Marriage is a parable of the gospel, telling of Christ’s unrelenting love for his bride.
What is God doing in missions?
Today many debate the correct definition of Christian missions as well as the right understanding of what faithful missionaries should be doing, or prioritizing, in their labors. Answering those important questions well begins with recognizing in Scripture what God is doing in the global outreach and cross-cultural ministries of his people.
My aim is to lay out some of the theological richness God has provided to inform global outreach, especially among the unreached and least responsive people groups of the world. I want to sketch for you how the Bible portrays the journey we’re all on as the global body of Christ and the horizon toward which God is taking us. Finding ourselves in these seven biblical trajectories and storylines ought to yield a more humble confidence that God may choose to do glorious things through our patient, painstaking, and strategically-placed acts of Christian discipleship and witness.1. God is blessing the nations with his Spirit through the offspring of Abraham.
God promised Abraham an offspring or “seed” through whom he would bless all the nations and families of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:17). Abraham’s son Isaac and the nation of Israel were both typological fulfillments of this promise, but ultimately, they pointed ahead to a Greater One.
Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. He is the glorious singular seed through whom the elect receive the blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:7–22). Paul makes clear that this blessing is the new life and fruit the Holy Spirit brings, not material prosperity or economic development, per se. As amazing as it is, both Gentile and Jewish believers become sons and daughters of Abraham through union with his offspring: Christ (Galatians 3:23–29).
So we are the on-the-ground instruments of God’s blessing of the elect from every tribe and tongue! From the very beginning of his gospel, Matthew identifies Jesus as “the son of Abraham,” the heir of Abraham’s covenant (Matthew 1:1). And at the end of his gospel, Matthew records the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, as churches are planted among unreached people groups, God is keeping and fulfilling his covenant with Abraham.2. God is leading the people he has redeemed into the Promised Land of rest and plenty.
Jesus, Yeshua, is the true and better Joshua. Jesus’s promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) echoes the words of Joshua to the Israelites before they entered the Promised land (Joshua 1:1–9). Joshua assured the redeemed nation of Israel that they could “be strong and courageous” in taking the land God was about to give them, without being frightened, because “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Believers in Christ will one day inherit the whole earth (Matthew 5:5; Romans 4:13) — a land of “abundant peace” in which we will delight ourselves (Psalm 37:11; Isaiah 65:17–25), without tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:1–4). Yet as we go to the unreached people groups of the world with the gospel, we should do so knowing that our “Joshua” and our God, King Jesus, is leading us as Joshua led Israel to occupy territory he has already purchased and will conquer and subdue for us through our faithful obedience.3. God is subduing the Gentile nations in mercy under the feet of the Messiah. . .
But the territory over which Christ will have sway is the hearts of his elect. Right now, Christ is at the right hand of God the Father and reigning over all things until all his enemies are made his footstool (1 Corinthians 15:24–28; Psalm 110:1). Yet he subdues his enemies now in mercy by granting them faith to embrace him and take refuge in him (Psalm 2:12). God is gradually creating faith-wrought obedience to King Jesus and joy in him among “all the nations” for the sake of Christ’s glory and “name” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).. . . and giving his Son the nations as the inheritance he deserved and requested.
Christ Jesus, descended from David by the flesh, has been declared the Son of God in power by his resurrection (Romans 1:3–4). The Son of Abraham and Son of David (Matthew 1:1) has issued his kingly commission (Matthew 28:18–20). Through the evangelism and disciple-making activity of his ambassadors, God is giving his Anointed Son “the nations [his] heritage, and the ends of the earth [his] possession” (Psalm 2:1–8). It’s the inheritance he requested (Psalm 2:8) and deserves for having “loved righteousness” perfectly and “hated wickedness” purely (Hebrews 1:8–13 citing Psalm 45:6–7).
He has been given all authority, his throne has been established forever, and he is building for God a “house.” God promised a glorious kingdom to David’s son (2 Samuel 7:13) — Solomon was an initial fulfillment of this promise, but God is still keeping and ultimately fulfilling that covenant through the church’s mission to unreached people groups. King Jesus is building his global church (Matthew 16:18), fulfilling the covenant promises to David of an omni-ethnic family dynasty, as well as an indestructible dwelling place for God’s glory (2 Samuel 7:12–13, 16).4. God is building a global temple to be his dwelling place in these last days.
God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8) — a fellowship which was tragically severed when sin entered the world (Genesis 3:23–24). After God delivered Israel from Egypt, he promised to not only be their God but to dwell with them, to reopen a way for fellowship between God and mankind (Exodus 25:8; 29:43–46). First in a movable wilderness tabernacle, then in the more permanent temple constructed in Jerusalem, God’s people enjoyed his dwelling with them.
In the fullness of time God “tabernacled” or dwelt with Israel in the person of Christ, the incarnation of the eternal Word (Matthew 12:6; John 1:14; 2:19–22). Now the Holy God dwells with his purchased people by the Spirit’s residence among us (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:5). We ourselves are now the walking, talking, praising, proclaiming, living, loving, dying, and rising dwelling place of God. And God intends to fashion a global temple from “living stones” of every culture and color (1 Peter 2:5, 9–12).
As we witness to the excellencies of God among the yet-unreached people groups of the world, God regenerates dead clay bricks and joins them to the cornerstone of his global temple along with the rest of us who are set apart from the world, joined to each other, inhabited, gifted, and fructified by his Spirit in these last days (Acts 2:14–21; 4:11; Joel 2:28–32; Galatians 5:22–23).5. God is sending his witnesses to the ends of the earth to liberate the lost from idolatry.
The risen Christ told his disciples in Jerusalem before Pentecost, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the Spirit-empowered evangelism and global church planting endeavors of missionaries today, God is fulfilling his promise to make his messianic people his witnesses to the one true God and Savior (Isaiah 43:10–13; Acts 4:12).
God said it was not enough that Christ would merely call back and restore the people of Israel. God has made Christ a “light for the nations” so that God’s salvation will “reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). Simeon recognized the baby Jesus to be this “light for revelation to the Gentiles,” this promised witness and servant of God (Luke 2:25–35).
The church is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:14–16). Through our faithful Christian presence and proclamation, God is dispelling the darkness that blinds the worshipers of false gods, groping in darkness (Acts 17:22–34).6. God is filling the earth with his glory by re-creating broken image-bearers.
Initially, the scattering of peoples across the planet (Acts 17:24–31) and the confusion of languages was God’s judgment. Those whom God commanded to exercise dominion over the whole earth instead gathered in one place to “make a name for [themselves]” at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). They were supposed to fill the earth with God’s glory as his image-bearers and obedient vice-regents (Genesis 1:26–28; 9:1, 6). After the rebellion at Babel, God intervened to spread fallen and broken image-bearers all over the globe.
God is now sanctifying global diversity by redeeming and incorporating into his people worshipers from “every tribe and language” (Revelation 5:9–10; 7:9–10). The elect, by God’s Spirit, are remade in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18) as they grow in the grace and knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18). As we make disciples of all nations, God is filling the earth with the knowledge of his glory “as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
The gospel will gradually seep into every cultural nook and cranny of the planet. The Great Commission is the new covenant reiteration of the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). As missionaries and evangelists — all of God’s representatives on earth — bear witness to Christ and call others to faith, God sometimes grants us spiritual children in the faith so that we are “fruitful.” In discipling those younger in the faith, we are training them in “the way [they] should go” (Proverbs 22:6; cf. Deuteronomy 4:1–14; 6:1–25; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:4–5).7. God is lifting up Christ for the healing of the nations and the glory of his name.
One of John’s main theological points in the fourth Gospel is that Christ was exalted or “lifted up” by his crucifixion (John 12:32). Ironically, at the cross, Christ was glorified as the one sent from God (John 12:23). It is in this way that God “loved the world” by giving “his only Son” (John 3:16). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds [we] have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). We point to him and say, “Look! Be healed! Be saved!”
Now “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) among the nations, publically painting with our words and lives a picture of the Savior’s suffering on the cross (Galatians 3:1; Colossians 1:24). And we proclaim Jesus to be raised from the dead as God’s vindication of his holiness and proof of his victory over sin and death (Acts 2:23–27; 3:14–15). God has “exalted” Jesus for his humble obedience in ultimate condescension on our behalf (Philippians 2:4–11).
Jesus is the name now by which all persons must be reconciled to God (Acts 4:12). He has been lifted up, ascended into heaven, and enthroned (Hebrews 1:3–4). It is from that lofty position and place of sovereignty that Jesus is extending his kingdom on earth through the faithful missionary endeavors of the church.Motivations for Missions
Want motivation for missions? Reading the whole Bible through a Christ-centered lens propels us in loving missions toward the unreached people groups of the world. So, keep reading the word, thinking often upon the glorious story of the Bible and all its wonderful subplots. The more we recognize and rejoice in the themes that come together to explain what God is doing in the world, the more we will appreciate and enjoy what God is doing in pioneer church planting and disciple making.
Want motivation for missions? Remember what God is up to in the world.
Over a thousand people groups still remain totally unengaged today with not a single ambassador of Christ yet sent to them. Would you pray and consider with others whether you might be part of a church-planting team to an unreached people group or underserved place?
Mothers and homemakers bring great glory to God. But biblical womanhood is about so much more than just domestic duties.
We don’t have to pretend we don’t feel pain from our losses. Grieving with hope means something far greater than moving on from the pain.
I thank God for this moment with you. I only wish I could be present with you and look into your eyes and speak as earnestly as I can. So much is at stake in your marital integrity.
But you haven’t yet taken the dreadful step of adultery. So I want to remind you of two things that can help you honor Christ by staying true to your wife.1. She is the wife of your youth.
The Bible says, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). One powerful safeguard against adultery is pretty obvious: happiness in your wife that lasts a lifetime.
Proverbs 5:18 does not say, “Rejoice in your young wife.” No wife can remain young for long. Proverbs 5 wisely points out that she is “the wife of your youth.” However long you both live as husband and wife, she will always be that girl.
Look at her. She is that girl you married back when you both were young. The passing years have no power to change that tender reality. She is still that girl who gave herself to you on your wedding day. She is still that girl who put herself in your arms. She is still that girl who went with you into that hotel room on your wedding night. You locked the door, and she trusted you. She undressed for you. She gave herself to you. She could not have been more vulnerable. She could not have been more honoring toward you. Remember that. Dwell on that. Marvel at that.
Think back even further to how the two of you started out. Remember what happened when you began dating, and fell in love, and got engaged. The wonderful, crazy romance you experienced together was one of life’s great privileges. It wasn’t just your hormones at work. It was “the very flame of the Lord” (Song of Solomon 8:6), a sacred fire he himself ignited for your joy and his glory.
What you two had going back then — you can have it back, and even better, because you’re more mature now, more focused, more settled. But the way you two used to walk and laugh and talk and dream together, because you just liked each other — go back there again. Your youthful romance was no foolish illusion. It was real. It hinted at the ultimate reality, the eternal love story of Christ and his bride (Ephesians 5:31–32). Your love story is worth fighting for.
Sure, all married couples get dull at times along the way. The humdrum of life and our own inertia take their toll. And yes, you and your wife now realize how ordinary you both really are. Add to that mix the trouble and sorrow you have experienced, maybe more than you ever dreamed you would. All of that is real too, and a good reason to pray daily for the constant refreshing of the Holy Spirit. But far more significant than all the burdens and blahs of this life, you still have her. She counts for far more than this whole disappointing world.
Look at her again, notice how much about her has not changed. Dwell on that. Think about her faithfulness to you, despite your weaknesses and failings. Consider the divine mercy she is to you. Let it hit you that one of God’s primary means of your sanctification is the wife of your youth. Sanctification with sex? Isn’t that a sanctification you can get behind? Your Father is good to you. Your marriage is not about your goodness, but his. Revere his goodness, and let your heart melt again. Then, rejoicing in God, rejoice again in the wife of your youth.2. She is the wife of your legacy.
Very soon your life in this world will be over. What will you leave behind? Right now is your one, precious, unrepeatable opportunity to leave a legacy for the future generations of your family. How you and your wife live this brief life will matter for a long, long time.
One day in her Bible reading, my wife Jani noticed that God excluded certain people from his blessing, even to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3–4). She thought, “How much more does God long to bless a family, to the tenth generation!” This thought has become an important theme in our life together. It gives us a new way to see ourselves now and prepare for the future.
When Jani and I married in 1971, we were just two people. But now we have grandchildren, with more on the way. At present trends, our family alone could grow to 52,488 people in ten generations. That’s a city about the size of Flagstaff, Arizona. And it’s all our fault! We bear some responsibility for these thousands along our lineage.
Jani and I often pray that, to the tenth generation, God will clearly and publicly set our family apart to himself. We pray that our children and grandchildren, and on and on, will be solidly converted, and love Jesus, and believe the Bible, and take a stand for Christ with integrity and courage in their generation. They’re going to need that courage, we are sure. Our part right now is to live with that very integrity and courage, so that we might become an inspiring example for them in the future.
You and your wife can leave your own legacy — not in money, but in vast spiritual resources. Your life together can tell a powerful story of the faithfulness of God in good times and bad. Who wouldn’t be strengthened by looking back and seeing in their own family history that God is real, God is able, God is good? Do not deny future generations the riches they will so urgently need far out in the unforeseeable future. Whatever else you and your wife might or might not accomplish, build this treasury that even the tenth generation can draw upon.
However cute that woman might be that you’re tempted toward, ask yourself if your legacy is worth destroying for a moment of stolen pleasure. Your sin will quickly turn into a bitter aftertaste you’ll be spitting out of your mouth for the rest of your life. But God is positioning you and your wife to bless the generations yet to come. Embrace the vision! Don’t throw your legacy away!
When it comes to true joy, Jesus was deadly serious. He tells his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). His words are the key to experiencing fullness of joy in our lives. But the words of Jesus are not merely what the Gospels record him saying. Jesus makes it clear that in some way everything in the Bible relates to him — his life, death, and resurrection, and his message of repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:44–49).
If we’re honest, though, we can find parts of the Bible confusing, and even boring. We encounter strange customs, different kinds of literature, lists of unfamiliar names, and complicated systems of laws. As a result, we often gravitate toward certain parts of the Bible and avoid the uncomfortable terrain.
But if we believe what Jesus says about our joy in him hinging on the words of God, then we need the whole Bible. To maximize our joy in him we need maximal Scripture. So let’s look at how one often-neglected section of the Bible helps us enjoy Jesus: the Minor Prophets.Six Fresh Glories
Despite their name, the “Minor” Prophets pack a major punch. These final twelve books of the Old Testament have strange names and often use poetic language to introduce people and stories that are literally thousands of years old. But when we read the Minor Prophets to know Jesus better, and enjoy him more deeply, we see his glory afresh in at least six ways.
1. Discover the character of Christ.
We see the manifold character of God that Jesus displays in his incarnation. God reveals himself as a jealous husband whose people have committed adultery with other gods (Hosea 1–3). Jesus is the Bridegroom of his redeemed people, the church (Mark 2:19–20; Ephesians 5:22–33).
God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding steadfast love, but will not clear the guilty (Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:2–3). Jesus was the fullest embodiment of grace and truth (John 1:16–18), while at the same time being the righteous Judge who will execute God’s wrath (Revelation 19:11–21).
2. Uncover the horror of the sin for which Jesus died.
We see the horrible depths of the sin that Jesus dies for on the cross. Often in graphic detail, the Minor Prophets describe the many different ways sin manifests itself, such as spiritual adultery (Hosea 2:1–13), idolatry (Hosea 4:10–19), mistreating others (Amos 1:2–2:16; Micah 2:1–3:12), racism (Jonah 1:1–6; 4:1–11), and impurity (Malachi 1:6–14).
We see the same sins in the world today and in our own hearts (Romans 1:18–3:19; Ephesians 2:1–3), exposing our need for Jesus.
3. Anticipate a real day when Jesus will judge the world.
We see the awful judgment that Jesus bears on the cross for his people. The Minor Prophets repeatedly refer to the coming Day of the Lord, when God will execute judgment on his enemies (Joel 1:2–2:11; Obadiah 1–16; Zephaniah 1:2–18). The judgment threatened for Israel and the surrounding nations anticipates the final judgment on all humanity on the last day (Acts 17:30–31).
It is this judgment for the sin of his people that Jesus took upon himself at the cross (Matthew 27:32–56).
4. Recognize the King of kings.
We see descriptions of the righteous king that Jesus fulfills. Unlike the unfaithful kings who ruled over Israel and Judah, God promises a king from David’s line who will establish peace and rule over God’s people as a shepherd (Micah 5:2–5). His reign will extend to all nations and transform creation itself (Amos 9:11–15; Zechariah 9:9; 14:9).
As the true son of David (Matthew 1:1), Jesus has become our peace (Ephesians 2:14) and rules over his people as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–18). He sits at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:1–13), awaiting the day when he will transform creation (Revelation 21–22).
5. Appreciate the beauty and cost of our salvation.
We see stunning promises of the salvation that Jesus accomplishes. Because God is compassionate, he promises he will tread our iniquities underfoot and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18–20).
As “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 35–36), Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
6. Remember we have Jesus’s Spirit living in us.
We see glorious promises of the Spirit that Jesus pours out on his people. As part of redeeming his people, God promises to pour out his Spirit on all his people, regardless of their sex or social status (Joel 2:28–32).
As the risen and exalted Lord, Jesus pours out the Spirit on his people to empower us to live holy lives and bear witness to him (Acts 2:1–41).Minor Prophets for Maximum Joy
So, as we see the character of God in the Minor Prophets, our hearts are stirred with fresh wonder that he took on flesh and dwelled among us.
As we see the depths of our own sin, our hearts are prompted to confess and turn away from them.
As we see the awful judgment that our sin deserves and that Jesus experienced in our place, our hearts are moved with gratitude.
As we meet the all-powerful, perfectly righteous King of kings, we tremble at his holiness and authority, and submit ourselves totally to his lordship.
As we see the promises of salvation that we now experience through the work of Jesus, our hearts are filled with greater joy and assurance.
As we see the promises of the Spirit, that same Spirit witnesses to our hearts that we are children of God and heirs of an eternal inheritance.
The Minor Prophets will help you enjoy Jesus more deeply, if you let them. Why not begin your journey to greater joy in Jesus through reading the Minor Prophets? Pray that through these twelve short books God would open your eyes wider to see wonderful things in his word (Psalm 119:18) and shine into your heart brighter “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:18–4:6).
God doesn’t mean for us to forget him or minimize him when hurricanes devastate human life. John Piper turns Godward and prays in the path of hurricanes.
I’ve written nine novels. Suppose you could interview characters from my books. If you asked them, “Would you like to suffer less?” I’m sure they’d answer, “Yes!”
I empathize with my characters. But as the author, I know that in the end all their suffering will be worth it, since it’s critical to their growth, and to the redemptive story.
God has written each of us into his story. We are part of something far greater than ourselves. God calls upon us to trust him to weave that story together, so that, in the end that will never end, we will worship him, slack-jawed at the sheer genius of his interwoven plotlines.Pointless Pain?
But like my fictional characters, who are clueless to my strategies, we lack the perspective to see how parts of our lives fit into God’s overall plan. Cancer, disabilities, accidents, and other losses and sorrows appear devastatingly pointless. However, just because we don’t see any point in suffering doesn’t prove there is no point.
Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating her fiftieth year in a wheelchair. Does celebrating seem the wrong word? It certainly would have to Joni as a 17-year-old desperately wanting to end her life. Yet looking back, we see her exponential character growth and the countless lives — my family’s included — God has touched through Joni. Scripture teaches us that in our sovereign God’s loving hands, no suffering we face is ever purposeless, no matter how it seems at the moment.
How many times does God have a purpose in events that seem senseless when they happen?All Things for Our Eternal Good
Romans 8:28 is one of the most arresting statements in Scripture: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The context shows that in a groaning, heaving world, God’s concern is conforming his children to Christ’s image. And he works through the challenging circumstances of our lives to develop our Christlikeness.
In the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament, Joseph said to his brothers (who’d sold him into slavery), “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
“God meant it for good” indicates God didn’t merely make the best of a bad situation; rather, fully aware of what Joseph’s brothers would do, and freely permitting their sin, God intended that the bad situation be used for good. He did so in accordance with his plan from eternity past. God’s children have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
Nothing about God’s work in Joseph’s life suggests he works any differently in the lives of his other children. In fact, Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11 are emphatic that he works the same way with us.
Do you believe the promise of Romans 8:28? Identify the worst things that have happened to you, and then ask yourself if you trust God to use those things for your good. The Bible asserts that he will.The Gift of Our Trust
If we foolishly assume that our Father has no right to our trust unless he makes his infinite wisdom completely understandable, we create an impossible situation — not because of his limitations, because of ours (see Isaiah 55:8–9).
Occasionally, like Joseph eventually experienced, God gives us glimpses of his rationale. Some time ago, a friend of mine endured a serious accident and a painful recovery. But it saved his life. Medical tests revealed an unrelated condition that needed immediate attention.
In that case, a compelling reason for the accident became clear. In other cases, we don’t know the reasons. But given all that we don’t know, why do we assume our ignorance of the reasons means there are no reasons? Only God is in the position to determine what is and isn’t pointless. (Didn’t the excruciating death of Jesus appear both gratuitous and pointless at the time?)A Head Start on Eternal Joy
Given the option while facing his trials, I’m confident Joseph would have walked off the stage of God’s story. In the middle of Job’s story — with ten children dead, his body covered in boils, apparently abandoned by God — ask him if he wants out. I know his answer because in Job 3:11 he said, “Why did I not die at birth?”
But that’s all over now. On the coming new earth, sit by Job and Joseph and Jesus at a lavish banquet. Ask them, “Was it really worth it?”
“Absolutely,” Job says. Joseph nods emphatically. No need to wonder how Jesus will respond.
One day, we too will see in their larger context, with an eternal perspective, God’s severe mercies, some of which we never understood, and others we resented. We’ll wonder why we prayed to be more like Jesus but then begged God to remove what he sent to answer those prayers.
“Therefore we do not give up. . . . For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, CSB).
Faith is believing today what one day, in retrospect, we will see to have been true all along. Let’s not wait until five minutes after we die to trust that God always has a point. Let’s learn to do it here and now, eyes locked on our gracious, sovereign, and ever-purposeful Redeemer.
Christian Hedonism stands on the truth that Jesus is more precious than anything we stand to lose when we leave our temporary home in the present.
Able to teach. Ah, that memorable criterion in 1 Timothy 3:2. That flashing light that distinguishes the elders from the deacons. That one qualification for the pastoral office that sets it apart from what the New Testament expects of all Christians (though all should pursue maturity, and become teachers, in some sense, Hebrews 5:12–14).
All church officers should be above reproach, one-woman men, good household managers, not drunkards, not greedy, not untested. The respective lists of qualifications for pastor-elders (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8–13) read so similarly in substance, with just this one trait sticking out: “able to teach.”Authority Through Teaching
It is teaching, after all, given the nature of the New Testament church, that is at the heart of the pastoral office. What Christian pastors offer, most fundamentally, is not their cosmopolitan and interdisciplinary learning, ability to entertain masses, or executive facility. They are stewards of God’s very words. God has given his church “the pastor-teachers” (Ephesians 4:11) as those with the ability to receive, understand, integrate, index, access, winsomely defend, and effectively communicate his word to his people and to the world.
The New Testament does not vest pastor-elders with authority in and of themselves. Rather, their influence is tied directly to the true source of authority in the church: Christ himself, expressed in the words of his first-century apostles. Christ is head of his church. He has the final say. And he appointed apostles to speak authoritatively on his behalf in that first generation of the church. The church’s enduring objective source of authority today is their written word. Which is why teaching that word is so centrally important in the Christian church.
Faithful pastors in faithful churches have authority only to the degree that they faithfully teach the apostles’ word, which is the very word of God.Centrality of Teaching
Inevitably, our churches will lose their way over time if we lose touch with the central importance of teaching in the New Testament. If we think of teaching more like getting a degree than having our next meal. More like something we endure for a while and then graduate, and less like something we receive regularly to stay alive. But teaching, right across the Scriptures, from old covenant to new, is plainly the latter, not the former. Sitting under gifted teaching is not a season of life for the Christian, but a lifestyle.
Just to take a sampling from the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), teaching serves a much more central role in the life and health of the church than many of us today are prone to think in the twenty-first century. Consider just seven observations, among others.1. God’s reputation relates to what the church teaches.
The very honor and name of God himself in our cities is at stake in what our churches teach. “The name of God and the teaching” go together, either in being revered or being reviled (1 Timothy 6:1). This alone should be enough to awaken us to the importance of Christian teaching.2. It was essential for the apostles to be teachers.
The nature of the Christian faith — with ongoing teaching at its heart — means that it was essential for the apostles to be teachers, not just decision-makers. Twice Paul mentions that he is not just an apostle (which might seem like all he needs to say), but also a teacher (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).3. The church’s mission requires teaching.
Christian disciple-making, the lead charge in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) requires teaching. It is essentially teaching. The word disciple means “learner.” To be discipled is to be taught, to follow another’s teaching (2 Timothy 3:10), and vital to the disciple-making process is not simply training up new Christians, but training up “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). And the Commission makes it explicit: “make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”4. God means for his word to be taught.
The word of God, spoken through first-covenant prophets and new-covenant apostles, is not simply to be heard, but taught. “All Scripture is . . . profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16). Church leaders, like Timothy, are charged, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Teaching, as we have seen, goes hand in hand with true authority in the church. “To teach or to exercise authority” (1 Timothy 2:12) are not two distinct activities, but one. In the church, leaders exercise authority centrally through teaching, and teaching is their chief channel of exercising authority.5. Error spreads though “false teachers.”
Error in the church spreads through teaching (1 Timothy 1:3–7; 4:1; Titus 1:11). What do false teachers do? They teach. The fact that those who spread error are called false teachers alerts us to the importance of teaching, for good or for bad, in the church.6. Elders address error through true teaching.
The battle lines between truth and error are drawn between teachers, not any other proficiency or skill. Faithful leaders propagate “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,” while those who infect the church “teach a different doctrine” (1 Timothy 6:3). When the time comes that wandering souls no longer “endure sound teaching,” they “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). It’s not a matter of whether we will have teachers, but who they will be.7. Pastor-elders in the church are teachers.
Leaders in the local church devote themselves to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). False teaching must be answered with true teaching, and true faith only stays true through ongoing true teaching. Teaching is not optional in the church; it’s essential. So Paul instructs Timothy to “teach these things” (1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2), and to keep a close watch not only on himself but on the teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). Titus must “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), and “in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7–8).
Leaders in the local church, then, are not defined as savvy decision-makers or experienced businessmen, but as “those who labor in word and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). So when we remember our leaders, we remember them as “those who spoke to [us] the word of God” (Hebrews 13:7).Food for Hungry Souls
Simply put, the idea of pastor-elders being savvy decision-makers, but not teachers, is foreign to the New Testament. Also foreign is the concept of ministry-specialized “pastors” who mainly administrate programs and jettison the regular practice of pastoring through teaching. Such men who are gifted servants, but not teachers, aren’t barred from church office. They are a tremendous blessing to the church. They are useful for many forms of ministry leadership and service, but they are not elders. This is why God has given us a second office called “deacon.”
The cultural pressure today is extraordinary for pastors and elders to be practicing, and proficient at, just about anything else other than teaching. But if we are to be faithful to the teaching of the Bible, to God’s own word to us, we will push against the tides to reduce, minimize, and go thin on teaching in the life of the church. We’re not handing out degrees, but feeding souls. And that doesn’t happen well without skilled, dedicated teachers working week in and week out to shepherd the flock.
Jesus focused a lot on the kingdom of God. But what is the kingdom? And why does the rest of the New Testament hardly mention the theme?
I thought we were friends. The pain behind those words can overshadow years of life, love, and memories. All the good times fade to black when a friendship is betrayed. Investment, down the drain. Vulnerability, restrained. Trust shattered. Love questioned.
Friends hurt friends. It’s inevitable because every friend is a sinner, and sinners gon’ sin against one another and hurt one another — intentionally or unintentionally. Either way, it’s always harder to recover from the pain inflicted by a friend.
The pain of conviction that comes through the godly rebuke of a friend who speaks truth in love is a real gift (Proverbs 27:6). But what if you’re the one sinned against, and you’re hurt because of unkind words, betrayal, or manipulation by a person you consider a friend? How do you address it with your friend, and how do you move past the pain and toward reconciliation?Overlook an Offense
In the midst of your hurt, trust that God is working in your relationship to grow you both in the grace and knowledge of Christ: “Trust in him at all times, O people” (Psalm 62:8).
It is one’s glory (or beauty) to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11). This requires prudence, patience, maturity, and wisdom. Overlooking an offense adorns the gospel and is a loving response that demonstrates we are indeed Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).
In the Disney film Frozen, Elsa abandoned caution and prudence, giving up her good-girl persona to unleash her cold fury on the town of Arendelle. Her actions negatively affected everyone and everything around her. In our flesh, we’re tempted to unleash our pent-up, frozen fury on our friend rather than trust our Lord. Wisdom does not “let it go” like an ice queen. Instead, it dies to self, showing constraint and turning the hurt over to Jesus, who most identifies with us in our pain and who meets us in our times of need.
One caveat: overlooking an offense is not a license to use silence as a weapon, or to harbor ill feelings that will come back to haunt the relationship later. Instead, it is having a clear conscience before God that this hurt is not at a level that it needs to be addressed (at least not right now), but a resolve to “forgive and forget.” It is much better to win your friend than to win an argument.When Offense Can’t Be Overlooked
Sometimes you can’t just overlook an offense. If your first thought is “they need to be told,” this may be your self-righteousness talking and not the Spirit. Our goal must be reconciliation born from love.
However, we will find legitimate times and occasions when we need to address a hurt. We can attempt to right the wrong, but remember that vengeance is the Lord’s and he will repay (Romans 12:19). So this is not a call to lash out and fight back. This is a loving call to biblical rebuke.
In Jesus’s teaching on sin, he says to his disciples,
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4)
To rebuke is to reason frankly with your neighbor (Leviticus 19:17), to tell him his fault (Matthew 18:15), with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1) in hopes that your friend would repent.
But Jesus’s teaching goes much further by saying that we may be hurt again, and we must be ready to forgive every time. Forgiveness may seem almost impossible if we forget Christ. He has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us” (Colossians 2:13–14). When we were in open rebellion against him, he died for us (Romans 5:8). Even now, as ones whose sins have been nailed to the cross with Christ, and whose lives have been raised with Christ, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).Five Ways to Pray
If you have been hurt by a friend, pour out your heart to him in prayer for wisdom, for forgiveness, for reconciliation (Psalm 62:8). Here are some prayer points that may help you deal with hurt with wisdom and grace:
Pray for God to search your wounded heart (Psalm 139:23). Were you hurt because your sin was exposed? Were you overly sensitive to something that was said? Were you tired? Is what you were hurt by a pattern from your friend or a first-time offense?
Pray for the grace to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy in yourself and in your friend (Philippians 4:8).
Pray for discernment: does God want you to overlook or address the offense?
If you must address the offense, pray that you would be honest and gracious with your friend about the way you were hurt, and that your friend would respond with humility.
Pray that you would love your friend at all times, even the difficult ones, and that you would be able to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).
It’s worth it to overlook an offense if you can, and to trust God is working in you and your friend’s heart, to pray for wisdom, love, and reconciliation, to rebuke gently, and to be ready to forgive. Christ teaches “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He then calls his disciples his friends (John 15:14–15), and shortly thereafter he literally died for his friends.
If Jesus could make such a radical, loving sacrifice for his friends — friends who would doubt and deny him — surely we can work to restore our broken friendships. Godly friendships are a witness to the world. In them, we put our love for Christ and for one another on display.
You will never grow in holiness until you see that the ultimate essence of evil is the refusal to be happy in God.
No one actually follows their heart. I know that sounds odd, given the prevalence of our cultural creed to "follow your heart." But if we think carefully about what the "heart" really is and how it functions, we will see that this creed doesn’t make sense, and why it ends up confusing and misleading people.
A few years ago, I wrote an article titled, “Don’t Follow Your Heart,” in which I argued that, considering the heart’s pathologically selfish orientation, it is not a leader we should want to follow.
Some readers objected, arguing that as Christians our hearts of stone have been replaced with new hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and therefore should be reliable to follow. I understand the point, though I believe it to be naïve. Romans 7 (and much of the New Testament) bears witness to — and my extensive personal experience and observation confirms — an active, deceptive sin nature still infecting the regenerate person, requiring us to remain wary and vigilant.
But in pursuing greater clarity, I'll push my argument one step further and say, No one follows their heart. Because God did not make the heart to work that way.What Is “the Heart”?
What do people mean when they say, “Follow your heart”? I doubt most have thought carefully about it. Since it’s always wise to know who one’s leader is before we decide whether it’s wise and safe to follow, we must ask, what is this immaterial thing we call “the heart”?
Have you ever tried to concisely answer that question? It might seem manifestly obvious at first — until you try it and realize the water is deeper and trickier than you thought. Here’s my attempt: the heart is the biblical metaphor for the part of our inner being (soul) that is the source of our affections.
Affections are our strong inclinations toward or away from someone or something. We tend to call these inclinations “loves” or “hates.” Affections are the gauges in the soul that tell us how much or little we treasure persons or things.
So we can say the heart is our soul’s treasurer, because Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). And since God is the supreme treasure in existence, we are to have the greatest affections for him — we are to love him with all our hearts (Matthew 22:37).Beware the Power of a Phrase
Our heart desires what it treasures. In other words, the heart is a “wanter.” So, when people say, “Follow your heart,” what they really mean is, “Pursue what you want.” But saying it this way casts a revealing light and blows away some of the dreamy, euphemistic haze from our cultural creed.
Words are powerful. They can cut through a tangled overgrowth and reveal glorious truth or devious lies. Or they can obfuscate and manipulate and deceive. “Follow your heart” and “pursue what you want” are good examples of what I mean.
“Follow your heart” has a noble, heroic, adventurous, courageous ring to it. And it seems to carry a weight of moral obligation, as if to deny it would be to betray ourselves. It sounds nearly sacred. If someone is on a quest to follow their heart, it feels almost like a violation to question whether they should.
But the phrase “pursue what you want” is more crass, and its inherent dangers are more readily apparent. When we hear it, we intuitively recognize the moral ambiguities in play and feel ambivalence due to the selfishness we know infects our motives. We might disagree on what wants should be pursued, but we are all agreed that not all wants should be pursued. We all know our hearts have plenty of wants that aren’t good for our hearts.
But more than that, “pursue what you want” clarifies who follows what. The key words in this phrase are “what” and “want.” Our “wants” follow the “what.” If our heart is our “wanter,” it follows “what” it wants. If our heart is our treasurer, it follows (or pursues) what it treasures. In other words, we don’t follow our treasurer; our treasurer tells us what treasure to follow.You Never Follow Your Heart
This is why the phrase “follow your heart” is confusing and misleading. It’s sort of like saying follow your follower, or treasure your treasurer, or want your wanter.
The truth is that you never actually follow your heart. The heart is the part of you that follows what you want. That's why the Bible never instructs you to follow your heart. The Bible only instructs your heart to do what God designed it to do: to feel right affections. God tells your heart to treasure what is truly valuable (Matthew 13:44), to love what is right for the right reasons (Matthew 22:37–39), to trust what is true (Proverbs 3:5–6), and to hate what is evil (Psalm 97:10).
What you follow — what you pursue — is the object that stirs your heart’s affections. The exhortation “don’t follow your heart” bears repeating because I believe the enemy uses the cultural creed “follow your heart” to obscure the truth and manipulate people into deception.
“Follow your heart” is not benign. It’s a powerfully sounding, yet vague, impressionistic idea that sounds so close to being true that, if we aren’t careful, we will simply accept it at face value. And then it becomes a value that informs how we make our decisions and leads us down all sorts of selfish and destructive paths, all the while telling us that we’re simply and nobly being true to ourselves. If Satan can get us to keep our eyes on what we believe are our hearts' sacred dreams, he knows he can keep us blind to the real treasure.
But God doesn’t want our eyes on our hearts, because hearts aren’t designed to be followed. Hearts are designed to be led and directed (2 Thessalonians 3:5). God wants the eyes of our hearts enlightened to see the real treasure and pursue it (Ephesians 1:18). That’s why he tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God doesn’t want us to erroneously think we follow our hearts; he wants us to know we follow Jesus.
Jesus is God’s final Word to us. He is the focal point of history and the climax of all that God has revealed to us.
Many Christians, like most people, aren’t wealthy — financially or spiritually. Many may live paycheck to paycheck materially, and too many live paycheck to paycheck spiritually. They struggle to enjoy divine margin in their relationship with God — surviving on a series of emotionally charged events or experiences. Kids in these homes have a unique set of issues to process when it comes to developing an intimate relationship with Christ.
Fortunately, many Christians fall on the other side of the continuum. They enjoy enormous spiritual margin in their relationship with Jesus, because they seek him daily and aim to live for his glory. The depth and maturity of their walk with Christ creates stability and richness and overflow in their families. But their abundance in Christ can present a particular set of struggles when it comes to their children developing their own passionate relationship with Jesus.
Passing on material goods to our children creates a fairly good analogy for the difficulties Christian parents often face in passing along to their offspring the spiritual wealth they’ve gained. For our discussion, let’s agree that we’re defining “wealth” as having more of something than the minimum, more than we can reasonably consume on our own. Jesus said that to whom much is given, much is expected. With that in mind, I offer the following parallels.Difficulty of Passing on Our Wealth
There’s a big difference between becoming wealthy and having wealth from the beginning. The first knows what it’s like to have nothing — to be hungry, to wonder how you will make it month to month. The second knows none of these things — at least not experientially.
Yet it’s that hunger — the feelings of barely getting by — that tend to push a person to do the hard, disciplined work required to build up the internal muscles needed to eventually move from rags to riches. It does take “muscles”:
Humility — that puts their pride in check and frees them up to do the thankless, self-effacing jobs that eventually give them access to the ladder of success.
Vision — that enables them to see a better future as well as formulate a plan to get there.
Tenacity — that pushes them over, around, or through the myriad roadblocks on their quest for a better life that scream, “No, it’s too hard!” or, “It’s not worth it!” or, “Give up now!”
Sacrifice — that willingness to deny themselves now in order to ultimately attain what they would never get otherwise.
These internal muscles not only help a person gain material wealth, but also serve them well when it comes to protecting that wealth and multiplying it.
When typical Americans have worked hard and accumulated some healthy financial margin, it’s normal for them to want to use some of it to make their daily lives more comfortable, convenient, and safer. They don’t do this because they’re threatened by discomfort, difficulty, or risk. They’ve known plenty of all three. But now that they have some financial depth, it makes sense to use some of it to alleviate these hardships that are now optional. Because of the personal price they paid to get there, these amenities of their wealth aren’t as likely to corrupt them but simply represent ways they’re enjoying its blessings.
But if you’re a child growing up in this home, the blessings of your parents’ wealth can have a completely opposite impact on you. You have no reference point for hunger, no need for vision, no call for sacrifice. A life of abundant options is so much of a foregone conclusion that it’s hard for a child to even imagine what it would be like to not have them. If a parent isn’t careful, this context of blessing can breed an assumption of entitlement in their children. The underbelly of unearned privilege is often laziness, arrogance, selfishness, and a lack of appreciation for the sacrifice others made to make one’s life so good.
That’s why wealth has a difficult time being passed on for more than two generations from when it was originally made. The mantra has variations but basically goes like this: the first generation makes the wealth, the second one mismanages it, and the third one loses it.Parenting in Material Abundance
Exceptions exist, but typically they are owing to deliberate actions parents take. They know it’s critical that their children experience their own financial journey. These kinds of parents tend to share two overriding principles in common.
First, they see the importance of their children experiencing financial adversity.
They view the statement “I don’t want my children to have to go through what I went through” for what it is — a misguided view of adversity that ultimately denies their children a chance to gain personal economic maturity.
Their kids may have a nicer home and more options than their parents did at the same age, but wise parents make sure to keep dilemmas in place that force their children to develop fiscal responsibility. For starters, their children still have to carry their fair share of chores around the house. And these parents realize that even though they could easily purchase their kids all the latest clothing and gadgets and everything else their heart desires, they do not. They provide the basics that any other parent would provide, but still expect their children to create income streams of their own if they want upgrades and extras.
The other way they allow them to experience adversity is they refuse to provide economic outpatient care for them once they’re adults. They know it’s in the best interest of their children that they each learn how to be economically self-sufficient.
Second, they distinguish between their wealth and their children’s.
The teenage son says, “Dad, we’re rich, aren’t we?” Dad replies, “No, son, your mom and I are wealthy. You have nothing. We worked hard for what we have and are glad to share its benefits with you while you’re under our care. But a day is coming when we’ll launch you into adulthood. Then you will have to assume total financial responsibility for your life. How you end up when it comes to money and lifestyle will correspond to your own efforts.”
A place exists for financial hand*ups* that enable a responsible young adult to be even more responsible, but not financial hand*outs* that accommodate laziness, irresponsibility, or entitlement. Trust accounts and financial inheritance aren’t assumed by these wise parents but only passed on if these parents are confident these things will help make their children better people. The last thing they’d want their hard-earned money to do is ultimately destroy their adult children.Parenting in Spiritual Abundance
Now, for the parallel. When a person is brought up in a spiritually deprived environment, there’s a natural sense of something missing. Spiritual hunger, and the emptiness that often accompanies it, typically plays a significant role in a person’s response to the gospel. Up to that point, they may have embraced a string of religious counterfeits. But counterfeits, like junk food, can’t ever satisfy. When a spiritually starving person finally gets a taste of the Bread of Life and a sip of the Living Water, the contrast is overwhelming. There might not be an instant surrender, but when the Holy Spirit finally makes his move on their heart, the change is deep, the contrast is stark, and at least it seems there’s no turning back.
A newfound faith is often accompanied by a passionate desire for more of God, his word, his truth and grace, and his extended family. This pursuit has a transforming impact across the board in this new believer’s life.
If this transformation takes place in their young years or the early years of marriage, it’s not uncommon for them to use some of their spiritual wealth in Christ to “upgrade” their lifestyles. Prayer and the ingesting of God’s word become routine. Their closest friends become spiritual assets rather than liabilities. Fears are more consistently overcome with faith. Bad habits are replaced with life-giving ones. Their home is increasingly filled with God.
But if you’re a child born and raised in this type of home from the beginning, it can have a completely different impact on your spiritual journey, humanly speaking. There are unintended consequences of raising kids in homes where the gutter-to-glory transforming work of God is one generation removed. I have observed three common problems of kids raised in spiritually safe and comfortable Christian homes:
They don’t think God is as real as he is.
They don’t think sin is as bad as it is.
They don’t think.
The Christian environment that surrounds them — with its traditions, clichés, and built-in protections — may become their view of who God is rather than God himself. The safe confines of their comfortable Christian world may give them a naiveté towards sin that can easily make them vulnerable to its true nature once they’re adults. And they’re living in a world that’s constantly giving them answers to questions they’re not driven to ask and solutions to problems they’ve never truly had to wrestle with.Passing on a Living Faith
Passing on a fervent faith in Christ to the next generation is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Ultimately God gives the gift of the new birth, but he does invite parents in to play an essential part. Like the wealthy parents that effectively pass on a healthy appreciation and stewardship of money to their kids, there are a couple of things, among others, that Christian parents can do in an effort to make their child’s upbringing a launching pad for their own passionate relationship with Jesus.
First, allow them to face a degree of spiritual adversity.
It’s obviously reckless for a parent to simply throw their helpless children into the midst of a morally hostile world. But it can be equally irresponsible and reckless to raise them in an environment that doesn’t really need God’s power and presence for protection. Although their children get to bask in the blessing of a godly and righteous home, wise parents know that there’s a huge difference between biblical knowledge and biblical power, spiritual safety and spiritual strength.
The former can be attained with orthodox information and man-made barriers. The latter is more likely attained through spiritual challenge, risk, and threat. The former can be achieved without God’s help. The latter can only be achieved through God’s power and a personal encounter with a mighty Savior.
When spiritually wealthy parents create ongoing dilemmas that highlight their child’s deep need for Christ, and he saves them, it not only raises the likelihood, so to speak, of getting a biblically knowledgeable and spiritually strong kid, but a biblically nimble and spiritually safe one too. And we don’t have to expose them much to the hostile world around them to convince them of their need for Christ.
But how does a parent do this without stepping over the line toward recklessness? Jesus showed us the way. He taught his disciples the truths of the gospel by regularly unpacking the Scripture and teaching parables and then applying them to their life. But he also consistently engaged the disciples in the raw reality of the broken world around them. They had daily exposure to man’s depraved heart by accompanying him as he actively poured out his love on people caught up in the throes of their lost condition. And there were times when he even sent these disciples out on their own “as sheep in the midst of wolves” to put into practice the principles they saw Jesus demonstrate for them (Matthew 10:16).
You say, “Yes, but the disciples were adults.” Perhaps, though some of them may have been younger than we typically think today of by “adult” — and in many of these encounters Jesus had with the underside of the lost world, we know that even “children” were present as well. In some cases, children actually played a role. However, on those edgier encounters when children were present, they were safe from sins under toe — because Jesus was there with them.
You say, “Yes, but the disciples were already believers in Jesus.” Actually, they plainly did not have a full understanding of who Jesus was, and what he represented, until the resurrection. But they had an attraction to him and a desire to respond to his call. During their three-year journey by his side, they drew close to him as their leader and friend, but their faith-based relationship didn’t show up until the last chapter of his earthly ministry.
If parents are truly wealthy in Christ, they should be living on the frontlines of his kingdom cause. They should have regular engagement with the spiritually hurting and needy people that surround them. These parents know that their kids are better off with a front-row seat as mom and dad go about loving the lost and lonely they encounter along the way. Spiritually wealthy parents, who consistently hold out their treasure to the spiritually bankrupt people around them, typically have less trouble raising kids who have a sober view of the lost culture that surrounds them.
Second, distinguish between the child’s relationship with Christ and their parents’.
These parents make it clear that the gracious spiritual environment their kids get to enjoy is an extension of their parents’ relationship with Jesus. If their children want these features to be a part of their future life, they will find it, sooner or later, through their own pursuit of Christ. These parents do not assume that anything they know or believe about Jesus will be their kids’ by default. But they seek to connect to their children’s heart in such a way that it prepares the way for their kids to connect ultimately to the heart of God.Christ More Than Comfort
We can complicate passing on our faith if we unwittingly make the process too comfortable and easy for our kids. Although children can clearly benefit from the blessings that accompany their parent’s relationship with Christ, if they want those spiritual assets for themselves, they will come through their own authentic journey to the cross.
The more we make our homes a gracious place for our children to process the consequential features of their sinful separation from God, the less encumbered they’ll be when it comes to making the riches of his salvation their own.
Parents have a lot of influence on who we become, but not more than God. Whatever kind of parents you had — godly or ungodly, wise or unwise, kind or unkind — you can overcome your past.
The kings during Isaiah’s ministry are a Khan Academy course in broken families: Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, and his son Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). Four very different rulers, but each a father, and each a son — and each a sinner in his own way. What intrigued me while reading through 2 Chronicles recently was the relationships between them. How did a father impact his son? And how did the sons respond to successes and failures in their fathers’ reigns?
The transitions highlight one theme that holds just as true today: We may be biologically or socially predisposed to fall into similar patterns of sin as our parents, but we are not destined to repeat their failures — or their faithfulness.One Father’s Moral Failure
Uzziah became king when he was sixteen, the same age we let children drive today. Two whole years before he would have been trusted to vote for an American president, the people entrusted him to govern an entire nation of God’s people. Despite rising to power faster than teenage pop stars today, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4).
His father, however, hadn’t always done what was right with the right heart (2 Chronicles 25:2). In fact, Amaziah brought foreign gods into Judah and worshiped them (2 Chronicles 25:14). And because he did, God gave them over in battle to the northern kingdom of Israel, who captured the king and tore down the wall of Jerusalem (25:21–23).
When Uzziah’s father chose what was wrong in the eyes of God, the people conspired against him, so he fled in fear (25:27). But his own people hunted him down and executed him. He died in shame, as a traitor and adulteress against God himself. Excommunication by death penalty was Uzziah’s inherited legacy.Imitating Flawed Parents
The people killed their own king, making his 16-year-old their sovereign. How Uzziah lives and serves in the wake of his father’s outrageous sins has everything to do with how we live and serve in light of our parents’ failures. Again, Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah didn’t throw out everything his dad had done just because he had fallen in the end. No, Uzziah imitated what was right in God’s eyes in his father’s example, and he abandoned what was wrong in God’s eyes.
Uzziah reigned for 52 years. “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). With God’s help, he conquered the Philistines and the Arabians (2 Chronicles 26:7), built strong towers in Jerusalem (26:9), and raised up an impressive well-prepared army (26:11–15).
Not only did he seek the true God, as his father has once done but failed to do later in life, but he immediately set himself to repairing what was wrong or lost during his father’s reign. He took it upon himself, with God’s help, to recover the land lost in battle, to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, and to reestablish God’s people against her enemies — not as reparations for his father’s sins, but as a renewal in the wake of sin. He took the ashes of his father’s failures, and asked God to breathe new life into them.
The author of 2 Chronicles says, “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15).Another Father Falls
Next verse: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). The sterling young king finally caves to temptation as an old man. Like his father before him, he followed God for years, but then fell into terrible moral failure.
Eighty priests confronted Uzziah over his sin. “Then Uzziah was angry” (2 Chronicles 26:19). He doubled the offense by rejecting wise, godly counsel, adding unrighteous anger to his stubborn pride. And God struck him with leprosy. He lived and ruled alone, because of his leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:21).
He rejected his father’s failures, refusing to entertain or worship foreign gods, but he carved out failures of his own. Uzziah proves at the same time that we are not destined to repeat our parents’ sins, and that every son and daughter is still vulnerable to the sin inside each of us.Another Son Emerges
How did Jotham think about his father’s leprosy — separated from everyone because he spit in God’s face — or his grandfather’s execution, killed for trading away the Maker of mankind for silly, man-made figurines? Did he wear their shame everywhere went? Did he blame his weaknesses and sins on their bad examples?
Jotham became king at 25, and 2 Chronicles says simply, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1–2). Unlike his father, he humbled himself before God and his temple. Like his father, he followed his father’s example in godliness, while refusing to repeat many of his father’s failures. He fortified Jerusalem with walls, gates, forts, and towers (2 Chronicles 27:3–4). “Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).Imperfect Sons of Fallen Fathers
Now Jotham wrestled with sin of his own, as we all do. We know from elsewhere that he failed to tear down the high places where men and women worshiped foreign gods (2 Kings 15:35), a sin his father had also committed (2 Kings 15:4), meaning Jotham was not immune to his father’s bad influence. We are all more tempted to fall where our fathers and mothers fell. But Jotham proves we are not destined to fall. He embraced and imitated his father’s faithfulness, and rejected many of his father’s failures, though imperfectly.
His story is the shortest chapter in 2 Chronicles (only nine verses), but leaves perhaps the greatest example — overcoming the devastating weaknesses and failures in his family to lead with imperfect, but steadfast faithfulness. He chose what was right in the eyes of the Lord, even after he watched his father and grandfather choose what was wrong.To Sons and Daughters of Failure
If you are a son or daughter of failure, take heart. Like Uzziah, we can walk away from the gods of our fathers. And like Jotham, we can reject the pet sins our parents kept in the home. We may be more likely than others to repeat our parents’ unique failures because we learned so much from them, but God’s word and his Spirit can always rescue us from what is wrong in his eyes, however ingrained the wickedness might be in our history and experience.
And we need to be reminded not to throw out evidences of grace and models of faithfulness because our father or mother failed in some major way. To the degree that they “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” hold onto the rightness and imitate them in your life, your marriage, and your parenting. And in the ways that they “did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord,” grieve over their sin and the pain it caused you and others, and then choose to repent and turn from sin yourself.
You cannot undo their sins, or pay for them. But you can kill the same sins before they undo you. In the wake of their iniquity, treasure the grace that can keep you from making the same mistakes and falling into the same failures.
A pastor’s job is not to count how many people come on Sunday, but to make faith-filled, self-denying, fruit-bearing disciples.
You can understand plenty in the Bible without God’s help. But if you want to glorify God and get true understanding, you need to rely on him at every moment.
Bible study without meditation is chewing without swallowing. In this lab, Pastor John helps us recover the lost art so that we might experience more joy in God and his word.Principle for Bible Reading
Meditate on Opposites
One way to meditate on a text is to ask what the opposite reality is. For example, if you come across 1 Peter 5:8 and it tells you to be “sober-minded” and “watchful,” ask, What does it look like to not be drunken-minded and unwatchful?Study Questions
- How do you meditate on the Bible? What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked?
- Meditate on Proverbs 22:13. What did you do? What did you see in the text?
- Watch the lab. How does Pastor John use his pen and paper? What can you learn from how he meditated on the text?