the present. He couldn't see who she was now, because he couldn't get past who she had been.
NKJ  Luke 7:47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.
There are a couple of points that need to be highlighted here.

First, when Jesus emphasizes the fact that “to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little,” we cannot miss the focus on Simon. It is Simon who has been forgiven little and who therefore loves little. And this is why he has shown little – if any – love for Jesus and absolutely no love for the woman! Now, I do not think we ought to assume that Simon actually had sinned very little in his life up to this point and thus needed very little forgiveness. In fact, Jesus is highlighting a pretty egregious sin on his part in the very telling of this parable and the ensuing discussion. The point really seems to be that Simon did not realize the gravity of the sins he had committed or the fact that they could only be forgiven by God's grace.

Second, when Jesus says of the woman that “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much,” He is not saying that she was forgiven because she loved much. On the contrary, the context of this statement makes it clear that He is saying that her great love is the evidence that she has been forgiven much and that – unlike Simon – she obviously realizes this.

And here we find the ultimate reason for the woman's tears. They are tears of joy from a woman who is used to being treated as Simon had treated her, but who has found acceptance in God's grace, for He has forgiven all her sins. She had a debt that she could not pay, and she knew it. She understood just how great that debt was, so she also knew the greatness of the grace that had been bestowed on her.

Conclusion: I would like to conclude my teaching about this parable by asking a diagnostic question of all of us. I would like each one of us to ask himself or herself this simple question: “Does my love for Christ and for others demonstrate that I realize just how bad my sins are and that they have only been forgiven by the grace of God?” After all, if the greatness of our love – especially toward sinful people – is the true test of how much we have been forgiven – or, rather, whether or not we realize just how much we have been forgiven – then I think we ought to think about it, and I hope you all will go on thinking and praying about it today and in the days to come.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What I Have Learned after 14 Years of Ministry

God is faithful and faithfulness is what God requires of us. Sometimes out of prideful ambition, I am tempted to move too fast and seek to produce results by the works of the flesh. Waiting on the Lord is hard. Seeing no visible results (e.g., growth) is hard. Seeing other churches growing at a faster rate is hard. What are others doing right and what are we doing wrong? The pressure to grow is present in all ministers and ministries. Because of this pressure, we are tempted to take things into our own hands. We need to do something now! We need to rally the troops, raise funds, get people excited, and start a few more programs (I mean “ministries”). We need a building program because, churches don’t build themselves, now do they?  

What I am learning is that it is a blessing and not a curse when God does not bless our fleshly and pragmatic endeavors.  When stuck in the mud, it is a blessing when we do not get things done just because we spin our tires faster. We may get dirty, but thankfully, we don’t always get more traction. If God allowed us to grow through fleshly means, it would be a more compelling temptation to abandon trust in God and take pride in our own “creative endeavors” and leadership skills. Flirting with pragmatism may not end well. It is likely to work, and before we know it, we may find ourselves in bed with it. A house built out of hay and stubble goes up quickly, but it cannot stand the blowing wind of God’s judgment.

I don’t write this out of bitterness or envy. I am not trying to console myself by thinking that growing churches must be doing something wrong. This is because the church that I pastor is growing. In the last two years, we have tripled, if not quadrupled, in size. I am having a difficult time keeping up with all the visitors and learning all the new names.  Are we excited? Yes we are! It is fun seeing people interested in our church, and it’s much more enjoyable to preach to a crowd than just a handful of people.

This growth has not always been the case for Grace Bible Church. For over 10 years, we were just a handful of people who were faithfully meeting and ministering to one another. For years, we were tempted to disband because of feeling discouraged. We would add a family and we would lose a family. Year after year, nothing seemed to change. Not only were we not growing, we had no prospects of growing. Friends suggested that I look for another church to pastor. It is not easy being small, to say the least.

O how things have changed. Now we are growing and visiting families are sticking around. Amazingly, they are coming back week after week….and joining! What are we doing different? The answer—nothing! We are still preaching the same gospel and keeping true to our core commitments. Without any posturing and maneuvering on our part, it seems that God is adding to our number. I am more of a spectator than a contributor. But do not think that this numerical increase is a result of our faithfulness, as if God is rewarding us for what we have done right. There are too many other churches, just as faithful for even longer periods of time, which are not experiencing any major growth for me to think that our church must somehow be better. The size and growth of a church has nothing to do with how God views a church. Rather, faithfulness is what God is impressed with, no matter the size of the church.

This brings me to what I am in the process of learning—the church belongs to God and He can do with it what He wishes. We are just stewards and ministers in the ministry that belongs to Him. Our responsibility is to remain faithful regardless if we shrink, maintain, or grow in size. God’s responsibility is to care for, empower, and supply the needs of the church. Too many times, we are tempted to take over God’s responsibilities to fulfill our own personal ambitions rather than seeking to be content laboring with the fold that He has assigned and allotted to us.  

I am learning that the church belongs to God, and this is liberating. I don’t have to stress about growing the church but simply follow orders. I am merely to obey the Word of God and be faithful to what God has called me to do, such as preach, encourage, love, help, evangelize, and serve the body. If we grow or shrink, it does not necessarily mean that I am doing anything right or wrong.

I am learning that the ministry is too big for me. I am learning that I can do little to nothing to keep our church together. The church is something that is supernatural and something too big for me to maintain. I need God. The church needs God. And, if it is God’s church, then it is God’s responsibility to sustain and hold our little flock together, and if He decides to move His sheep into other local churches, who am I to withstand Him. It is His church and He has the right to do with it as He pleases. Knowing that it is not my responsibility to sustain or build the church allows me to rest at night. My job is simple…just be faithful and put the results in God’s hands.

I am learning that a growing church has many more needs, such as new building(s), and more money is needed to fund these new building projects. But, thankfully, I am learning that my job is not to become a fundraiser but to remind the church that we are to be good stewards of the money that God has given to our church. I am learning that it is God’s responsibility to supply the needs of the church. If God can take care of millions of Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness, He can take care of the needs of our little flock in Conway, Arkansas. Tempted as we may be to want to take over God’s responsibility by irresponsibly going deep into debt and hound God’s sheep for money every week in fear that if we do something quickly, the rate of growth will slow down if not stop altogether, I am learning to relax and wait on God.

I am learning that God is faithful. God is faithful. No matter what size of church, God is faithful. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: Not all scholars agree that Jesus' teaching in this part of Matthew 25 should rightly be called a parable. For example, one prominent New Testament scholar, characteristic of those who think we should not call this a parable, argues:
This is not really a parable. At most we have a parabolic saying about the separation of sheep and goats in vv. 32-33 which provides an analogy, an implied similitude, to the separation which will take place at the final judgment. This is followed by a detailed explanation of the reason for and significance of this separation in vv. 34-46. One could say that we have a two verse analogy and that the rest is explanation. (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 543)
So, we don't have a parable, he says, just an analogy or parabolic saying with an explanation. Sounds like a distinction without a difference to me, so we will just treat it as a parable accompanied by a lengthy explanation. As we have seen in our previous studies, this certainly isn't the first time Jesus has followed this pattern in teaching the disciples.

Anyway, in our treatment of the parable, we will follow a basic, four point outline: 1) the separation of the sheep and the goats for judgment, 2) the judgment of the sheep, 3) the judgment of the goats, and 4) the separation of the sheep and the goats for eternity.

I. The Separation of the Sheep and the Goats for Judgment

This is found in verses 31-33.
NKJ Matthew 25:31-33 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. 32 All the nations [πάντα τὰ ἔθνη] will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
This parable may reflect a key Old Testament Messianic passage, in which God pronounces judgment on the shepherds of Israel and promises a day when He Himself will be a Shepherd for His people. For example:
NKJ  Ezekiel 34:11-12 For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”
But He also promises that He will come in judgment and issues this stern warming to Israel:
NKJ  Ezekiel 34:17 And as for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams [male sheep] and goats.”
I think it is quite likely that this passage forms the background for Jesus' metaphorical use of sheep and goats in this parable, just as it forms the background for His claim to be the Good Shepherd in John 10. If so, then He is again applying this passage to Himself so as to indicate His deity, since He takes a text that says Yahweh will come and announces Himself as the fulfillment.

But there is another key Old Testament Messianic prophecy from the book of Daniel that is most definitely in Jesus' mind here:
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 [LXX has πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, just as in vs. 32 of our text], 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.
In bringing this passage to mind, Jesus is identifying the period ushered in by His second coming as the fulfillment of this kingdom promise. At that time He will judge between the sheep and the goats, which is indicated by the way in which they will be separated, with the sheep on His right hand – the place of honor – and the goats on His left hand. But what is hinted at here is directly stated in the following verses, which leads us to our next point.

II. The Judgment of the Sheep

This is found in verses 34-40.
NKJ  Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand [the sheep], “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”
Jesus' identification of the sheep as those “blessed of My Father,” and His declaration of their inheritance of the kingdom “prepared” for them “from the foundation of the world,” shows that they are not accepted by God based upon their own works but rather upon His sovereign grace. In fact, those who are called blessed by the Father must also be those Jesus said elsewhere were taught by the Father:
NKJ  John 6:44-45 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.
But even before the Father drew us to Christ and bestowed His blessings upon us, Jesus says, He had already prepared our inheritance in the kingdom “from the foundation of the world.” Elsewhere Paul takes up the same language in his letter to the Ephesian Church:
NKJ  Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
Paul makes explicit what I believe Jesus has implied in verse 34 of our text, namely that our standing before God is ultimately due to His work on our behalf and not because of anything we have done. But God's work also brings about a changed heart and life, as Paul goes on to say:
NKJ  Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
These are works that Jesus is thinking about in this parable, when He goes on to speak about the coming judgment of the sheep.
NKJ  Matthew 25:35-40 “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” 40 And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Notice here the surprise of the sheep. And notice that hey are not surprised that they inherit the kingdom, but rather by the reason given. As D. A. Carson puts it in his commentary on this passage:
[T]he surprise of the righteous makes it impossible to think that works of righteousness win salvation. How the sheep and the goats treated Jesus' brothers was not for the purpose of being accepted or rejected by the King. The sheep did not show love to gain an eschatological reward, nor did the goats fail to show it to flout eschatological retribution. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 522)
This does not mean, however, that their works of love do not matter, for they clearly do, but these works only matter because they demonstrate the sheep's acceptance of Jesus. This is the point Jesus is making when He says to them, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” And then He says, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (italics mine).

Here it is important to remember what Jesus has previously taught about what it means to accept those who represent Him and about those who are is brethren. For example:
NKJ  Matthew 10:40-42 He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.
NKJ Matthew 12:46-50 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” 48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
We simply cannot separate love for and acceptance of Christ from love for and acceptance of those who believe in Him. In fact, this is reflected later in Jesus' confrontation of Paul on the road to Damascus:
NKJ  Acts 9:1-5 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
To persecute Jesus' brethren – those who believe in Him and have been given the Gospel to share with a lost and dying world – is to persecute Jesus Himself.

This is the same kind of emphasis in the passage before us this morning. Jesus is telling the sheep in the judgment that they demonstrated that they have been blessed by the Father and have inherited the kingdom through their having accepted Him. And they accepted Him when they accepted those who believed in Him and bore witness of Him. They were thus willing to help those who shared the Gospel by supporting them and by identifying with them in their imprisonment. You see, in those days people could easily starve and suffer from exposure in most prisons unless people were willing to bring them the food and clothing they needed. But doing this also meant openly showing oneself to be connected with those so imprisoned. Such an action toward Christians shows that one has indeed accepted their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is what Jesus is talking about here when He speaks of visiting Him in prison and giving Him food, drink, and clothing.

Herein lies the ultimate difference between the sheep and the goats: the sheep are those who have been blessed by the Father and who demonstrate this through their acceptance of Christ, which in turn is seen in their love toward His people, even when such love puts them at risk. This difference will become even more clear when we look at the next part of Jesus' explanation of this parable.

III. The Judgment of the Goats

This is found in verses 41-45.
NKJ  Matthew 25:41-45 Then He will also say to those on the left hand [the goats, vs. 33], “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” 44 Then they also will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” 45 Then He will answer them, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
The real issue is that they rejected Jesus, and this was seen in the way they rejected His brethren.

The goats are those who have not been “blessed by the Father” (vs. 34) but rather are “cursed” (vs. 41). They do not, therefore, inherit the everlasting kingdom spoken of in Daniel 7 but rather are ordered to depart to “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (vs. 41). They wanted life without Christ – and thus without God – just as the devil and his angels did, so that is exactly what they will get, along with the devil and his angels! In fact, they will go to the same place of punishment that God has “prepared” for the devil and his angels, which means that it has been prepared for these unbelievers as well.

Now, it is true that these goats will address Jesus as “Lord” (vs. 44), but this is obviously not a genuine acknowledgment of Jesus as their Savior. In fact, Jesus had earlier taught His disciples that there would be such false professors of faith:
NKJ  Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
However, their calling Him “Lord” may also be due to the fact that this will become obvious to them, as it will to all who witness Jesus in His glory. As Paul says:
NKJ  Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We can either confess that Jesus is Lord because we accept Him as such and place our trust in Him for salvation, or we can confess that He is Lord on the way to hell, but we will confess that He is Lord! Sadly, the goats in this passage are confessing His lordship when it is too late, when they are already on their way to hell. But, just in case we might have missed the eternal nature of the consequences Jesus is describing here, He goes on to talk about it about it further.

IV. The Separation of the Sheep and the Goats for Eternity

This is found in verse 46.
NKJ  Matthew 25:46 And these [the goats] will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life.
There are two – and only two – options: everlasting life or everlasting punishment. And our response to Christ now indicates which future we may look forward to, doesn't it? If we trust Him as our Lord and Savior now, we may look forward to everlasting life with Him in the age to come, but if we do not trust Him now, we will face an everlasting punishment that Jesus has described as “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (vs. 41).

The Apostle John later received a revelation concerning this place of punishment:
NKJ  Revelation 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
This is the fate that awaits those who do not trust Jesus in this life!

Conclusion: I would like to remind you all of what the author of Hebrews wrote:
NKJ  Hebrews 9:27-28 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
I hope and pray that you are all among those who eagerly wait for Jesus as your Savior from sin. If not, then you must remember that you only get one life. If you do not accept Jesus in this life, you won't be getting another chance!

But for those of us who do profess to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, let us remember that the reality of this will be demonstrated through a changed life, which will be seen especially in our love for the brethren. Does such a sincere faith show in your life?

I would also point out, lastly, that those of us who truly know Christ will also care about what He cares about. So, for example, if His love for others led Him to tell them the truth about the coming judgment, then we should not fail to do so as well. It is one of the truly sad things about modern Evangelicalism that it seems to have no room for talk of the coming judgment. But this only shows how far from Christ and His teaching they have gotten, doesn't it?

Friday, April 04, 2014

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30 Teaching Outline)

As we approach our study of this parable, we must keep in mind that Jesus has been teaching about His second coming and that this provides the context for this parable as well as for the one that preceded it.

Introduction: F. B. Meyer, a Baptist pastor and evangelist who lived from 1847-1929, had this prayer for his life's motto: “Make the most of me that can be made for Thy glory.”

I think he has stated quite well what should be the purpose of each of our lives. It is true that we should all seek God's glory as the ultimate goal of our lives. And it is also true that we will only be able to do this as God Himself does the work in and through us. He must make the most of us, but we must make the most of what He has given us.

The Apostle Paul stresses each side of this relationship in his famous command to the Philippians, to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). We can only work out what God has worked in, but work out we must! And it is this working out that Jesus has in mind in this parable, in which He teaches that we must make the most of the opportunities, responsibilities, and gifts the Lord has given us. This will become increasingly clear as we make our way through the parable verse by verse.
NKJ  Matthew 25:14 For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.
Here the New King James supplies the reference to the kingdom of heaven in italics since they do not appear in the Greek text. This is in order to help the reader make the connection to the context, in which Jesus is telling yet another parable about the same subject raised in verse 1, namely what the kingdom of heaven is like. That is what the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins was about, and that is also what this parable is about. And both parables are being given in a context dealing with Jesus' second coming as well.

Thus, the man who travels far away and delivers his goods into the stewardship of his servants clearly stands for Jesus.
NKJ  Matthew 25:15 And to one he gave five talents [τάλαντον], to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately [εὐθέως, which I think best to take with the next sentence in verse 16, as in the ESV and NASB] he went on a journey.
There are three observations I would like to make about the way Jesus sets up the parable in this verse:

First, we need to understand that a “talent” is unit of measure for money, and it is a very large sum of money! As Klyne Snodgrass puts it:
A talent in the ancient world was a monetary weight of approximately 60-90 pounds … Depending on the metal in question, the value of a talent was equivalent to 6,000 days' wages for a day laborer (roughly twenty years' work), so the man given five talents was given an enormous sum. Obviously the “one talent” man still had an enormous amount. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p.542)
Now, some people confuse the “talent” spoken of here with natural abilities or gifts that each person has, and one of the reasons for this confusion is the fact that the meaning of the English word talent – in the sense of a natural ability or endowment – actually comes from the application of this parable. In fact, the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary correctly recognizes this fact in its definition of the term, when it specifically states that this meaning of the word comes “from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30.”

Frankly, I think this application of the parable has merit. It is clear enough in the context the the wealthy man who goes far away and then returns stands for Jesus. And it will also be clear by the end of the parable that the final judgment is in view, in which there will be an accounting for what we have done with what the Lord has given us. So I think that the talents here may naturally be taken to represent our inclusion in the Kingdom, with the various responsibilities, opportunities, and gifts the Lord has given us for Kingdom service.

I think this may be the reason Jesus made use of such large sums as “talents” to refer to the gifts He gives us. Perhaps He is stressing how much we should value them. We should consider ourselves wealthy when we contemplate His grace toward us. As Paul reminded the Roman Christians, “For the Scripture says,  'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Rom. 10:11-12, ESV).

Second, we need to see how the man gives different amounts to each servant, “to each according to his own ability.” The master does not expect more of any of these servants than he should. He is fair and gracious in dispensing their disparate responsibilities. But notice also that even the servant with only one talent still had a great deal! He may have less than the other two servants, but what he has was still a fortune!

Third, as is obvious both from Jesus' introduction to the parable in verse 14 and from the surrounding context, the statement that the master “went on a journey” must represent Jesus' departure from this earth. So the period in which the servants are to be working with the talents represents the period in which we await Christ's return.
NKJ  Matthew 25:16-18 Then he who had received the five talents went [immediately] and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. [I have taken εὐθέως, immediately, with verse 16 as in the ESV and NASB, rather that with verse 15 as in the KJV and NKJV]
First, notice how the servants given five talents and two talents got busy with those talents right away. Their faithfulness is seen not only in the profit they made, but in their eagerness to get to work. They immediately traded with them.

Second, notice that the servant with only one talent did not want to risk anything, so he buried his talent in the ground. This reflects a common practice in ancient times, in which there were no banks such as we have today. If you wanted to keep your money safe, often you would bury it in a secret place. But, of course, by burying his talent this servant was unable to to do anything with it. He cut himself off from any opportunity to make a profit for his master or, in the end, a reward for himself.

I think Thomas Constable hits the nail on the head when he makes the following applications of these verses:
Immediately the slaves entrusted with five and two talents began to put their money to use for their master. This shows their faithfulness to their duty to make money for him. They traded with the money in some way, so they made a profit. The other slave, however, was unwilling to work and to risk. By burying the money he showed that he valued safety above all else. Burying his talent was even much safer than putting it in a savings account.
The slaves of God who have a heart for God and His coming kingdom will sense their privilege, seize their opportunities, and serve God to the maximum extent of their ability... Those who have no real concern about preparing people for the coming King will do nothing with their opportunities. Their own safety will be more important to them than working to prepare for the arrival of the King. Being a good steward involves taking some risks. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
F.B. Meyer, in his devotional Our Daily Homily, also applies this point to Christians in an interesting way:
It is remarkable that the man who had one talent should hide it. If we had been told that he who had five had hidden one we should not have been surprised; but for the man who had only one to hide it!—this is startling; but it is true to life.
The people whose talents and opportunities are very slight and slender are they who are tempted to do nothing at all. “I can do so very little; it will not make much difference if I do nothing: I shall not be missed; my tiny push is not needed to turn the scale.” That is the way they talk. They forget that an ounce-weight may turn the scales where hundred-weights are balanced. They do not realize that the last flake of white snow just oversets the gathering avalanche, and sends it into the vales beneath.
Are you one of these slenderly-endowed ones? And are you doing all you can? Are you doing anything? Even though you cannot do much in your isolation, you might join with others and do much. You might invest your little all in the bank of the Church, and trade as part of that heavenly corporation. Oh, disinter your one talent! (e-Sword)
I think Meyer is getting into some good application here. But I would add that the person with one talent may also too often see what he has as very little when, as a matter of fact, it is not. It may seem small in comparison to five talents or two talents, but it is still a vast amount.

But we will see further on that this servant buried his talent not because he thought he could do little or nothing with it, and not because he saw it as so insignificant in comparison to what others were given, but rather because he did not trust the one who gave it to him! And this is true also of may who call themselves Christians, who will be surprised in the judgment, which leads us to the next verse.
NKJ  Matthew 25:19 After a long time [πολὺν χρόνον] the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
First, we need to remember the previous two parables in the previous context, in which Jesus has already stressed the idea of a delay in His second coming:
1) In the Parable of the Two Servants (24:45-51), Jesus portrays the evil servant as thinking, “My master is delaying [χρονίζω] his coming” (vs. 48).
2) In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (25:1-13), Jesus says that “while the bridegroom was delayed [χρονίζω], they all slumbered and slept” (vs. 5).
And so also in this parable, Jesus speaks of the man traveling to a far country and returning “after a long time.” Although Jesus has twice asserted that we do not know the day or the hour of His return (24:36; 25:13), it is hard to miss the way in which He prepares His followers for a delay. And this is one reason why, so many centuries later, we are not surprised that He has still not returned.

Second, notice the emphasis upon the lord of the servants returning to “settle accounts.” As we shall see later, this represents Jesus' returning in judgment in the future. The point to be stressed here is that – however long it may seem to us that the Lord is away – we must not think that judgment delayed is judgment forgotten!
NKJ  Matthew 25:20-23 So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” 21 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, “Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.” 23 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
There are three observations I would like to make about the way Jesus describes the reward of these two faithful servants.

First, each servant is told that he has done well, even though each was given and earned a different amount of money. Thus, it is not the amount of money given that is most important, but rather what was done with whatever amount was given. The servant with only two talents was not expected to do what the servant with five talents had done. The emphasis is upon the faithfulness of each servant with what he had been given

Second, each servant is told that he will be given even greater responsibility as a reward for his faithfulness “over a few things.” Now, it may seem strange to hear such vast sums of money referred to as “few” – or little [ὀλίγος] – things, but this is truly the case when compared with the heavenly things with which we will be entrusted in the future Kingdom.

Third, each servant is told to “enter into the joy of your lord.” This should be seen in contrast with what Jesus says to the unfaithful servant further on. We are told that the unprofitable servant will be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This refers to the final judgment in which the wicked will be separated from God forever. Thus, the joy experienced by the faithful servants must refer to the opposite, namely the fellowship they will get to have with the Lord forever.

Elsewhere Jesus spoke of the joy that He had and of His desire that His followers share the same joy. For example:
NKJ  John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Bob Deffinbaugh also provides helpful application when he says:
I am reminded of this passage in the Book of Hebrews:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Hebrews 12:1-3, emphasis mine).
The “joy” that was before our Lord would seem to include the salvation of lost sinners (Luke 15:4-10). Is the salvation of lost sinners not “profit” in the eternal sense? Is this not fruit? Is this not cause for rejoicing (see Acts 11:19-24)? As a businessman takes pleasure in making a profit, so our Lord takes pleasure in the profit gained by His faithful servants in His absence. And part of the reward the faithful slave is entering into is the joy of his Master in bringing salvation to men. (The Parable of the Talents)
May we always seek as our greatest joy whatever it is that brings joy to our Lord! For in doing so we will begin to experience now something of what awaits us in the future. But those who do not love the Lord will be forever bereft of such joy, as Jesus goes on to make clear.
NKJ  Matthew 25:24-25 Then he who had received the one talent came and said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard [σκληρός] man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.”
The real problem with the third servant becomes apparent in these verses. He simply doesn't love or respect his master.

First, notice that he described his master as a “hard man.” The Greek word translated hard is sklērós, which literally refers to something that has a hard surface, but it has negative connotations when used figuratively of people. In this sense it means harsh or unpleasant. And in our context it carries the connotation of being strict, unmerciful, or overly demanding (Friberg #24575, BibleWorks).

Second, the servant apparently resented the way that his master profits from the service of others. This appears to be what it means when the servant described him as “reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” The servant wasn't willing for the master to profit from him as he has profited from the others. But he forgot that the money that had been invested belonged to the master and that, therefore, any losses would be his and any profit rightly belonged to him.

Third, the servant said that he “was afraid” – apparently of not meeting the master's expectations – and gave this as the main reason for having hidden the money.

These objections all amount to excuses that essentially blame the master for the servant's own fear and lack of faithfulness. But it must be remembered that the master left the talent with the servant because he knew the servant had the ability to do something profitable with it. Thus, there really is no excuse.
NKJ  Matthew 25:26-27 But his lord answered and said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.”
Notice how the master turns the servants own words back on him. Although he doesn't agree with the servant's description of him as being harsh or overly demanding, he does assume the correctness of saying that he is one who reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he has not scattered seed. In other words, the master is good at making a profit through others. Indeed, isn't this the very reason he gave these servants the talents in the first place? And wasn't the truth of this seen in the master's judgment concerning the first two servants? The master knew the capabilities of all three servants and gave them talents accordingly.

This is why the master points out to the servant what the real issue is, namely that he is a “wicked and lazy servant.” He had the ability to make good use of the money entrusted to him, but he had simply refused to do so.

If I may paraphrase, the master is saying something like this: “Since you knew full well that I am a good judge of peoples' abilities and therefore good at profiting from them, then why didn't you trust my judgment in giving you one talent?” You see, the problem is that the servant has a partially distorted view of the master, a view that prevents him from trusting the master or caring whether or not the master profits from his efforts.
NKJ  Matthew 25:28-29 Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
This teaching is in keeping with what Jesus had already taught the disciples as a principle of the Kingdom:
NKJ  Matthew 13:10-13 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
The point is that those who demonstrate an openness to the things of God and trust in Him will be given more revelation – and in this case, gifts, responsibilities, and opportunities for Kingdom work – but the one who doesn't trust the Lord will have what little he possesses taken from him in judgment.

Yet that is not the worst thing that awaits such a person, as Jesus makes clear in His next statement.
NKJ  Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
These words refer to the judgment of the wicked that will occur after Jesus returns. They speak of the horrible anguish that will be experienced by those who are forever cut off from fellowship with God. In this case, since the wicked man doesn't want to be the servant of his master, he gets what he wants.

Conclusion: I will conclude with some more thoughts about the application of this parable. First, we must remember that God has given us the Gospel to share. Are we doing it? He has given each one of us some gifts for Kingdom use. Are we using them? He has given each of us some measure of responsibility for helping to advance the Kingdom. Are we taking this responsibility seriously? God gives us many opportunities to share the Gospel and His love toward others. Are we making the most of these opportunities? For we are all going to be judged on the basis of our faithfulness with what God has given us.

As Klyne Snodgrass puts it:
The theme of faithfulness must be brought directly into relation with Jesus' teaching about the present and future kingdom. Knowledge of God's reign and salvation brings with it added responsibility. To accept the kingdom and its salvation is to accept a trust. It enlists one as an agent on behalf of the kingdom, and all those so enlisted will be rewarded or judged in terms of their faithfulness to their task. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p.542)
The Apostle Peter makes a similar point that will serve as my conclusion today:
NKJ  1 Peter 4:10-11 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The New Vs. The Old Calvinism

I am young (at least I still feel young) but I consider myself an Old Calvinist. I am constantly reminiscing about my ole skateboarding days and I still enjoy snowboarding. Admittedly, I may dress a little younger than my age, and currently I am thinking about getting back into skateboarding. In other words, I am grasping onto my youth. So why do I call myself an Old Calvinist? Well, it’s not because I think I am old. Rather, I prefer to call myself an Old Calvinist because I want to differentiate my understanding of Calvinism from the contemporary movement known as the New Calvinism. In the last two decades, the 5 points of Calvinism have amazingly become popular within a large segment of mainstream Christianity. Within my lifetime, Calvinism has gone from unacceptable, to acceptable, to cool. It is not that I am not deeply thankful for this movement and its leaders, for I rejoice to see what God is doing with my generation of Christians. Yet, even though I consider myself to be a young, cool Calvinist, due to some of the concerning features of the New Calvinism, which I will outline below, I prefer to be identified as an Old Calvinist.

Yet, what is the difference between the New and the Old Calvinism? Is it even possible to differentiate between them? If it is possible, it is certainly not easy. For instance, in a recent address on the New Calvinism, John Piper presented the 12 key features of the movement (see here). Yet, these 12 features could have easy been identifying various features of the Old Calvinism. In this address, Piper failed to identify what is “new” about the New Calvinism.

Granted, it is not easy to differentiate between New and Old Calvinism for many reasons. One, there is no clear and single mark of distinction between them. Some have said, “non-confessional vs. confessional,” others have said, “non-Presbyterian vs. Presbyterian,” and still others have said, “charismatic vs. non-charismatic.” Yet, none of these single distinctions (or any other single distinction) is fully adequate in explaining how these two groups differ from each other. Because there a lot of overlap between the two groups, there doesn't seem (at least to me) to be a single mark but a collection of marks that separate the two groups from each other. Two, it is hard to distinguish the New and Old Calvinists from each other because there doesn't seem to be even be a concise collection of marks that separate them. For instance, “charismatic,” “young,” and “non-confessional” may be some of the marks of the New Calvinism, but not all New Calvinists are charismatic, young, and non-confessional. Three, not only is it impossible to neatly identify distinguishing marks, there are some who are in transition. Some New Calvinists are moving closer to becoming Old Calvinists. Because of that, these Calvinists do not fit neatly into either of the groups.

With these difficulties in mind, here are what I believe to be some of the more notable distinctions between New and Old Calvinism. Admittedly, as an Old Calvinist, I emphasize the extremes of New Calvinism (as personified. for example, by Mark Driscoll) not only to help make the dissection between the two groups more clear, but also to highlight my concerns about the New Calvinism. I understand that not all self-claiming New Calvinists are as radical as I am representing the movement here.   

1.     Hip Vs. Non-Hip

I am Old Calvinist, but that doesn't mean I am a dork, at least I hope not. I prefer to dress in style (though I don’t plan on buying any skinny jeans anytime soon). No doubt, there are many unfashionable Old Calvinists. But not all of us Old Calvinists who read the Puritans seek to dress like the Puritans. Even John Owen dressed more flamboyantly than his rather drab Puritan friends. The difference, therefore, is not an issue of style, but the emphasis placed upon style. And this seems to be the heart of the matter. Though fashion is not the issue for us Old Calvinists, it does seem to be one of the characteristics, if not a distinguishing mark, of the New Calvinism. Fashion is one of the many ways, for the New Calvinists, to market and contextualize their message. When on stage, it is cool to preach in a Mickey Mouse printed T-shirt and to lead worship with a new pair of sparkly kicks. In other words, nerds need not apply. All joking aside, seeking to be “hip” does not seem to be accidental but purposeful within the New Calvinism.

2.     Branding Vs. Falsely Labeled 

One of the reasons fashion seems to be such an integrated part of the New Calvinism is because of the high emphasis the New Calvinists place upon marketing and branding themselves. For the sake of getting the gospel out to as many people as possible and attracting people to their places of worship, image is everything (at least an important thing). Churches now have marketing teams consisting of graphic designers and computer programmers, all to help create a recognizable brand. At least one Calvinistic mega church has copyrighted their name and logo, threatening legal actions against those who infringe upon their branding (see here). Branding and marketing works. For instance, Starbucks sells a lot of coffee not only because they have good tasting coffee, but also because they have done a good job of creating a recognizable and popular brand. I feel cool (maybe even rich) when I order a latte from Starbucks. Even better is when I can plop myself down in one of their comfy, leather chairs, open my Apple laptop and gaze around at all the cool people in my black, square framed glasses. Only if I had a pair of skinny jeans my experience would be complete. Who feels proud of wearing generic shoes or carrying around a 7-Eleven cup of coffee? I know I don’t. In the same way I was willing to pay a little extra for the North Face Jacket logo because of its popularity. Similarly, the New Calvinism has done a good job of marketing itself and their leaders. Popularity has a natural pull to it. We consciously or unconsciously like to follow the crowd. Which sounds more exciting, attending a mega church with a celebrity pastor or visiting a country church with a bunch of old people? Who is to say that the worship is more sincere and the preaching is better at the big box mega church? The logo on the coffee cup, so it seems, goes a long way in pulling in the masses. Old Calvinism, on the other hand, has placed less attention to such strategies (maybe because they had less money to allocate to such an expense). In fact, it was quite the opposite for many of the Old Calvinists. The generation of Calvinists that preceded us knows what it feels like to ostracized by friends and family, blackballed by their denominations, and run out of their churches. Although it is now fashionable to wear Jonathan Edwards T-shirts, back in the day it was less than favorable to hold to the theology of Jonathan Edwards. The New Calvinists are considered cool, Old Calvinists were often falsely labeled.   

3.     Beer, Tattoos, and Sex Vs. Ice T, Suits, and Mum’s the Word

If branding the church as being hip and fashionable is important to the New Calvinists, then what is more hip than brashly talking about sex, getting a little ink, and cracking open a bud? Don’t miss understand me, it is not that the Old Calvinists are against sex, tattoos, and drinking beer per se, but like fashion in general, they don’t see the need or value in placing their emphasis upon these things, especially the things that are considered social taboos. If anything, rather than putting a spotlight upon their liberties, for the sake of the weaker brother they are careful not to flaunt their liberties. While the New Calvinists may think that the Old Calvinists are legalists who do not know how to properly contextualize their message, Old Calvinists are concerned that the New Calvinists are more worried about how the secular culture views them than they are in keeping themselves above reproach. If criminals naturally clean up their image by hiding their tattoos and getting a clean shave before they go before the judge, it makes sense that the Old Calvinists are concerned when they see this new generation of Calvinists have little to no regard to the negative impression they may or may not be making. Thus, it is not about tattoos and suits as much as it is about positive and negative impressions of one's moral character.                

4.     Young Vs. Mature

Old and New Calvinists come in all ages, but it appears that the New Calvinism glories in youth rather than placing the lion's share of the honor upon the elders of the church. In many cases, the elderly are often marginalized and their preferences pushed to the side. Everything is aimed at reaching the youth. The New Calvinism seems to boast in their youth and restlessness. Of course, youth has a certain appeal and attraction to it. I know I would rather watch young kids grind their skateboards than watch senior citizens rock in their rocking chairs. The only time we see older people in ads is in the sale of medicine, cans, and Depends. This is because youth, good looks, and vitality sells. We are living in a youth-crazed culture, and the New Calvinists seem to have marketed themselves by utilizing what sells.

5.     A Few Celebrities Vs. a Lot of Unsung Heroes 

The New Calvinism is known for a few mega churches with their well-known celebrity pastors while the Old Calvinism is known by a multitude of smaller churches pastored by unknown pastors. This may be a bit of an overstatement, but it, nevertheless, emphasizes a true concern. Fame and popularity is not sinful, but it definitely has its dangers. It is especially dangerous for those who pursue it. It is easier for those entering into the ministry to glamorize their future and have false expectations. A successful ministry, even among Calvinists, is now marked by large book contracts, conference speaking, and leading a mega church. Yet, it is not the amount of Twitter followers but faithfulness that impresses God. It is a strange time indeed when pastors, especially Calvinistic pastors, are now considered as celebrities. Their books, personalities, and preaching are marketed to the masses. For instance, which celebrity pastor does not have his own para-church organization (or internet site) devoted to promote and propagate his “ministry”? I guess it is not self-promotion when you have a staff that does it for you? It is sad when you hear of a celebrity pastor reminding his staff, “I am the brand.” Of course, the church benefits from their pastor’s popularity. We are naturally drawn to famous people. Why else do mega churches open up satellite campuses? Apparently, a virtual celebrity has more appeal than an unknown in-house minister does. Yet, how does this help prevent the “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos” spirit that is in us all? Do these celebrity pastors really think that they can minster better from a distance than other ministers can in person? Is it biblical to have a Bishop ruling over multiple congregations? Are these pastors seeking to build a kingdom around their own personality and ministry? Are churches willing to prop up a man for the sake of numerical growth? I, for one, find this concerning. It is not that “small” is necessarily better, but it is not safe or wise to create idols among our spiritual leaders. I know that we all desire to be famous, but this is something that we must all resist. It is not easy to decrease. The Old Calvinists know by experience, however, that ministry is more like digging a ditch than walking down the red carpet under the spotlight. Faithfully serving in obscure locations and small congregations is the norm, but somehow the New Calvinism has created a false imagery of the ministry by placing the spotlight upon a few elite preachers, who when they come together are able fill to large stadiums. Sadly, it is not always the most gifted who rise to top, but the ones who have received the most publicity.    

6.     Pragmatic Vs. Consistently Calvinistic

With such emphasis being placed upon branding, which is often masked as contextualization, the New Calvinism seems to place a lot of its energy upon pragmatic church growth strategies. If churches are going to continue to grow and steal members from other congregations, then they need to be more innovative and hip than the new church plant down the road. A church cannot stay stagnant, for it needs to recast itself every few years. Pragmatism and church growth has been a priority for Arminian churches for years, but now it has became more and more of a priority in Calvinistic churches, which I think is somewhat of an oxymoron. Thankfully, not all of the leaders of the New Calvinism are equally given to pragmatic strategies, but the commercialism that seems to identify the New Calvinism, nevertheless, seems somewhat superficial. It is not as if the Old Calvinists do not desire numerical growth, but they seem more content to be patient, realizing that “unless God builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). Biblical success is not found in the number of Twitter follows and the size of the congregation but in faithfulness as a steward of God’s Word.     

7.     Vision Casters Vs. Stewards

Yet, with numerical growth being such an emphasis within New Calvinism, pastors are now called to be “vision casters,” although I am not 100% sure of what that means. I suppose that “casting a vision” is communicating an arbitrary objective, likely involving numerical growth, and then motivating the people to get behind this goal until the objective is reached, and then starting the process again by casting a new vision. I am not sure where this is outlined in Scripture, but surely they wouldn't take Proverbs 11:27 out of context? Rick Warren, a self-claiming Calvinist, abandons Scripture altogether when he talks about the importance of vision casting” (see here). Warren states that if pastors are not successful in growing a church it’s because either their “dreams” or their faith are too small. According to Warren, the pastor first needs to dream big, really big. Second, the pastor needs to have faith in God for the fulfillment of his dream. Yet, is this not the same thing as “name-it-and-claim-it” theology? Where does Scripture promise us a “big” church or the fulfillment of our ministry dreams? Do our dreams create reality? Warren encourages us to dream big and then tells us that our dreams are revelations from God—yeah right! This is presumptuous at best. This is secular and worldly philosophy integrated into the church, and I think it stinks. I guess I would make a poor Pastor of Vision because, although our church is going through a period of growth, I remind the saints at Grace Bible that we may or may not continue to grow. It might be that we decrease in size. I remind them that God is the One in charge of these matters, for it is He who gives the increase. Our responsibility is to remain faithful regardless if we grow or shrink in size. The Lord is not going to judge us by the standards of the world (how large or small our congregation may or may not be), but He will judge us on our faithfulness. Long ago, I had to die to my expectations and “dreams.” Why then are pastors encouraged to dream big and then pump up the people week after week to help them reach their dreams. This sounds a bit narcissistic if you ask me. The goal of the pastor should not be rallying the troops to get behind their dream, but rather should be remaining a faithful steward to the responsibilities that are outlined in Scripture. 

8.     A Stage Vs. a Pulpit

I guess we should not be surprised that the church is looking more and more like a place of entertainment, a theater, when the focus has been turned away from a God-centered approach to a man-centered approach. But I am surprised that Calvinistic churches are following suit. Let us pull down the steeples, take out the old wooden pews, and remove that big, ugly pulpit. Those archaic furnishings do not set the right ambiance. We need a stage, lots of stage lighting, and theater seating. Don't you know that a pulpit gets in the way of the band? Again, as an Old Calvinist, I personally could care less whether a church building has a steeple or not. I would prefer to sit in a comfortable chair than in an old wooden pew. Even so, I am concerned that the strategic removal of the pulpit and turning the sanctuary into a theater communicates a major shift in the wrong direction.

9.  Commercialized Vs. Free

With marketing, branding, and celebrity comes big money. Conferences are not cheap. They cost money…especially when food is involved. Thus, it is not as if Old Calvinists do not publish books and are against charging a registration fee for a conference, but things seem to have gotten out of hand. All the Bible conferences I grew up attending, which were a huge blessing, were free. Lodging, food, and preaching were all offered free of charge. Free will offerings (yes I said, “free will”) more than compensated for the expense of the event. God's people are generous. Well, you may say, those conferences didn't have the big names on the schedule. Yes, but many of the scheduled preachers preached just as powerfully and without requiring a five to ten thousand dollar honorarium. I believe preachers should be highly compensated, but many of the big names will not commit to speak until a certain amount of compensation is agreed upon beforehand. But it’s worth it, the big names draw in more people, and more people means more registration fees, and more registration fees means more money. The celebrity should not be exploited, right? Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that money is the motive behind these conferences. I really don’t think it is. I am also deeply thankful for John Piper's personal practice (see here). I am just concerned that Christianity is becoming too commercialized. In the seventies, skateboarding was merely a hobby, but in the eighties the sport become so popular that the top skaters became rock-star celebrities that demanded big money for the use of their image. Skateboarding became commercialized with big money and big industry taking over the direction of the sport. No longer were skaters merely skating for the fun of it but because they were professionals. Popularity is great, but it comes with a price. You may disagree with me, but I hope you will at least agree that we need to be careful here.

Conclusion

I would suppose that some would argue that the difference between the New and the Old Calvinism is the different emphasis placed upon contextualization, being “missional,” and engaging the culture. This certainly has some truth to it, but in seeking to become more contextualized and culturally engaging, it appears that the New Calvinism has become more popular, commercialized, and pragmatic along the way. As I stated in my introduction, it is not easy to clearly differentiate between the New and the Old Calvinism. Not everyone who claims to be a New Calvinist would nicely fit into the picture I have painted, and I know I also highlighted the more concerning elements while passing by many of the positive elements of the New Calvinism. I would remind you before I close, that I truly am thankful for the New Calvinism. Yet, as long as these concerns exist, I remain happy to call myself an Old Calvinist. Why don’t you join me?