Sadly, all the violence around us and in our world no longer shocks us. But that is not to deny that the current violence is evil and leaves behind a sea of suffering and grief. In this midst of such evil, questions abound as a nation attempts to make sense of these tragedies. Unfortunately, many will be left wanting because their worldviews cannot account for such evil. How can a worldview that has such a high view of man and holds that man is basically good provide answers when man commits such horrific evils?
As Christians, when we face such evil and grief and suffering, we must face it with several biblical assumptions. (1) There is such a thing as evil. (2) Because of Adam’s sin, we are all born sinful and capable of great evil. (3) God is absolutely sovereign. (4) God is always good, no matter how bad things seem. (5) God Himself has addressed evil and sin at the cross of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:14-18). With such a biblical foundation, we can face evil and suffering and grief with hope. What might grief look like from a Christian perspective? Let’s look at just one example from Psalm 6.
In Psalm 6, David has fallen into deep depression for some reason that is not immediately apparent to us. Perhaps David’s depression is a direct result of a personal sin; perhaps it is a result of his adversaries (6:8, 10). Whatever the source of David’s dismay, we hear him cry out to God in utter desperation.
First we hear the cry for mercy and grace. He pleads with God to withhold His wrath. God’s wrath is what all sin deserves. If David had sinned, He is asking God to be merciful to him in judging sin. If David had not sinned, then he is merely pleading with God because his suffering seems unbearable. His suffering is such that he feels he is “pining away” (6:2) and wonders how long it will be before God delivers him (6:3).
It is at this point that we hear David’s second cry: the cry for deliverance. David is at a point where he no longer senses God’s presence, so he asks God to “return” so that He would rescue him. David knows he does not deserve such salvation, but he knows that God is a covenant God, so he pleads for salvation based on God’s promise to love His covenant people; this is the lovingkindness of God (6:4).
Next we hear David’s cry of grief. His suffering is so great that he is weary of weeping; he has shed so many tears that his bed is ready to float away (6:6); David is so overwhelmed by suffering that his physical strength has left him (6:7). If you have ever been in such a state of depression then you know what David experienced. You know how difficult it is to get out of bed because you do not have enough strength. You have cried to the point where you think you have no more tears left inside of you, and you wonder if there is anyone to hear your cries; is there anyone who can come to your rescue?
The good news is that there is. David understood this, so he offered a final cry of assurance. He recognized that just like every other time in the past that this time also, the Lord heard his weeping; the Lord heard his prayer. He had confidence that the Lord would answer his prayers (6:8-9) and would make all things right (6:10). Friends, do you have such assurance? Do you have such confidence? You can if you turn to the God who is our ever-present help in time of trouble. God works all His children’s circumstances and sufferings for His ultimate glory and our complete joy and eternal good (Romans 8:28). In the midst of tragedy and grief and suffering put your hope in God!
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry!”
(1 Corinthians 10:14, ESV)
In a city full of temples for false gods (Poseidon, Aphrodite, Asklepios, Apollo, Demeter, Kore . . .), the apostle Paul warned the Corinthians to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). Paul’s heart was to present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28-29), so in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to run in such a way as to win the prize! The Corinthian Christians found themselves at a crossroads – whether to continue in Christ or be swept away by their idolatry just as had happened to Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-5). Paul urged them to press on!
Now, we may not have temples to such gods in our cities, but rest assured that we have created manageable deities that function similarly; therefore, we require the same warnings today. In such a context the Bible’s message is clear: Those who crave sin, that is idolaters, will not enter into the kingdom of God. This is a consistent warning from the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). It is because of such sinful cravings that the wrath of God is coming (Eph. 5:6).
This is the example (type) unbelieving Israel leaves for us (1 Cor. 10:6-11). Unbelieving Israel loved self and pleasure and craved sin (Ex. 32-Golden Calf; Num. 25-Baal of Peor; Num. 21-craving food and water; Num. 11-craving food and grumbling) more than they craved God – this is idolatry!
This is the danger in which the Corinthians found themselves (1 Cor. 6:9-10). If the Corinthians persisted in craving sin, which is idolatry, then like Israel before them, they too would be disqualified from entering God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 10:5). Paul’s basic argument is that you cannot participate in Christ (represented by the celebratory meal-Lord’s Supper) and at the same time participate in demons (represented by the celebratory meal in the temples) (1 Cor. 10:14-22). The sad truth is that we face the same danger today in our culture (Matt. 6:24), though not with physical idols. Our temptation is with idols of the heart. The evidence of our idolatry is in the sacrifices we make to our substitute gods: marriage, children (born and unborn), health, work, play, money, possessions, power, popularity, etc.
If this is the case (that we are prone to idolatry of the heart), then what can we do? What must we do? Paul points us in two directions. First, Paul warns that we should take heed lest while we think we have stood, we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). In other words, we should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). I suggest we begin with examining ourselves in order to identify and expose our idols. Secondly, we are to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7, 14).
In next week’s Straight to the Heart, I will define idolatry in order that we may identify and expose our idols by asking certain questions of ourselves. Then the following week I will address the issue of fleeing idols. In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do three things:
- Listen to Tim Keller’s address at The 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference where he addresses the issue of idolatry – “The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and idolatry: available at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/video/The-Grand-Demythologizer-The-Gospel-and-Idolatry.
- Read David Clarkson’s sermon titled, “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men from Heaven,” available at http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/david-clarkson-soul-idolatry-excludes-men-out-of-heaven/
- Read Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together” (Acts 20:7, ESV).
Well, Easter Sunday is over, now what? Many evangelical churches invested a lot of time, money, and resources to make Easter Sunday a special time for visitors, but what happens the Sunday after Easter? While Easter Sunday is usually the Sunday of highest attendance for a church, the Sunday after Easter is usually the very opposite. But if we really understand who Jesus is and what the resurrection means, then the Sunday after Easter should be no different than Easter Sunday or any other Sunday of the year. In fact, I would argue that for the Christian, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.
The reason I say that every Sunday is Easter Sunday is because from its beginnings the church gathered on the first day of the week, Sunday, to remember Jesus’ resurrection. Consider the historical record as laid out by Richard Bauckham (see R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250). Bauckham’s arguments are carefully made and humbly presented. At the risk of oversimplification, I want to summarize them in three points:
- The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240). Early church history attests to this fact as well (see Didache, Justin Martyr’s, First Apology, chapter 67).
- By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (Revelation 1:10; see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232).
- By the middle of the second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).
From such evidence, I have come to the conclusion that the Lord’s Day is the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship because it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, every Sunday the church gathers, it remembers and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, for Christians who understand who Jesus is and what the resurrection means, every Sunday is Easter Sunday! That means that we should gather again this Sunday to remember and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
So join us (or another gospel church near you) this Sunday again as we confess together that Jesus Christ is risen and has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth. Join us as we humbly submit to His authoritative Word. Join us as we take the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. Join us as we encourage one another with the good news that Jesus is alive and present with us until He comes again.
Then join us on the mission to tell others that Jesus is alive, for He is risen. Join us as together we await Jesus’ return to consummate the kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace that He promised. Join us this Sunday, this Lord’s Day, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection once again!
“And these words that I command you today . . . You shall teach them diligently to your children . . .”
(Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, ESV).
In our study of Proverbs, we have been continually reminded to instill the truths of God’s Word in the hearts and minds of our children. This initial instruction is the foundation upon which we will appeal to our children as they grow in physical, emotional, and spiritual maturity. On behalf of the pastors at High Pointe, I want to offer a brief list of some reading materials that parents may find helpful. You should work through these materials to make sure they are biblically sound as they lay out particular doctrines and that they will be of benefit to your particular child(ren). Don’t just take my word for it, be a discerning reader!
One thing for sure, you should be reading Scripture with your family on a regular basis, and you can enhance your family Scripture reading with helpful devotional material. Beware of children’s material that merely promotes moralism. I prefer books that help explain the storyline of Scripture (biblical theology) and present a BIG God! Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas J. Köstenberger
2. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William P. Farley
3. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
4. Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp
5. Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul Tripp
6. Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
7. Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More by Alex Chediak
Devotional Resources for Use with Younger Children
1. Catechism for Boys and Girls (available at our information table)
2. Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland
3. The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos
4. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm and Gail Schoonmaker
*High Pointe pastors highly recommend this resource for use with younger children.
5. The Big Picture Family Devotional by David Helm
6. Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotionals to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski
7. Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotionals to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski
8. Window on the World: When We Pray God Works by Daphne Spraggett and Jill Johnstone
Devotional Resources for Use Older Children
1. Grandpa’s Box: Retelling the Biblical Story of Redemption by Starr Meade
2. Give them Truth: Teaching Eternal Truths to Young Minds by Starr Meade
*Starr Meade has many helpful resources, including “God’s Mighty Acts” series.
Resources for Use with Pre-Teens/Teenagers
1. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
2. Bible Study: A Student’s Guide by Jon Nielson
3. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson
4. Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is) or Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
5. Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C.J. Mahaney
6. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung
7. Am I Really A Christian by Mike McKinley
9. Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew Mitchell
Moms and dads read Scripture with your children regularly and supplement Bible reading with the catechism and devotional reading. This list of resources is in no way exhaustive, but it lists some of the most helpful resources High Pointe pastors recommend. So, for example, we highly recommend David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible for use with younger children. It helpfully explains the stories of the Bible with a view to how Christ is revealed from Genesis to Revelation. Likewise, Starr Meade has written much helpful material that our family has personally used with great benefit.
Each family must find a time, a place, and a plan that works best for them. I pray that these resources may be of as great a benefit to you and your family, as they have been to ours, as you seek to raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you,
but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 7:35, ESV)
Let’s face it; singleness is hard! Singleness in our present cultural climate is really hard! While the 1960s led to free sex, where sex outside of marriage became the norm, today there is great cultural pressure to redefine sexuality, gender, and marriage. Christian singles today must navigate this sea of cultural confusion, and they will be tested as to what they believe. In fact, the church itself will be tested as to what it believes about sexuality, gender, and marriage.
However, it does not get any easier for those singles who remain committed to what the Bible teaches regarding sexuality, gender, and marriage. No! For them, they still have to consider all the difficulties and temptations of being single in a sex-crazed, culturally-confused world. So, just what does the Bible teach about being Christian and single? Here are six truths the Bible affirms about singleness.
1. To be single is to be celibate (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Celibacy is practicing self-control in order to abstain from satisfying sexual desire. Evidently, in Corinth there were some who were married who were practicing such self-control for religious reasons. The apostle Paul argues that celibacy within marriage is contrary to God’s design for sexuality (7:1-5). In fact, marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied. Sexual desire is good; it is a part of our humanity. But sex may only be enjoyed within a life-long covenant marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-25).
Therefore, when the Bible speaks of Christians who are single, it does not merely refer to someone who is not married. To the world, singles are simply those who are not yet married. One of the reasons singles are putting off marriage today is because sex and marriage have been separated. Therefore, singles may enjoy the benefits of marriage, namely satisfying sexual desire (men) and companionship (women), without any of its responsibilities (commitment). But according to Scripture, since marriage is the only place where sexual desire is to be satisfied (cf. 7:5, 9), then to be single is to be celibate. Having been married now almost 25 years, I can only imagine how hard it is in today’s world for singles to remain celibate. Yet, God does not abandon us to pursue holiness in our own strength.
2. Singleness is a gift of grace from God (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). If singles are to persevere in purity and holiness, then they will need to recognize that celibacy/singleness is a gift of God’s grace. In fact, Paul uses the same word for gift (charisma) that he uses of such spiritual gifts as prophecy, miracles, and tongues. Additionally, Paul reminds us that, like all other spiritual gifts, celibacy is a gift of grace given by God.
Because celibacy/singleness is a gift of grace given by God to certain individuals, then it’s a good gift (cf. 7:38). That means that those of us who are married cannot look down on singles and feel sorry for them, as if somehow they are incomplete. It also means that singles must recognize their season of singleness as a good thing, a good gift, and give thanks to God.
If celibacy/singleness is a good gift from God, then that also means that biblical manhood and womanhood do not depend on being married. In other words, marriage does not make one a true biblical man or woman. Singles, you are to pursue biblical manhood and womanhood as men and women. The clearest picture of biblical manhood we have is that of our Lord Jesus Christ who was never married. So singles are not second class Christians; however, nor are they more spiritual for being single. After all, not everyone has this gift (7:7).
3. Singleness is also a calling that requires a fight of faith (1 Corinthians 7:17-27). Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that because singleness is a gift of God’s grace, then that means that sexual desire is removed, and it is easy to remain celibate. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, there may be (rare) individuals who may offer such a testimony, but I suspect that the common experience of every human being is the natural longing for sexual desires to be satisfied.
Celibacy/singleness is not only a gift; it is a calling. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 7:17. The “theme” of 1 Corinthians 7 is “remain as you are.” Paul urges the Corinthians to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). That includes celibacy. Yet, as we’ve already admitted, celibate singleness is NOT easy; it is hard. It is hard precisely because sexual desire is natural, and celibacy is a call to practice self-control and not satisfy those desires.
Celibacy/singleness, then, is a call to remain unmarried and pursue godliness and sexual purity while unmarried. It is a call that requires a fight of faith to believe that celibacy is a good gift, and that Christ is sufficiently satisfying for every need. It is a fight of faith to believe that sexual desire is only to be satisfied within a life-long marital covenant, and therefore, sexual desire is not to be satisfied alone (self-satisfaction) or with anyone else. And that fight does not have to be entered into alone. So singles, don’t fight alone, gather with the church-older/younger; married/single; those like you/those not like you.
But also know that it is not wrong to pursue marriage. That is much better than to burn with passion and fall into temptation and sin (7:9). Yet, don’t make marriage an idol. If a relationship or marriage becomes an idol, then you will willingly sacrifice all (your purity, convictions, etc.) at its altar. If you are dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are single, you will likely be dissatisfied, cynical, and bitter while you are married.
4. Singleness has certain advantages (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Being single has certain advantages over being married. Singles have certain freedoms with their finances. They can invest more freely; they can reduce debt more aggressively; they can give more sacrificially. Singles also have certain freedoms with their time. They don’t have to go directly home to a spouse or children; they can freely choose where to invest their time. Singles also have certain freedoms with their plans. They can be flexible about future plans, where marrieds cannot.
There is much freedom and flexibility during singleness that is not available to those who are married. So singles, consider how you are spending your time, your money. Consider the flexibility of your plans. What are you doing with those freedoms? Utilize those freedoms and flexibility to the glory of God.
5. Singleness is purposeful (1 Corinthians 7:35). The freedoms and flexibility of singleness do not exist for personal convenience and benefit, though they may be real blessings. Paul reminds us that the real reason for the advantages of singleness is to secure undivided devotion to the Lord. And if spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church (cf. 12:7), then clearly, the gift of singleness is granted by God to certain individuals for the sake of the Lord and the good of the church.
So singles, ask yourselves how you can serve Christ. Ask yourselves how you can serve the church. I am sure there are multiple opportunities to serve where you are right now. But also remember that with your flexibility, be willing to change your plans and spend some time on the mission field for a few weeks, months, or even years. Who knows but that you may meet your spouse as you pursue Christ in undivided devotion.
6. Like earthly marriage, singleness is temporary. Though Paul does not address this directly in 1 Corinthians 7, he does point us to this truth in Ephesians 5:32. There he says that the profound mystery of the first marriage (cf. Genesis 2:18-25) refers to Christ and his church. In other words, the first marriage was always meant to point to the last marriage (Revelation 19). It is no surprise, then, that the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. The first marriage ends in death (1 Corinthians 7:39); the last marriage is eternal.
But what’s important for singles to remember is that, while earthly marriage pictures the gospel by showing Christ’s love for his church and the church’s love for Christ, singles picture the gospel by showing the church patiently awaiting her bridegroom to come for her. Jesus is the bridegroom who came to earth, and died to pay the price for the adultery of his bride. He was raised on the third day and is now exalted to the Father’s right hand where he intercedes for his awaiting bride. He is now cleaning us up and preparing us for that great wedding day when we will wear that spotless white wedding dress. And that means that all can come to him and find forgiveness and cleansing, no matter how unscrupulous their past. Jesus receives all who disregard all other lovers and give themselves to him alone.
I thank God for singles, for they remind us of our always faithful bridegroom, and they show us how to wait patiently precisely because Jesus is all-satisfying. You see, singleness is a gift from God with a purpose. Singles, what will you do with that gift?
Resource: @high_pointe sermon media
Singleness: Freedom from Anxiety for Undivided Devotion to the Lord
1 Corinthians 7:1-35
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together. . .”
(Acts 20:7, ESV)
Having argued that the Lord’s day (Sunday) is the day chosen by the early church for distinctly Christian corporate worship, how should we approach the Lord’s Day as 21st Century believers? I want to offer four simple exhortations that will help us as we consider gathering together each Lord’s Day.
SET ASIDE the Lord’s day for distinctly Christian worship gatherings! If you are free and able, you should gather with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day (Sunday). If you are free and able, then set aside the entire day for Christian worship. I say this not as a command (It wasn’t REQUIRED until Constantine), but for concern for your welfare. Use this day to gather with God’s people both formally as we assemble together and informally to eat meals together, pray together, read together, sing together. When you set aside the Lord’s Day and don’t let other things crowd out your schedule, you will find that this day will become much more meaningful as you share it with the brethren. If you are not a faithful part of a local assembly, then commit yourself to a gospel-driven, Christ-exalting church.
PREPARE yourself for gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s day – on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning. Too many times we come to the Christian assembly consumed by the cares of this world. Also, we often arrive distracted by tiredness due to the activities we choose to participate in the previous evening. Consider using Saturday evenings to prepare your hearts and minds for the Lord’s day gathering. Consider the texts that will be preached on Sunday. At High Pointe, we offer meditation passages related to the preaching texts via our weekly email. Read through these passages on Saturday night; share them with your family. And be sure to get a good nights rest.
When you arrive to assemble greet the brethren, then consider the passages that will be read publicly. At High Pointe, they are written in the bulletin for your convenience. Finally, when you hear the pre-praise music begin, join in as we sing praises to our Lord and prepare your minds and hearts for what is about to happen.
DECLARE the Lordship of Christ with God’s people as you gather on the Lord’s day!
1. SING – In singing, we are jointly declaring the Lordship of Christ over all things. Declare with your lips that Jesus is Lord and worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise!
2. PRAY – In praying, we jointly declare our dependence upon Jesus, the Lord who provides for the needs of His people. Therefore, cast all your anxieties upon the Lord.
3. GIVE – In giving, we are declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all our wealth and possessions. Since Jesus is the sovereign Lord who provides everything we need, He is the Lord of everything we have.
4. READ/LISTEN TO THE WORD – In preaching the Word, we are declaring the Lordship of Christ and urging those who do not presently submit to Jesus’ Lordship to repent, bow down or be consumed in His wrath. Be careful how we listen; pray for the preacher; obey the Word!
In all things REST in Christ! Do not rest in what you do: i.e., Lord’s day attendance/participation, membership, giving, etc. Rest in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together” (Acts 20:7, ESV).
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. It may be a while before I post again. However, in light of substantial discussion within certain Christian circles, I’ve decided to write a brief series of posts. Specifically, I have had to answer questions regarding some Christians who have become convinced that they should observe the old covenant legal requirements, particularly, forsaking assembling on the Lord’s Day in order to “keep the Sabbath” and gather with a small group or even just their family on Saturdays.
Now, I want to be careful here. Admittedly, the role of the Christian and the Law is one of the more difficult theological issues facing us today. In fact, this is not a new problem; the early Jerusalem church made up of mostly Jewish Christians had to answer the same question when Gentiles began to be converted (see Acts 15).
To be fair, some who profess faith in Christ and trust in Christ (and His work) alone for their justification may enjoy learning about the Passover. Other such Christians may want to restrict their diet and abstain from various foods, say pork. So long as these Christians understand that we can do nothing to gain God’s favor (justification) except to trust in Christ and his saving work on our behalf, we are free concerning diets, days, and personal convictions (cf. Romans 14; Colossians 2).
HOWEVER, the moment someone believes that they MUST observe old covenant regulations such as dietary restrictions (pork) and Sabbaths and feast days, then they condemn themselves. They place themselves under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14).
Sadly, I am hearing of more and more professing Christians who have fallen prey to false, or at the very least confused, teachers who demand that in order to be faithful, Christians must return to the old covenant and keep Sabbath (meet on Saturday), observe dietary restrictions, and celebrate the festivals. Sadly, such professing Christians isolate themselves from the body of Christ because they refuse to meet with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Some, in fact, go as far as to condemn new covenant Christians for meeting on the Lord’s Day. Without realizing it, such professing Christians have fallen for what theologians have called the Galatian heresy (read all of Galatians).
Allow me in what remains of this post to address the question of the day for distinctly Christian worship.
Why is Sunday the traditional gathering day for Christians?
If Christians are no longer under the old covenant/Law, then, we are free from the Mosaic covenant and its sign: the Sabbath. Yet, being free from the Law raises several questions: If Christians are no longer required to keep/observe the Sabbath (Saturday), then . . . (1) Did the early Christians gather at all? (2) If they did gather, then when did they gather: i.e., what day and why that day? (3) What was the purpose of early Christian gatherings? (4) Why should we gather as a church in the 21st century?
After thinking through these questions more carefully, I have come to the following conclusion: the Lord’s Day is, and has been, the gathering day for distinctly Christian worship. The early Jerusalem (mostly Jewish) church observed the Sabbath at first but also gathered on the Lord’s Day/first day of the week for distinctly Christian worship (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7). The fact that the early church observed both means they did not see Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. Sabbath observance for the early Jewish Christians is understandable, but why meet also on the Lord’s Day? Richard Bauckham provides some helpful insight to these questions, making the argument that the Lord’s Day (first day of the week/Sunday) was the distinctly Christian gathering day (see R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250). Bauckham’s arguments are carefully made and humbly presented. At the risk of oversimplification, I want to summarize them in three points:
1. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240). Early church history attests to this fact as well (see Didache, Justin Martyr’s, First Apology, “Christian Worship,” chapter 67).
2. By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232). In fact, the apostle John can say that he was “caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” without having to provide any further explanation (Revelation 1:10).
3. By the middle of second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).
Some summary implications regarding the Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship gatherings:
1. To those who say “it just doesn’t matter what day we gather,” we’ve already seen above the pattern which begins in the New Testament (Acts 20; Revelation 1) and is attested to early in the history of the church – the Lord’s Day was the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship.
2. To those who insist that everyone keep the Sabbath (meet on Saturday), the apostle Paul reminds us that because of what God has done for us in Christ, we are no longer under the copies and shadows of the old covenant. The old covenant pointed forward to the time when Christ would come. In His life, death, and resurrection Christ has now fulfilled the old covenant; therefore, let no one pass judgment on you, saying that Christians must meet on the Sabbath (Saturday) or abstain from pork or celebrate the Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16-23).
3. To those who apply Sabbath language to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and suggest that new covenant Christians must keep the “Christian” Sabbath, I would remind you that the apostle Paul gives room to differ on such personal convictions regarding days; nevertheless, if that is your conviction, you must be true to it (sabbatarian or not). Since Paul places such observance of days under the category of personal conviction (see Romans 14:5-9), he also reminds us that we are not to pass judgment on one another on such matters (see Romans 14:10-23). Instead, we are to love one another and not pass judgment (Romans 14:1-13).
However, we cannot confuse the category of personal conviction with foundational doctrines such as justification. It is our duty to warn those we love that no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:2:15-3:14). Instead, we are all to look to Christ and embrace all He has done on our behalf.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV)
If you have ever been a part of any church for any amount of time, then chances are you have witnessed conflict, perhaps even major conflict. This is a sad reality of life and ministry. You would think that a church full of professing Christians would be able to avoid divisions, but the truth of the matter is they don’t. Why is that?
Why are so many churches marked by conflict and animosity? The Corinthian church situation allows us to look into a divided church full of corporate and personal conflicts. There are several facts that may help us to see why conflict arises in churches.
First, divisions arose because of spiritual immaturity (3:1-4:21). Those who were immature placed their favorite “preacher” above the others. Instead, Paul reminded them that they should not boast in men, but in God (3:18-23). After all, ministers are God’s servants (4:1-21).
Second, divisions arose because of spiritual apathy. They simply refused to address sin in the congregation. Whether it was the case of incest (5:1-13), the personal conflicts and unforgiveness (6:1-11), or the sexual immorality (6:12-20), Paul knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Since we are called to be holy, we must address sin in our midst.
Third, and primarily, divisions arose because of spiritual arrogance. This pride raised its ugly head in doctrinal matters. Some of their beliefs led to marital conflicts (7:1-40); others simply looked down at the younger believers (8:1-11:1). Yet others showed spiritual elitism because they were wealthy. The most arrogant, however, were the ones who thought they were really spiritual because of their spiritual gifts. Regardless, though, the root of all conflict is sin. As James reminds us, we have conflict because we think only of ourselves (James 4:1-4). So then, what is the solution?
Christians are united by the foolish message of Jesus Christ crucified as revealed by the Holy Spirit: For this world, the message of the cross is foolishness (1:18-25), “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). This gospel message reminds us that we were nothing when God called us to salvation; therefore, we cannot boast in self (1:26-31).
This gospel message comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in flashy or impressive speech so that our faith would rest in God, not preachers (2:1-5). Of course, the natural (unbelieving) person does not accept these things (2:14-16) because they are revealed by the Holy Spirit (2:6-13). But those whom God calls and sanctifies (makes holy), Christ sustains until the end (1:2, 8). So when Christ changes a life, what should it look like?
Christians who are united by the gospel should be marked by love: when we are marked by love (for God and others), then we will be of one mind. As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, I ask you Christian—are you marked by love? Love is, after all, the mark of the Christian.
Sermon Resource: The Mark of the Christian (Matthew 22:34-40)
Book Resource: The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer
“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
(1 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV).
As Americans, we spend lots of money, time and energy trying to either get fit or stay fit. While being or getting physically fit is important and may even be God-glorifying (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), the apostle Paul reminds us that it is only of limited value. Training for spiritual fitness, however, is of eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore, argues Paul, we are to train ourselves for godliness because it is of value for this life and the life to come. But what does it mean to train for godliness? Let’s follow Paul’s argument.
Note the command and Paul’s argument. Stated negatively, Paul warns against having anything to do with irreverent (godless) babble and silly myths. Positively, Paul commands that we train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). To train for godliness, then, seems to be the opposite of giving oneself over to the false knowledge that comes from false teaching. It is giving oneself over to “the words of the faith” (i.e., the gospel), and the good doctrine that flows out of that gospel (1 Timothy 4:6). In other words, to train for godliness is to train oneself in the true knowledge of God that comes from giving oneself over to God’s Word.
At this point some may argue that such training sounds and smells like legalism. But training for godliness is not legalism because this true knowledge of God begins as a gift of grace at salvation, and this true knowledge of God is a gift of grace for sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this knowledge of God and His saving power, we must continue to grow in this knowledge – this is what it means to train in godliness. It is only legalistic if you believe yourself to be gaining God’s favor by your actions. But if we receive God’s gracious Word and take it in by faith, then we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ by His revelation to us. But you may still wonder how to go about such training?
To be sure, the Lord grants us many different means of grace (ordinances, one another, gathering as a church, etc.), but here I want to emphasize the foundational means of grace for our sanctification: God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. Donald Whitney in his book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life calls this Bible intake. God has mercifully not left us in the dark to figure things out. Our Lord Jesus promised to be with us by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit guided certain men to record the Word of God about Christ. That’s what the Bible is: God’s Word about Jesus. If we are to know God, that is, understand who He is (character, attributes) and His ways, then we must take up the gracious gift of God’s Word and read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it read and preached, and even sing it. If we are to understand the Bible itself, we must read it because earlier passages of Scripture shed light on later passages of Scripture and vice versa.
To train in godliness, then, is to train diligently in the knowledge of God in Christ by giving yourself over to the gospel and the doctrines that flow from the gospel – that’s Bible intake (Hos. 4:6)! So, establish a time and a place, then find a plan and begin by faith. It is hard work; after all, Paul calls it training. Taking the Bible in and hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, singing it is merely hearing God and getting to know Him in the manner in which He has graciously revealed Himself to us. Let us train together and grow in spiritual fitness!
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, ESV)
The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.
Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.
What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):
Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.
Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our local churches. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.