The Rage Against Truth (weekend repost)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Read the rest of this post here: The Rage Against Truth

Are You a Pastor with Bloody Hands?

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:26–30, ESV)

Why would the Apostle Paul consider himself “innocent of the blood of all?” Was it because he faithfully taught the whole counsel of God to the church in Ephesus? That is a worthy question to be answered. To Paul, spiritual oversight and teaching is a grave responsibility and if those responsibilities are not faithfully discharged, there is a very real danger.

Why would Paul use this kind of language? I think that it goes beyond just the serious nature of preaching and teaching. Paul connects the faithful teaching of the whole counsel of God (the fullness of Bible and doctrine) with the coming of fierce wolves. The wolves will come no matter what, Paul writes, but as their pastor, he has armed them with the Sword of the Spirit. His equipping would help them ward off the evil and blood-thirsty teachers that would try to invite the flock and drag away the naive and immature sheep among them. Was Paul being dramatic? I don’t think so. Which is worse, a murderer who kills our temporary body, or a false teacher that damns the eternal soul?

Paul knows that beyond the truth of Scripture taught, comprehended, and live out that the church is powerless in the face of the enemy. And he also knew that without the weapon of the Word, these wolves would “draw away the disciples after them.” To the elders who were now to be the primary protectors and overseers of the flock Paul is essentially saying, “My job is done. I equipped you with everything you need to ward off the enemy’s attacks and live a life pleasing to the Father. My hands are innocent if you fail to do your job. Stay vigilant!”

As we look at the big picture within our church’s programs and future plans, we cannot fail to see the equipping of the Saints with the whole counsel of God as a major and necessary component. Are we seeking to train up and equip the church with the necessary weapons to stand firm in the day of attack? Hobby horse doctrines, a regular diet of topical sermons, and picking and choosing to teach on the popular texts while avoiding controversial ones–all of these will produce an anemic church, and it will leave the pastor of that church with blood on his hands.

May every man who has been called by God to lead God’s people take this task seriously.

The Use of Scripture for Strengthening Weak Hands

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation— the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who rescued me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from the man of violence. For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.” (Psalm 18:46–49, ESV)

The other day I read a social media post from a Christian who attacked those that use the Bible to teach “piety” or “moralism” in sermons instead of simply pointing to Jesus’ saving work on the cross of Calvary as an act of worship. In other words, the Bible is all about what Christ has done and not about what Christians should do. Another way it is often stated is that we should teach the indicatives of the Bible (what God has done through Christ) and not so much the imperatives (what we should do as Christians). This has led some who teach this view into a dreadful form of antinomianism that gives way to a shipwrecked life.

I understand the failure of some preaching that twists the Bible into a life-manual for fixing our problems. These types of churches and the sermons they produce seem to be a religiously themed self-help motivational courses. Theology and doctrine are downplayed, and God is only taught in the sense that He is the power that you need to tap into to get the life you want. That is abuse of the Bible and the God of the Bible, and make no mistake, this is wrong.

But it is also wrong to say that the Bible is only about what God has done for us at the cross. I only need to point to the book of Ephesians to show that in a letter of six chapters, the first three chapters are dedicated to proclaiming the glorious theology of salvation through Jesus Christ, BUT the second three chapters deal with the implications of that change in the life of a person, including several imperatives. In other words, the Bible is not simply about the indicatives and what God has done for us, but flowing out of the indicatives are some very important imperatives that can only truly be accomplished in a God-pleasing way through the active role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a regenerate person. Christians are called to obey God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I say all of this because in my reading through Psalm 18 this morning I was once again enamored with the radical change that dwelling upon the Scriptures has in the heart and mind of the child of God. This psalm has a heading, also called a superscription that tells the reader the context in which it was written. In the case of Psalm 18, it was written when David was being hotly pursued by his enemies, including Saul. Knowing how close to being caught and murdered he was, David recalls the terrifying place he was in and how he called out to the Lord desperately, and the Lord heard his cries. It is a wonderful psalm that pictures God rising from His heavenly throne and ascending upon the back of an angel to save His child David with the vengeance of a warrior.

But is this passage simply for me to read and appreciate? Does it not instruct me, and those that I would teach it to that our God loves His own, and that He is moved by our cries to come to our aid and save us? You see, this passage is meant to do more than describe David’s personal experiences. It was put into a song so that the people of Israel would praise their God who saves–but who saves more than just the king. He is the God who saves His people, from the greatest to the least in the kingdom. I can apply this text to myself and others by calling Christians to cry out in prayer in their times of need. God answers prayer! We must be people of prayer!

This is the glory of the Bible. We do not need to choose between what God has done and what we should do in response. The two go together and shouldn’t be separated. And this psalm is a wonderful place to go to strengthen weakened hands when the battle has become too much and the broken and weary need to be reminded that God hears our cries. So, when you study the Bible, make sure you not only teach it accurately, but also make sure you apply the text to the lives of those who need to have their weak hands strengthened.

The Rage Against Truth

These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”” (Acts 19:25–28, ESV)

As Paul proclaimed the gospel in Ephesus, the effects trickled down, affecting the very livelihood of those involved in the idol-makers guild. The testimony of Paul is clear, even when spoken from the lips of the pagan silversmith Demetrius–“gods made with hands are not gods.”

As he gathered the guildsmen to refute this challenge to their trades, Demetrius could have sought to put together a powerful rebuttal against Paul’s accusation. He could have challenged Paul to a debate, or showed where Paul’s reasoning went off track. He could have pointed out inconsistencies that he saw in Paul’s arguments against the practice of Diana worship, but he did none of these things.

Instead, Demetrius did what so many others do when they cannot refute the truth of the gospel–they resort to emotional appeals that focus on rage and victimhood. The best response that these tradesmen could come up with was to whip themselves up into a frenzied mob and shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours (Eph 19:34). After all, they reasoned, everyone knows this is true! Why answer questions, and why reason or have a civil conversation? Raging anger, shouting, and mob violence were all they could come up with.

I wish I could say that society has become more “civilized” in its response to contrary ideas and viewpoints, particularly about religion–but it hasn’t. Emotional responses completely devoid of reason, civil conversation, and informed information are harder to find than ever.

As a Christian, I do not claim to know all the answers, but I am more than willing to sit down and talk to someone about what I believe the Bible and Christian faith teaches, and if they are truly sincere, I would invite a discussion of their challenges to my faith. Since I believe that the Christian Scriptures are utterly consistent with the laws of reason and logic, I am encouraged and even compelled to sit with those who might want to discuss the most important matters in life.

When people resort to mockery, ad hominem attacks, filthy language, and an unwillingness to honestly look at the evidence, there is little hope that a genuine conversation can occur. Christianity is not against reason and genuine dialogue with those who have questions, but instead invites it. After all, I serve a God who is willing to reason with sinners who are sincerely looking for truth: ““Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

Dear Christian, I would invite you as well to, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

How the Believer and Unbeliever Critically Differ in their Study of the Bible

“I mull over the text, I pray. I meditate and exegete. I talk to my Bible, and ask questions of the text. I take notes. I think. I sweat. And then God gives me what he wants me to have.”—Warren Wiersbe

Like many things in the Christian life, the preparation and delivery of a sermon is neither solely the work of the Holy Spirit nor is it solely the work of the preacher. The former leads to mysticism and poorly prepared sermons that are more heat than light and the latter leads to sermons that are devoid of the power of God.

In order to gain a better grasp of how the Holy Spirit acts within the preparation of biblical exposition we must first recognize that any study of the text which seeks to be accurate and God empowered is a work of the Spirit which carries along the expositor in his study as much as in his delivery.

A Preliminary Distinction

Before we can launch into the working of the Spirit in the study of the Scripture by a regenerate Christian, we must understand how it is that an unbeliever can accurately study any given text and still accurately understand what the text is saying to a certain extent. By examining how this is possible, we will be able to better understand how the Christian expositor is different and how his resultant study will yield spiritual fruit. To accomplish this, it is helpful to distinguish between comprehension of a biblical text and apprehension of the Word of God.

Comprehension

Comprehension as I am using it here is the ability to gain a knowledge of the text of Scripture through the technical sciences and application of hermeneutical principles. Comprehension allows for the accurate observation of such elements as grammar, syntax, and other exegetical and linguistic features of the text, i.e. the unbelieving exegete is not prevented by the noetic effects of sin from recognizing the verb forms of a biblical passage. He may gain additional insights regarding the biblical text from his knowledge of archaeology, background, culture and a multitude of other disciplines. 

However, it must be acknowledged that the unregenerate exegete cannot come to the text in a purely “scientific” way because his presuppositions will taint his methodology and will not allow for the Bible’s claim to be the voice of God. His comprehension will be flawed and be limited as he or she seeks to understand the fact of the text in light of their intended meaning.

Apprehension

Different from a raw knowledge of the facts of a text’s features and most basic meaning is what can perhaps be referred to as “apprehension.” Apprehension would include in addition to the comprehension of the text the additional aspect of the reception of the meaning of the Word of God in heart and conscience and communicates the intention of the passage and the desired response of the Holy Spirit to those that hear the message “with ears to hear.” This apprehension may include the preacher as well as those who hear the message. Paul wrote about this reception of the Word in 1Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV) 

The contrast between the understanding of the biblical text by the unbeliever and the believer is most markedly different in the comparison of these two aspects—comprehension and apprehension. 

The inability of unredeemed men to comprehend the meaning of Scripture nor can they hear the revelation of God in any form is expressed in such passages as:

  • Romans 1:18–20—They are “truth suppressors” and cannot grasp what God has made plain, yet they are without excuse.
  • 1Cor 1:18-25; 2:14—The Word of God is “folly” (Gk. moros) to the world’s wise men. Not only are they foolishness to the natural person, but they are incapable of understanding them. 
  • Eph 4:17-19—Unbelievers are marked as living “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding…”

This suppression, mocking and darkened understanding affects some comprehension and prohibits apprehension of the Word of God when it is studied by the unbeliever, no matter his depth of knowledge in biblical studies.

Biblical Examples of Comprehension without Apprehension

  • The murderous Jews who searched the Scriptures but could not accept Jesus as the Christ—John 5:18, 39-47
  • The indifferent chief priests and scribes who had no apparent desire to seek the Christ-child in spite of knowing some were seeking his birthplace—Matt 2:1-6
  • The ignorant, yet searching Ethiopian who studied the prophet Isaiah but could not find Christ on his own—Acts 8:26-30

The missing element that links Comprehension and joins exegesis to the heart is the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

Comprehension and the Work of the Preacher

“Exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology. When pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become closed-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.”—John Piper

It is necessary to state that the necessity of Holy Spirit working through the believer for the comprehension of the biblical text does not guarantee that the interpretation of the text is the correct one. Many passages in the Bible have been a matter of debate by believers and Christian scholars for centuries. Simply because the Holy Spirit is present does not automatically mean that serious exegetical study is not required, nor that such study guarantees the outcome of that study.

However, without Spirit dependent exegesis and the careful application of hermeneutical principles, the correct understanding of any given passage of Scripture will not be able to correctly interpret the passage as the Holy Spirit intended it to the original audience then applied to the present audience being addressed.

Accuracy with the biblical text assures that the message of the Scripture is understood accurately, but the work of the Holy Spirit is not complete. He must still work to bring about the apprehension of the message he intends.

Apprehension and the Work of the Preacher

Beyond the need for proper hermeneutical principles and accurate exegesis, there is the necessity of the work of God’s Spirit. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth:

“and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5, ESV)

Accompanying the words of the message there must be the Spirit and his power. A sermon that is empowered by God himself must be more than simply an accurate message, although it cannot be less. The inerrant Word will only successfully penetrate the heart when the Spirit acts.

I. Howard Marshall is correct when he writes:

“Once the sense of the text has been understood, there is the task of seeing what it has to say to a particular audience, be it the probable readers of a book or a congregation listening to a sermon. The sense of Scripture is something that can be determined with a measure of objectivity as something that is fixed; it is what the original writer intended his original readers to learn from what he wrote. The application of this to new sets of readers in new situations can be very varied. It is here that the expositor particularly feels his dependence upon the Spirit in the task of making Scripture speak again in the new situation. In a sense he is trying to repeat what the original authors had to do—to speak forth God’s Word in a way that would grip their audiences; receiving Scripture as God’s Word, he now has the task of speaking it forth so as to grip his audience. If the original authors were dependent upon the inspiration of the Spirit to do so, how much more is the modern expositor thrown back upon the guidance and illumination of the Spirit in his task?”

Conclusion

The illuminating work of the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit-given ability to understand the Word of God as it is studied or as one considers its implications for life. Paul referred to the inability of the natural mind to understand the spiritual mind of God in 1 Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (2:14). It is not that the unbeliever is not able to understand the bare words and thoughts of the Bible, but he cannot understand their spiritual meaning or their application to his own soul. This is best illustrated in the account of Nicodemus in John 3. Although he was a preeminent teacher of Israel, Nicodemus could not conceive of the new birth, even though Jesus condescended to teach him these things in natural pictures, relating the new birth to a human birth.

Jonathan Edwards related this to the unregenerate man having some sense of what is being referred to, but being incapable of having a total understanding of the matters of Scripture:

“The natural man discerns nothing of it (agreeable to 1 Cor. ii.14) and conceives of it no more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey, or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune, or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.”

Although every believer has the ability to understand the Word of God because he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), the remaining effects of sin nature impede thinking and understanding. Thus, a preacher needs to be continually renewing his mind with the Word of God (Rom 12:2), asking God for clarity and understanding as he searches the Scriptures to glean its truths and apply them to his life and the lives of his hearers. 

The Pastor in His Study

The effect of illumination on the heart in preaching is two-fold. Illumination must occur as the pastor prays over Scriptures and wrestles with the text that is to be preached to his congregation. The doctrine of illumination is not meant to be pitted against the need for careful study and preparation. Millard Erickson has written that, 

“…illumination by the Holy Spirit helps the Scripture reader or hearer understand the Bible and creates the conviction that it is true and is the Word of God. This, however, should not be regarded as a substitute for the use of hermeneutical methods. These methods play a complementary, not competitive role.”

Illumination also occurs as the pastor stands in the pulpit and preaches the Word to the congregation. The words that are spoken, though they have illumined the heart and mind of the pastor in his study, will fall dead if the hearts and minds of the congregation are not also illumined by the Spirit to hear and understand. It is here that one sees most clearly the interrelatedness of the Spirit and His Word working through the Spirit-filled man of God.

John MacArthur, well known for his dedication to diligently present the Word of God, describes the necessity of illumination:

“What is our responsibility? The answer is in Ps. 119:130; “The unfolding of Thy words gives light.” God’s words are unfolded to us first by discovery. Through diligent Bible study, we unfold or unwrap God’s truth. We discover that meditation with a view to applying the truth deepens its impact. Discovery and meditation combined bring the brightest light of illumination to our hearts.”

Recognizing that the Word of God energizes the preacher and the hearer does not give pastors the right to become lazy. The Spirit most frequently works through means rather than directly in applying His Word to the human mind. Believers have been commanded to love the Lord God with their whole being, and that includes the mind (Matt 22:37). Erickson writes that even though the Spirit gives an inner testimony of the truthfulness of His Word:

“He [the Holy Spirit] creates certainty of the divine nature of Scripture by providing evidences that reason can evaluate. He also gives understanding of the text through the exegete’s work of interpretation. Even Calvin, with his strong emphasis on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, called attention to the indicia of the credibility of the Scripture, and in his commentaries used the best of classical scholarship to get at the meaning of the Bible. Thus, the exegete and the apologist will use the very best methods and data, but will do so with a reiterated prayer for the Holy Spirit to work through these means.”