Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace (weekend repost)

I love congregational singing before listening to the preaching of the Word of God. It prepares my heart to hear from God in a special way. And when I am the one who will be delivering the Word, it is no different. Singing not only prepares my heart, it settles my spirit, focuses my heart and mind, and begins the process of worship within my own soul.

Read the rest of the post here: Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace

Remembering Jesus Christ

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:8–10, ESV)

Where do we as Christians go for our strength? In 2 Timothy 2:1 Paul gave us the answer: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” Now, in his continuing lesson to Timothy, Paul returns to this critical truth.

In verse 8, Paul begins with the necessity to “remember Jesus Christ.” How odd that he should have to say to a pastor to “remember Jesus Christ!” The verb “to remember” points to the need for ongoing remembrance—a consistent effort—to remember and keep on remembering Jesus Christ.

How strange it might seem to us because we wonder how any blood-bought Christian could ever forget his Savior! It would be worse than a mother forgetting her own child or a lover forgetting his beloved. But God knows that the heart of man is weak and fickle. We not only can forget the Lord Jesus, we often do. Of course, we don’t forget him completely and totally, but we do push him aside and to the sides of our mind so that Jesus is no longer front and center as he should be.

This is one reason that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper and its regular practice. Remember what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:24, where Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth of the purpose of the Lord’s supper by repeating Jesus’ words, “This is my body, which is [broken] for you, do this in remembrance of me.” He said the same for the cup as well. The bread and the cup remind us of the sacrificial body and blood of Christ, and we need that reminder regularly, because we forget! The Lord knew that. That we should forget the Lord who saved us, is a danger for every Christian.

In 2 Timothy, Paul sought to impress his son in the faith with this same truth of remembering Jesus Christ. He knows that the only way Timothy will be able to continue in ministry as a soldier (2:3-4), athlete (v. 5) and farmer (v. 6) is if he does so with his eyes upon Christ Jesus.

As John Kitchen has written in his commentary on this text, “What is abundantly clear is that Paul is concerned that Timothy keep Jesus at the forefront of all his thoughts. He was not worried that Timothy would entirely forget who Jesus was. Rather he was concerned that, under pressure, Timothy might not allow Christ the place of preeminence and supremacy in this thinking that He deserves.”

In this issue of the VOICE, we will focus upon the glory of Jesus Christ in various aspects of his life and ministry. In this article, I’d like to focus on three features that Paul sees as essential for Timothy’s success and growth in the faith, three indispensable truths that he could never allow to fade from his memory. If he kept these truths before his eyes, he would succeed both in life and ministry. Without these, Timothy was sure to falter. That makes them pretty important, and we should listen in as Paul places three critical reminders before his friend and co-worker for the Gospel.

Remember Jesus Christ Risen from the Dead (v. 8)

Paul was not telling Timothy to remember a great teacher, or to remember a historical figure. Jesus is both. But that is not what he wants Timothy to focus on, because lots of great teachers and lots of historical figures have come and gone. But their lives and teachings leave no lasting impact.

Paul is also not telling Timothy to remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although that is implied in the idea of his resurrection. Many men died on the Roman cross. And if Timothy was to focus merely upon his death, that would not be enough.

Paul wants Timothy to remember that death could not hold Jesus. In Acts 2:24 Peter preached these words, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24, ESV). This resurrection power of Jesus Christ is what Paul wanted Timothy to remember. If Jesus had only died, never to live again, then how could Timothy continue preaching? As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:4, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor. 15:14, ESV). But Christ is alive! He conquered the power of sin and death, he atoned for sin and his atoning sacrifice was accepted by God the Father. On the cross, Jesus Christ absorbed the full wrath of God. No matter what happened in his life and ministry, Timothy needed to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no hope.

It has been claimed that as a young man, D. L. Moody was called upon suddenly to preach a funeral sermon. He hunted all through the Gospels to find one of Christ’s funeral sermons but searched in vain. He found that Christ broke up every funeral He ever attended. Death could not exist where He was. When the dead heard His voice, they sprang to life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life (Jn. 11:25).

What a great reminder for us! And how helpful for us not just to look forward to in the future, but how helpful it is for living right now! When we are tempted to sin, we need to remember that we are dead to sin. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-5,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:1–5, ESV emphasis mine). 

And that’s not all. Since we shall be raised from the dead to live with Christ forever, we no longer need to be fearful of death. We can live in obedience to Christ without fear of what man may do to us because we know God will glorify this mortal flesh. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Cor. 15:50–58, ESV, emphasis mine)

Verse 58 affirms that the resurrection has an impact on our work for Christ while we are here on earth. We must be steadfast—meaning we are firmly established in our position—we will live for Christ and no threat, persecution or danger will change us. We must be immovable, meaning that we will not change our position on these matters of faith. The whole world can oppose us, and sometimes it feels like it does, but we will not move! In these things we will be stubborn. And of course, this must lead to our mission to serve the Lord by faithfully preaching the gospel and making disciples. In season and out of season. Remembering Jesus Christ risen from the dead empowers us to do that.

Remember Jesus Christ the Messiah of God (v. 8)

“The offspring of David” or “the seed of David” is a reference to Jesus’ lineage that can be traced back to King David. This means that Jesus alone is qualified to claim the throne of the Messiah.Some have said that this reference by Paul is intended to point to Jesus’ humanity, the fact that he had a human family tree. Of course, this is true. But a reference to Jesus’ birth could have done the same thing. I think there is more here.By pointing to David’s lineage, not only is Paul referring to Jesus as the Messiah, but he is also claiming the throne of David for Christ as well. Jesus is the legitimate heir of the Davidic throne.And unlike David, Jesus is still alive. Jesus, the Living One, is also the Living King. Right now, Jesus is seated upon the throne. I believe that one day he shall take the throne of David in the Millennial Kingdom as is prophesied in the Old Testament, but he is King right now as well, in a universal sense.

Putting together the resurrection and kingly line of Jesus together are powerful motivators and encouragement for Christians. That is why Paul used it when he wanted to push Timothy even further in 2 Timothy 4:1 to take his calling seriously. This verse reads, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:” (2Tim. 4:1, ESV)

The next words in verse 2, of course, are the charge—”Preach the Word!” But Paul front loads that charge with the sobering words of an oath—Paul wants Timothy to see just how serious he is by calling upon God the Father, and Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead. Taken together, he exalts Christ to the heights of glory while telling Timothy that this Christ is witness to his words commanding Timothy to faithfully preach the Word.

Christ is the King, and he will conquer every single one of his enemies. They will be a footstool under his feet. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. They must kiss the Son, or he will smash them to bits with his rod of iron like clay pots.

Is that not the Kingship and Return of Christ a great motivation to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Jesus is alive and he will come again and bring justice with him. We will be raised again in glorified bodies and we will rule with him. In the eternal scheme of things, there is no downside to this!

Paul understood suffering, and pain. His life after his conversion was filled with these trials. But they were never his focus. His ministry always had a joy-filled focus on who Christ is, what he has done and what these truths meant in this life and life eternal. That is why he wrote things like Romans 8:26-39. Read this passage and be encouraged. Notice that he begins with our weakness, but he ends with our victory! All of this is possible because of the resurrection and sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. Don’t forget that!

Remember Jesus Christ’s Gospel Message (v. 8-10)

The risen King is the Jesus Christ that Paul preached. And he doesn’t want Timothy for forget this message. He calls it “my gospel” in v. 8, but he doesn’t mean that he made it up, or even that it was the gospel he preached. Paul speaks of it as his gospel because it is the very gospel he embraced himself—it is the gospel that saved Paul, and Timothy too.Even more importantly, it is the truth. That is why Paul preached it, and why he wanted Timothy to continue his ministry of declaring this same message of the same Savior.

And Paul wasn’t shy about what most likely would happen if Timothy did so. In verse 9, Paul added once again the fact that preaching this gospel is what had cost him his freedom and honor and would eventually cost him his very life. Paul wasn’t complaining, he was simply telling Timothy that this gospel message was worth dying for, and that he needed to push onward himself because the worst consequences could never outweigh the blessings of doing so.

Paul notes that they had treated him like a “criminal.” This word speaks of a person guilty of serious crimes. They are not accusing Paul of being a petty criminal, but Paul is put into the same categories as violent insurrectionists and murderers. As such, Paul could expect harsh treatment and hard judgements. The shame others would feel toward him would also be great. The only other time this Greek word is used in the New Testament is when it is applied to those who hung on the cross next to Jesus. That is how they treated Paul.

This note about Paul’s suffering is powerful, but brief. Quickly Paul turned his attention back to the gospel message. Instead of focusing on his own suffering, Paul chose to focus on the unfettered propagation of the gospel message that he preached. Timothy would need to do that too, and he would if he would keep his mind stayed upon Jesus Christ (v. 8).

The gospel messengers might be jailed, stoned, put in stocks, beaten, fed to the lions, or slaughtered, but the message of Jesus Christ can never be stopped. What a glorious truth! Nothing can stop the spread of the truth. It is not solely dependent upon us, although we must faithfully do our part. But the burden is not upon us. God will carry his wonderful, life-saving message wherever it needs to go.

But why would anyone sacrifice their whole life to carry a message that so many not only don’t want, but will kill you if you bring it to them? Paul gives us the answer in verse 10. Paul knows that God has chosen people out there in the world to be saved. He has elected them to salvation, but they need to hear the message so they can believe and be saved, which leads to eternal glory. The mission, for Paul, is thrilling! He loved to see God’s people come to Christ. He loved to be the one that gave birth to those newborn babes in Christ. What a joy it was! The Lord God could have done it other ways, by other means, but he has ordained that we, his children, are the means by which the gospel is preached, and the elect come to faith and salvation. We are the link in the chain that cannot be broken. How will they hear without a preacher?

When C. H. Spurgeon preached on “election” somebody said to him, “Why don’t you just preach to the called, to the elect?” He replied, “Well, if you’ll run around and pull up everybody’s shirttails so I can see if they have an ‘E’ stamped on their back, I will.” Only God knows who is elect and who is not.

Like Timothy, we need to remember the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not just for ourselves, but for those who need to hear it as well. This message was so important, that Paul, and countless other saints have died trying to get the gospel to as many souls as possible.

It is impossible to know the impact our evangelism will have with only one exception. If you preach the gospel, you will be surprised by how many people have reached heaven because of your ministry in their lives or the ministry of those to whom you proclaimed the gospel. But if you never preach the gospel, nobody will ever be saved because you shared with them. Nobody. You can expect that when you get to heaven, you will be spiritually barren. Paul had many spiritual children from all the places and times he preached the gospel. Some people will have no spiritual children—not even one.

Will that be you? I pray that it will not be. I pray that each one of us will one day join Paul and Timothy and the rest of the saints in giving praise to the Lamb alongside those we had the privilege of leading to Christ. We all know that as we age, our memories are affected. For some people, the memory problems are drastic, especially those who have diseases of the brain. But there are others we have seen who have sharp memories, recalling dates, events and experienced with great clarity and accuracy far into their senior years. I hope to be one of those who can remember long into my final years. But even if we are not blessed with a great memory, may we never forget these three critical truths about our Savior Jesus Christ—his Resurrection, his Kingly Reign and his Gospel message. The more we focus on them daily the greater will be our encouragement and strength for daily living and ministry.

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2020 issue of the Voice magazine. Used with permission.

Spirit Empowered Church Planting

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Rom 1:16 ESV

It would seem that some people who are all for church planting are unaware of Romans 1:16, so I have reproduced it here for the benefit of those who think that a church is best planted by human invention.

What do I mean by ‘human invention?’ How about slick marketing programs that blanket the city? Or freebies, raffles, and give-aways that are meant to be a spiritual bait-and-switch? There are surveys meant to find out what unbelieving pagans want in a church so that a church can be tailored for them, and there are those ‘church planters’ who blanket Christian radio, Christian bookstores and encourage their core team to invite their friends over to their cool, new church that is so much better than the one they’re in now. There are other so-called church planting and church growth gimmicks I could mention, but I think that you probably know of one or two places like this.

Then there is Holy Spirit power that converts a soul from being a prisoner of darkness into a light-reflecting child of the Kingdom. Those churches that seek to grow from preaching a gospel that leads to Spirit-regeneration of the souls of men are true church plants. And those who plant churches by the power of the gospel do so in the methodology that gives all glory to God and cannot be conjured up by Madison Avenue methods.

To all my brothers out there who are holding forth the truth in faithfulness, keep it up. For those growing weary of doing good, email me and I’ll join you in prayer so that you won’t be tempted to give in to powerless quick fixes that yield a crowd, but not gospel growth.

Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace

“We do not live near enough to God, do we? I know that some of you wait upon Him day and night and you abide under the shadow of the Almighty, but I fear that there are some workers who forget to do this. We should work with the hands of Martha, but yet keep near the Master with the heart of Mary! We need a combination of activity and meditation. When we get that, when we inwardly retire for consultation with our Lord and then come out actively to labor for our Lord—then shall we be good stewards in the little part of the great house with which He has entrusted us.”

– Charles Spurgeon, 1895, Sermon 2440

I love congregational singing before listening to the preaching of the Word of God. It prepares my heart to hear from God in a special way. And when I am the one who will be delivering the Word, it is no different. Singing not only prepares my heart, it settles my spirit, focuses my heart and mind, and begins the process of worship within my own soul.

Unfortunately I have also witnessed a few fellow pastors take advantage of the time before they preach to continue reviewing their notes, or to discuss other matters with the staff sitting next to them, and sometimes even checking their phones. Not only is this a poor example to those in the congregation, but it is also a lost opportunity to sit at the feet of the Lord as a worshipper.

As Spurgeon mentions in the above quote, may we not be so busy preparing the spiritual meal of the Word that we fail to sit at the feet of Jesus. As we are filled from the infinite well of living water, we will have more than enough to share with others from the overflow.

Preaching that Will Amount to Nothing

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ” (1 Cor. 13:1-6)

Proclaiming the Word must always be accompanied with love. I can’t get around what 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 says. Angry, venomous, mean-spirited, vile preachers are not speaking as God would have them. You can mock the so-called “tone-police,” but the Word is clear—speak with the tongues of angels and men, speak with great prophetic revelation, speak with incredible faith, and even sacrifice to the point of destitution and even martyrdom—but if you don’t have love you are worse than ineffective—you are painful to your hearers and destructive to the church.

And when I say that the Word must be accompanied with love, I don’t define love as “niceness” or “without controversy” because that isn’t the way God defines love. Love is clearly spoken of in this passage in both positive and negative attributes. Love is patient and kind. Impatient pastors are noisy gongs. Unkind pastors are clanging cymbals. Their ministries will amount to nothing in the long run because they do not minister the Word as the Chief Shepherd does.

Proclaiming the Word of God with love must also leave out certain things, including envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, self-seeking, or anger of different kinds (irritability, resentment, rejoicing in wrongdoing).

There are some men who step into the pulpit on Sundays whose sermons are peppered throughout with a mixture of truth and these vile sins that demonstrate a lack of love. These things should not be (James 3:9-12). But there is more to this.

Our pulpit speech and our conduct should be an overflow of our daily lives, which means that we must be men of true, biblical love—both in and out of the pulpit. We cannot be unloving (as defined by Scripture) in our daily lives with those around us, and then step into a pulpit on Sunday and proclaim the truth as if our preaching were disconnected from our daily living. To live like that is plain hypocrisy.

Our daily speech and actions must be marked by biblical love, so that we will not become noisy gongs and clanging cymbals in the pulpit, with our ministry amounting to nothing. Instead, may we work at growing in biblical love so that our speech is well-seasoned with grace and our hearts truly care for those in our charge.