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  1. Weak Faith is Still Faith

    September 10, 2014 by Jeff

    I love the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing so much partly because the lyrics of that song seem to come straight out of my own heart, particularly those which confess a weak faith and ask God to ensure that faith remains:

    Let that grace now like a fetter,
    Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.

    If you are weak as I am in this regard let me pass along this beautiful selection from a Puritan who well reminded us that faith in Christ is sure because He is sure, regardless of how our faith weakens from time to time:

    Thomas Watson, an excerpt from “Faith”, from Body of Divinity.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Objection. But I fear I have no faith, it is so weak.

    Ans. If you have faith, though but in its infancy, be not discouraged. For,

    1. A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is fire.

    2. A weak faith may lay hold on a strong Christ; as a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one. She, in the gospel, who but touched Christ, fetched virtue from him.

    3. The promises are not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise does not say, he who has a giant faith, who can believe God’s love through a frown, who can rejoice in affliction, who can work wonders, remove mountains, stop the mouth of lions, shall be saved, but whosoever believes, be his faith ever so small. A reed is but weak, especially when it is bruised; yet a promise is made to it. “A bruised reed will he not break.” (Matt. 12:20)….

    The weakest believer is a member of Christ as well as the strongest; and the weakest member of the body mystic shall not perish. Christ will cut off rotten members, but not weak members. Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged. God, who would have us receive them that are weak in faith, will not himself refuse them, Rom. 14:1.

  2. How Death Serves Christians

    July 14, 2014 by Jeff

    This material was originally planned as part of  my sermon on Death and the Intermediate State (part 1 of our After Life series) but had to be cut for the sake of time 1.

    It is too good to leave on the chopping floor though (I’m afraid Berkhoff isn’t the most widely read Systematic Theologian).  Read and, if you are a believer, rejoice!  If, on the other hand, you are not a believer isn’t this good reason to place your trust in Christ today?

    While death in itself remains a real natural evil for the children of God, something unnatural, which is dreaded by them as such, it is made subservient in the economy of grace to their spiritual advancement and to the best interests of the Kingdom of God. The very thought of death, bereavements through death, the feeling that sicknesses and sufferings are harbingers of death, and the consciousness of the approach of death, — all have a very beneficial effect on the people of God. They serve to humble the proud, to mortify carnality, to check worldliness and to foster spiritual-mindedness. In the mystical union with their Lord believers are made to share the experiences of Christ. Just as He entered upon His glory by the pathway of sufferings and death, they too can enter upon their eternal reward only through sanctification. Death is often the supreme test of the strength of the faith that is in them, and frequently calls forth striking manifestations of the consciousness of victory in the very hour of seeming defeat, I Pet. 4:12,13. It completes the sanctification of the souls of believers, so that they become at once “the spirits of just men made perfect,” Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21:27. Death is not the end for believers, but the beginning of a perfect life. They enter death with the assurance that its sting has been removed, I Cor. 15:55, and that it is for them the gateway of heaven. They fall asleep in Jesus, II Thess. 1:7, and know that even their bodies will at last be snatched out of the power of death, to be forever with the Lord, Rom. 8:11; I Thess. 4:16,17. Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And Paul had the blessed consciousness that for him to live was Christ, and to die was gain. Hence he could also speak in jubilant notes at the end of his career: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved His appearing,” II Tim. 4:7,8. – Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology


    1. I know what you are thinking: “As if you cut anything out of your sermons!”  Really, I do… promise.

  3. Evaluating a Sermon

    February 26, 2014 by Jeff

    One of the things I want to remain committed to throughout my life is becoming a better preacher.  Furthermore, my church has been blessed with a number of young men whom God has called into vocational ministry.

    Toward the twin aims of helping those at my church growing in their skills as preachers and my own improvement I created a sermon evaluation form.  I’m posting it here for the use of others with a similar desire.

    I hope it’s profitable for you.  One request: if you use it would you please let me know by leaving a brief comment?  I would be interested to know how (if?) it is being used outside of our church.

    Midway Baptist Church: Sermon Evaluation Form (Right-Click and select “Save link as…” to download PDF)

  4. What Is Paul Saying in 1 Timothy 2:9-15?

    December 13, 2013 by Jeff

    Assuming the good Lord wills it I will be preaching from 1 Timothy 2:9-15 this coming Sunday at Midway Baptist Church.  As a bit of a teaser for the message I thought I would share a paraphrase of the passage I wrote.

    And now to put women in their place: enough with all the money being wasted on clothes and such!  Can’t they be content with being beautiful in a way that doesn’t cost anything instead of spending so much time and money on their hair and on jewelry?  Rather than spending all that time on shopping and spending and getting ready let them actually do something good for a change.  As a matter of fact, that’s just what God wants!  And can they please stop with all the chattering?  I’ll tell you this, I don’t put up with a woman who gets out of line; I make them submit – make them sit there quietly and listen.  God knew what He was doing when He put Adam first.  You remember, don’t you, that it was a woman who got us in to this mess in the first place?  If only a man had been around when that snake got to talking… Anyway, remind them that their only hope is doing what they were built to do – make babies (if, you know, they also stay in line while they do it).

    If you want to find out how I use the  paraphrase you’ll have to listen to the sermon.  Come see us!  Corporate Worship begins at 10:45am. 1


    1. Alright, alright… I realize some of you live too far away or are members of another church so coming won’t be possible.  I’ll update, assuming I can remember and that you care enough to return and read/listen, with a link to the manuscript and sermon audio here once they are available.

  5. Exposition of Micah 6:8

    September 29, 2010 by Jeff

    Micah as a book belongs to the Biblical category “Minor Prophets” but this category shouldn’t lead us to minimize the significance of this prophet’s message. Micah’s ministry covered the reign of three Judean Kings (at least) – Jothan (750 – 735 B.C.), Ahaz (735 – 15), and Hezekiah (715 – 687) – and his words were felt so strongly in the halls of power that in Jeremiah’s day people were still commenting on the influence of Micah’s words on king Hezekiah (Jer. 26:18). If you aren’t familiar with the timeline of the Kings of Israel and Judah it might help you to know that Micah was active at roughly the same time in the eighth century as Hosea and Isaiah.

    The book of Micah is an interesting book, one that is not perhaps as familiar to us as other books in the Old Testament canon. If that is the case for you I would recommend taking one of our commentaries out of the library and spending some time in this small book. Micah is only seven chapters and can be read easily in one sitting. Some of the interesting features of the book:

    • This prophet apparently took his message to the people of God while naked (1:8) and barefoot.
    • The book contains some of the most well known verses in the entire Bible –
    1. Micah 4:3 – The United Nations building features a statue famous across the world that bears this verse as its inscription. The same verse has been quoted in song by Michael Jackson (Heal the World) and the finale to the famous musical production Les Miserables
    2. 5:2- This verse is read every Christmas (the wise men coming to Herod) and represents a clear case of predictive prophecy as Micah accurately predicted that Jesus would be born in Behtlehem.
    3. 6:8 – As we will soon see, this verse has been called the perfect summation of Old Testament religion.
    • In the theme of predictive prophecy, Micah also accurately predicted both the Babylonian exile and return approximately a century before Babylon even became a world power (4:10)

    As you can see, this Minor Prophet is minor only in the length of his book.

    Micah’s work as a prophet of God was a calling to a people who had grown corrupt in their prosperity and soon to suffer the consequences of their immorality.

    In this book God brings charges against His people of unfaithfulness to the covenant He had made with the nation. Where God has been faithful (6:1-5) His people have responded to His faithfulness with outward religiosity that conceals inner moral corruption. The problems in Micah’s day the wealthy were oppressing the poor, merchants were cheating customers through dishonest weights and measures (6:11), the religious leaders were selling their services, and the rulers of the people were selling legal judgments for bribes. Yet apparently this people assumed that as long as they kept up temple worship the Lord would continue to bless. Micah is commissioned to declare just how wrong this assumption was.

    Remember that I told you our text is considered the highwater mark of Old Testament Theology? Our own government has drawn on the same verse as the perfect expression of religion:

    “Off of the grand reading room of the Library of Congress, one of the really beautiful buildings in the world, are various alcoves dedicated to the “humanities.” There is one for history, one for music, one for philosophy, one for poetry, etc. And there is one for religion. When the building was being designed, a survey was sent out to leaders of these various “arts” to determine what quotation or legend ought to be written above the door of each of these alcoves. Religious leaders were polled as to the most appropriate text for the religion alcove. Micah 6:8 was chosen as the text that best embodied the spirit of religion.” – unknown author

    The assumption here is that religion’s great value is encouraging morality, encouraging people to promote justice, kindness, and walk humbly with the divine. To understand this passage in Micah that way, as simply promoting moralism, is to badly miss the intention for which God gave this text. Reading this passage in the context of Micah and the rest of the Bible gives us a completely different understanding than the one intended by the architects of the Library of Congress.


    I. The Mercy of God (6:1-5)

    In this passage God formally declares His case against His people, callings the mountains to witness His complaint.

    God, the wronged party, has become wearisome to His people (6:3). And for what? Had he not been a good God to them?

    God recounts the highlights of Israel’s history as a way of summarizing His enduring provision, faithfulness, and care for the nation:

    • He brought them up from Egypt
    • He ransomed them from slavery
    • He had made them a nation (Moses), given them access to His presence and forgiveness for their sins (Aaron), and victory over the most powerful nation (Miriam; read Exodus 15:20-21)
    • He even prospered the nation when Balak hired out one of their own prophets – Baalam – to curse the people.

    II. The Moralism of Man (6:6-7)

    In response to all that God has done how do men respond?

    i. Burnt Offerings – but surely that isn’t enough

    ii. Burnt Offerings of Year-Old Calves – Valuable sacrifices aren’t even enough

    iii. A Thousand Rams – Only a king could pay this kind of fee

    iv. Ten Thousand Rivers of Olive Oil – There literally isn’t enough olive oil in the world to cover this

    v. First Born Child – We’re reaching the height of value here.

    Do you see that the default religion of man as a race is works righteousness? The basic response of man to the divine is to ask “What must I do to get God’s favor?”

    The people of God here are no different – they think burnt offerings would be a good way to respond to God. If that isn’t enough, how about really choice burnt offerings? Okay, probably not good enough. 1000 rams then, a King’s ransom. No? Would 10000 rivers of sweet oil be enough? Whew. Okay then, the best I can offer – my own child.

    Notice that the people of God are treating the One True God as if He were a common pagan diety. Pagan literature is full of stories where men make sacrifice to appease or garner the favor of the god they worship. You’ve even seen it portrayed on television – “Throw the beautiful woman into the volcano to appease the volcano god.” Human history is full of the same, even Israel’s – in Jeremiah’s day God’s people were sacrificing their children to a false God named Molech (Jeremiah 32:35), an act strictly forbidden (Leviticus 18 and 20). The people of God are here assuming that the Lord God of Israel is no different than the most abominable false gods; you’ve got to do figure out some conjure or offering that will swing His favor to you because otherwise he’s aloof and capricious.

    III. God’s Desire is Really a Matter of the Heart (6:8)

    Take a minute and think through what the people are doing here. They’ve assumed that their God is no different than all the despicable false gods in history.

    And yet all of His dealings with them prove that He is entirely different.

    Did the nation of Israel have anything or do anything to cause God to intervene on their behalf while they were slaves in Egypt? Of course not.

    Did Israel offer some kind of sacrifice that prompted God to wage war on Egypt? How could they – they were slaves and owned nothing of value to man or God.

    Was it some act of religiosity on Israel’s part that swung God to their side when Egypt’s army was pursuing them? It’s ridiculous to even ask; not one Israelite earned the drowning of one Egyptian soldier.

    So why would God do all those things for His people?

    Because He’s loving by nature.

    And gracious.

    And kind.

    And a Father.

    Entirely different from any other so-called god.

    The people of God should have known that then and we should know that now. Our standing before God has never nor will it ever be a matter of what we have or can do. It will for all of eternity be a matter of who God is and what He has done, namely in His son Jesus.

    Look at what Micah 6:8 records:

    God doesn’t desire religiosity and the efforts of man. He wants, instead, people who practice justice, who love kindness, and who walk humbly with Him.

    You see the difference here? For someone to “love” kindness it has to flow from the heart. The same with humility – you can’t be humble by doing religious acts. These characteristics have to flow from within. Yes, there is an outward expression but these characteristics start internally.

    Jesus said much the same thing repeatedly. Two examples:

    Read Matthew 9:10-13 and Mark 12:28-34

    Is it not clear that God is not interested in our outward acts of religiosity but rather desires a heart that loves Him and wants to obey Him?

    Of course, there is a problem there that I’m sure you’ve caught.

    I mean, it sound so simple – so close to us.  “Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God – I can start doing that now.”

    And yet is there anyone, save Jesus Christ, who can claim that their heart is capable of producing these virtues perfectly for even a full minute of their day?  To do so would require a heart that loves God fully?  Is there anyone who can claim that they have loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength?

    Of course not. We are familiar with Romans 3 – there is none good, none who seeks after God, none who does good – not even one.

    So where does that leave us? If God doesn’t desire our religious acts and does desire a heart condition we can’t produce what do we do? The answer is clear: we suffer His wrath.

    But wait a minute – we’ve already discussed that the one exception to the rule that there is none good and His name is Jesus. What if God could somehow work it out so that the good heart of Jesus that really loved God always could actually be put in my account so that when He thinks about me Jesus actually comes in to His mind?

    Do you see why the Gospel is such good news? What we weren’t able to do because of our corrupt heart God provides by looking to Christ who always loves God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jesus is always just, always loves mercy, and always walks humbly with God. That God is satisfied to look to Jesus for those perfections and account them to us is immeasurably gracious and should bring sweet relief to our souls – what God requires of us religiously He provides on our behalf in Jesus.

  6. Revelation: Vision 1 – The Son of Man

    July 8, 2009 by Jeff

    Vision 1: The Son of Man to the Churches
    Part 1
    Revelation 1:9-20

    Elements of the Vision:

    I. The Voice

    A. John identifies himself again to the readers as “your brother and partner”. It would have been well within reason for John to draw attention to his Apostleship (as Paul does in his letters) but John chose to identify himself with his audience.

    1. The aged John joins the church in suffering tribulation – literally “to be squeezed” or “to be in a hard place” – in his exile to Patmos. Phil Newton says tribulation “refers to the opposition, persecution, shunning, and loss experienced by Christians because they are Christians.” John experienced his particular tribulation because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” His declaration of Christ as Lord made him a poltical pariah and the Roman rulers apparently decided it would be more convenient to send him off than make him a martyr.

    Christian faith and suffering go hand in hand; “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12). The religious freedom granted by our country’s Constitution has allowed us to forget this proverb. We need to be reminded from the Word that our experiences are the historical exception, not the rule. I suggest that in our time of peace we should be preparing ourselves for a time when we experience the suffering common to all believers.

    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

    1 Peter 4:12-19

    2. But it isn’t just tribulation which the church receives by placing their faith in Christ. The church also anticipates the kingdom; that one day everything will be set right under the reign of a perfect and ultimately just king – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Christian looks always forward to the fulfillment of Revelation 11:15: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.’”

    3. What links the current experience of Christians in tribulation with the hope of cosmos-wide redemption in Christ’s kingdom? Perseverance or patient endurance. The church carries on, endures, and persists through the sufferings of this present evil age, awaiting the kingdom. We do not see the kingdom yet. Other, lesser kingdoms oppose the church. Yet we persevere, knowing that He who promised if faithful.

    B. John was in the Spirit at the time he received this revelation of Jesus. Most likely the Apostle was consciously aware of a unique activity of the Holy Spirit as he worshipped on the Lord’s day (the regular day of worship, Sunday, commemorating Christ’s resurrection). In this state John heard “a loud voice like a trumpet”. We should note at this point that John’s language in Revelation is metaphoric; what he saw is too wonderful to capture in specific language. Thus we should be careful to not understand the elements of Revelation described by John as precisely literal. For example: the sword coming from Christ’s mouth in vs. 16 most likely doesn’t mean Christ regurgitates a sword when seen in His resurrected state. Rather, we should look to the big picture or the implication of the image. So when John says the voice was like a trumpet we understand that this voice was clear, distinct, and attention-grabbing – just as a trumpet announcing the arrival of royalty cannot be ignored.

    II. The Son of Man

    A. John turns to this voice and sees “seven golden lampstands.” Vs. 20 of this chapter informs us that these seven lampstands “are the seven churches” which will be addressed in chapters 2 and 3.

    B. John’s gaze doesn’t linger long on the lampstands however. His attention is immediately drawn to a figure “in the midst of the Lampstands…like a son of man”. That phrase, “like a son of man”, should draw our attention backwards – all the way to Daniel 7.

    As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

    When we hear the phrase “son of man” connected with Jesus we tend to think “Yes, Jesus was human.” John’s audience – particularly the converted Jews – would have heard the phrase and thought “Messiah”, remembering this passage in Daniel and the similar use of the phrase in the book of Ezekiel.

    We need to be careful here to not become overly entangled in sorting out the origin of each element of John’s description of The Son of Man. Again, John is seeking to convey a big picture – here, glory – and an appropriate response – awe. Still, a number of elements in John’s description appear to be symbolically significant.

    1. The first detail that John gives of this figure is that he was “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.” Many scholars note that this is the same description given in Exodus 28 of the priestly garments given to Aaron. This is appropriate attire for the Great High Priest over the house of God.

    2. John next notes that “the hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.” We already noted that John is drawing off the imagery of Daniel 7. Look back at that passage and ask yourself which character there has white hair? John almost directly quotes Daniel 7’s description of the Ancient of Days. Daniel describes the Ancient of Days, one of the titles for God the Father, as having “hair…like white wool, like snow.” In Daniel’s vision it is God with white hair – signifying wisdom and honor – but in John’s it is Christ. Did John get confused or remember the passage incorrectly? I submit that John intentionally applies imagery reserved for God to Christ in order to communicate the divinity of Christ. This is an example of what we call high Christology in the book of Revelation. John makes no bones about the divinity of Jesus Christ, presenting it right at the beginning of his Apocalypse.

    3. John says also that Christ’s feet “were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.” Apparently the same voice that called John’s attention like a trumpet also crashed on his ears with greater strength than the waves which beat the rocky coast of Patmos.

    4. In Christ’s right hand were “seven stars” which verse 20 tells us are “the angels of the seven churches” addressed in chapters 2 and 3. Christ also produced a sharp two-edged sword” from His mouth. This is the same sword He will use against His enemies in 2:12-16. Every interpretive clue indicates this symbol to point to the might of God’s Word which the book of Hebrews even calls “a double edged sword.” According to Grant Osborne the Greek word describing the sword refers to a long broad sword used by cavalry riders which was used like a scythe. This imagery implies sweeping, unstoppable judgment. It is possible that John has Isaiah 11:1-10, particularly vs. 4 in mind as he writes.

    5. John reaches the pinnacle of his description when he writes that Christ’s countenance “was like the sun shining in full strength.”

    Osborne: “This final picture sums up the others. It recalls Moses when he came down from Sinai and ‘his face was radiant, because he had spoken with Yahweh.’ Also, John had been present at Jesus’ transfiguration when ‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.’ (Matt. 17:2).”

    John’s reaction seems to be the only appropriate response to coming face to face with such a glorious person: the Apostle “fell at his feet as though dead.”

    III. The Message

    A. Christ’s first words to John are self-descriptive. Before speaking, however, Christ lays His right hand on John and commands him to “Fear not.”

    I wonder how many times John had placed His hand on John during Christ’s ministry among the disciples. I wonder if John registered the difference in the hand of Christ from when they walked together in John’s younger days to now, when the same hand holds stars in it.

    Christ’s command to John is literally “stop being afraid”; “Grant Osbourne comments that “There is no need to fear the presence of God when one is serving Him.”

    B. The reason that John should stop being afraid are then delineated, all tied to Christ’s sovereign glory.

    1. “I am the first and the last, and the living one.” – Christ’s description of Him self in this way should remind us of God’s self-designation as the Alpha and Omega from earlier in Revelation.

    Bauckam: “God precedes all things, as their Creator, and he will bring all things to exhatological fulfillment. He is the origin and goal of all history. He has the first word, in creation, and the last word, in new creation.”

    Here the same concept is applied to Christ, reasserting His divinity. Christ’s reference to Himself as the living one ties in to the Old Testament’s concept of “The Living God” (in contrast to false, non-living gods).

    2. “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The next section in Christ’s description of Himself touches on His eternal nature. Osbourne indicates that the phrase “I am alive forevermore” isn’t a reference to the prior statement “I died” (i.e. not a reference to resurrection) but rather a claim to eternal existence (extending both backward and forward). If he is correct this is a paradox brought on by the Incarnation – God, the living One, died – as a human – and yet remains the eternally existent God.

    Christ’s possession of the keys of Death and Hades states His power over these personified forces. In Revelation these terms summarize all the forces of Satanic ungodliness (which show themselves in corrupt spiritual beings – Beasts, Dragons, etc – both on earth and in heaven as well as societal and governmental entities – the prostitute riding the beast, Babylon the Great.

    These are the very forces aligned against the church. From an earth-bound view it might appear that these forces were indeed prevailing against the church. Christ’s appearance shows this perspective to be false. It is He who is in ultimate control of even these opposing forces. Once we realize that Christ holds sway over these most terrifying of enemies we no longer have cause to fear them.

    3. John is next commissioned to “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Some see in this phrase the interpretive outline to the book. According to this system:

    i. “The things you have seen” refers to the vision John received of Christ on Patmos.
    ii. “Those that are” refers to the message to the churches of Asia in chapters 3-4.
    iii. “Those that are to take place after this” refers to the apocalyptic visions that follow the message to the churches and comprise the majority of the book of Revelation.

    This understanding is prevalent and held by many wise and Godly interpreters. Still, I do not embrace this position. One reason, which we will see when we study chapters 3-4, the message to the churches contains elements both current (contemporary controversies in the churches for example) as well as future (warnings of future judgment).

    I think a better understanding of this verse comes from those who see this as indicating a hermeneutic for the study of Revelation. The message of Revelation applies to all ages of church history. The images thus contain themes that belong to the past, present, and future. These themes are held fast in those chronological categories but repeat themselves throughout history and thus the images of Revelation. All of Revelation is about all of history, both in scope and application.

    4. There is an interpretive difficulty in Christ’s explanation of the lampstands and stars. The Lord says that the stars are the “angels of the seven churches.” Some believe this refers to literal angelic beings assigned to the churches. While that makes sense of the term Christ uses it does present its own difficulty. Christ addresses each church in such a way that the congregation is obviously meant to hear and respond. Some interpreters think “angel” is another way of referring to the elder(s) of the congregation. I think this is stronger but again the letters clearly anticipate hearing and action on the part of the whole congregation. I hold to the position that “angel” here is a way of personifying (and thus addressing at the same time) the whole church.

    Christ also explains that the lampstands represent the churches. Do you remember where Christ was when John turned to His voice? Christ was “in the midst of the lampstands.” Applying the explained symbolism we see that Revelation pictures Christ as both in the midst of His church as well as holding it in His hand. What comfort! The Lord of the Church stays nearby to His people. Furthermore, as only symbolic language can capture, they are secure in His hand. Considering the substantial encouragement I take from this passage I can’t imagine what the persecuted churches who received this letter felt when reading this portion. In their trials the Lord stood amongst them and held them at all times in His hands. How wonderfully intimate is our Savior’s love.

  7. Revelation: Introduction

    June 10, 2009 by Jeff

    I. Prologue (1:1-3)

    A. A Revelation of Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ.
    Revelation stands in the stream of Apocalyptic literature and draws heavily on OT Apocalyptics (from the Greek apokalupsis; “unveiling”) like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. Thus the key to interpreting the book of Revelation isn’t the newspaper but rather the OT.

    Revelation depicts in images what linear, propositional statements cannot capture . “There is a need for symbolism because the reality of the scenes revealed and recorded is transcendental in character. Vistas of eternity and infinity cannot be fully described by our human language which is finite and bound by time. ”

    Literal interpretation of the details of the images aren’t intended to be the focus; rather what God is doing in Christ to crush Satan, establish the Kingdom of His Son, and accomplish His purposes is.

    Timeframe: “what must soon take place” (1:1); thus we should not understand John’s vision as a description of things limited to that time immediately before Christ returns.”

    Biblical eschatology understands “the last days” to be inaugurated by Christ’s incarnation. Peter identifies Pentecost – some 2000 years go from our perspective – as “the last days” which the prophet Joel spoke of (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28-32). From the perspective of Scripture (and thus God’s) we are indeed living in “the last days” and have been for at least 2000 years. Thus Revelation – in that it deals with “the last days” concerns the time period between Christ’s Ascension and second coming.

    Rather than reading Revelation as a linear procession of events moving along chronologically we should understand the visions as snapshots of the conflict between the triumphant Christ and His defeated foe Satan. Revelation provides those of us on earth something of a heavenly perspective on continuing history. Thus the scenes will sometimes repeat and overlap one another because the

    B. Blessings on Those Who Read, Hear, and Keep (vs. 3)
    “This is the first of seven “beatitudes,” or “blessings” found in this prophecy…The seven blessings in Revelation are connected to believing and hearing (chapter 1), to being faithful unto death in chapter 14, to being ready for the Lord’s coming (chapter 16), to receiving rest from our labors (chapter 14), to responding to the invitation to the marriage supper (chapter 19), to participating in the first resurrection, (chapter 20), to finally being granted the right to eat from tree of life and enter the new Jerusalem (chapter 22). Therefore, anyone who hears these words of this prophecy and responds in faith to all seven of these promised blessings of God, will have the reward of eternal life and victory over death, rest from our labors, and will dwell in the city of God.” – Kim Riddlebarger

    Many people are overly intimidated by the book of Revelation and as a result don’t study. They believe that one has to be able to point to current events in the Middle East as fulfillment of the book in order to really understand Revelation. However, the earliest recipients wouldn’t have access to the news of our day about Israel, Arabs, the Euro, etc. If this kind of data was necessary to understand Revelation the original audience would have been out of luck. The fact that the original audience could understand should clue us in that – like them – we don’t have to

    II. Greetings (4-5a)

    A. The Author (1:4)
    John gives no introduction beyond his name. The assumption is that those who receive the letter would know exactly who John was. This level of notoriety indicates that this is the Apostle John.
    Note too that he addresses very real churches existing in his day. This again points to the fact that we can’t find the fulfillment of the images of Revelation in the future days immediately preceding Christ’s return; Revelation carried meaning for the original recipients. It is our task to discern that meaning, not cast it into the distant future (at the least, from their perspective).

    B. The Trinity (1:4-5)

    i. God the Father – “him who is and who was and who is to come”
    God is the eternally existent One; the I AM

    ii. The Holy Spirit – “the seven spirits who are before his throne”
    “In chapter four of the Book of Zechariah we read: “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it . . . `This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.’” The Lord’s Spirit is depicted by Zechariah in his sevenfold fulness or perfection. This same language reappears in Revelation 4:5: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” In the opening chapters of Revelation, the seven spirits are connected to the seven lampstands–symbolic of God’s presence in the seven churches mentioned below.” – Kim Riddlebarger

    iii. God the Son – “and from Jesus Christ”

    – “the faithful witness” – Christ is the most accurate revelation of God. The Greek word for witness is martyr which came to describe those who were killed for their faith. Christ is also our pattern for suffering. Although He suffered greatly in His ministry Christ remained faithful to God’s call to the point of death.

    – “the firstborn from the dead” – The apostle Paul calls Christ the “firstfruits” from the dead. Both terms here indicate that Christ is the pattern and surety of those who will rise to live eternally with God in His glory.

    – “the ruler of the kings of the earth” – Revelation was written to a body of believers who were persecuted, fatigued, and endangered. Nero reigned around the time of Revelation’s composition and he is most likely the historical precedent for the image of the Antichrist in Revelation. This evil ruler targeted the Christian community with horrors that boggle the mind; he used Christians dipped in wax as giant candles to light his garden parties, fed Christians to the lions in the Coliseum, and was responsible for the deaths of both Peter and Paul.

    With this monster on the throne and the horrors we read about in history happening to them as a present reality the Christian community needed to be reminded that there is a power greater than the Roman emperor. The wicked ruler waging war on the Christians would himself have to face a more Sovereign ruler.

    III. Doxology (5b-6)

    – “him who loves us” – Just as the Christian community needed to be reminded that Christ is the Supreme ruler of the universe they also were in need of a reminder that the trials which had come upon them did not mean that God had abandon them. The affections of Christ yet remained on His little flock.

    – “freed us from our sins by his blood” – Even in the most distressing of situations the Christian rejoices in salvation. John, exiled as an old man, writing to a group of believers beset by all manner of evil, still pauses to rejoice in their mutual salvation.

    – “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” – Remember that Revelation gives us Heaven’s perspective on earthly events. Here we see that this harassed minority, weak and small in number, is actually the kingdom of God and priests in His service. What we see on earth is not reality, at least not all of it. Yet someday – soon, according to God, reality will be seen.

    – “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
    This closing phrase should draw in our minds, as it did the original recipients, a contrast between the glory and dominion of Caeser with that of Christ. At best Caeser enjoyed a moment on history’s stage and his glory was mere baubles. Christ, however, has won the eternal victory. All of history has, is, and will be His. The glory of His kingdom is beyond description and will never fade.

    IV. Christian Vindication (1:7-8)

    I. The Return of the King (1:7)
    John leaves his praise to dwell on the certainty of Christ’s return to the earth in glory. Note that he says every eye will see him – “The language John uses is universal, not local… This certainly implies the final judgment, the resurrection from the dead, and the re-creation of the heavens and the earth”

    This verse looks to the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10. John’s first canonical writing records the piercing of the side of Christ (19:34). John’s last writing records the return of the one who was pierced in triumph.

    Christ came to the earth initially in humiliation. The God of eternal glory limited Himself to a single time and place. On earth during His ministry Christ was ignored, reviled, and opposed. He was eventually arrested, beaten, mocked, harassed and crucified.

    His death marked the end of His humiliation.

    At the end of the age Christ will return in the glory of His power, full of majesty. So overwhelming will His appearance be that the entire world will see Him. Those who have trusted in Him will rejoice as they never have before. Those who have persisted in their rebellion against Him will be so terrified that they will see a crushing landslide as preferable to facing him (Revelation 6:16).

    1:8 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega”
    Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet (corresponding to the English “A”) and Omega is the last (corresponding to the English “Z”). By applying this image to Himself God is declaring that He is the first and the last and, by implication, all that is in between. He is the sovereign over history, as Revelation will make abundantly clear.

    Notice too how closely this description of God matches Christ’s testimony about Himself in vs. 17 of this same chapter.

  8. Sermon: Joy Fulfilled

    September 2, 2008 by Jeff

    Joy Fulfilled
    John 15:11
    I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

    Joy. That is the subject of the text before us this morning. Joy is a simple little three-letter word. It’s used all over our world; have any of you washed clothes in Joy detergent? It is obviously a word we are very familiar with. We’ve all experienced it and spoken about it so it can be said that we are, to some degree, experts on the subject. But have you ever tried to define joy?

    Obviously, it is an emotion but it is also a state. Furthermore, it’s something we desire. In fact, it could be said that all of life is spent in its pursuit. On some level, everything we do is aimed toward finding or attaining joy. We speak of enjoying our job or how much we would enjoy owning this or that. We take joy in our accomplishments, our offspring, our possessions, etc. So joy, as a subject, is incredibly broad. Is it possible to boil it down to an essence and capture that essence in words?

    In pursuit of a definition I began to wonder about how joy is attained, thinking that perhaps the process might help me articulate what joy really is. I found writings on the Internet dealing with this subject that I thought I would share with you.

    The May-June 2002 issue of Natural Health magazine carried an article entitled 50 Ways to Find Joy. Some of their recommendations:

    · Pat a pet.
    · Buy something beautiful and admire it often.
    · Add greenery to your life.
    · Do the Twist.
    · Start a tea party.

    I also found a website belonging to Khai Joybringer, Goddess of Joy. It even had her email address. Imagine my surprise when I found out I could just send an email to the Goddess of Joy. Who knew?

    Really, all my digging just confirmed something I knew all along: what our culture understands of joy is hopelessly shallow and ridiculous. In contrast to this, we have the words of Christ in John 15:11. The plain fact that Christ spoke these words makes me think that the subject of joy has an importance and dignity far beyond what we think of the subject.

    We are then left wondering what joy means to God. Or, perhaps, what God would have joy mean to us. Is it possible that joy is supposed to drive us to God?

    Let me ask a couple more questions based on our experiences with joy.

    We obviously find joy in things, whether it is our car or our kids. But let me ask this: if joy is found in things, why does nothing (no thing) satisfy us finally? I find joy in Christie, in football, and reading books. But none of those things is perfectly joyful; none of those things would be ultimately satisfactory by themselves.

    We also find joy in pleasant circumstances. The company of loved ones, swimming in a pool on a hot day, watching children play – all of these things bring joy. But if joy is a matter of finding pleasant circumstances how do we explain those people who experience incredible joy in the most awful of circumstances. I think of Acts 5:40-41: “…and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

    It was questions like these that C.S. Lewis was wrestling with when he converted to Christianity. Lewis found himself perpetually in pursuit of joy yet always finding, at best, a fleeting and weak taste of what he desired. As soon as he thought he’d grasped joy he found it slipping through his fingers. Looking back on the various pursuits of pleasure he undertook Lewis wrote “all…sensations…soon confessed themselves inadequate.”

    Ironically, it was these failures to attain joy which suggested a solution to Lewis. What if nothing in this world could satisfy his desire precisely because the object of his desire was other-worldly? He found himself wondering what he was to make of this mysterious, intense, and recurrent desire that nothing in the world could satisfy? Did the desire have any real significance? Did anything actually exist that could satisfy this desire?

    He wrote in The Pilgrims Regress “It appeared to me . . . that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given—nay, cannot even be imagined as given—in our present…experience. This Desire was, in the soul…the chair in which only one could sit. And if nature makes nothing in vain, the One who can sit in this chair must exist.”

    “In other words, Lewis reasoned from this intense desire, which nothing in the world could satisfy, to an object of desire that transcended the world. He gradually became convinced that this Supreme Object of human desire is God and heaven!” (Quote and Lewis data from “C.S. Lewis and the Riddle of Joy” by Michael Gleghorn”)

    I think Lewis understood joy better than almost all others. From him we learn that joy isn’t ultimately an emotion or an experience of pleasing circumstances but rather an expression of our innate desire for God. We chase around after joy, not realizing that the pursuit is fleeting at best precisely because it can only be satisfied when we are in right relation to God.

    This conclusion is in beautiful harmony with Scripture.

    Nehemiah 8:10 – “…the joy of the Lord is your strength”
    Psalm 16:11 – “…In your presences is the fullness of joy…”
    Psalm 43:4 – “…Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy…”
    Romans 14:17 – “…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

    Thus this text before us drives us in the same direction: we can have joy – authentic, mature, complete, full joy – in Christ.

    I. Joy Is Available to Us
    “These things I have spoken to you so that…”

    This might sound like an unnecessary point after such an extended introduction but it bears noting both because of our own desires and the prevalent foolishness of our age. Let me explain.
    One, that truth should relieve us in the same way cool water relieves extreme thirst. This thing – joy – we’ve been pursuing with all our might since we were old enough to have desires can be had, is even ready to be seized. The object of our search is readily attainable.

    These things I have spoken” most likely refers to Christ words just previous, the discourse on abiding in Him as a branch abides in a vine. He is thus making Himself, the source and object of joy, available to us!

    Secondly, the popular foolishness of our world is that objective truth is unknowable, partially because words cannot communicate anything objectively. But Christ here is saying that His words are not only knowable but also sufficient to bring us to Ultimate Truth.

    Furthermore, His words are readily accessible to us. We don’t have to starve ourselves under a tree until enlightenment grabs us, head off on some pilgrimage to a foreign land, nor wait for some supernatural sensation to overtake us. We only need to take the Words of Scripture and read to find that which brings complete joy.

    II. This Joy We Find is Rooted in Christ’s Joy
    “…My joy may be in you…”

    What did Christ mean when He spoke of His joy? I think at least two realities composed Christ’s joy.

    1. The Father’s Love for Christ
    Twice God the Father broke in to this world supernaturally to inform everyone that His Son was the supreme object of His affection. At Christ’s baptism and the Mount of Transfiguration God’s voice called Christ His “beloved Son”. At His baptism God declared to Christ that He was “well pleased” in Christ. Perichoresis is the word the ancient Greek church fathers used to describe the active, flowing river of mutual love coursing amongst the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. We cannot comprehend the fullness of this love but we can know that this endless love is present and that Christ gloried in it.

    2. Christ’s Obedience to the Father
    Hebrews 2:12 – “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

    The accomplishment of God’s prerogatives was such joy to Christ that it made the agony of the cross into an opportunity for joy.

    Similar to Christ, we can find joy in the Father’s love for us in Christ and His gracious decision to accomplish His kingdom’s priorities through our lives.

    III. This Joy is Complete
    “…and that your joy may be made full.”

    Various translation end this verse with full, complete, or wholly mature. The idea is that joy is no longer fleeting for those in Christ. It is growing, it is advancing, it is developing but it is not something that we always have to go about grabbing after. The joy in a believer’s life is always moving toward perfect realization.

    C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” God is serious about bringing us to Himself and thus into true joy. This joy isn’t the carnal, self-focused pseudo-joy we find in other pursuits. He is teaching us to despise all other pleasures, all other joys as hollow imitators when compared to the pleasure of knowing Him.

    Believers must look for this joy in our lives. It might not be as full as it should be but if we are believers then it is there. It must be cultivated; it must be given room to grow. We must seek abide in Christ and seek His holiness in our lives. A Puritan by the name of Thomas Watson said it well: “The more holiness any man has, the more he shall enjoy him, in whose presence is fulness of joy, Ps. 16:11; and the more any man enjoys the presence of God with his spirit, the greater will be his heaven of joy in this world….Divine joy ebbs and flows as holiness ebbs and flows” (Works, vol. 4, 353).

    If this joy isn’t present in our lives then the wonder of its availability should compel us to trust in the One who offers it. Neighbor, you already spend all your energy seeking after joy. The only thing you’ve found is hollow and fleeting satisfaction, frustration, and – much worse – greater sin. Your own conscience testifies as much to you. Turn to Christ for true Joy. It is both the greatest obligation and opportunity of your life.

  9. Bearing Fruit to the Glory of God, Part 2

    June 29, 2008 by Jeff

    II. The Key Factor
    Abiding in Christ, vs. 4, vs. 5
    “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

    Christ is quite clear: the only way fruit can be borne in our lives is to abide in Him. As we mentioned before, bearing fruit is vital to the believer because it glorifies God which is the highest aim of our lives.

    To understand Christ’s symbol we’ll have to dig in to its components. The symbol-within-the-symbol to understand first is what “fruit” refers to. I realize that many of you have a good understanding of what the fruit symbol means but in the interest of keeping us on the same page we’re going to look at the subject briefly.

    Fruit, in the Bible, can refer to:
    1. Literal fruit (Numbers 13:26)
    2. Offspring (Psalm 128:3)
    3. Aspects of Human Nature Expressed Outwardly in Words and Actions (Matthew 7:15-17).
    4. The Spiritual Results of Ministry (Romans 1:8 – “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.”)
    5. The Products of the Spirit’s Control of a Believer’s Life (Galatians 5:22 – “..the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”)

    In our passage it is most likely that Jesus has in mind both of the second aspects. Both of these kinds of “fruit” are to be desired by Christians and they are both only accomplished by Christ, thus this dual understand would fit Christ’s “abide in Me” instructions.

    The second important issue for us to understand in this section of the passage is what Christ means when He uses the word “abide”. To get a better grasp of what He had in mind we need to again look at other portions of scripture.

    1. Only Believers Can Abide
    (A) John 7:41-60 – Ultimately this passage teaches that there must be an embrace of the shed blood and broken flesh of the Lord if one would come to Him. Christ says that the one who does so “abides” in Christ as does Christ in the person.
    (B) John 15:5 – Christ says in this verse that the one who abides in Him He abides in as well: “He who abides in me, and I in him…”

    Notice the intimacy. If you look at a branch off of a vine or a tree you notice the distinction between the two. However, once you look at where they intersect it becomes hard to tell where the vine ends and the branch begins. Such is the intimacy between Christ and His people.

    To think that Christ would have this level of intimacy with anyone other than those who have been declared righteous by His death is a thought approaching blasphemy. By that I mean the Holy One of Israel cannot be linked intimately to anything impure, unrighteous, and sinful. Thus we conclude that Christ is here speaking of His church.

    2. Abiding Begins with Dwelling on the Word
    Christ first mentions abiding in verse 4 where He says “Abide in Me, and I in you”. Then, in verse 7 He says almost the same thing, changing one part of the statement by inserting what I believe is an explanatory note: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…” Did you see that? What was first “I in you” is changed to “My words abide in you.” The formula is simple: part of what it means for us to abide in Christ and Him to abide in us is the presence of His words in us – in our hearts and our minds, expressing itself in changing our thoughts, speech, and actions to line up with what He has said.

    “Christ abiding in us is interchangeable with his words abiding in us because Christ never comes without his authoritative views on things. To have him abiding is to have all his views abiding in us. If he abides, his views abide. If he abides, his priorities abide. If he abides, his principles abide. If he abides, his promises abide. If he abides, his commandments abide. In short, if/when Christ abides in us, his words abide in us.” – John Piper

    3. Abiding Depends on Remembering Christ’s Love
    “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”

    We need to be very clear here: the issue here is not us maintaining our affections for the Lord. Our love for the Lord is fickle and unstable. Our hearts often run from our Lord. You know who we are? We are the people in the 3rd verse of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. We look into our hearts and say: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love…”

    What is needed for us then is not to dwell on our affections for the Lord (although they should be there) but rather the love of Christ for us. Once we have the reality of His patient, eternal, enduring, sacrificial love fixed in our minds our affections will respond as they should. Our love is fleeting and feeble; His is eternal and powerful.

    “Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus, Vast unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current Of Thy love
    Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”

    This deep, deep love of Jesus should be a continual object of our attention. When it is we abide in His love.

    4. Abiding in Christ Requires Obedience.
    “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

    This verse not only opens our eyes as to what Jesus has in mind when He commands us to abide in Him but also helps us understand how works function in a believer’s life.

    In our relationship to Christ He is Lord and we are servant. Far from being an oppressive arrangement, we serve at the pleasure of the kindest and most wonderful Master that could be conceived of. However, we have the opportunity to abuse this relationship through sin. This sin doesn’t sever our relationship but does alienate us from God. Thus we don’t function as we should. The relationship can be restored through repentance and asking the Lord’s forgiveness.

    Our aim though is to experience the full blessing of our relationship with the Lord. If we keep His commandments we remain connected to Him with no interruption or alienation. Forgiveness is wonderful and is useful in restoring the relationship. Our aim, however, is to walk in obedience to the Lord and thus experience the greatest level of intimacy that we can.

  10. The Apostle Paul – Born and Born Again

    June 29, 2008 by Jeff

    1 Corinthians 15:8-11

    I. Born Dead
    “…and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”

    Paul lists himself at the last of his recounting of the Resurrection witness. Perhaps this is an expression of his humility but it is more likely that this is a chronological accounting.

    Paul uses an interesting phrase to describe his conversion: “one untimely born”. This is a translation of the Greek word extroma which means “an abortive offspring” and generally refers to children stillborn or born prematurely. It carries a connotation of deformity and unnatural delivery. Much has been written about Paul’s intention. Some speculate that Paul says his conversion was “out of due time” because he was alive during Christ’s life but converted after Christ’s death. That interpretation is accurate insofar as it describes Paul’s history but the Greek word refers to someone born too soon, not too late.

    I agree with David Garland who says:
    “[Paul] is referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church. Hollander and van der Hout contend that Paul draws on Jewish usage of the term to stress that the person in question is in a ‘deplorable position’, whose life is ‘miserable and worthless’ and ‘cannot sink lower’…Paul was unfit for the task God had called him to do. God’s grace [did] not remove the obstacle but overcomes it so that it is clear that God, not the messenger, ‘is responsible for the message’…Paul could apply the meaning [of extroma] in a figurative sense. Before his call and conversion he was dead but was miraculously given life through God’s grace. God made him sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant…[and his] sufficiency as an apostle is tied to resurrection imagery of being given life. The appearance of the risen Christ to him was a kind of resurrection from the dead.”

    II. The Least of the Apostles
    “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

    Paul is the great orator of God’s grace. He is the one whom God used to teach the church throughout the ages of the “height, breadth, and depth” of God’s grace. He knew full well that in the grace of God in Christ his sins had been covered over in Christ’s death. However, his conscience continually reminded him of his former way of life as a persecutor of the church.

    Read Acts 26

    John Phillips summarizes Paul’s understanding of his life as Saul this way:
    “Paul was a persecutor of the church. It was something he was never able to forget. He had many detractors…He could not think badly enough, himself, of what he had once done to the church. The faces of those he had persecuted haunted him. The cries of the little children he had made fatherless lingered in his memory.”

    III. A Product of God’s Grace
    “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

    Paul was very conscious that his life was now lived to serve at the pleasure of King Jesus. What good had been accomplished in his life was purely the act of a Sovereign God and to God’s glory alone.

    Paul says that “His grace toward me did not prove vain” and how true that is.

    God’s grace toward Paul wasn’t in vain because (A) Paul came to understand what Grace is.

    In fact, Gordon Fee contends that, according to Garland, “Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ formed the basis of his theology of Grace. Fee: “Since God was gracious to him, God’s enemy, in this way, he eventually came to realize that this is the way God is toward all, Jew and Gentile alike, making no distinctions.”

    Garland again: “[Paul] was not worthy, but grace takes persons who are not worthy or sufficient and makes them fit. Grace does not so much require responses as it enkindles response. It empowers and equips.”

    God’s grace to Paul wasn’t in vain (B) because he labored to spread the Gospel:
    Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament and, through tireless missionary endeavors, spread the Gospel to the Western world. Even we, gathered here today, are spiritual descendants of Paul’s labor in the gospel.

    Paul will go on to say “I labored even more than all of them”, “them” being the other apostles.

    Phillips says “This was the man who, traveling at the rate of some seventeen to twenty miles a day, covered some 5,580 miles on foot and some 6,770 miles by sea to take the gospel to the untold millions of the world who were still untold. In the space of some twenty years or less, Paul evangelized along a line of some 1,500 miles all the way from Antioch to Illyricum. While the other apostles were still debating the Great Commision, Paul was evangelizing Tarsus and all that part of his native land. While they were still putting out tentative feelers as to the possible expansion of the church, within the hampering swaddling clothes of an obsolete Judaism, Paul was out conquering Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece.”

    God’s grace was able to take a persecutor of the church and use him to outwork all the rest of the Apostles in terms of spreading the Gospel. That is why Paul includes the caveat “yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

    IV. An Apostle Unified in Message
    “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

    Paul’s ultimate conclusion is that, despite his background as a persecutor of the church, God had seen fit to display His glory by making Paul a useful agent of His grace and, even more, to number him amongst the disciples of Christ as an Apostle – the most important human position the church has ever known.

    Paul stood shoulder to shoulder with the other Apostles in declaring the same message to a world under God’s judgment: the Gospel of Jesus Christ as God’s means of salvation.

    Read Galatians 1:11-2:10

    Paul had not learned his gospel from anyone other than Christ yet when examined by the other Apostles, was found to preach the same message they did. This is a testimony to God’s ability to work what He will as He will through whom He will. This is the final lesson we can learn from this discussion of Paul’s life.