80 YEARS AGO TODAY: R. C. SPROUL WAS BORN

Robert Charles Sproul—called by his parents R. C. Sproul III—was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 13, 1939, the second child of Robert Cecil and Mayre Ann Sproul.

An avid Steelers and Pirates fan, sports were a big part of his life. But at the age of 15, R.C. had to drop out of high school athletics in order to help his family make ends meet, as his father, a veteran of World War II, had suffered a series of debilitating strokes. R.C. Sproul II—the most important figure in his son’s life—passed away during R.C.’s senior year of high school. His final words were, “Son, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” R.C., who had watched his father faithfully read the Bible, had never read it himself and did not recognize that this was a quote from the Apostle Paul. He rebuked his father: “Don’t say that!” To his shame, it would be the last thing he ever said to father.

R.C. was reborn in September of 1957 during the first weekend of his first semester at Westminster College, a progressive Presbyterian school an hour north of Pittsburgh. Following freshman orientation, R.C. and his roommate (whom he had played baseball with in school) wanted to leave their dry campus to go to a neighboring town to drink. When they got to the parking lot, R.C. reached his hand in his pocket and realized he was all out of Lucky Strike cigarettes. They returned to the dorm, which housed a cigarette machine.

As he started to put his quarters in the machine, the star of the football team invited them to sit down at a table with him. He began asking them questions. They ended up talking for over an hour about the wisdom of God. What struck R.C. was that for the first time in his life, he was listening to someone who sounded like he knew Jesus personally. The football player quoted Ecclesiastes 11:3 (“Where the tree falls in the forest, there it lies”) and R.C. saw himself as that true: dead, corrupt, and rotting. He returned to his dorm that night and prayed to God for forgiveness. He would later remark that he was probably the only person in church history to be converted through that particular verse.

R.C. was biblically and theologically illiterate. Within the first two weeks of his Christian life, he read through the entire Bible, and was awakened for the first time to the holiness of God, especially through the Old Testament.

In February of 1958, R.C.’s girlfriend, Vesta—whom he met in first grade and had dated on and off since junior high—visited from her college in Ohio. After attending a prayer meeting with R.C., she too committed her life to Christ.

The summer after his junior year at Westminster and Vesta’s graduation from college, R.C. and Vesta were united in marriage on June 11, 1960.

The next year, Vesta worked at the school while R.C. wrote his senior philosophy thesis on “The Existential Implications of Moby Dick” and saw his beloved Pirates win the World Series.

In August of 1961 the Sprouls’ first child, Sherrie, was born, and R.C. enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which was affiliated with the mainline United Presbyterian Church in the United States (the largest Presbyterian denomination in America at the time).

During seminary, he began taking classes with 47-year-old church history professor John Gerstner (1914–1996), a conservative Calvinist in the progressive school. R.C. was strongly opposed to Reformed theology

I challenged Gerstner in the classroom time after time, making a total pest of myself. I resisted for well over a year. My final surrender came in stages. Painful stages. It started when I began work as a student pastor in a church. I wrote a note to myself that I kept on my desk in a place where I could always see it.

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO BELIEVE, TO PREACH, AND TO TEACH WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS IS TRUE, NOT WHAT YOU WANT THE BIBLE TO SAY IS TRUE.

The note haunted me. My final crisis came in my senior year. I had a three-credit course in the study of Jonathan Edwards. We spent the semester studying Edwards’s most famous book, The Freedom of the Will, under Gerstner’s tutelage. At the same time, I had a Greek exegesis course in the book of Romans. I was the only student in that course, one on one with the New Testament professor. There was nowhere I could hide.

The combination was too much for me. Gerstner, Edwards, the New Testament professor, and above all the apostle Paul, were too formidable a team for me to withstand.

Sproul, the reluctant Calvinst, came to embrace Reformed theology and to view Gerstner as a lifelong theological mentor.

Although R.C. desired to enter pastoral ministry, Gerstner encouraged him to do doctoral work at the Free University of Amsterdam under G.C. Berkouwer (1903–1996), the leading Dutch theologian in the Reformed world. The Sprouls moved to Holland in 1964 to commence R.C.’s program.

But in just his second semester at the university, during the spring of 1965, R.C. was granted a one-year leave of absence to return to the United States, as Vesta was pregnant with her second child and R.C.’s mother was ill. He secured an appointment to teach philosophy at his alma mater, Westminster College, during this hiatus. That summer, on July 1, his mother passed into glory. And on the very same day, Robert Craig Sproul (R.C. Sproul Jr.), their only son, was born. Two weeks later, R.C. was ordained as a minister in the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. (He would join the PCA in 1975.)

Rather than returning to the Netherlands, the Sprouls stayed in the US, where he taught at Gordon College (Massachusetts) and then Conwell School of Theology (Philadelphia). He continued his studies under Berkouwer from a distance and returned in 1969 to take his matriculation exams, which enabled him to receive the “drs.” (doctorandus) degree—equivalent to a masters—which would have enabled him to begin writing a dissertation. But ministry endeavors prevailed, and he never did complete his dissertation and thus did not earn a PhD from Amsterdam. (He would later be granted a PhD from the unaccredited Whitefield Theological Seminary based upon all of his writing for the church.)

From 1969 to 1971, R.C. served as associate minister of theology and evangelism at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. One person influenced by this ministry was Dora Hillman, a 65-year-old widow of an industrial tycoon in Pittsburgh.

In February of 1970, Mrs. Hillman visited R.C. and Vesta in Cincinnati to propose a plan in collaboration with other Christian leaders from the Pittsburgh area: a Christian study and conference center on 52 acres of land an hour east of Pittsburgh in the Ligonier Valley, with R.C. as the primary teaching theologian along with other staff.

The Sprouls accepted this calling and in 1971 moved to the small village of Stahlstown, an hour east of Pittsburgh. The Ligonier Valley Study Center was modeled in part after Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri ministry in Switzerland. Students ate and slept in the Sprouls’ home and the other homes on the complex, while teaching happened both formally and informally throughout the week. A burgeoning audio ministry soon developed, and R.C. began traveling the country giving seminars and conferences.

The mission, passion, and purpose of R.C. Sproul’s life was the same as Ligonier Ministries: “to proclaim the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.” He saw his work as a filling a gap between Sunday School and seminary, helping Christian laypeople renew their minds as they learned Christian doctrine, ethics, and apologetics, all in the service of living life coram Deo —before the face of God.

The 1970s saw the beginning of R.C.’s writing career. The first several titles show the range of his teaching and interests: The Symbol: An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (P&R, 1973); The Psychology of Atheism (Bethany, 1974), Discovering the Intimate Marriage (Bethan, 1975), and The Inerrant Word, general editor (Bethany, 1975). He would go on to write or edit over 60 books, including a novel, a biography, and several children’s books.

The inerrancy volume grew out of a conference on the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, hosted at Ligonier in the fall of 1973, with more than 100 guests. Speakers at the conference included John Gerstner, J. I. Packer, John Frame, and Clark Pinnock. R.C. penned the Ligonier Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which was further refined and developed, culminating in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

On May 6, 1977, he Ligonier Valley Study Center launched a monthly newsletter, called Tabletalk after the informal teaching time of Martin Luther. The newsletter eventually became a magazine, with an estimated readership of a quarter of a million people across 50 countries.

In 1984, the Ligonier Valley Study Center was renamed Ligonier Ministries and relocated to Orlando, Florida. R.C., who taught four months out of the year at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, became the first academic dean at the RTS Orlando campus, which began in 1989.

in 1985, Tyndale House Publishers in Wheaton, Illinois, published The Holiness of God, which may be his most important book.

In 1986, Tyndale published Chosen by Godwhich argued the case for a Calvinstic understanding of divine predestination.

He would later say that if someone was going to read anything by him, he would recommend these two books.

My biggest concern in writing all of the books that I’ve written is to help people understand who God is and who we are.

Those two books, I think, first of all point out the transcendent majesty of God, and second, the sovereignty of God.

Those two ideas so inform our whole understanding of God, of Christ, of ourselves, and of the whole gamut of Christian thought that it is the foundational material that I use to introduce people to these things.

One of the great distinctions of R.C.’s teaching style was his use of a chalkboard, even when technology had advanced far beyond this classroom tool. It enabled laypeople to feel as if they were in a classroom by Professor Sproul, who refused to talk down to them, peppering his lectures with Latin phrases, but doing so in such an engaging way that listeners were more likely to lean in than to tune out. A master pedagogue, he combined an earnest seriousness with an evident joy over the material and the act of convincing his audience to follow his line of argument. He often had a gleam in his eye, anticipating the “aha” moment when it all came together. He gave the impression that while he was deadly serious about the subject matter under consideration, he never took himself too seriously.

He once talked about his teaching style with Tim Challies:

When we talk about teaching style, I guess some people think about a carefully choreographed style for communication. I’ve never done that. My teaching style is just an expression of who I am. My concern is always to get my message across. The idea of walking around and using a blackboard started in my teaching of philosophy and Bible as a professor in a college.

I made ample use of the blackboard and chalk, and even to this day, I much prefer them over whiteboards and felt pens. I just like the dynamic of chalkboards. You can erase them easily, and there’s action involved.

I remember once I was lecturing in the college and my mind went blank—because I didn’t use notes, or very few notes in those lectures—and I didn’t know where I was. So I turned around and walked over to the blackboard—at that point, it was blank—and I took the chalk and wrote a long line and then put an exclamation point at the end of it.

I turned around and said to the class, “Do you know what that means?” And they looked at me with dumbfounded bewilderment. I said: “Let me tell you what it means. It means I forgot where I was, and I had to do something, so I just wrote this line on the blackboard. But now I remember, so we can continue.”

The daily radio program Renewing Your Mind first aired in 1994.

That same year, the ecumenical statement “Evangelical and Catholics Together” was unveiled, featuring not only Roman Catholic leaders like Avery Dulles and Richard John Neuhaus, but also friends of Sproul like Chuck Colson and J. I. Packer. R.C. saw the document as a compromise of the Gospel, undermining the essential truths of imputed righteousness through faith alone.

In 1995, R.C. served as the general editor of the New Geneva Study Bible (now revised and published as The Reformation Study Bible), after seven years of labor with over fifty biblical scholars.

In 1997, the new, small congregation of Saint Andrew’s Chapel called R.C. to serve as their senior minister of preaching and teaching. He later became the co-pastor with the appointment of Burk Parsons. The church sought to remain steadfast in the Reformed tradition but without the influence of denominational governance, though their pastors are ordained in the PCA. From their initial meetings within the recording studio at Ligonier, to a local movie theatre, they finally established their first sanctuary in 2001.

R.C. called this preaching ministry “the highlight of my life.” The great regret of his life was that he waited until he was 58 years old to proclaim God’s Word from the pulpit week in and week out.

In 2011, Ligonier launched Reformation Bible College, seeking to redefine what a Bible college can be by combining Reformed theology and piety with an academically rigorous curriculum.

On December 14, 2017, R.C. Sproul entered into the joy of his Lord and Savior, following complications from emphysema. He was 78 years old.

Because he preached the whole counsel of God and had a heart to equip God’s people to live before the face of a holy God, he had often taught on suffering and death over his five decades of ministry.

He once candidly admitted his fears when it came to dying:

I recently heard a young Christian remark, “I have no fear of dying.” When I heard this comment I thought to myself, “I wish I could say that.”

I am not afraid of death. I believe that death for the Christian is a glorious transition to heaven. I am not afraid of going to heaven. It’s the process that frightens me. I don’t know by what means I will die. It may be via a process of suffering, and that frightens me.

I know that even this shouldn’t frighten me. There are lots of things that frighten me that I shouldn’t let frighten me. The Scripture declares that perfect love casts out fear. But love is still imperfect, and fear hangs around.

He wrote about what it would be like to be in heaven and identified with Christ:

You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting, but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets, and my biggest concern, if I have any, will be my wife back here grieving.

When I die, I will be identified with Christ’s exaltation. But right now, I’m identified with His affliction.

And in an article entitled “Death Does Not Have the Last Word,” he wrote:

When we close our eyes in death, we do not cease to be alive; rather, we experience a continuation of personal consciousness.

No person is more conscious, more aware, and more alert than when he passes through the veil from this world into the next.

Far from falling asleep, we are awakened to glory in all of its significance.

For the believer, death does not have the last word. Death has surrendered to the conquering power of the One who was resurrected as the firstborn of many brethren.

A businessman once asked R.C. Sproul, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He answered:

The big idea of the Christian life is coram DeoCoram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life. . . .

This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God.

To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.

R.C. Sproul: coram Deo.

For further reading:


An earlier version of this article appeared at the Between Two Worlds blog by Justin Taylor.

Advertisements

A SILHOUETTE OF A MAN–THE SANITIZING AND STRAIGHT-WASHING OF QUEEN FRONTMAN FREDDIE MERCURY

The canonization of Freddie Mercury is now complete.

Making the case for his beatification is the box-office hit Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic released in U.S. theaters on Nov. 2 last year and on DVD today. The movie traces the early life of the lead singer of Queen, the band’s decline, and its triumphant re-emergence in a 1985 Live Aid performance. Some critics and music historians have called that 20-minute set the greatest single rock performance of all time.

The case the movie makes is strong, at least in pop-culture terms. As a rock band frontman, Mercury was no backbencher. He could stand toe-to-toe with Mick Jagger and David Bowie: With a range that approached four octaves, his vocal power far surpassed them. No less a rock god than the Who’s Roger Daltrey called Mercury “the best virtuoso rock ’n’ roll singer of all time.”

And in that all-important pop-culture measurement, money, Queen was second only to the Beatles in terms of Brit-pop success. The band sold more than 150 million albums. The movie Wayne’s World, with its iconic head-banging sequence, and a hysterical cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the Muppets transmitted the Queen mythology to new generations. Songs such as “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” are staples at sporting events the world over, making the band a household name globally and generating a perpetual revenue stream. When Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991, his net worth was estimated at $60 million (well over $100 million in today’s dollars). But royalties and ongoing record sales have generated at least another $100 million since his death.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates all this, ending with the triumphant Live Aid performance, one that is riveting even 35 years later.

But there is, of course, more to the story.

Farrokh Bulsara, the boy who would become Freddie Mercury, was born in the British protectorate of Zanzibar (now Tanzania) in 1946. His parents were Parsees, Persians whose ancestors had fled the expansion of Islam in the seventh century in part so they could continue to practice Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest religions on earth and the religion in which Freddie Mercury was raised.

Many Zoroastrians sum up their religion with the phrase, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” The religion had strict prohibitions against homosexual behavior. The most sacred scripture of Zoroastrianism is called the Avesta, which reads in part: “The man that lies with mankind as man lies with womankind, or as woman lies with mankind, is a man that is a daeva [demon]. This man is a worshipper of the daevas, a male paramour of the daevas.”  In short, in traditional Zoroastrianism, homosexuality is demonic, a form of devil worship.

This upbringing explains, in large part, why Mercury never publicly outed himself during his lifetime. Early in his adult life he was engaged to be married to his muse Mary Austin.  They broke off their engagement after Mercury admitted to multiple homosexual affairs, but they remained close throughout his life. Queen guitarist Brian May told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that in the early days of Queen, he and Mercury shared hotel rooms. “I knew who Freddie slept with in the early days,” May said. “And they weren’t men.”

But after his breakup with Mary Austin, and after the band became successful, Mercury became unmoored. A fascinating biography of Mercury, Somebody to Love by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne, documents in detail how sex and drugs poured out of the rock ’n’ roll. After many shows, Mercury would take a man back to his room for sex. Estimates of the number of sex partners Mercury had during his lifetime range from hundreds to several thousand.

None of these aspects of Freddie Mercury’s life made it into the sanitized version offered by Bohemian Rhapsody.

His drug use also rose to epic proportions. At one point in the late 1970s, Mercury’s drug purchases reached 7,000 British pounds per week. That was the equivalent of about $15,000, or about $45,000 in 2018 dollars. Every week.

These details are also conveniently omitted from Bohemian Rhapsody.

Mercury did not, of course, consume all these drugs. Many were consumed by a growing entourage without which Mercury could grow despondent, lonely, compulsive. Biographers Richards and Langthorne suggest that his loneliness also contributed to his prodigious sexual promiscuity.

Money did allow Mercury to buy friends, or at least to have people around him. Example: For Mercury’s 35th birthday, held in his newly acquired New York City apartment, he flew 100 friends over on a supersonic Concorde jet. That was 1981, when a round-trip flight would have cost about $4,000, or more than $10,000 in today’s dollars. Once in New York, the guests enjoyed Cristal champagne—worth about $60,000 in 1981 prices—stored in a huge refrigerator in Mercury’s apartment. According to Richards and Langthorne, he told his friends “not to worry about the expense, promising them that the only thing they would have to pay for was the condoms.” The party went on for five days.

Perhaps the most horrific aspect of Mercury’s character was that he likely had sex with hundreds of men after he became HIV-positive, probably in 1982. Many of those sexual relationships occurred after Mercury either knew or strongly suspected he carried the AIDS virus. According to Richards and Langthorne, Mercury took multiple AIDS tests in 1984 and 1985, with likely positive results, but continued to have sex until he started having symptoms of full-blown AIDS late in 1985.

Again, these details are omitted from Bohemian Rhapsody.

Richards and Langthorne place some of the blame for Mercury’s behavior at the feet of his parents, who shipped him off to boarding school when he was a child. The distance left him with a tenuous relationship with his parents, especially his father. It is a credit to Richards and Langthorne that they draw attention to this significant point in their biography of Mercury, since gay ideologues resist the notion that a gay man’s relationship with his father contributes in any way to his sexual orientation.

The movie downplays any possibility that Mercury was gay or an addict because of any environmental factors: Instead, it suggests he was gay because he was gay, and that his creative output was somehow linked to his addictive personality. That’s just the way enormously gifted people are. If the world is unwilling to accept the excesses of artists, then it will be deprived of such artistic masterpieces as “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

These falsehoods may be what makes the sentimental ending of Bohemian Rhapsody so frustrating to those who know the true story of Freddie Mercury. The movie climaxes with Queen’s triumphal set at Live Aid in 1985 in front of more than 70,000 people and as many as 1 billion watching worldwide on TV. However, it fails to show Mercury’s decline into sickness, reclusion, and death.

The movie also suggests a reconciliation between Mercury and his father, implying the father’s acceptance of the son’s homosexuality. In reality, Mercury hid his homosexuality from his father until the end, often making up elaborate fictions to explain his live-in companions. Mercury told his father that one of his gay lovers was the gardener. One former lover remained with Freddie as a chef. Others were personal assistants.

Also whitewashed is the fact that Mercury’s prodigious promiscuity came at a pivotal moment in the AIDS crisis. In fact, one of Mercury’s sex partners was John Murphy, a companion and lover of the infamous Gaëtan Dugas. The story of Gaëtan Dugas is well-documented in Randy Shilts’ book And the Band Played On. Shilts labeled Dugas “Patient Zero,” the patient from whom all other AIDS cases sprang. That label is probably not accurate, but it is fair to say that Dugas, Murphy, and their sex partners, a circle that included Freddie Mercury, were powerful forces in the early spread of HIV, a disease that has killed more than 35 million people worldwide.

It’s hard to say precisely why Bohemian Rhapsody left out all of these unsavory aspects of Mercury’s life. It’s possible the film’s producers did not want to sully the name of a gay icon. It’s also possible that money was a motivation. To come even close to reality, the film would have been rated R, a kiss of death at the box office. The PG-13 rating of Bohemian Rhapsodymeant the lucrative teen market was a viable audience.

And the strategy was a wild financial success. At year-end, Bohemian Rhapsody, with a production budget of about $50 million, was closing in on the $200 million mark in the United States alone. And the movie, like the band Queen in real life, is much more popular overseas. Worldwide ticket sales are currently well over $800 million and climbing. The movie is now one of the Top 100 highest-grossing movies of all time.

But that commercial success has not prevented critics from speaking out. Alexis Petridis, writing in The Guardian, described the portrayal of Mercury as “sanitized.” He wrote, “Bohemian Rhapsody is a film that plays so fast and loose with the truth, it ends up seeming faintly ridiculous.” IndieWire gave the film a D+, calling it “royally embarrassing.”

IndieWire also put its finger on what is perhaps the greatest tragedy of Bohemian Rhapsody when it concluded, “Queen’s music may have been unclassifiable, but their movie is as trite and textbook as it gets. … It’s par for the course in this terrible and self-indulgent piece of revisionist history, where the legend is always prioritized over the truth, even when the truth was surely far more interesting.”

CONTENT IN HIS PROVIDENCE by R. C. Sproul

Feb 11, 2019 ; TABLETALK MAGAZINE

Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher and mathematician, noted that human beings are creatures of profound paradox. We’re capable of both deep misery and tremendous grandeur, often at the same time. All we have to do is scan the headlines to see that this is the case. How often do celebrities who have done great good through philanthropy get caught up in scandals?

Human grandeur is found in part in our ability to contemplate ourselves, to reflect upon our origins, our destiny, and our place in the universe. Yet, such contemplation has a negative side, and that is its potential to bring us pain. We may find ourselves miserable when we think of a life that is better than that which we enjoy now and recognize that we are incapable of achieving it. Perhaps we think of a life free of illness and pain, yet we know that physical agony and death are certain. Rich and poor alike know that a life of greater wealth is possible but grow frustrated when that wealth is unobtainable. Sick or healthy, poor or rich, successful or unsuccessful—we are all capable of growing vexed when a better life remains outside of our grasp.

Scripture prescribes only one remedy to this frustration: contentment.

Biblical contentment is a spiritual virtue that we find modeled by the Apostle Paul. He states, for example, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). No matter the state of his health, wealth, or success, Paul found it possible to be content with his life.

In Paul’s era, two prominent schools of Greek philosophy agreed that our goal should be to find contentment, but they had very different ways of getting there. The first of these, Stoicism, said imperturbability was the way to contentment. Stoics believed that human beings had no real control over their external circumstances, which were subject to the whims of fate. The only place they could have any control was in their personal attitudes. We cannot control what happens to us, they said, but we can control how we feel about it. Thus, Stoics trained themselves to achieve imperturbability, an inner sense of peace that would leave them unbothered no matter what happened to them.

The Epicureans were more proactive in their search for contentment, looking to find a proper balance between pleasure and pain. Their aim was to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. Yet even achieving a goal in this arena can result in frustration. We might never obtain the aimed-for pleasure, or, having obtained it, we might realize that it does not bring what we thought it would.

Paul was neither a Stoic nor an Epicurean. Epicureanism leads eventually to an ultimate pessimism—we can’t get or maintain the pleasure we seek, so what’s the point? The Apostle’s doctrine of the resurrection and the renewal of creation does not allow for such pessimism. Creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:18–25; see 1 Cor. 15). Paul also rejected the passive resignation of Stoicism, for he was no fatalist. Paul actively pressed toward his goals and called us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, believing that God works in and through us to bring about His purposes (Phil. 2:12).

For the Apostle, true contentment was not complacency, and it was not a condition, on this side of glory, that could admit no feelings of discontent and dissatisfaction. After all, Paul frequently expresses such feelings in his epistles as he considers the sins of the church and his own shortcomings. He did not rest on his laurels but worked zealously to solve problems both personally and pastorally.

Paul’s contentment pertained to his personal circumstances and the state of his human condition. Whether he suffered lack or enjoyed material prosperity, he had “learned” to be content wherever God placed him (Phil. 4:12). Note that this was something he learned. It was not a natural gifting but something he had to be taught.

What was the secret to contentment that he had learned? Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

In short, the Apostle’s contentment was grounded in his union with Christ and in his theology. He saw theology not as a theoretical or abstract discipline but rather as the key to understanding life itself. His contentment with his condition in life rested on his knowledge of God’s character and actions. Paul was content because he knew his condition was ordained by his Creator. He understood that God brought both pleasure and pain into his life for a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). Paul knew that since the Lord wisely ordered his life, he could find strength in the Lord for any and all circumstances. Paul understood that he was fulfilling the purpose of God whether he was experiencing abundance or abasement. Submission to God’s sovereign rule over his life was the key to his contentment.

As we continue to wrestle with the desires of the flesh, we can be tempted to believe God owes us a better condition than we presently enjoy. To believe such a thing is sin, and it leads to great misery, which is overcome only by trusting in the Lord’s sustaining and providential grace. We will find true contentment only as we receive and walk in that grace.

=====================================================================================

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

WHY PASTORS SHOULD ENGAGE JOHN OWEN by Sinclair Ferguson

John Owen

“I began to engage with John Owen when he was about thirty-one years of age and I was in my late teens.”

These words are not a quotation from a young seventeenth-century Puritan! Rather, it was in my teenage years that I first came across Owen’s famous, Latin-titled, Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu (better known as The Death of Death in the Death of Christ). I was eighteen, perhaps nineteen. Owen wrote the book when he was thirty-one.

When you are a teenager being thirty-one seems light years away, almost old! But what are most Christians doing at thirty-one? Not many are writing a book that will still be read, pondered and debated four centuries later. And The Death of Death was only one of several works from Owen’s pen that belong to the category of “a book for the ages” for anyone who wants to grow in biblical, theological, pastoral, and practical wisdom.

Owen and Practical Theology

Clearly, whatever Owen may have lacked, he was a man of rare intellectual capacity and spiritual genius, and a great gift of Christ to his church–both for his day and for ours. For that reason alone, he is someone with whom we can all engage with immense profit, and with whom ministers of the gospel especially ought to engage. Speaking for myself, Owen was one of the writers who taught me the importance of getting to grips with the great works of pastoral theology rather than to be reading exclusively (or perhaps even mainly), the “cutting edge” books and blogs authored by modern writers. If we do the latter, we may end up with only the edge! Perhaps we should be willing to take the embarrassment of saying, “Actually I haven’t read that book… and no, I haven’t read that posting . . . and no, I didn’t know that A. B. had written that on his blog.” For it may mean that we have read, for example, John Owen’s Sacramental Discourses, and grown deeply in our ability to expound and administer the Lord’s Supper to our people (even although that work is by no means Owen’s most important contribution).

So, there are important general reasons for engaging with writers like John Owen. But why engage with Owen in particular?

One of our greatest needs today is to put down deep roots into the gospel so that we can grow tall and strong. Virtually every significant Christian author from within my own tradition who has served Christ faithfully and fruitfully over the long haul, read John Owen with care and appreciation. Be it Jonathan Edwards in the colonies, or Thomas Boston in the Scottish Borders, or John Newton in Olney, or C.H. Spurgeon and David Martyn-Lloyd Jones in London, the mark of Owen was upon their lives and ministries (thankfully without diminishing their unique personalities–a not unimportant point!). Virtually every significant Christian author from within my own tradition who has served Christ faithfully and fruitfully over the long haul, read John Owen with care and appreciation. 

This is not to say that reading Owen guarantees true spiritual growth. As with all study, knowledge can puff up; it is love that builds up.  But Owen well understood this and warns us about it again and again. He is exactly the kind of author we need to read–whose theology is pastoral and whose pastoral writing is deeply theological and thus both humbles and exalts.

This dimension of Owen’s work is easily illustrated. Take one of his best-known books, On the Mortification of Sin (Works, 6:1-86). Most readers discover that in eighty pages he exposes their sinful heart to new depths that make them echo John “Rabbi” Duncan’s comment: “If you read him [Owen] on the ‘Mortification of Sin,’ prepare yourself for the scalpel!” No wonder readers are often flabbergasted to discover that the first hearers of the material were probably teenagers at Oxford University. But of course! What better stage to be taught how to recognize, expose, and overcome sin?

Owen and Trinitarian Christianity

But here, in the interests of brevity, we must confine ourselves to one major Owenian theme in which engagement with him pays huge dividends: The Holy Trinity.

Thankfully we live in a time when more voices are calling us back to a genuinely trinitarian Christianity.

We still have a long way to go, of course. But here Owen makes a significant contribution. We might call it his theological-experiential trinitarianism. That is a grand-sounding name for what he regarded as a basic reality in the Christian life: we have been baptized into and have come to know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The whole of the Christian life is therefore trinitarian in shape, character, and dynamic.

The Early Church Fathers taught that all three persons of the Trinity were unitedly active in every divine act (opera trinitatis indivisa sunt). But they also recognized that Scripture teaches a doctrine of personal appropriations: in all God the Trinity does the three persons also have distinct roles. Thus, for example, the Son–not the Father or the Spirit–dies on the cross to make atonement for our sins. We have all winced when someone leading in prayer begins by addressing the Father and a few sentences later, without change of person, thanks him for dying on the cross–(which, although hopefully a slip of the tongue, is, in fact, the ancient heresy of patripassianism!).

Owen uncovers the implications of this doctrine of appropriations. It means that our communion with the one God is enhanced by our appreciation and worship of, and our love for, each person of the Trinity in particular, in terms of that person’s distinctive work or action. Just as our appreciation of God is enhanced by our understanding of the perichoresis–the intra-divine fellowship–so our communion with God is enhanced when we learn to say with the apostle John that, through the Spirit “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Especially in his Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Works 2: 1-274), Owen helps us to discover all that this means.

Throughout his long writing career, Owen returned again and again to the outworking of this theme. It appears in his priceless emphasis on the privilege of knowing God as our heavenly Father, and especially in understanding that his love is the source and fountain of our redemption. The Father did not need to be persuaded to love us. In particular, he did not begin to love us because his Son died for us (a not infrequent confusion entertained by Christians and occasionally also by preachers). No, the Father himself loves us (indeed so loved us that he–the Father!– gave his only Son that we might not perish!). Owen almost achingly laments so few Christians seem to enjoy such communion with the Father in love:

Unacquaintedness with our mercies, our privileges, is our sin as well as our trouble . . . This makes us go heavily when we might rejoice . . . How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love! With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon him! What fears, what questionings are there, of his good-will and kindness! (Works 2:31-32)

This wonderful stress on knowing the Father was accompanied by massive interest in, and in some ways still unsurpassed exposition of, the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Works volumes 3 and 4) and by a Christ-honouring Christ-centredness that leaves us similarly “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Owen and Polemical Writing

Polemical writing on the foundations of the gospel occupied Owen from his earliest writings. But while it remained part of his life work, we can surely trace a growth in him towards a deeper appreciation of Christ himself. This would appear both in his massive Commentary on Hebrews (Works, 18-24), and towards the end of his life in the publication of his Christologia, or The Person of Christ (Works 1:1-272). But perhaps its supreme expression was in a work which was in the hands of the publisher on the day he died, his great Meditations on the Glory of Christ (Works 1: 273-415 with its applicatory appendix in Part II, Works 1:417-461)Here Owen’s Christ-fulness comes to supreme expression and encourages the same love for Christ in its readership.

These works and many more that flowed from his pen are really beyond any need for commendation.

Perhaps it is worth reflecting on these two themes as we draw this brief engagement with Owen to an applied conclusion:

1. Thankful as we are for seeing more books on the Trinity than has been true for many a decade, are we more deeply trinitarian in the way we worship and in the style of our Christian lives?

2. If it is true that the Father has given us his Son and the Spirit’s ministry is to glorify the Son, does it not follow that Christ-fulness must be one of the ultimate litmus tests of a person’s ministry, especially if that person is a preacher? Is this what characterizes our preaching? Is this what strikes people most about our ministries?

I often wonder about these things. If you share that wondering, you could do a lot worse than engaging with John Owen! 

===================================================================================

Sinclair Ferguson is Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

JOHN MacARTHUR CELEBRATES 50 YEARS AT GRACE CHURCH

\

Today John MacArthur marks the 50th anniversary of his service as senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. MacArthur is an author of dozens of books on theology, Christian living, expository preaching, and cultural and church issues. He has endured much and seen even more in his years at Grace. He is indeed a man whom God has granted faithful endurance.

A few months ago, I had the privilege to talk with MacArthur about persevering in ministry. That interview is captured here.


You’ve served as pastor of Grace Community Church for nearly five decades and no doubt have walked through innumerable dangers, toils, and snares. What posed the most serious threats to your persevering in the ministry?

Pastoring is really an effort to be the instrument of the Spirit of God in the sanctification of God’s people to see them conformed to Christ. I often think about the fact that election is purely God’s divine purpose before time, justification is a divine act in a moment, and glorification is a divine act in a moment. And in the biography of every Christian’s life, sanctification is this long, drawn-out process of conformity to Christ. And the instrument of that, of course, is the Word of God and the Spirit of God through the means of the shepherding of God’s people.

So I think the hardest part about pastoral ministry is the suffering Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 11:29: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” You know it’s not about the numbers of people in your church. It’s not about a successful worship service. It’s not about a big event. My life sort of rises and falls in terms of gratitude and joy on the basis of what I see in the sanctifying process in God’s people—the flock the Lord has given to me.

It’s disappointing when you see people you’ve poured your life into, and you know they’ve had enough exposure to the truth to be maturing and faithful, and yet they are unfaithful or sinful or, even worse, sometimes mutinous in the life of the church, doing what they can to fight against leadership and cause division. On the positive side, the greatest joy is to see someone come to Christ and then flourish and grow into Christlikeness. The opposite of that is the most difficult thing to deal with, and sometimes you wind up questioning whether you’re the right person—maybe they need someone else speaking into their life. Particularly if you’ve been in the same place for a long, long time, you’re wondering if they’ve heard you so much that you sort of don’t have any influence left.

I think that for an enduring, long-term ministry, you live long with the wonderful, even multigenerational, blessings. I’ve stood by the bed of a dying, beautiful, sweet lady from a precious family whom I’ve known for decades. She and her husband are now both in heaven. Her children are in the church, her grandchildren are in the church, and now her great-grandchildren are coming into the church and being ministered to and nurtured as children. This is an incredible blessing—to see a church have the kind of continuity where it brings joy to somebody like that who’s looking down on three more generations. On the other hand, the downside is, you’ve got people exposed to the same kind of ministry, the same kind of fellowship, and they seem never to get on the path of sanctification and demonstrate much progress. That can be discouraging.

You’ve preached book by book, verse by verse for decades. How have you sought to keep growing in your ability to preach and in your passion for the task itself? How can we keep our preaching from growing stale?

I started preaching when I was young; my first sermon would probably be 60 years ago. I’ve found that what energizes me in preaching is the bottomless treasure of Scripture. It doesn’t matter how many times I go back to it. It doesn’t matter how many times I reexamine a passage. It’s an inexhaustible diamond mine. I just keep finding diamonds all over the place, and they have multiple facets. I would say at this point, at my age, I am more enthusiastic, more passionate about the things I preach than maybe I’ve ever been. And I’ve always been enthusiastic about it.

But I still love the process of discovery. That keeps me fresh. I’m still trying to understand every nuance of every passage and every doctrine. I just would say after all these years in the Word of God, week after week, day after day, 60 years of this kind of preaching, the Word is more precious to me now than it’s ever been before, and preaching it is a greater privilege than it’s ever been. It’s now possible for me not only to prepare but also to draw from a well of the past that informs me even as I’m preaching. So there’s a kind of richness in my own experience. I think if I was on the road, and I had 25 sermons and I was going all over the place preaching the same 25, I’d wither and die. Or if I changed churches every seven or eight or nine years and I recycled the same sermons, I don’t think that would give me anywhere near the joy and the blessing of having to preach for 50 years to the same people every Sunday morning and Sunday night and know that I can’t just repeat what I’ve said, because they’ve already recorded it.

This has put me on course to continually search to understand the Scripture and the truth it yields better and better. It isn’t the exercise of preaching that I love. I’m happy to do that. It’s the privilege of proclaiming what I’m discovering. So it’s the discovering process that’s really underneath everything and is the reason I’ve stayed at Grace Community Church, other than that I haven’t had a lot of offers. The other reason I’ve stayed is I was afraid I would forfeit this freshness that being at the same place forces me into, and it has been the most incredible blessing in my life.

How have you approached your devotional life through the years, and how can a pastor remain fervent day in and day out, year in and year out, in his use of God’s ordained means of grace?

I’ve never really been able to see the difference between studying the Scripture to understand what it means so I can communicate it to somebody else and a devotional approach. So if I’m reading it, I stop and ask, “What does this mean?” That’s just the way I’m hardwired. The study energizes me. But on the side of study, simply reading Scripture is important. Through all these years, I’ve tried to do that in many different ways.

But I do two other things at a devotional level. I’ve loved reading biographies of people God has uniquely blessed, because I always wanted to compare myself with others whom I saw as far beyond me in their walk with the Lord and in their usefulness to him. So I love the sort of humbling effect of standing in the shadow of someone God has used in a mighty way, whether it’s David Brainerd, William Tyndale, or whoever.

And the other thing is reading rich doctrinal material, whether an article, a systematic theology section, or a book on a given doctrine. That’s what my heart reaches out for in a devotional sense. Many years ago when I was in seminary, I got a copy of Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God. And I didn’t know that anybody could have that many thoughts about God at the time. Recently I read Sinclair Ferguson’s book The Whole Christ, and it enriched my grasp on sanctification and antinomianism.

Over the long haul, how do we keep Christ and the gospel at the center of our ministries—and keep other things from crowding them out?

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus said, “Look, I’m the theme of the Old Testament,” and he went into the Law, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings and spoke to them of all the things concerning himself. It’s anticipation of Christ in the Old Testament, it’s incarnation in the Gospels, it’s proclamation in the book of Acts, it’s explanation in the Epistles, it’s glorification or exaltation in the book of Revelation. If you’re a sequential expositor, you never get far away from Christ. You may be looking directly into his face in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You’re then hearing his gospel being proclaimed throughout the book of Acts. If you preach through the New Testament, by the time you finish the Acts, you haven’t taken a breath without Jesus Christ being at the center of it. Then you get into the Epistles, and immediately they’re explaining who he is and why he came and what he accomplished.

The reason I do sequential exposition of books is because I’m afraid not to, because every word of God is true. If you do that, Christ is the unending theme of absolutely everything. You know this is where your focus has to be: as you gaze at his glory, you’re changed into his image from one level of glory to the next by the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). I remember finishing the Gospel of John for a second time. I had preached through Matthew, Luke, then Mark . . . I did the Gospel of John for a second time because many who had joined the church hadn’t been there when I first did it. I finished John and said, “What would you want to do after this?” And they said, “Now we know the fullness of Christ in the New Testament. We think it would be wonderful to go into the Old Testament and find him there.” It’s sort of like finding Waldo—you can’t find him if you don’t know what he looks like. But when you know what he looks like . . . you find Christ everywhere.

When the people get a glimpse of Christ in his full glory, they desire that. And I’ve never found any subject, any person even remotely close to him, who’s better for my own sanctification and the sanctification of our people.

Much has been written about pastoral burnout, and at least some of it seems linked to wrong expectations and disappointment. How can young ministers overcome that challenge?

The idea that you’re going to leave the ministry out of disappointment is a failure to understand that it was never about you; it was a service to which you were called. If you were in the military and your job was to stand and guard the food while everybody else went to battle, and you were a good soldier, you’d be there doing your duty, doing what you were commanded to do. You’d be honored to be in the triumph in the big picture. I think we let too many guys get away with leaving the ministry because of some personal dissatisfaction. I think that can be fueled by a failure to be in the Word of God, a failure to be a faithful expositor. So I tell young guys, “Look, the first two or three years of your ministry, do exposition, work hard, go deep into the text, pour yourself into that, and you’ll start good habits. Those habits will take over, and it won’t depend on self-discipline in the future—it’ll just be a habit. You just do it because you do it. And once you establish those kinds of consistent habits, that will sustain you through the hard times.”

If you don’t have those kinds of habits established in the early years, it’s harder to survive disappointment. Again, it goes back to trust in the Word of God, trust in the purposes of God, and trust in the call of God, where he’s placed you. Be faithful to the Lord, be grateful for the service to him. Let him take care of the results. I’ve often said, you take care of the depth of your ministry, and let God take care of the breadth. Someone once came up to an old preacher and said, “My congregation is too small.” He replied, “Maybe it’s as large as you’d like to give an account for at the day of judgment.” So I used to pray, “Lord, don’t give me any more people. I don’t want to be responsible for any more people.”

Have you detected patterns in friends and colleagues who’ve failed to endure in ministry? If so, how can those help us?

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul compares the old covenant and the new covenant, talks about the fact that he’s a minister of the new covenant and gives all the ways it’s better. Then he comes in chapter 4 and says, “Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1). Ministry is a mercy. It’s an undeserved mercy. That means I don’t deserve it. I couldn’t earn it. So why would I walk away from it if it doesn’t satisfy me? It is a mercy that I’m even in the ministry. . . . I think Paul sees it as a mercy, even as he suffered.

He suffered and not only from things on the outside but even worse, all for the care of the churches. It was a life of suffering because he was so burdened over their sanctification being halted so frequently by false teachers and other things. I think if you’re going to endure in the ministry, you have to understand that being called to minister God’s Word is a mercy; it’s such an incredible privilege that you need to take it for what it is and not ask for more. The Lord has probably given you all he’s gifted you to handle.

Let’s say I’m a seminary student training for pastoral ministry or a brand-new pastor serving in my first vocational ministry position—how would you advise me to avoid the many pitfalls that threaten me both as a Christian and as a pastor?

Let’s assume you’re going to teach the Scriptures, let’s assume that’s in your commitment. I would say this: Love your people. To be able to survive 50 years, five decades, and not crash and burn and not develop animosity or disappointment in people—love them. You know the real work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is to produce love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. All those things need to be manifestly evident in the life of a pastor so he can survive.

If you don’t have those graces in your life by the Holy Spirit, you’re not going to survive. One of two things is going to happen. Either you’re going to go, or the people are going to go, and you’re going to be in a revolving-door church. You’re going to bring them in the back door with whatever you’re doing and run them right out the side door after they get to know you. So the one thing I’d say is take heed to yourself and to your doctrine. And by that I mean, let those people know that you give your life for them because you love them.

I’m holding in my arms the great-grandchild of the people I ministered to first. The families love me, and they love my wife, Patricia, and they love our family and our kids and our grandkids. There has to be integrity in your life, so take heed to yourself. The only way you can survive is by walking in the Spirit and having the Spirit manifest his fruit in your life. I’d say the proof of the character of a church is not its ability to attract young people. It’s its ability to hold old people. That’s the character of a church.\

If you asked me what marks Grace Community, I would say this: generations of people in the same families who love their church, who embrace their church in every way, who give generously and constantly, who serve, volunteer, fellowship, worship. That kind of endurance doesn’t come from a program. It comes from an affection that runs deep between a shepherd and his people, and it’s tested at every possible level through those decades. The end result and fruit of it is the richest of all spiritual experiences for the pastor and his people. But not many men experience that.

====================================================================================

Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime (Crossway, 2019), edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr.

HONOR AND ITS DECLINE

It is commonly acknowledged that the cornerstone of the English literary canon is Shakespeare. What is only slightly less commonly acknowledged is that the cornerstone of Shakespeare is the virtue of honor. Just consider a brief sampling of the Bard’s unforgettable lines:

Honor’s thought reigns solely in the breast of every man. (Henry V, 4.3)

Mine honor is my life, both grow in one. Take honor from me and my life is done. (Richard II, 1.3)

If I lose my honor, I lose myself. (Antony and Cleopatra, 3.4)

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; it yearns me not if my garments wear; such outward things dwell not in my desires: but if it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul alive. (Henry V, 4.3)

Of course, much has changed since Shakespeare penned those words. The decline of honor has been precipitous from its place at the pinnacle of Western culture and Christian virtue to utter obscurity, or perhaps even ignominy.

Honor once served as a barometer of the virtue and vitality of both men and nations. It was easily recognized and it was easily defined. It was foundational to healthy human relationships. It was vital for the maintenance of order in a civil society. After all, the scriptural commands to honor abound.

Alas, the designer disaster wrought by the twin plagues of the Enlightenment, Rationalism and Romanticism, have together purposefully undermined this bulwark of civility. From Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” to Derrida’s “Deconstructed Man,” Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” to Eco’s “Anti-Hero,” the ideal of honorable men and women with honorable motivations and intentions has been under relentless attack.

Francis Schaeffer rightly identified the epistemological danger of separating truth into upper and lower stories—into Platonic universals above and Aristotelian particulars below, into values upstairs and facts downstairs. Fragmenting the notion of truth in this way ensures that all manner of evil may be justified. This is the logic behind the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, where the inescapable scientific fact of human life (lower-story objective reality) was separated from the rights and protections of personhood (upper-story subjective value). This is the same logic behind the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, wherein the historic definition of marriage between a man and a woman (lower-story objective reality) was set aside for a newly created social construct (upper-story subjective value). It is the logic behind moral relativism. It is the logic behind the inversion of values such as purity, honesty, freedom, love, hate, tolerance, and sensitivity. It is the logic behind what the postmodern developmental theorist Clare Graves has called “the new values that make us worthy for the momentous leap into second tier integral consciousness.” It is the logic behind the stripping of all honor from the virtue of honor.

But, lest we lose our way in the philosophical fog or the political foment of these contemporary issues, it is important to remember that any attempt at sundering truth into separate upper and lower categories is merely a pretext for unbelief. The decline and fall of honor in our day is not the second- or third-order consequence of the new fundamentalist dogmas of our abortion-affirming, LGBTQ+, or postmodern soothsayers. Instead, it is unbelief in the unchanging standards of an unchanging God that has precipitated this catastrophic domino effect across the terrain of our culture.

Contemplating such an inconceivable loss—the loss of any sense of honor, we might be tempted to join Shakespeare’s lament: “What is honor? A word. What is in that word honor? A trim reckoning” (Henry IV, Part I, 5.1).

Thankfully, we have the great assurance that God’s providential purposes cannot and will not be frustrated. We have access to the “precious and very great promises” of the gospel (2 Peter 1:4). We have the sure and certain hope that every “argument,” every “pretension,” and every “lofty opinion” raised up against the knowledge of God will be torn down. In that day, every thought will “be made captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Between here and there, we no doubt have our work cut out for us. But we can look forward to that day when all due honor will be restored. “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).

=====================================================================================

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HONOR

In his 1943 work The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes, “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Lewis’ observation more than seventy-five years ago falls far short in assessing the widespread disregard for honor in our day. Honor is no longer merely laughed at today, it is now mocked, ridiculed, and despised.

Along with dignity, respect, and decorum, honor is not fading away due to misuse, it is actively attacked and assailed from every side. Honor is assaulted not only from the world but also from within the church and from within the home. Many parents no longer highly esteem the value of honor in the home. Although some may teach honor, few actually do anything to reinforce it. Many men don’t show proper honor to their wives, and they even sometimes laugh when their children speak or act dishonorably to their mothers. I am repeatedly shocked to hear children speak disrespectfully to their parents, yet the shock begins to wear off when I see their parents speak disrespectfully to others, particularly online. Similarly, few wives honor their husbands as they ought, and it seems that some women find Paul’s teaching about submission entirely reprehensible.

Moreover, many of the cultural heroes of young people today are disrespectful and dishonorable sports figures, pop stars, and self-made social media pundits. It is no wonder that this is the case when traditional authority figures are torn down and when men are portrayed as idiotic fools on television shows and commercials, and the honorable men and women of the past are derided as out of step with progressive ways of thinking.

It should not surprise us that many young people are leaving and despising the church when their parents have long dishonored weekly congregational Lord’s Day worship, dishonored their own membership vows to the church, and dishonored their elders, pastors, and fellow congregants. Nor should it surprise us how many who profess faith in Christ have such little regard for the sacred Word of God when so many pastors have exchanged the preaching of the Word of God in season and out of season for watered-down, attractional, sociocultural, pop-psychological anecdotes and stories combined with ear-tickling, emotionalistic entertainment. Such preaching honors only the pastor and not the God of Scripture. Although honor may be rapidly disappearing in the world, we must never let it disappear from our hearts, homes, or churches that we might always honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17) and honor our Lord whose honor will not be mocked.

=====================================================================================