WHAT CAUSES US TO WORRY ?

 

WHAT CAUSES US TO WORRY ?

By Tim Lane

 

Everyone worries. Some of us more than others. Reports show that nearly 20% of people

living in the US struggle with anxiety. That means that approximately 65 million people experience worry that impacts their daily lives and relationships in profound ways.

In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for specifically anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.

 

CAUSES FOR WORRY

So why do so many of us struggle with anxiety? That question has been at the center of much debate. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other throughout history. Some have thought that worry is purely a physiological issue while others have concluded that it is purely spiritual. Alan Horwitz states this in his book, Anxiety: A Short History:

Between the fourth and sixteenth centuries, religious, magical, and folkloric views of anxiety and other mental conditions largely displaced empirically-based Hippocratic and Galenic conceptions in Western societies. While the latter beliefs persisted within medicine through the medieval period, medical knowledge itself was overridden by ecclesiastical structures. Over the course of the seventeenth century, however, anxiety was once again increasingly likely to be viewed within a medical, as opposed to spiritual, framework. Within medicine, the influences of humoral pathology, which had dominated medical thinking since Hippocratic times, gradually waned. By the end of the eighteenth century, while humoral conceptions remained popular theories of temperaments in the general culture, medicine preferred physiological accounts to explain how mental disturbances resulted from malfunctioning nervous systems (p. 54).

 

While Horowitz’s view of the church may be oversimplified, we still must ask: what causes anxiety? Does the Bible provide categories that enable us to avoid the swinging pendulum between faith and science? I believe it does.

 

The historic Christian categories of World, Flesh and Devil are entirely capable of providing a robust understanding of people and their problems, allowing us to avoid simplistic reductionism on either end of the spectrum. We don’t have to engage in either/or thinking and conclude that anxiety is either purely physiological or only spiritual. This means that we can learn from the best insights that modern science has to offer along with the rich truths of Scripture which remind us that God is able to meet us in our struggles with worry.

 

 

The category of “world” is everything outside of the heart. These are the external shaping influences that we experience as human beings made in God’s image. It is the person’s situation; their context. To minimize the impact someone’s circumstances has on a person is to be sub-biblical. The God of Scripture takes our situation seriously. This is a place where we can learn most from modern scientific research:

 

  • Brain: we all have brains that determine our personalities and pre-dispose us to a host of struggles. All of us are constitutionally wired differently. Our brains are also impacted by the fall of humanity. We are all broken at some level and exhibit various mental strengths and frailties.
  • Body: we have bodies that have strengths and weaknesses. They too are broken in different ways and impact how we respond to difficulty.
  • Event and Relational History: we have good and bad things that have happened to us along with people who have blessed us or hurt us.
  • Political/Cultural/Socio-economic Context: we exist in a context that impacts the degree to which we may struggle with worry.
  • Gender: our gender plays a role in how we struggle with worry.
  • Religious Upbringing: the beliefs that shaped us growing up influence our struggle with worry.
  • Age: the longer we live, the more grief and loss we experience. This can make us wiser or more prone to anxiety.
  • Race/Ethnicity: whether we are the majority or minority culture in a given context will also shape the way we experience anxiety.

 

This list is not exhaustive. You may be able to think of other external shaping influences. Each one can be nuanced to fit every person who has ever lived. No two people are alike.

While we take all of this seriously, it is important to note something interesting about the struggle with anxiety. While appreciating one’s context, changing one’s context does not guarantee that you will live a worry free life.

 

Once again, Alan Horwitz states this in his book, Anxiety: A Short History:

Modern developed societies are the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous that have ever existed so we might expect that their citizens would have low levels of anxiousness….

Nevertheless, surveys inform us that the public reports more anxiety disorders now than in the past. These studies indicate that anxiety is the single most common class of mental illness; almost one in five people has had an anxiety disorder during the past year and more than a quarter of the population experienced one at some point in their lives (p. 143).

 

Certainly there is nothing wrong with changing your circumstances if you are in danger, but situational change does not mean you will be anxiety free. There is a need for more.

 

 

Flesh/Heart

This category factors in the reality that we were created by God to worship and trust in him in the midst of our circumstances, no matter what they are. This is where the Bible focuses most of its attention. It does so, not because it is simplistic, but because it offers something that no other theory of change offers; a personal, loving, redeeming God who becomes a human being, lives, dies and has risen from the dead to give us new life, wisdom and power to live in relationship with him! The Bible does not minimize the category of “world” at all. Yet it does call us to depend upon and trust in God in the midst of our joys and sorrows.

 

Devil

This category is factored into the Biblical worldview because it recognizes that evil is real and personal. While most attention is focused on the other two categories, the Bible does clearly state that we have one who is opposed to God’s people and he seeks to tempt and accuse those who follow Christ. In Ephesians 6:10-20, the apostle Paul gives clear instruction on how to fight the schemes of the Evil One. When this category is improperly over-emphasized, it can lead people to look for demons in every pathology. When it is improperly under-emphasized, it can lead people to miss the real battle that part and parcel of the Christian life.

 

Modern psychology and psychiatry attempt to capture the multi-layeredness of people and their problems by talking about the bio/psycho/socio/cultural aspects of causation. The Biblical worldview allows us to take those categories seriously along with painting an even fuller, more nuanced picture. Whether the church has always represented this level of nuance is something to debate, but the Scriptures are clear.

 

PATIENCE AND COMPASSION

One of the most relevant aspects of understanding these three categories is to fully appreciate the multi-layered nature of anxiety. When we do this, we can understand why some people may struggle more than others. The more layers that are involved, the greater the struggle and the harder it may be to change.

 

If you struggle with severe anxiety, this can help you calibrate your expectations and not live under a cloud of shame because of your struggle.

 

If you are someone who is helping someone who struggles deeply, these categories can move you to greater empathy and compassion. They can also help you see that, even in the midst of a struggle with anxiety, the living, redeeming God wants to meet you in your troubles and comfort you and walk with you.

 

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

FRANCIS TURRITIN DEFENDED DIVINE SIMPLICITY AGAINST THE SOCINIANS by R. Scott Clark

Turretin Defended Divine Simplicity Against The Socinians

Is God most simple and free from all composition? We affirm against Socinus and Vorstius

I. The Socinians agitate this controversy with us since they deny that simplicity can be attributed to God according to the Scriptures and think it should be expunged from the number of the divine attributes for no other purpose than to weaken more easily the mystery of the Trinity by establishing the composition of the divine essence (The Racovian Catechism 3.1 [1818], p. 33). Vorstius retained this error (with various others also) and introduced it into his Tractatus theologicus de Deo (1610) and in the notes to “Disputatione III: De Natura Dei” (cf. Tractatus theologicus de Deo [1610], pp. 19–28). With these the Remonstrants also agree. In their Apology, they deny that the simplicity of God is necessary to be believed or that anything occurs in Scripture relative to it, but that the whole doctrine is metaphysical whether you consider the word or the thing (“Apologia pro confessione sive declaratione … Remonstrantes,” 2 in Episcopius, Operum theologicorum [1665], Pt. II, p. 129). But the orthodox have constantly taught that the essence of God is perfectly simple and free from all composition.

II. Simple is used in two senses: either absolutely and simply; or relatively and comparatively. Absolutely is such as in every kind of being excludes composition; comparatively is such as excludes it only with respect to some. Heaven and the elements are called simple bodies with respect to mixed, but do not exclude composition from their matter and form and quantitative parts. Angels and souls are simple with respect to bodies, but not absolutely such because they always involve a composition. Here we speak of absolute and not of comparative simplicity.

III. The simplicity of God considered not morally, but physically, is his incommunicable attribute by which the divine nature is conceived by us not only as free from all composition and division, but also as incapable of composition and divisibility.

Proof that God is perfectly simple.

IV. This is proved to be a property of God: (1) from his independence, because composition is of the formal reason of a being originated and dependent (since nothing can be composed by itself, but whatever is composed must necessarily be composed by another; now God is the first and independent being, recognizing no other prior to himself); (2) from his unity, because he who is absolutely one, is also absolutely simple and therefore can neither be divided nor composed; (3) from his perfection, because composition implies imperfection inasmuch as it supposes passive power, dependency and mutability; (4) from his activity, because God is a most pure act having no passive admixture and therefore rejecting all composition (because in God there is nothing which needs to be made perfect or can receive perfection from any other, but he is whatever can be and cannot be other than what he is). Whence he is usually described not only by concrete but also by abstract names—life, light, truth, etc.

V. From the removal of all species of composition (such as physical—of matter and form, since he is incorporeal); or of quantitative parts (which do not apply to God); or of subject and accident (because no accident can make the most perfect still more perfect); logical (of kind and difference because God is above every genus, nor is his a common nature capable of being restricted by difference); metaphysical act and power (since he is a pure act and incapable of change properly so called, to whom nothing new can happen or be received by him); of essence and existence (as in created things in which the nature of existence differs from that of essence, since their essence can be conceived without existence; nor does existence enter into their definition because they can be and not be, and existence with respect to them is something contingent, not necessary. For in God essence cannot be conceived without existence, and it is repugnant to conceive of God as not existing; hence philosophers call him a being by essence (i.e., which exists in virtue of its own essence) and of the nature of whose essence it is that he always exists. For this reason, God calls himself Jehovah (viz., he who is, “I am that I am” [‘hyh ‘shr ‘hyh]) to signify that being belongs to him in a far different manner than to all created things, not participatively and contingently, but necessarily, properly and independently. Finally, his simplicity is proved from nature and subsistence; for persons and essence are not related as real component extremes from which a tertium quid may arise (as in human things from the nature of man and the subsistence of Peter arises that person whom we call Peter); otherwise not a Trinity but a certain quaternity would be conceived of in God; nor do modes (such as subsistences) compose, they only modify.

VI. But as God rejects all composition in himself, so his simplicity hinders him also from being compounded with any created things so as to hold the relation of some part either of matter or form (against the opinion of the Platonists who supposed God to be the soul of the world; and of the Manicheans who held that all creatures were propagated from the essence of God). This is so both because he is altogether diverse from creatures, and because he is immutable and incorruptible (he cannot coalesce in one with any mutable and corruptible created thing). For all composition infers mutation by which a thing becomes part of a whole, which it was not before.

Sources of explanation.

VII. If all things are said to be of God (Rom. 11:36), this must be understood not hylikōs (“belonging to matter”) and materially, but dēmiourgikōs (“formatively”) and efficiently. We are called the race and offspring of God (Acts 17:28), not by a participation of the same essence, but by similarity of likeness; efficiently not essentially, as also he is called the “Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9) with reference to creation, not to composition. The Son of God is God-man (theanthrōpos) not by composition properly so-called, but by hypostatical union (by which the Word [logos] indeed assumed human nature in one hypostasis, but was not compounded with it as part with part; but stood to it in the relation of perfecter and sustainer to make perfect and sustain an essential adjunct, so that the human nature indeed did thence receive perfection, but nothing was added by it to the divine nature).

VIII. Composition is in that in which there is more than one real entity, but not where there is only more than one mode because modes only modify and characterize, but do not compose the essence. But in divine things there are one essence and three hypostases (which are modes distinguishing indeed the persons from each other, but not composing because they are not real entities concurring to the composition of some fourth thing, since they have one common essence; but they are only modifications according to which the essence is conceived to subsist in three persons).

IX. Simplicity and triplicity are so mutually opposed that they cannot subsist at the same time (but not simplicity and Trinity because they are said in different respects): simplicity in respect to essence, but Trinity in respect to persons. In this sense, nothing hinders God (who is one in essence) from being three persons.

X. The decrees of God can be regarded in two ways: either subjectively (if it is right so to speak, i.e., on the part of the internal act in itself and absolutely); or objectively, extrinsically and relatively with respect to creatures (respectively). In the former manner, they do not differ from God himself and are no other than God himself decreeing. But in the latter, they do differ because they may be conceived as many and various (not as to the thing, since God has decreed all things by one single and most simple act, but as to the objects), even as the knowledge of God is conversant with innumerable objects without detriment to his unity.

XI. The decrees of God are free, not absolutely and as to the principle, but relatively and objectively and as to the end. For there could be no external object necessarily terminating to the divine will, for God stands in need of nothing out of himself. Therefore they could be and not be. But this does not hinder them from being called necessary as to the principle and internal act because the act of intelligence and will could not be absent from God at all. He could not be God without intelligence and will. They are necessary, therefore, as to internal existence, but free as to external relation (schesin) and habit. Nor can the will of God be said to cease absolutely, but with respect to the external object on which it is terminated.

XII. The decrees of God are immanent acts of the divine will, but not properly its effect. God ought not to be called so much the cause as the principle of them. Hence there is no need that they should be posterior to God except in our order and in the manner of conceiving them.

XIII. Although the essence of God (considered simply in itself) is absolute and implies no relation to creatures, yet this does not hinder it (when considered with relative opposition to creatures and as determining itself in the manner of vital principle to the production of this or that thing out of itself) from having a certain reference (schesin) and relation to creatures. Nor can that manifold relation make composition in God, more than the relation which his omniscience and omnipotence bear to things ad extra, constituted a real difference between God and his omnipotence and omniscience.

XIV. Whatever in God is essential and absolute is God himself. Thus the absolute attributes may be identified really with the divine essence and are in it essentially, not accidentally. If they are predicated of God in the concrete, their subject is only of denomination, not of inhesion (inhaesionis). But whatever is personal and modal in God is indeed God himself in the concrete, though not in the abstract.

XV. The relative attributes do not argue composition, but distinction. The formal nature of relations is not to be in, but to be to. Nor do they superadd a new perfection to the essence, but only imply a habitude of the essence to other things. Paternity and dominion do not render him another being, but in a different manner dispose the possessor without superinducing a change in him.

XVI. The personal property of the Son does not make his essence different from that of the Father, nor of a simple essence make a composed, for nothing real is added to the essence, rather it only makes the Son distinct from the Father. Distinction is not composition.

XVII. The fathers often insist on this simplicity of God. “The nature of God is simple and immutable and undisturbed, nor is he himself one thing and what he is and has another thing” (Augustine, 1. 5, de Trinit. c. 1+). And after teaching that no creature is truly and perfectly simple, he adds: “Now although God may be called manifold, yet he is truly perfectly simple, for he is called great, wise, happy, and true, and whatever with propriety may be said of him. But his greatness is the same as his wisdom, for he is not great in mass, but in virtue, and his goodness is the same as his wisdom and greatness and truth” (The Trinity 6.6, 7* [FC 45:208–9; PL 42.929]). So too Athanasius: “God is not composed who composed all things that they might be; nor is he such as those things are which were made by his word; since he is a simple substance in whom there is no quality nor any shadow of change, as James testifies” (To the Bishops of Africa 8 [NPNF2, 4:493; PG 26.1043]).

—Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 3.7 [191–94].

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R. Scott Clark is Professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and blogs at THE HEIDELBLOG. 

HERMAN BAVINCK ON ‘DIVINE SIMPLICITY’

Now Christian theology has always been more or less conscious of this calling. On the whole, its teaching has been that God is “simple,” that is, sublimely free from all composition, and that therefore one cannot make any real [i.e., ontological] distinction between his being and his attributes. Each attribute is identical with God’s being: he is what he possesses. In speaking of creatures we make all sorts of distinctions between what they are and what they have. A person, for example, is still human even though he or she has lost the image of God and has become a sinner. But in God all his attributes are identical with his being. God is light through and through; he is all mind, all wisdom, all logos, all spirit, and so forth. In God “to be is the same as to be wise, which is the same as to be good, which is the same as to be powerful. One and the same thing is stated whether it be said that God is eternal or immortal or good or just.” Whatever God is, he is that completely and simultaneously. “God has no properties but is pure essence. God’s properties are really the same as his essence: they neither differ from his essence nor do they differ materially from each other.”68

68. Augustine, The Trinity, VI, 7; John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith, I, 9; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 2, art. 3; H. Heppe, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche, 42, 51–53; H. F. F. Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 122.

—Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, trans. John Bolt and John Vriend, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 118.

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Taken from R. Scott Clark’s THE HEIDELBLOG; August 27, 2016.

 

WHY BOOKS LIKE JERRY BRIDGES’ THE BLESSING OF HUMILITY MATTER SO MUCH by Ray Ortlund

There is a reason why a book like Jerry Bridges’ The Blessing of Humility matters so much. The depth of personal spirituality represented here is not in our DNA. We must rediscover it afresh in every generation, and it is not easy to learn and not easy to retain. As a result, we are always one generation away from losing the personal tenderness of heart that Jerry Bridges and his generation, at their best, represented. We are always one generation away from drifting into theologically sound, hard-hearted pride, which then positions the next generation for drifting into theologically unsound, hard-hearted pride, which then positions the next generation for apostasy, judgment and destruction.

Right now we who identify with THE GOSPEL COALITION are experiencing a theological resurgence. God is helping us all to recover the wonderful doctrines of justification by faith alone, substitution, imputation, union with Christ, and other truths clustered around the grace of God in the gospel. This resurgence is, for me, greatly encouraging. But doctrinal recovery alone is not enough. We need personal revival too. We need our hearts subdued to Christ and reinvigorated by Christ and alive to Christ. We need the best spirituality as well as the best theology, for the blessing to continue.

Through books like The Blessing of Humility – and I am currently re-reading True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer — we are allowed into the personal depths of older saints who understood true doctrine and also lived in sincere humility and thus experienced personal reality with the living God. Only this convergence of powers — the theological with the personal — constitutes the biblical Christianity we must pass on to the rising generation.

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Ray Ortlund blogs at CHRIST IS DEEPER STILL at THE GOSPEL COALITION.

BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD by R. C. Sproul

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart, for They Shall See God
Jesus said that those who are pure at their very core are the ones who will see God

Written by R.C. Sproul | Saturday, August 27, 2016

“The thing that keeps us from having the vision of God now is our impurity, our sin. John said that when we see Him, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. The question remains as to whether God will glorify us in heaven, allowing us to see Him as He is, or whether He will show Himself to us, which will purify us.”

Jesus said that those who are pure at their very core are the ones who will see God. In 1 John, we see the promise of the beatific vision: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1a). John introduced this section of his epistle with an expression of Apostolic amazement. The thing that is so incredible and astonishing is that people who are not pure in heart are adopted into the family of God. We simply do not qualify for that relationship in terms of our own character; nevertheless, we are called the children of God.

John goes on to say:

The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (3:1b-3).

People often have questions about what things will be like in heaven. What will we be like? Will we know each other? Will we appear to be the same age that we were when we died? Or will we have glorified bodies that somehow are ageless? How will we occupy our time? We are always puzzled by these things, and John was puzzled too, for he said, “What we will be has not yet appeared.” We are given glimpses of what heaven will be like, but we don’t have a complete picture of what to expect when we cross over to the other side. John was cognizant of the limits of our knowledge, and even the limits of the revelation that he received about these matters from the Lord, but He doesn’t leave us groping in the darkness. We don’t yet know what we will be like, but this much we do know: we will be like Him, that is, Christ.

Elsewhere, when the New Testament speaks about the consummation of Christ’s kingship at His return, it uses the language of apocalypse, which means “unveiling.” At this point, Christ will be made manifest; He will appear in His full glory. When the Bible speaks about seeing Him again, we are told that when He appears in this unveiling, we will see Him; every eye will behold Him. So the force of these passages should direct our attention to the hope of seeing Christ in the fullness of His glory.

The theological definition of the Trinity says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three in person, but one in essence or being. This truth promises something even greater, if that’s conceivable, than seeing Christ face-to-face in the fullness of His glory. We won’t simply see the expression of the perfect image of God; we will see God in His very essence, face-to-face. Obviously, this poses a difficult philosophical and theological question: If God is a spirit, how can the Bible speak of seeing Him in the purity of His essence, when His pure essence is spiritual and invisible?

Jonathan Edwards had some interesting thoughts on this question. His thinking is certainly speculative, but it gets me excited when I think about it. We put great stock in being an eyewitness; someone will say that something is true because he saw it with his own eyes. We know how important physical sight is, and what a blind person would give to have his sight restored. So, we must have functioning eyes to see, as well as a brain that correctly interprets the images. But the ability to see is not enough; we need light. We can’t see in the dark. Edwards suggested that the experiences that we think of as direct and immediate eyewitness experiences are really indirect and mediated experiences. They pass through the intermediate steps of light, sensation, nerve stimulation, and so on. According to Edwards, the ultimate vision of God will be one that takes place without the eyes. It will be a direct and immediate apprehension by the human soul of the very essence of God—a completely and dramatically transcendent mode of perception. All of the barriers that prevent our seeing God will be removed, and we will be filled in our souls with direct, immediate apprehension of the being of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The thing that keeps us from having the vision of God now is our impurity, our sin. John said that when we see Him, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. The question remains as to whether God will glorify us in heaven, allowing us to see Him as He is, or whether He will show Himself to us, which will purify us. We don’t know the answer to that, but it’s interesting to think about, because nothing would be a greater agent of purification than a direct, immediate vision of the nature of God. John said that even the promise of this future vision works to begin our purification right now. So, keep it always in front of you as the ultimate promise for the fullness of your soul.

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This article previously appeared on Ligonier.org

ARE WE CALLED TO PREACH THE GOSPEL OR PREACH THE WORD ?

Are We Called to Preach the Gospel or Preach the Word?
At the heart of his great little book, William Still emphasizes that the work of the pastor is primarily preaching and teaching the whole Word of God

Written by Jason A. Van Bemmel | Friday, July 31, 2015

We, too, live in a time when certain churches and certain movements are strongly emphasizing being Gospel-centered and emphasizing that pastors need to clearly preach the Gospel every Sunday. Now, I am fully in favor of being Gospel-centered, and I hope and pray that I do preach the Gospel every Lord’s Day morning. But that’s not the same thing as having every sermon be a “Gospel sermon” or a completely evangelistic sermon or basically the same sermon in different packaging.

“Preach the word.” – 2 Tim 4:2
I’ve been re-reading William Still’s The Work of the Pastor, one of the best and most recommended short-yet-weighty books for pastors. William Still was Sinclair Ferguson’s pastor and impacted the lives of many future pastors, theologians and missionaries.

At the heart of his great little book, Still emphasizes that the work of the pastor is primarily preaching and teaching the whole Word of God. In Chapter 4, “Commissioned by God,” Still places strong emphasis on preaching the whole Word rather than just preaching the Gospel. He argues against an over-emphasis on justification and forgiveness of sins and an under-emphasis on Christian growth in holiness (sanctification). As he does so, he says some pretty strong things:

“The Scriptures have a perfect balance, not only between their various parts, but within these parts; there is balance at every level and in every dimension. By contrast, it is undeniable that the Reformation did more to bring forth from the Word of God the doctrine of justification than the doctrine of sanctification and thus fell short of that contrast.” – p. 78 (Did he just criticize the Reformation?)

” . . . although they generally hold the whole Bible to be the inspired Word of God, they far from draw upon the totality of its inspired writings. All their search is for the simple Gospel, and if they don’t find the simple Gospel in its pages (some try very hard to twist and turn the Old Testament stories into it) then it is politely, even reverently . . . set aside . . . Not that they do so without a twinge of conscience . . . But it is not easy in the prevailing evangelistic climate to adopt a policy of feeding the sheep on the whole Word of God, giving them a full, varied, balanced diet.” – pp. 81-82

We, too, live in a time when certain churches and certain movements are strongly emphasizing being Gospel-centered and emphasizing that pastors need to clearly preach the Gospel every Sunday. Now, I am fully in favor of being Gospel-centered, and I hope and pray that I do preach the Gospel every Lord’s Day morning. But that’s not the same thing as having every sermon be a “Gospel sermon” or a completely evangelistic sermon or basically the same sermon in different packaging.

Every passage of the Bible is not the same, and every passage does not lead to the same conclusions and the same applications. It is possible to start with any text of Scripture and legitimately come to Christ in the message. I agree with what Charles Spurgeon said:

“From every town, village, and little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London… and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. Your business is, when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ.”

But that doesn’t mean that we as preachers should rush past the substance and teaching of the text itself, hurry up and get to Jesus, and stay there. Spurgeon himself preached thousands of sermons and they didn’t all have the same basic Gospel message, even though they were all Christ-centered.

Our charge and commission comes clearly from 2 Tim 4:1-5:

“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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (ESV)

So, what exactly is the commission and how can we faithfully carry it out?

The commission:
1. Preach the word. Not our own ideas, however clever and compelling we may think they are.

2. Be ready in season and out of season. Preach the word whether the response is positive and encouraging or not. God is in charge of the response.

3. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. This speaks to the variety and balanced nature of the commission. The Bible sometimes reproves (corrects), sometimes rebukes, sometimes exhorts (urgently advises) and we must be willing to do so, too. But we do so with complete patience and teaching, being long-suffering, as God is with us, and teaching in a complete and balanced manner.

4. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching. This is a warning that faithfulness to God’s commission will not always lead to rapid church growth and great popularity. Many people do not want the balanced diet of the whole counsel of God’s word. So, we must “be sober-minded, endure suffering.”

5. Do the work of an evangelist. We are to proclaim the Gospel clearly and prayerfully seek to see the lost won to Christ.

6. Fulfill your ministry. In all of these ways, we will fulfill the ministry God has given us. If we neglect any of them, we will not.

How do we fulfill the commission?
1. Be in the word. If we’re going to preach the word and be faithful to the word and not to any human ideas and agendas, then we need to be in the word, every day for long periods of time- reading, studying, meditating on the word, praying the word to God, seeking to be conformed to the word by the Spirit.

2. Let the text set the agenda for the message. Preach the text and not your own clever ideas. Make the text clear to the people, using the language and outline of the text and clarifying it. Expose the text.

3. Preach the Gospel as it is in the text. Preach Christ as He is in the text. Every text authentically contains the message of the kingdom of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and leads us to Christ in some way. This sometimes requires some digging and studying in prayer, but it never requires twisting or distorting the text.

4. Apply the text to the lives of your flock. God’s word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. (Heb. 4:12) It is God-breathed and is useful to equip the people of God for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17) The Bible has applicability to the lives of your flock living in their context. This does mean that you need to know your people and you need to understand the times in which we live.

5. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. (5 times) The real work of grace is the application of the word to the hearts of God’s people by the Holy Spirit. So . . .

Pray before you begin your preparation.
Pray as you prepare.
Pray before you deliver the message.
Pray as you’re preaching.
Pray after you’ve finished preaching.
6. Persevere. So much of what Paul urges Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4 involves perseverance in the duties of ministry and preaching word, trusting the results to God. Too often we’re tempted to “try something” and then if it’s “not working,” we switch to something else. We need to be committed to the call God has given us and persevere in it until the end, by His grace and for His glory.

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Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor

DOWNSTREAM IN THE MORAL SEWAGE by Tim Challies and Al Mohler

Downstream, in the Moral Sewage
August 27, 2012
All through history there have been the few who have benefitted at the expense of the many and the rich who have benefitted at the expense of the poor. Sometimes the progressive have benefitted at the expense of those who are falling behind. Many cities have produced endless amounts of waste and have flushed it into rivers that have delivered that waste, and all the death and disease that attends it, to people who live far downstream.

I thought of this as I read an article Al Mohler wrote for The Atlantic (he wrote the article, they chose the photo, unfortunately). Helen Gurley Brown died two weeks ago and Mohler wrote about her life and legacy as one of the most important and most underestimated agents of the sexual revolution. “Since 1960 we have experienced a moral revolution that has transformed every dimension of American life, and the death of Helen Gurley Brown is a reminder that the sexual revolution did not happen by accident. Like all revolutions, this one required moral revolutionaries.”

Her contribution was in creating the cultural category of the “single girl” and in convincing that single girl to liberate herself from all the traditional sexual mores. The single girl could and, indeed, should, have sex freely and with as many partners as she desired.

When Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl hit the bookstores in 1962, it lit a firestorm of controversy. A former advertising writer, then recently married to a leading Hollywood producer, Helen Gurley Brown dared to scandalize the nation, virtually inventing the “single girl” as a cultural category. Brown urged young women to see themselves as empowered by sex, money, and men—but without any need for the traditional commitment to marriage.

Her argument was so scandalous at the time that no major publisher would touch the book. The bookstores were filled with books offering advice to young wives and mothers, but Helen Gurley Brown was openly inventing a new cultural category, the sexually liberated single girl.

The single girl “is engaging because she lives by her wits,” declared Brown, who pointed to her younger self as a prime example of the empowered single girl she now celebrated.

And, most central to Brown’s vision, the single girl is having sex, a lot of sex, and enjoying romantic relations with men, lots of men.

Most scandalous of all was Helen Gurley Brown’s insistence that married men were not off limits for sexual affairs—not by a long shot. Married men, she advised, were among other things, “frequently marvelous in bed and careful not to get you pregnant.”

As I read about Brown’s life, I was deeply saddened and disturbed on at least a couple of different levels.

The first is that this revolution she began is one she herself indulged in for a time before falling into more traditional patterns. As Dr. Mohler says, “She was a living contradiction, who argued that being the single girl was the ideal, but then married; and that married men were fair game for adulterous affairs, but then drew the line at her husband.” Like so many revolutionaries, she sparked a revolution but demanded no moral accountability of herself. When she stepped out of that revolution and when it went far beyond what she could ever have imagined, no one called her to account. Like so many revolutionaries, she was a walking contradiction, which is to say, an utter, outright hypocrite. Her revolution continued even after she had grown tired of it or perhaps stopped believing in it.

The second observation is that young women today are convinced that their bodies are all their own, that they can hook up with whomever they want whenever they want without emotional scars. What is tragic is that they think this is their own idea, that they are the revolutionaries. What they don’t see is that they are swimming downstream from someone else’s sewage. Like a city that pumps waste into a river and watches it disappear around the bend on its way to the next place, Brown created moral sewage, and a whole generation—several generations—are mucking around in it, bearing all the consequences. And in some way we are all downstream from the revolutionary sinners, the ones who create new categories for sin, who create new and shocking ways to sin, and who so often eventually step back to watch us flounder in their mess.

Mohler aptly summarizes her impact: “A single individual cannot accomplish a moral revolution, but such revolutions cannot happen without individuals who are willing to make their arguments in public, push them with energy over decades, and never sound retreat. Helen Gurley Brown was not just a celebrity. She was a moral revolutionary who lived long enough to see the sexual revolution become our mainstream culture.”