July 15: Psalm 37:30–31; Psalm 116:10; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 18:21; Matthew 10:32; Matthew 12:34; Acts 4:20; Romans 10:10; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:16; Psalm 42:1–2; Song of Solomon 8:14; Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 64:1; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:1;...
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… in all wisdom.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.—Death and life are in the power of the tongue.—The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.—Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
“We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”—I believed, even when I spoke.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”—With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.Psalm 37:30–31 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 116:10 (Listen)
10 I believed, even when1 I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”;
 116:10 Or believed, indeed; Septuagint believed, therefore
(ESV)Proverbs 4:23 (Listen)
(ESV)Proverbs 18:21 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 10:32 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 12:34 (Listen)
(ESV)Acts 4:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 10:10 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 4:29 (Listen)
(ESV)Colossians 3:16 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 42:1–2; Song of Solomon 8:14; Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 64:1; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:8; 3 John 14; Revelation 22:20
I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.—As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?—Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.—Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.—God our Savior and… Christ Jesus our hope.—Though you have not seen him, you love him.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!—It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”Psalm 42:1–2 (Listen) Book Two Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul? To the choirmaster. A Maskil1 of the Sons of Korah.
42 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?2
(ESV)Song of Solomon 8:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 25:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 64:1 (Listen)
(ESV)Philippians 3:20 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Timothy 1:1 (Listen) Greeting
(ESV)Titus 2:13 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Peter 1:8 (Listen)
(ESV)3 John 14 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 22:20 (Listen)
How do I discern when my ambition is godly? Is godly ambition only related to missions work? And does having concrete goals of “success” mean I’m not trusting God’s unseen hand?
“She’s ambitious,” my friend told me, describing someone we both knew. He didn’t mean it in a good way. I knew what he was seeing in her—a kind of grasping self-promotion that prioritized her own advancement.
On its face, ambition means we’re working hard to achieve something. As long as that desire and determination is wrapped up in God’s glory and not our own, it’s a good impulse. But in all of us, the lines can blur and cause a sort of whiplash. One day we work joyfully unto the Lord, and the next be dominated by the idol of self-made success.
Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.
Though we shouldn’t be overly introspective—exhaustively questioning the motives of everything we do—it’s helpful to keep a pulse on our ambition. I’ve found one basic principle helpful: Godly ambition requires both hustle and humility.Godly Ambition Hustles
God has made us to use our hands, our minds, and our time to love others through our labor. He’s blessed us with business savvy, or mathematical acuity, or teaching ability, or the patience to read through tax documents, or the organizational gifting to run an office. When driven by God-centered ambition, we will produce our best work.
We should work hard and take the classes, read the books, listen to the podcasts, seek the mentors, or whatever else seems helpful to accomplish our ambitions. We should grit our teeth and try and try again, instead of sitting around and waiting for God to “open a door.” Whatever our craft, success doesn’t just happen—laboring unto the Lord requires hustle.
The passive person who shuns personal effort because they “trust God” might sound spiritual, but the sentiment is an excuse for laziness and lack of responsibility. Trusting God for a harvest is worthless if you’re unwilling to plant and water seeds.
Like most other new writers, I wish I could “trust God” to hand me success on a silver platter and have a publisher come knocking at my door. I don’t want to worry about things like marketing and platform and book proposals—I just want to write! But it doesn’t work that way. Nobody pursues unknown writers with a book deal. If I expect an easy road, it shows I feel entitled to success, and entitlement is rooted in pride.
Trusting God doesn’t mean folding our hands, it means using the hands he’s given us to hustle.Godly Ambition Is Humble
That said, countless people hustle for the wrong reasons. They build altars of wealth, fame, and admiration, and seek their worth in accomplishments. Such self-aggrandizement has no place in the kingdom of God.
We’ve each been given gifts to steward for the glory of God, the growth of the church, and the good of our neighbors. This isn’t just about formal ministry. A CEO, a chef, a stay-at-home mom, a writer, a teacher, a doctor, a waitress, a photographer, and a farmer can all incorporate these ambitions into their work.
The only way we can fight our thirst for glory is to be consumed with his.
When we’re humbly ambitious, we’ll be far more concerned with how our work reflects on God than how it reflects on us. We’ll be far more driven to develop our skills for the sake of our neighbors rather than ourselves. We’ll cultivate creatively because we love to imitate the Creator of all good things. We’ll strive to increase our profits with godly integrity and manage them as godly stewards. We’ll go for the promotion, because we want to better serve our families and employers. Our hustle won’t be for the honor of our name, but for the honor of God’s.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with my ambition to write and sell lots of books. I love writing, believe God has called me to it, and want my labor to be fruitful. Besides, books can’t yield fruit unless people actually read them! But I know that my ambition is tainted—I do crave affirmation from others besides God—and that’s what must be crucified.
We don’t crucify pride by stifling ambition, but by refining it. And the only way to fight our thirst for glory is to be consumed with his. Nothing keeps us humble like drawing near to the Holy One. The more we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the more our work will be worship unto him.
You can read other installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.
A preacher’s study is like a pressure cooker. As he pours over the Word, everything on his mind—congregational sins, cultural concerns, faithful exegesis, gospel connections, and more—simmers and hisses, threatening at any moment to blow the lid. Why on earth would he add one more thing to the pot? Should a preacher really care about chiasms?
A what? Perhaps it would help if we first knew what a chiasm is. Chiasm (or chiastic structure) is when an author communicates using symmetry. Chiasms can be as short as a sentence or phrase. Take for instance Hamlet’s famous quip:
(A) “to be
(B) or not
(A’) to be”
The term chiasm comes from the shape the corresponding parts form when you diagram them; they look like the left side of the Greek letter chi (Χ). Often, an author’s point hinges on the center of the structure. In our example, the crux of Hamlet’s dilemma is the “or not”—the choice between life or death.
Chiasms can also be much longer, shaping an entire narrative, poem, or even book. Indeed, the way many of us summarize salvation history is itself a chiasm:
In the overarching narrative of Scripture, we see why chiasms are sometimes called ring structures. They give us a feeling of completion—of coming full circle, from creation to re-creation. If chiasms are woven into God’s Word, the question isn’t whether we will preach them, but how.
Here are four basic tips to help you recognize and employ chiasms in your sermons.1. Preach in Context
For the sake of illustration, consider a novel that seems the opposite of intentional, structured literature: The Catcher in the Rye. Though it appears formless and void on the surface, the erratic stream of consciousness filling its pages actually forms a basic chiasm. Holden Caulfield’s scatterbrained incoherence begins and ends in the same place: an insane asylum.
The author, J. D. Sallinger, uses a simple ring structure to create a context for the meandering story of his narrator. Can we trust the ravings of this angsty teen? Are we getting the whole truth—or any of it? To miss Sallinger’s subtle structure is to misread the entire work.
In a similar fashion, chiasms in Scripture help us place our passage in its intended context. For instance, Luke interjects the story of the bleeding woman into the plot of Jairus and his sick daughter (Luke 8). These two stories fit together into a tight chiasm, and to interpret them separately would be to miss Luke’s bigger point. Or consider the infamous head-scratcher, the cursing of the fig tree. Jesus’s prophetic act comes into clear focus as we read it in context of the five-part chiasm of Mark 11.
Sometimes expositional preachers can get so focused on the bark of one tree that we forget to poke our head above the canopy. Panoramic views may reveal a chiastic context that explains the placement and meaning of a specific verse, passage, or narrative.2. Let the Chiasm Structure Your Sermon
But do I have to point out every chiasm I see? Faithful preachers should seek the edification of our hearers, and weekly sermons overflowing with words like “chiastic structure,” “sections B and B prime,” and “inclusio” might cause eyelids to (rightly) droop. Rather than constantly pointing out chiastic structure, why not use the author’s intentionality to structure your own sermon’s outline and points?
A chiasm forms a kind of visual arrow for preachers, pointing to the heart of the passage.
For example, in Nehemiah 5 the author uses chiasm to contrast his own sacrificial leadership with the oppressive corruption of Jerusalem’s previous rulers. Rather than going on in detail about the complex structure when I preached this passage, I allowed Nehemiah’s own words to illustrate the contrast:
(A) They burdened
(B) They took
(C) They lorded
(C’) I labored
(B’) I gave
-(A’) I carried
The center of the chiasm was the main point of my sermon: “But I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (Neh. 5:15). A chiasm forms a kind of visual arrow for preachers, pointing to the heart of the passage. Let that guide you as you preach.3. Honor the Author
Chiasms can help those of us who struggle with chronological snobbery. Many people visualize the Bible’s characters as just one level above cavemen. Some of this is due to books they’ve read, movies they’ve seen, or poor preaching in the past that scoffs at supposed errors and backwoods perspectives held by the biblical writers.
A preacher can bring great honor to the intelligence and skill of the authors of Scripture by occasionally pointing out chiasms. Powerful preaching demonstrates that the deeper understanding of the authors shows how we are in error. Even more, it develops humility before the great Author himself, as we learn to cry with Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).4. Imitate the Beauty
The Bible overflows with chiastic structure because it is a book of beauty, a work of wonder, a masterpiece. The Puritan William Perkins (1558–1602) wrote a classic book called The Art of Prophesying. Nothing could be truer: Preaching is an art. If we discover poetic beauty and rhetorical structure in the Scriptures, we become imitators of God by honing our preaching from basic fingerpaints to oil and canvas.
So spend time meditating on the Psalms and pondering how you can craft your own sentences with poetic flourish:
(A) The sacrifices of God are
(B) a broken spirit;
(B’) a broken and contrite heart,
(A’) O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)
Even better, memorize biblical poetry! As you grow in your appreciation for the beauty of the Scriptures, may your preaching reflect the glory of God, to the praise of his great name among his people.
C. S. Lewis would be disturbed to see The Screwtape Letters in a series about the benefits of reading old books. He’d say his book isn’t old enough. When he spoke of old books, he meant old books—works by Plato, Athanasius, or Aquinas. But I find that the gap between his 1940s writing and my rereading today is long enough to qualify it as “tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages” (God in the Dock).
When I first picked up The Screwtape Letters, I thought it would be funny. How could a fictional series of letters from a senior demon to a young trainee not be hilarious? (If you ever want to feel the full force of its humor, track down the audio version read by John Cleese.)
For example, who could resist laughing out loud when encountering this insight about pride:
Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.
Or when explaining that thinking about repentance is fine, as long as the Christian doesn’t actually do it. As Screwtape counsels,
Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul.Repentance
But I soon found the book far more probing than entertaining. Lewis shines the light of Christian reflection on sin and temptation in revealing and disturbing ways. He does cause me to chuckle—but that only makes me drop my guard long enough to feel conviction and repent. I view myself more honestly and turn from sin more decisively after eavesdropping on this diabolical dialogue.
Many times I’ve marveled at how Lewis knew my darkest secrets. Apparently I’m not alone. In the preface to the paperback edition he wrote:
Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”
In preparation for writing this article, I thought I would skim the book one more time. I couldn’t do it. I simply can’t read The Screwtape Letters quickly. After just two letters, I needed to put it down, reflect deeply, repent thoroughly, and pray intently. Lewis might have had similar struggles in writing it. When asked by many to write a second volume of more letters, he declined: “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment.”
After just two letters, I needed to put it down, reflect deeply, repent thoroughly, and pray intently.
More than other books I’ve read about living the Christian life, The Screwtape Letters gets beyond mere “how to” and considers the essence of things—the essence of being human, the essence of sin and temptation, and the essence of time and eternity.Human Nature
Concerning human nature, Lewis helps me grasp what it means to live in a physical body but also have a spiritual nature. Part of that duality is experienced as undulations. Our feelings ebb and flow, and our sense of closeness to our Creator fluctuates. Both the highs and lows can be used by God for making us more like him. But those highs and lows also provide great opportunities for the Devil. Remembering this has helped me profoundly during both the highs (when tempted toward arrogance) and the lows (when spiraling toward despair).
Again and again, I’ve been strengthened by Screwtape’s lament:
Do not be deceived, Wormood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.Sin and Temptation
In regard to sin and temptation, it’s easy to treat all of it the same. But Lewis helps me recognize the distinct challenges related to specific sins. To be sure, all sin is the same when it comes to its ultimate consequence (damnation) and its only solution (the cross). Homogenizing sins, however, isn’t as helpful (or as biblical) as analyzing them individually to better resist them.
Anger, lust, gluttony, and other evils present themselves in different ways, requiring diverse strategies for resistance. Anger is triggered when I insist that time is mine (as if I produced minutes and seconds). Lust gets kicked into gear for other reasons—loneliness, hurt, or being misunderstood. Gluttony, I must remember, isn’t just overeating. It can rear its ugly head as a finicky, demanding insistence that food taste just the way I like it and be served at just the moment I—ruler of my culinary kingdom—demand.Time and Eternity
Finally, reading The Screwtape Letters forges an eternal perspective that changes the way I view time.
More than 10 years ago, I faced the challenge of heart surgery. I needed to wait in the hospital for almost a week before various blood levels settled, to ensure a safe bypass procedure. During that waiting period, I reread The Screwtape Letters. Chapter 15 helped ward off tidal waves of fear and anxiety as I was reminded:
The humans live in time, but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. . . . He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
Do I recommend The Screwtape Letters? Without reservation. Consider a slower pace than usual and plan on reading it more than once. But count on the laughter diminishing, and repentance growing, with each rereading.
A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans say they are angrier today compared with a generation ago. Another poll found Americans to be angrier in 2018 than at any other point in the last decade. We probably don’t need polls to tell us we live in an age of anger overload. We feel it palpably when we turn on the news or open our Facebook feeds and see an abundance of red-faced “angry” emojis.
Much of the anger is warranted. When we come across stories of suffering children at detention centers or legislatures cheering late-term abortions, we should be angry. When we read a story about sexual abuse or see someone making dehumanizing or racist comments on Twitter, our blood should boil. When we come across these things, anger is an appropriate emotion to feel.
But should we come across all these things?
Are humans situated in specific contexts meant to bear the weight of a world’s worth of grief and outrage? And what does this mean specifically for local churches, where the complex contours of specific, in-the-flesh community can get lost or neglected in the cacophonous onslaught of abstract, distant grievances from all corners of the globe?Angst-Inducing Placelessness
One problem the digital age poses for the local church is that it draws the attention of individual Christians constantly outward, but in often unproductive and relentlessly fragmented ways. People in our churches spend their mental energy every week keeping tabs on the latest Twitter outrage or distant calamity, with little energy left to pour into the lives and issues right in front of them.
To be sure, awareness of the broader world can be a great thing in the Christian life—a motivator for global missions, charitable giving, broadened perspectives, and a healthy sense of connectedness to the global body of Christ. But without carefully regulating our exposure to media, we can easily attend to the “out there” more than the “right here”—creating an imbalance that leads to chronic stress, angst, and sometimes a dangerous numbness.
The hyper-connection and over-awareness of a space-conquered world renders us fragmented and disconnected from place—the local contexts where we can know and be known, and effect change, to the greatest degree. As French Protestant theologian Jacques Ellul states in The Technological Society, “The paradox is characteristic of our times, that to the abstract conquest of Space by Man (capitalized) corresponds the limitation of place for men (in small letters).”
Our broader exposure to space, coupled with a diminished connection to place, leaves us feeling over-stimulated but under-activated. On any given day we are left inflamed by whatever grievances the internet has exposed us to, yet impotent to do much, if anything, about it. The endless conveyor belt of content puts more things on our radar in a day than people a century ago would encounter in a year—often about places we’ve never heard about and issues we didn’t even know were issues.
Our broader exposure to space, coupled with a diminished connection to place, leaves us feeling over-stimulated but under-activated.Imbalanced Information-Action Ratio
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, media critic Neil Postman talks about how our access to information and news from all over the world “gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.” This is the legacy of the telegraph, he says: “By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the information-action ratio.”
Historically, Postman observes, information was deemed valuable insofar as it had could lead to action. But the telegraph and later technologies rendered that relationship abstract and remote: “For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.”
Social media epitomizes this problem. Our feeds constantly inform us of far-removed news about which we have little context and even less recourse to action: political protests in Venezuela, a union strike in Paris, a snake found in a toilet in Florida, and so on. We can easily spend hours a day attending to headlines about matters that will never affect us (and which we can never alter), debates about things we know little about, and problems we cannot solve.
We can easily spend hours a day attending to headlines about things that will never affect us (and which we can never alter), debates about things we know little about, and problems we cannot solve.
With social media, we may sense that our participation is meaningful action, that it is doing something. But more often than not we’re only adding to the noise and fueling the rage machine—and often compromising our Christian witness in the process. There’s a reason Scripture advises, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Prov. 21:23), and that we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). The problem, of course, is that today’s media economy is fueled by “quick to speak” rants, mobs, and pile-ons that create traffic spikes and trending topics.
To resist this temptation is one of the most challenging yet subversive things a wise 21st-century Christian can do.Responding to Anger Overload
How might prudent Christians navigate this world of anger overload? I have three suggestions.
First, try to prioritize actionable information. Audit your information environment. How much of it can actually enhance your local, tangible, actionable life? Christians especially should note whether they are spending more time investing in remote digital controversies than in the concrete contexts of their neighborhood and the flesh-and-blood saints in their church. Instead of passively consuming indiscriminate information that rushes to you via social media and cable news, consider being more proactive and selective. Instead of “default on” for these buzzing purveyors of anger-inducing grievances, try “default off.” Start with the real places and real people around you: What are their concerns, struggles, needs? Spend more time with knowable faces across the table from you than with unknowable avatars across the world from you. Let your real contexts be a guide for the sort of relevant and actionable information you then seek out online.
Second, consider the value of silence and unmediated space. Fight the temptation to fill every moment of your life with media. It may be a revolutionary thought today, but you can actually stand in line at Starbucks without pulling out your phone and scanning social media. You can commute to work without listening to talk radio. You can go for a jog without listening to a podcast. You can spend your breaks, transitions, and other “in between times” in silence, alone with your thoughts. Even better: in prayer, in reflection, in awe, in gratitude. You don’t have to fill every spare moment with something “informative” or “useful.” You can just be still and silent. If we just removed all the time we spend online in these “in between” moments of life, we’d instantly have much less to trigger our stress and anger.
Third, and most importantly, try to cultivate a Christian spirit of “holy calm” in a world of ever-present anger. “The real strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ,” Jonathan Edwards wrote nearly 300 years ago, “is simply the steadfast maintenance of a holy calmness . . . sustained amidst all the storms, injuries, wrong behavior, and unexpected acts and events in this evil and unreasonable world. The Scripture seems to intimate that true fortitude consists chiefly of this: ‘He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit, than he that takes a city’ (Prov. 16:32).” In a world that constantly dares us to rant and rave about all manner of things, Christ-followers should instead “keep calm and carry on,” staying diligent in discipleship, committed to community, faithful in worship, and focused in mission.
When we are saved, we’re united to Christ by the Spirit. Our old self — our unbelieving, rebellious, sin-loving self — dies, and we live by the Spirit.
ABSTRACT: To many people, the word jealousy is laden with negative connotations. In Scripture, however, we read that “the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God is rightfully jealous for his own glory and for the devotion of his covenant people. Holy jealousy also characterizes the most godly men and women, from David and Elijah to Jesus and Paul.
For our ongoing series of feature articles by scholars for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Erik Thoennes, professor and chair of theology at Talbot School of Theology/Biola University, to explain the meaning of godly jealousy in Scripture. You can also download and print a PDF of the article.
Hear the word jealous, and images of an insecure, abusive husband may come to mind. Indeed, sinful human jealousy has been the cause of countless difficulties and heartache in human relationships. For many today, the word jealousy is always a bad one.
It can be perplexing for Christians, then, when they come across a passage like Exodus 34:14: “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” How could a perfect, loving, patient God call himself jealous? Is God insecure? Do passages like this simply represent a primitive, Old Testament idea of God that is thankfully done away with by the time we get to the New Testament? Maybe this is just a human way of talking about God that should not be taken seriously, or perhaps jealous is a bad translation of a Hebrew word that could allow for a less troublesome English word?
Despite confusion and aversion to this attribute of God, we must not reject or neglect this important aspect of God’s character. The jealousy of God is an attribute that pervades the pages of Scripture and is an essential part of God’s covenant love. To understand why God would call himself jealous, and even intensify this description by turning it into one of his divine names, we need to see Exodus 34:14 in its biblical context. This is also true for the hundreds of other times God declares or displays his jealousy in the Bible.Jealousy and Envy
While all human words are frail and limited in describing God, we need to allow God’s verbal revelation to hold the power and meaning he intends for it to have. Jealous is actually a very good English word to translate the Hebrew word kana in Exodus 34. Kana (as well as the Greek equivalent zelos) could be translated as zeal or envy in other places in the Bible. Zeal is a general strong feeling to see something come about. Envy is a desire to gain possession of something that does not belong to you, and it is always sinful. Jealousy is a strong desire to maintain relational faithfulness that you believe does belong to you. Jealousy can be sinful if it is unwarranted or expressed in wrong ways, but it can also be an entirely appropriate and righteous emotion. We don’t usually make any distinction between envy and jealousy, which contributes to the public-relations problem jealousy has.
God’s jealousy is his righteous and loving demand of exclusive faithfulness from his covenant people. Because God rightly loves his own glory, and graciously loves us, he demands that we worship and serve him above all. In human history, God is most glorified by the undivided devotion of his redeemed people, and his ultimate jealousy for his glory demands this devotion. If he does not care when we love idols more than him, he would allow himself to be dishonored and let us settle for so much less than he intends us to have from life. God’s jealous love demands the best of us and our relationships.
In Exodus 34, God is giving Moses the central demands of relating to him as his covenant people — a covenant he compares repeatedly to a marriage (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 2:2–3; Hosea 2:2). God is the husband of his people, and we are his bride. This metaphor only intensifies when we get to the New Testament (Matthew 9:15; Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:6–9). To worship any God but the true God is spiritual adultery, and any husband who does not care that his wife committed adultery most certainly does not love her. Right at the heart of the laws of the covenant, God wants his people to know that this covenant relationship is permanent and exclusive. He wants them to realize that he is a personal God establishing a personal relationship with his people, and that his people should relate to him as he is, not as a more user-friendly god of their own making.God’s Jealousy for His Own Glory
Throughout the Bible, God is rightfully jealous when he is dishonored, as we can see in the reason God gives for the second commandment:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:3–5)
God demands the fidelity of his people because he loves them, but ultimately because he is most glorified when they ascribe to him the honor that belongs to him alone. God achieves this goal of making himself known so that people will acknowledge, fear, worship, and obey him as the one and only Lord. Every key stage of salvation history points to this supreme aim. God’s covenant love and compassion are no less operational than his jealousy; he is jealous for the devotion of his people because he has the loving heart of a father, but ultimately because he desires to protect the honor of his name.1
God has a unique right to seek his own glory, a right none of us should seek to take for ourselves. Only God deserves absolute honor, worship, and glory, and he reacts with jealousy and anger when those he has created do not ascribe it to him, or when they desire it for themselves. God is righteous and therefore values above all else what is of ultimate value. He loves most what is most worthy of being loved, which is his own character, being, and perfections. Therefore, God’s jealousy for his glory does not conflict with his love. Indeed, his perfect justice and love necessitate his own self-exaltation.
We see the same jealousy for God’s glory in the ministry of Jesus. The portraits we often get of Jesus tend to be limited to his attributes that we find comforting, like his compassion and mercy. Jesus certainly is compassionate and merciful, and tells his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies (Matthew 5:39). But what do we make of Jesus flipping over tables in the temple (John 2:14–15)? That doesn’t seem to be the Jesus most hear about on Sunday morning! The godly jealousy of Jesus stands behind his righteous indignation as he drove out the money-changers with a whip. His disciples recognized this attitude as the same one that drove David. They recalled his words from Psalm 69 after Jesus cleansed the temple: “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘zeal [zelos] for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17).
Jesus is often thought of as very different from the God of the Old Testament. But he spoke often of hell, and one of the last images we have of Jesus in the Bible is so terrifying that unrepentant people are crying out for rocks to fall on them rather than face “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Jesus is indeed gracious and loving, but his grace and love are ultimately driven by God’s glory. His jealous love caused him to hate sin and all that dishonors God so much that he gave his life to vanquish evil and idolatry once and for all.Jealous with God’s Jealousy
The prevalence of a consumer mentality and human-centeredness in contemporary society easily leads our agendas and takes greater priority than God’s glory. A desire to be relevant and attractive can encourage a marketing mentality in the church that lacks jealousy for God’s honor. The heavy influence of secular psychology, with its therapeutic, self-centered approach to ministry, also can detract from God’s glory being the supreme objective when Christians gather. These influences can lead the church to become a pragmatically oriented self-help group rather than a God-glorifying community.
On the other hand, when God’s people deeply desire that he be glorified so that nothing competes with him for our devotion and worship, they should experience a godly jealousy that mirrors his. The Bible includes many examples of godly people who are jealous for God’s honor. Whenever religious reform and revival was brought about in Israel, behind it always stood a jealous leader. Whether it was Hezekiah smashing the sacred pillars and cutting down Asherah poles (2 Kings 18:3–4; 19:15–19), Jehoiada tearing down the house and altars of Baal (2 Kings 11:17–18), or Josiah removing the high places (2 Kings 23:19), jealousy on behalf of God’s name, and his exclusive right to receive worship and covenant fidelity, was a primary motivating emotion.
Among the many examples and individuals who express godly jealousy, five of them stand out as the strongest: Phinehas, David, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul. The key passages that epitomize this attribute for each of them are Numbers 25 (Phinehas), Psalm 69:9 (David), 1 Kings 19:10–14 (Elijah), John 2:13–17 (Jesus), and 2 Corinthians 11:1–4 (Paul). Each shows his intense desire for the preservation of God’s honor in the face of a challenge to that honor.
Consider Phinehas, for example. Phinehas is not a well-known Old Testament figure today, but he should be. He killed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who were flagrantly rebelling against God in the midst of Israel’s repentance for rampant unfaithfulness (Numbers 25:6–9). God responds by saying that Phinehas atoned for the sins of the people, stopped a plague, and saved many lives because he was jealous for God’s honor in a way that reflected God’s jealousy (Numbers 25:10–13). He stands as a Christ type when it is said that he is given a perpetual priesthood in addition to being a source of atonement (Numbers 25:13).Different Weapons
God calls Christians today to feel the jealous anger and indignation that all of the godly leaders in the Bible (like Phinehas) experienced. However, in this day of terrorist attacks in the name of God’s honor, we will be quick to acknowledge that there are significant distinctions between the Old Testament saint, operating under the law-based theocracy, and the New Testament Christian, operating under the new covenant and the lordship of Christ. In addition to the roles of men like Phinehas, David, and Elijah, their theocratic context was based on Old Testament law-covenant and direct commands of God. This limits the bloody expression of their jealousy to their historical situation. Phinehas’s killing of Zimri and Cozbi, David’s killing of Goliath, and Elijah’s destruction of the prophets of Baal were appropriate manifestations of their godly jealousy for their contexts, but they no longer represent God’s methods under the new covenant.
In the New Testament, we still see God himself taking drastic, physical action on those who dishonor him (Acts 5:5–10; 12:23). But when it comes to humans, a shift takes place in the New Testament where jealousy for God’s honor is now channeled through gospel proclamation and is, in some measure, put on hold until God unleashes his final judgment (Romans 12:19–21). Jesus himself frowned upon violent reactions to behaviors that were dishonoring to God. He rebuked Peter when he cut off Malchus’s ear (Matthew 26:52). His response to James and John when they wanted to call down fire to consume the inhospitable Samaritans seems to teach the same idea. He rebuked them and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56).
Paul provides the same perspective: “Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3–4). And again: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The godly Christian hates idolatry no less than Phinehas, yet Christ calls him to fight with different weapons. Phinehas’s spear has been replaced by Paul’s epistles. The enemies of God deserve the same bold indignation David felt, but righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit have replaced his stones.
Christian leaders may think godly jealousy has little to do with most ministry endeavors, but central to our calling is that we abhor and denounce false teaching, even if we will be considered divisive, intolerant, and uncharitable (Titus 1:9; Romans 12:9). Any distortion of the truth of God’s word among God’s people amounts to idolatry and spiritual adultery. A faithful pastor will react with godly jealousy, among other virtues (2 Timothy 2:22–26), whenever the clear teaching of Scripture is violated. In a proper effort to be irenic, gracious, and fair, it nevertheless will be impossible to remain ambivalent when God’s word is ignored or distorted, especially by those who claim to be his covenant people. God, whose name is Jealous, demands that his people remain devoted to the true gospel without compromise. The church is to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and its leaders are to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to us (2 Timothy 1:14), so its theological gatekeepers must remain vigilant in these efforts.Faithful Bride
What a staggering and wonderful truth — that the God who is perfectly self-sufficient (Psalm 50:12; Acts 17:24–25) has chosen to enter into an intimate relationship with his people to the point where he feels jealous anger if we are unfaithful to him! And what a blessed joy to know that, by faith in Christ, the only perfect covenant-keeper, we can rest assured that one day we will be presented to our Lord pure and conformed to his image (1 John 3:2–3).
Until that day, may the God whose name is Jealous be honored through the surprising faithfulness of his bride, even when she is prone to wander.2
Some key passages that show God’s jealousy for his own glory are Exodus 10:1–2; Isaiah 48:9–11; Ezekiel 20:42–44; 36:21–23; 39:25; Matthew 4:10; Mark 8:38; John 12:28–29; 17:1–5; Acts 12:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7, 15; and Hebrews 1:4–14. ↩
For more on godly jealousy, see Erik Thoennes, Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005); Erik Thoennes, “For the Sake of the Name: Godly Jealousy as a Foundation of Evangelism and Discipleship,” in Fulfilling the Great Commission in the Twenty-First Century: Essays on Revival, Evangelism, and Discipleship in Honor of Dr. Robert Coleman, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Ajith Fernando (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2015); Erik Thoennes, “Sinners in the Hands of a Jealous God,” interview by Matthew Barrett, Credo Magazine, July 1, 2015. ↩
July 14: Psalm 149:4; Proverbs 8:31; Song of Solomon 7:10; John 15:13; John 17:12; Romans 8:38–39; Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:12; Deuteronomy 11:18; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 17:4; Psalm 37:31; Psalm 119:11; Isaiah 34:16;...
I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me.
I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.—For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.—“I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost.”
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.—“Delighting in the children of man.”—The great love with which he loved us.—“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.—If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.Psalm 149:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Proverbs 8:31 (Listen)
(ESV)Song of Solomon 7:10 (Listen)
(ESV)John 15:13 (Listen)
(ESV)John 17:12 (Listen)
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
(ESV)Romans 8:38–39 (Listen)
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(ESV)Romans 14:8 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 6:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 2:4 (Listen)
4 But1 God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,Footnotes
 2:4 Or And
(ESV)2 Timothy 1:12 (Listen)
12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.1Footnotes
 1:12 Or what I have entrusted to him; Greek my deposit
(ESV)Evening: Deuteronomy 11:18; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 17:4; Psalm 37:31; Psalm 119:11; Isaiah 34:16; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19
Seek and read from the book of the Lord.
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”—“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.—By the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.—I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.—That through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.Deuteronomy 11:18 (Listen)
(ESV)Joshua 1:8 (Listen)
8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
(ESV)Psalm 17:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 37:31 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 119:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 34:16 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 15:4 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Peter 1:19 (Listen)
Jonathan Edwards believed the preacher is charged with a sacred duty: to communicate the awe of the Word. When the Word is so preached, listeners often “tremble at God’s word” (Isa. 66:2)—they find it “piercing, awful, and tremendous,” Edwards noted, and their hearts melt before it. “The Word in its powerful efficacy”—in mortifying sin and converting people to Christ—“does . . . cut the soul asunder.” As he wrote in the “Blank Bible”:
Lightning and thunder is a very lively image of the word of God. . . . ‘Tis exceeding quick, and exceeding piercing, and powerful to break in pieces, and scorch, and dissolve, and is full of majesty.
For Edwards, the effects of the Word can be felt by anyone whenever the Word is opened—which has significant ramifications for preachers and for preaching. Let’s consider Edwards’s counsel for preachers and its ongoing implications today.To Spark Godly Tremors
To some, the Word brings joy and fulfillment since it speaks the truths of salvation. To others, it terrifies since it lays bare their sin and the coming reality of God’s judgment. Trembling at the Word, then, could stem from either fear or sweet delight in the things of God.
To tremble at the Word isn’t to exhibit simple fanaticism or emotionalism. To help students identify God’s work amid the fervor of revival and distinguish it from Satan’s counterfeits, Edwards encouraged listeners to ground spiritual passion in biblical truth: “That spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God.” Understanding the text is essential. Yet even in studying Scripture and preparing sermons, the preacher should be confronted by its beauty.
The best preaching is a public demonstration that the preacher himself has been enthralled by the Word. This kind of preaching fulfills that sacred duty to communicate what is divine about the Word.
And so preachers should do all they can, in Edwards’s estimation, to arouse godly tremors in the saints. To be sure, “impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men” is one of the main reasons God ordained the preaching of the Word. Giving Christians good commentaries or theological works is not enough. While these may provide “a good doctrinal or speculative understanding” of the Bible, yet they “have not an equal tendency to impress [it] on men’s hearts and affections.”To Thrill the Saints
While Edwards believed the Word’s power can penetrate all its hearers, he also believed the Christian is especially affected by it. Revelation “is a sweet sort of knowledge” to the believer:
He loves to view and behold the things of . . . God; they are to him the most pleasing and beautiful objects in the world. He can never satisfy his eyes with looking on them, because he beholds them as certain truths and as things of all the most excellent.
When Edwards’s congregation experienced revival in 1735, one consequence was that they grew to love God’s Word even more. Edwards wrote:
Their esteem of the holy Scriptures is exceedingly increased. . . . There have been some instances of persons that by only an accidental sight of the Bible, have been as much moved . . . as a lover by the sight of his sweetheart.
Scripture is sublime to the Christian; he can’t get his fill. The written Word, whether read or heard, is a unique source whereby the beauty of salvation through Jesus Christ continually appears. Edwards testified frequently that Word and Spirit do in fact enthrall the twice-born.
“Persons after their conversion often speak of things of religion as seeming new to them,” he noted. “It seems to them they never heard preaching before; that the Bible is a new book: they find there new chapters, new psalms, new histories, because they see them in a new light.”Still True Today
The preaching of the Word should cut through human hearts and make them tremble, Edwards thought. For believers in Jesus, the Word thrills them as they’re awakened to its life-giving glory.
In a time and situation far removed from his, these truths still stand. Scripture still remains divine. It still cuts the soul asunder. It still keeps “impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men.”
And it has not ceased to enthrall the twice-born.
Nearly all Christians are familiar with the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10–20. But fewer are aware that the armor Paul describes traces its roots back to the Old Testament. In fact, the armor given to the Christian for his fight against the forces of sin and darkness is quite literally God’s armor — armor designed for and worn by God first and foremost. We fight and stand firm against Satan only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won for us.
This is why each of the various pieces of armor points us to Christ. The belt of truth is the belt that girds the messianic King (Isaiah 11:5). The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation come from the divine warrior’s arsenal (Isaiah 59:17). The feet shod with gospel readiness are the feet of those who proclaim the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 52:7). God himself is the shield of faith (Genesis 15:1). The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:2).Christ Our Conqueror
In other words, God clothes us with nothing less than his own armor, the same armor that Christ has already worn on our behalf in his lifelong struggle with the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself. Jesus is no armchair general, who hands out the equipment but then watches the fighting from a safe distance. No, he has himself worn the armor and won the victory in our place! You are called to wear the Christian armor not because that’s what Jesus would do if he found himself in a similar situation to yours; you are called to wear God’s armor because that is what Jesus already has done, wearing God’s armor all the way to the cross.
Jesus stood firm against Satan’s schemes throughout his earthly life and ministry. Each of those specific temptations to which we have given in this week — lust, gossip, anger, pride, self-exaltation, lying, coveting — is a temptation he faced and stared down in your place. What is more, Jesus laid his life down at the cross for you, thereby accomplishing the victory that pours out God’s sanctifying Spirit into your life. Because of his victorious life, death, and resurrection, the same power that raised Christ up from the dead is now at work inside you and me through the ongoing work of the Spirit, raising us from spiritual death to new life. (In Ephesians 6:10, Paul echoes a trio of Greek words that he uses in Ephesians 1:19–20 to describe God’s power in the resurrection.)Holiness Belongs to the Lord
However, the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life is not ultimately under your control. In John 3, Jesus compares the process of becoming a Christian to birth. Just as a baby doesn’t have control over the time and circumstances of her birth, so God chose when to regenerate you and bring you to faith in Christ. But even after a child is born, he does not decisively control his own physical growth. He may wish to be taller or shorter, but wishing won’t make it so — or hasten the natural (slow) processes of physical growth. In the same way, we are not ultimately in control of the process of our spiritual growth. Sanctification is decisively God’s work from beginning to end (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
That perspective is enormously encouraging in our daily struggle with sin and Satan. We often imagine we are fighting on our own in our struggles against sin. Not at all. That is why Paul reminds us that prayer is such an integral part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18–20). It is not enough to put on the armor of God; we need to be in constant communication with the God of the armor. The reality is that your victory over sin is ultimately up to Jesus, not you. His struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God (Ephesians 5:25–27). His Spirit is now at work within you, growing you toward his goal of your complete purity. Your spiritual growth may be much slower than you might wish, but if you are in Christ, God will sanctify you completely.Daily Struggle
That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to struggle with sin, of course. Quite the reverse: Paul clearly expects us to be engaged in a daily life-and-death struggle with Satan in all of his awesome power. The imagery of armor and battle shows us that our fight against sin must involve blood, sweat, and tears — our blood, sweat, and tears, as well as that of our Savior. We too are to take up our cross and follow after our Master on the road of hardship and suffering (Matthew 10:38). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet Paul tells us to work out our own salvation precisely because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).
Christ’s wearing of God’s armor in your place and his triumphant victory over sin at the cross mean that your struggle against sin is never hopeless. God will ultimately sanctify you — he has promised to do so. On that last day, you will rise to new life in Christ and stand in God’s presence, made perfect forever. No Christian will be left behind, half-sanctified. Sin and Satan shall not have ultimate dominion over you (Romans 6:14).Distant Triumph Song
This means that in the midst of the pain of the frustrating daily struggle against sin and Satan, you can plead with God to continue to advance that process here and now, whether strengthening you to stand against Satan, or by sometimes allowing you to fall, in order to grow your humility and dependence upon him (see Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.5). The knowledge that God is sovereign over your sanctification gives you hope to keep on trying, even in areas of your life where sin continually seems to have the upper hand. It reminds you that even when you are seeing real advance in your life, it is nothing you have accomplished and gives you no reason to boast. God’s Holy Spirit deserves all the glory, not you.
And he will receive the glory on that last day, when all of God’s weary, battle-stained children enter into the gates of the new Jerusalem, with their warfare, trials, and travails now a memory of the past, and a new song on their lips — a song of praise to Christ, the victorious Divine Warrior, who won their redemption through his fight. As William Walsham How put it in his song “For All the Saints,”
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!
But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of Glory passes on his way. Alleluia! Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest. Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!
If God stripped away our gifts — our income, our family, even our own health — would we curse him or bless his name?
July 13: Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9; Psalm 31:15; Proverbs 3:6; Jeremiah 10:23; Matthew 6:13; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Hebrews 13:5–6; Genesis 2:18; Job 6:25; Ecclesiastes 4:9–10; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 18:19; Romans 14:13;...
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”—“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”—In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”—Our sufficiency is from God.
“Lead us not into temptation.”—I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.—My times are in your hand.Exodus 33:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Deuteronomy 31:6 (Listen)
(ESV)Deuteronomy 31:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Joshua 1:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 31:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Proverbs 3:6 (Listen)
(ESV)Jeremiah 10:23 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 6:13 (Listen)
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.1
 6:13 Or the evil one; some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen
(ESV)2 Corinthians 3:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Hebrews 13:5–6 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Genesis 2:18; Job 6:25; Ecclesiastes 4:9–10; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 18:19; Romans 14:13; Galatians 6:1–2; Hebrews 10:24; 2 Peter 3:1
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.
“How forceful are upright words!”—I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.
Those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.—“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”—Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
Let us… decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.—Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.Genesis 2:18 (Listen)
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for1 him.”Footnotes
 2:18 Or corresponding to; also verse 20
(ESV)Job 6:25 (Listen)
(ESV)Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 (Listen)
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
(ESV)Malachi 3:16 (Listen) The Book of Remembrance
(ESV)Matthew 18:19 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 14:13 (Listen) Do Not Cause Another to Stumble
(ESV)Galatians 6:1–2 (Listen) Bear One Another's Burdens
6 Brothers,1 if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.Footnotes
 6:1 Or Brothers and sisters; also verse 18
(ESV)Hebrews 10:24 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Peter 3:1 (Listen) The Day of the Lord Will Come
While Christians say the Bible is God’s Word, few of us—even regular churchgoers—spend time reading it every day. That’s the finding of the 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from LifeWay Research. A third of Americans who attend a Protestant church regularly (32 percent) say they read the Bible personally every day, while a quarter (27 percent) say they read it a few times a week.
While there is no command in Scripture to read the Bible every day, there is much to gain from regular Bible intake. A previous study of churchgoing Protestant parents by LifeWay Research found regular Bible reading as a child was the biggest factor in predicting the spiritual health of young adults.
But while encouraging our children to read the Bible and teaching them how to do it well are necessary tasks, they are not sufficient for spiritual development. We also need to teach them how to study Scripture so that they “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).Bible Reading Is Not Bible Study
“Bible study is not the same thing as Bible reading,” David Mathis says. “If Bible reading is like raking for leaves, Bible study is like digging for diamonds. The Christian life calls for both.” (See also: How to Prepare a Child to Read the Bible.)
Two key difference between reading and study are pacing and focus. When we read the Bible, we generally do so at the quickest pace our comprehension will allow. We may consume large chunks at one time, such as reading an entire book. We also look for the broad outlines of the text to know what it’s about or to determine how it fits into the larger scope of God’s Word. Bible reading precedes Bible study because it provides the broad perspective we need before we narrow in on specific passages.
When we study the Bible, though, we slow down to focus on the meaning of the text. We read and reread shorter units of text and spend more time focusing on specific words, clauses, verses, and paragraphs. We also ask questions of the text: What does this word mean? Why did the author use this unique phrase? How does this apply to my own life?
The essence of Bible study is asking questions of the text to discover the meaning God intended. Of the many profitable ways to study the Bible, one that everyone from preteens to Old Testament scholars has found to be particularly helpful is the inductive Bible study method. The inductive study method is an investigative approach to the Bible using three basic components:
Observation: What does the text say?
Interpretation: What does the text mean?
Application: How does the meaning of the text apply to life?
In future articles we’ll drill down into interpretation and application of Scripture. But for now let’s focus on the observation component.How to Observe a Text
Ask Basic Questions — Begin by showing them how to ask the basic questions that orient them to the text they are studying. For example, teach them to ask, Who wrote it? What is the genre (letter, narrative, history . . . )? When was it written? Where was the author when it was written? Why did the author write this letter? Study Bibles are helpful tools in answering these types of questions.
Words, Phrases, and Relationships Between Propositions — Show them how to ask about what the author meant by using specific words and phrases. Don’t assume the dictionary definition or our common understanding of terms is the same as the author’s. Have them look for words that are repeated or given special emphasis, and to pay special attention to connecting words (“but,” “if,” “and,” “therefore,” “in order that,” “because”). “Sometimes the major differences between whole theologies hang on these connections,” John Piper says.
Make Lists — In 2 Peter 1:5-9, we find a list of virtues we should combine:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
When we read this passage, we can easily jumble the virtues together. To keep them straight so your child can reflect on them more carefully, have them put the terms in a list:
• Faith • Goodness • Knowledge • Self-control • Perseverance • Godliness • Mutual affection • Love
Using such lists in our note-taking can help us track keywords, phrases, and concepts.
Contrasts and Comparisons — Contrasts and comparisons are used throughout the Bible to focus our attention. Consider in the passage cited above how Peter compares people who possess those virtues (they are effective and productive) with those who don’t (they are nearsighted and blind).
Metaphors — When we come across metaphors in our study, we should stop and use our imagination to think through the meaning. For instance, how would lacking perseverance be similar to being nearsighted?
Expressions of Time and Terms of Conclusion — Have them be on the lookout for words that mark expression of time, such as “before,” “after,” “during,” “since,” “for,” “already,” and so on. These terms can help you see the sequence or timing of events and lead to a more accurate interpretation of Scripture. Similarly, terms of conclusion, such as “therefore,” “thus,” and “for this reason,” point to an ending or a summary.
Connections to Other Parts of the Bible — Show them how to search for connections to other parts of Scripture. For example, where can the virtues on Peter’s list be found in other passages? What do other biblical authors say about the importance of those virtues?
Teach Them to Improve Their Observation Skills — These are just a few of the ways you can teach you child to engage the text during the observation phase of study. Look for other ways by carefully considering the questions that arise during study. When they identify a broader category, have them give it a name they will remember and use in the future. For example, when asking, “What emotional response is the author expecting to evoke?” you could use that to consider other questions about affections and emotions. Give it a label like “Emotion-provoking Questions” and add it in their Bible study tool kit.Additional Tips for Training Children
Incorporate Prayer — Bible study is about looking for God’s meaning in his Word, so we need to constantly be talking to him, asking him to reveal his meaning to us. Next to the Bible itself, prayer is our most important tool for Bible study. Build a strong foundation in your child by encouraging them to be praying before, during, and after their study efforts.
A Special Bible for Studying — Teach your child that to show reverence to God’s Word often entails messing up the pages. We need to scribble notes, underline passages, and mark key words and phrases. Give them their own Bible they can mark up. Wide-margin and journaling Bibles are ideal, though just about any Bible you have around will serve the purpose.Life of Study
If this sounds complex and time-consuming, it is. Studying the Bible is difficult work that requires focus and attention—two traits children often lack. Be patient with them and don’t expect too much over a brief time. If you pile on too much work for each study session, the child will get the impression that Bible study is drudgery.
Prepare them for the challenges of concerted study, but don’t expect them to suddenly become Bible scholars. Keep your expectations realistic and modest, and keep the long-term goal in focus—training your child to be a lifelong student of the Bible.
Last summer at a book club I held in my home, women in my church from different stages of life met to read and discuss a Christian book together. This group typically stayed late to continue talking and asking questions. We rejoiced at the stories of God’s faithfulness in one another’s lives. We encouraged and spurred one another on through difficulties. We sought mutual counsel and wisdom and pointed each other to Scripture.
Moments like these remind me of the treasure trove found in discipling relationships. The Christian life comes with questions. Those questions change through different seasons of our lives, and we need help from those who have walked before us. God didn’t intend for us to walk alone.
Though most of us would acknowledge the importance of discipleship, we often struggle to find and pursue those relationships in our own lives. As we think about someone in our church who might help us walk faithfully, obediently, and humbly with God, here are a few things to keep in mind.Who Is Faithful?
When considering meeting up with someone, simply ask yourself, Is she faithful? Referencing Titus 2:1–7 is a great foundation for understanding what faithfulness looks like. Is she a member of my church? Does she serve faithfully in her season of life? Does she show up when she says she will? Does she encourage others? Does she love God’s Word?
Though most of us would acknowledge the importance of discipleship, we often struggle to find and pursue those relationships in our own lives.
You should be able to quickly identify faithful men and women in your church. If you’re having trouble discerning, ask your elders and pastors to recommend faithful saints you can reach out to.Whom Do I Connect Easily With?
Among the many faithful, whom do you connect with? You may have a great connection with someone instantly. In some situations, you will naturally serve alongside other men and women who are already making a spiritual investment in you. Discipleship can certainly happen organically, but we can’t always expect it to happen that way. It may take more time and effort. It might even look a bit like taking someone on a date! Don’t be hesitant. Invite someone out to coffee and get to know her.
Were you encouraged by your conversation? Do you desire to learn from her? Is it easy to share your life with her? Is it easy to have spiritual conversations?Just Ask
We may try to overcomplicate it, overthink it, or wait around to be sought out, but there’s no need to formulate a paragraph text or come up with an elaborate discipleship proposal. Just ask! If anyone comes to me discouraged about a lack of discipling relationships, I first ask: “Have you initiated with anyone?” More likely than not, when we reach out to others, they are encouraged by our pursuit. It is deeply rewarding and humbling to be asked to disciple someone.
Discipleship shouldn’t be an exclusive relationship among a few people but a normal pursuit among all members.
This doesn’t mean everyone will be able to say yes, but that is the beauty of pursuing more than one discipling relationship. Our dependency for accountability shouldn’t rest on one person, but many members. If you’re a member of a church, you have committed yourselves to build up one another in the faith. Therefore, discipleship shouldn’t be an exclusive relationship among a few people but a normal pursuit among all members of the church.Right Expectations
Discipleship doesn’t always look the same. It may mean meeting weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or whenever both of your schedules allow. It may look like reading through a book of the Bible, doing a study together, reading a book together, praying together, or just meeting to share your life and encourage one another. Life-on-life discipleship is literally stepping into the life of another—the sweet parts, the hard parts, and everything in between.
Discipleship is a commitment to meet people where they are with gospel-saturated truth, grace, and friendship. It may look like sitting in a coffee shop, going for a walk, or joining them for dinner. But sometimes, “meeting them where they are” means squeezing it into life’s less peaceful moments. You may talk at a child’s soccer game, over the phone after you’ve had to cancel your time together, while carpooling, or as you’re doing a home-improvement project together.
We need realistic expectations in our discipleship relationships. The actual shape of the relationship doesn’t matter so much as a committed desire to encourage one another in the faith.Discipleship Is a Joy and Privilege
The women who invested their time in my early years as a new believer helped me to mature in the faith and taught me to practice important spiritual disciplines. Their lives looked a lot like the older woman in the Titus 2 passage: reverent in behavior, not gossipers, not drinking excessively, teaching what is good, encouraging the young women to love their husbands and their children. Even today, I continue to seek out relationships with older women because I need their wisdom in my life.
I will never outgrow the need for discipleship, nor will I outgrow the command to disciple.
Additionally, I have found it to be a great and humbling gift to encourage and equip newer and younger believers in their faith. Discipling others demands I live as a Titus 2 woman. In doing so, I have been used by God to strengthen others in their faith, and I have been deeply encouraged and challenged in my own! I will never outgrow the need for discipleship, nor will I outgrow the command to disciple.
It’s both a privilege and a joy to know that God is making us like his Son. And it is his tender and loving gesture to give us help along the way.
There is something in the sheer act of defiance that can ignite us.
The determination of refusal can stiffen our spine, tense our muscles, and amplify our resolve. Of course, defiance can be directed in a million sinful ways when driven by our pride — toward rebellion against parents, resistance to repentance, disrespect of authority, or any other rejection of God’s commands.
But there is also a holy defiance that fires us up to resist temptation, reclaim enemy territory, and refuse to curse God in suffering. These are the kinds of battles for which God’s blood boils. And by the blood of Christ that saves us, they can boil ours as well.Defy the True Enemy
Our enemy is cunning and dangerous. He prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). But he is also a defeated foe — and he knows it. He is incapable of tempting with more than we can withstand (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is forced to flee from us as we resist him (James 4:7). And he and his demons tremble at the truth that even they rightly believe (James 2:19).
We are right to take him seriously — to be alert to his tactics, on guard against his methods, and sober-minded in consideration of him. But we are also right to remember that in Christ we have been given the power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4), and that we have joined ranks with the winning side who will soon crush him under our feet (Romans 16:20).
Trusting only in our own strength, we find ourselves cowering in fear, deceived by tactics, or fearfully fleeing the battle altogether in assumed defeat. But “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10–11), we can fearlessly look our enemy’s already-thwarted schemes squarely in the face, confident in our undefeatable King and the invincible armor he gives.Spirits Set to Boil
Paul admonishes us not to “be slothful in zeal,” but “fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:11), a command that carries the idea of boiling with passion — either in anger for what is bad, or love for what is good. Such fervency is in stark contrast to the unacceptable state of being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).
But we can’t kindle that fire on our own. Rather, we must look to our God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), whose Holy Spirit heats up our own spirit to love what he loves, hate what he hates, defend what he defends, and refuse what he refuses. Contending with him against the true spiritual forces of our world, we boil with a defiance that shows itself hottest and brightest in all sorts of holy refusals.Defiance of Refusal
This defiance comes as we refuse to submit to alluring temptations by exposing them for what they really are — deceitful schemes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Boiled to disgust, we can foil the enemy’s plans by rejecting his malicious invitations, turning instead to walk in the life of our God-given freedom from sin (Romans 6:6).
Defiance comes as we refuse to tolerate the lies we see taking ground in the lives of those we love — lies that they are unloved, without hope, or masters of their own fate. Boiled to jealous love, we can raise over them our shields of faith, quenching fiery arrows from the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).
Defiance comes as we refuse to be swept into our society’s irrational generalization of truth, as if such “relativism” is not based on an absolute truth claim of its own. Boiled to passion for the unchanging truth of God’s word, we resolve to remain steadfast and immovable (1 Corinthians 15:58) in our submission to its loving authority, standing always in fear of a holy God rather than mere men (Matthew 10:28).
Defiance comes as we refuse to be discouraged to inaction over the overwhelming global suffering beyond our human ability to combat — spiritual lostness, poverty, slavery, and the persecution of the church. Boiled to righteous anger over the dark forces behind those movements, we can begin by assuming the offensive stance of kneeling in prayer, waging war against the true powers of this dark world and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Defiance comes as we refuse to doubt God’s goodness when he doesn’t give us what we think we want — the relationship, the job, the house, the deal. Boiled to determination not to fall again for the enemy’s first lie, that God is withholding something good from us (Genesis 3:4–5), we instead assure our disappointed hearts that God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11; Romans 8:32).
Defiance comes as we refuse to resent God’s sovereignty when he allows a diagnosis, natural disaster, persecution, or seemingly senseless tragedy. Boiled to faithfulness, we declare that no matter what the enemy takes from us — even our very lives — still he will not take the ultimate treasure for which we regard everything as loss: the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8).Tremble Not for Him
We may not always feel that fiery determination of resistance. Far more often, we may feel captive to discouragement, doubt, and despair. But in those moments, we can pray for faith to believe in our enemy’s defeat and clarity to see the way out from under his attacks (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can assure our anxious souls that God is still worthy of our hope — and that only he is (Psalm 42:11; 43:5). We can again bank our trust on the power of Christ’s prayer that our faith would not fail (Luke 22:32).
We can assure our hearts that if God is for us, nothing can ultimately stand against us (Romans 8:31). We can sound a battle cry to our soul — those songs of praise that we blast from our car speakers in triumph or whisper on our knees in tearful resolve or declare just as confidently in the darkest hour from a prison cell (Acts 16:25). We can call to mind how we overcome in the end: by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).
Even if we lose all earthly treasures, yet will we praise him (Habakkuk 3:17–18). Even though he slays us, yet will we hope in him (Job 13:15). Even if he does not deliver us from the fires of persecution, still will we bow down to him, and him alone (Daniel 3:17–18). Though the gates of hell seem mighty, they will not prevail against his church (Matthew 16:18).
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. In the name of Jesus, we defy him.
July 12: Psalm 37:23–24; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 49:24–26; Jeremiah 15:20; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 36:8; Psalm 63:1–2; Psalm 84:2; Psalm 107:9; Jeremiah 31:14; Philippians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:3; Revelation 7:16–17
“I am with you to save you.”
Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? For thus says the Lord: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you…. Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”—Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.—Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.—The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.Psalm 37:23–24 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 41:10 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 49:24–26 (Listen)
24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant1 be rescued?
25 For thus says the LORD:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the LORD your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
 49:24 Dead Sea Scroll, Syriac, Vulgate (see also verse 25); Masoretic Text of a righteous man
(ESV)Jeremiah 15:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Hebrews 2:18 (Listen)
(ESV)Hebrews 4:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 17:15; Psalm 36:8; Psalm 63:1–2; Psalm 84:2; Psalm 107:9; Jeremiah 31:14; Philippians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:3; Revelation 7:16–17
He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
You have tasted that the Lord is good.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… beholding your power and glory.—My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.—My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.—“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”—They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.—“My people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.”Psalm 17:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 36:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 63:1–2 (Listen) My Soul Thirsts for You A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
63 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
(ESV)Psalm 84:2 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 107:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Jeremiah 31:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Philippians 1:23 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Peter 2:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 7:16–17 (Listen)
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“Perhaps the most powerful evangelistic phrase you can teach a child is this: ‘Do you want to come over to my house?’ Invitations to join the family of God often begin with invitations to join your family at the dinner table. Hospitality is so rare these days. If we raise hospitable children by modeling hospitality in our own home, then we develop a culture of invitation among our family.” — Jen Wilkin
Date: March 31, 2019
Event: TGC 2019 National Pre-Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana
- 3 (Evangelistic) Reasons to Quit Complaining
- Parenting for Eternity amid 21st-Century Challenges
- Raising an Alien Child
Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.
I recently got back the results for my 23andMe report, which I ordered because I’ve wondered about my ancestry my whole life. I’m biracial. But I’m not just biracial; I’m biracial in the South, from Montgomery, Alabama. Is there a more confusing identity to hold than to be both black and white in one of the key battleground cities of the civil-rights movement?
So you can imagine, then, how excited I was to have the secrets of my history revealed. What did I find? Anti-climatically, that I’m half African and half European. I don’t know what I was ultimately looking for. I guess something to help me navigate a complex identity in the complex racial environment that is the American South.
Complex is the best word for the history of civil rights in the South, which is why so many struggled with Harper Lee’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman. Lee’s new picture of Atticus seems to contradict her Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet it wasn’t at all contradictory. Rather, human complexity created the seemingly profound disjunction
Unfortunately, we live in a world where many can’t stomach complexity, only controversy. Live on a diet of controversy, and you will never develop the taste to recognize and appreciate the nuance of complexity. This is why Joseph Crespino’s recent book, Atticus Finch: The Biography: Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon, is so important to the social memory of To Kill a Mockingbird.Man of His Times
Let’s do some background work to understand what Crespino is doing. In 2015, Harper Lee stirred the literati with the release of Watchman. More than 50 years had gone by since she published Mockingbird, a book that pushed the moral imaginations of Southern citizenry and advanced American thinking on racism.
Live on a diet of controversy, and you will never develop the taste to recognize and appreciate the nuance of complexity.
Watchman had a mixed reception, in part because people didn’t know what to do with Lee’s depiction of Mockingbird’s famously lauded character, Atticus Finch. Mockingbird portrayed Finch, a small-town lawyer and father, as something of a civil-rights hero who came to the defense of an African American man falsely accused of raping a white woman in Alabama.
Yet Lee portrays Finch in Watchman as a stereotypical racist. To make the story even more interesting, it has long been understood that Lee based Finch’s character on her own father—Amasa Coleman Lee. What are we to do with this glaring dissonance? From Crespino’s point of view, “A. C. Lee would be an inspiration for his daughter’s fiction not because he was ahead of his time . . . but rather because he was of his time and of his place, and yet still aspired to worthy ideals and noble virtues” (19).
This is where Crespino’s book enters the conversation. Crespino, professor of history at Emory University, attempts to bridge the gap between the starkly different depictions of Finch by doing a historical comparative analysis of A. C. Lee and Atticus Finch. He closely examines Lee’s life and times and then highlights passages that illustrate the continuity of character between Lee and Finch across two books with such disparate depictions (xvii).White Moderate: Friend or Foe?
Crespino’s goal at the outset is to situate Lee in his historical context through the many editorials he published in the Monroe Journal. Through these editorials, Crespino helps us see the many layers to Lee that would have created such different pictures of Finch.
Lee was against racially motivated lynchings (as if there were any other kind). He also knew firsthand the bias of Southern courts in his one and only criminal-defense case as a lawyer.
At the same time, he was, like many other Southerners, sensitive to outsiders who judged the South’s morality. Any attempt to mitigate decisions motivated by racial bias by outside groups or bureaucracies was severely critiqued by Lee. He had much more faith in Alabamians’ moral compass, and believed they could engage in deliberative practices that would render justice in racially charged cases (17). His conservatism valued hierarchical structures and gradual change, with the belief that those with higher status had a responsibility to those with lower status.
Lee also had a love for the virtues of a democratic republic, and he challenged strongman figures who arose in the 1930s and 1940s, both foreign and domestic. He presciently saw the crisis represented in Nazism and the coming of the Second World War. He also opposed the rise of Louisiana politician Huey Long whose career, in Lee’s mind, exhibited the “sad emblems of political dictatorship” (22).
Yet despite all of this, and maybe to the detriment of the book, one can walk away from Atticus Finch thinking Lee wasn’t so much a racist as he was stuck between a rock and a hard place—taking honorable stands for justice while fighting for the values of a republic. But there is little here to suggest that Lee wasn’t fundamentally biased against blacks. To be sure, Crespino acknowledges the “casual racism of Jim Crow Alabama [that] pervaded the Journal’s pages” (19), which had Lee as its editor and chief. By implication, the “casual racism of Jim Crow Alabama” pervaded Lee himself. But Crespino’s overall approach to Lee is perhaps more sympathetic than realistic.
Principled individualism allowed Lee (relative to his contemporaries) to work for justice on behalf of African Americans in clearly biased cases. But he was also principled in his view of democracy and saw Alabama’s prerogative to enact its own laws as paramount, whether or not those laws delivered justice to black citizens. In the former, one can see Mockingbird’s heroic depiction, just as clearly as one can see the racist version of Lee in Watchman through the latter.Complexity of the Gospel
Some might be tempted to think we’ve moved past the themes of these two books. But we haven’t. They address an important question we’re still dealing with today: How should we view flawed and racist individuals who seek justice on behalf of the disenfranchised? This question touches the heart of what’s often referred to as the “White Savior” mentality, typified by Atticus in Mockingbird. The question that Crespino’s book implicitly raises for the Christian is whether or not a racist white moderate in the South is to be remembered as equally deplorable as the members of the Klu Klux Klan, or as an unmitigated hero, or something in between.
The gospel won’t let us alone with an easy reductionism when it comes our social ills. It shows a complexity that allows us to recognize that people are multivalent, with deep brokenness yet made in God’s image. Only the gospel can bear with the faults of individuals and still see them with dignity and love amid differences. So when the differences that divide so many of us in the South were written into my very DNA, it wasn’t 23andMe, but the gospel that helped me understand that the world is not so black and white.
Many of our problems in living for Jesus stem from the root problem that we think we can do it. We assume we have the power. So we set about trying to push the camel through the eye of a needle.
But understanding the impossibility is the first step to obedience.
This is the true freedom of what it means to be a Christian: honestly facing up to the impossibility of my own obedience, which leads me not to despair but to the God who is able to do all things.Man Who Thinks He Can
Mark doesn’t tell us much about the individual in Mark 10:17; he simply introduces us to “a man”:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man gets a couple of things right.
He wants to know what he needs to do to be part of God’s great kingdom. It’s good that he’s bothered about God’s kingdom—he can see that it really matters. God is bringing all things in this world together under his appointed King, Jesus. That is God’s plan for the world, and this anonymous man wants to know how to get in on it.
And it’s good that he comes to Jesus. Clearly he’s understood that there’s something about Jesus that’s significant.
Many of our problems in living for Jesus stem from the root problem that we think we can do it. We assume we have the power.
The man cares about the right thing. He even comes to the right place.
But he’s got one thing wrong. He wants to know what he has to do. He has a high view of his own ability, a lot of confidence in his power to obey.
So that is where Jesus starts:
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:18–19)
Jesus points the man to God as the ultimate standard of good and then begins to list the commandments. The man is completely unperturbed:
Teacher . . . all these I have kept since I was a boy. (Mark 10:20)
He has worked hard; he has kept the rules; he has tried his best. It all looks good.
But Jesus sees things differently.Love
The next sentence is key: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
This is the only man in the whole of Mark’s Gospel whom we are explicitly told Jesus loved. And that’s striking given what the love of Jesus looks like in this story.
This is the only man in Mark’s Gospel whom we are explicitly told Jesus loved.
Jesus loves this man too much to allow him to continue in his self-deluded little world of sweat, hard work, and determination. He’s not willing to stroke the man’s ego and tell him how wonderful he is. Instead, Jesus issues a command.
It’s not hard to understand what Jesus is saying. He’s not being vague and unspecific. But this one command undermines the whole foundation on which the man has built his life. Here’s the command:
“One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
No room for negotiation, no room for confusion. Here’s what Jesus requires of this man: He must sell everything.
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:22)
The man slowly turns around and starts to walk away. Only at this point in the story does Mark tell us the critical piece of information about this man—he had great wealth.
Jesus demands it all. That is the command, and there is no budging. It’s not just a hard command. It’s impossible, and it was supposed to be.
It’s a poignant moment. Jesus loves the man—and he lets him walk away. Does that surprise you? Jesus doesn’t chase after the man and lower the bar. He doesn’t negotiate and settle on a figure that the man would be willing to give.
Jesus demands it all. That is the command, and there is no budging.
It’s not just a hard command. It’s impossible, and it was supposed to be.Bar Too High
Why would Jesus set the bar so impossibly high? Why would he demand something that can’t be done? Not because he’s cruel and harsh, but precisely because he is love.
The man had reduced God’s commands to something he could achieve. He had a view of God’s Word that assumed its commands were within his power. Yes, I can do that.
The right response to Christ’s command would’ve been to fall on his knees and, with a quivering voice, say, “I can’t do it.” Only then—with his self-confidence in tatters and his heart exposed—would he be ready to receive the kingdom of God like a little kid (Mark 10:15).‘I Can’t Do It’
They can be hard words to say, can’t they? But they’re essential to learn.
Jesus loves us far too much to stroke our egos and tell us how fabulous we are. Instead, he issues commands far beyond our ability to obey in order to drive us to him.
Jesus loves us far too much to stroke our egos and tell us how fabulous we are. Instead, he issues commands that are far beyond our ability to obey in order to drive us to him.
Think back to what Jesus said to the rich young man. When we hear, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,” we can quickly react: Of course he doesn’t mean I should do that. That would be ridiculous and impractical. He was only talking to that man. He just means I should be more generous. Yes, I think I can manage to be a bit more generous. I will try and give a bit more money this week. Great—well done me.
And that’s precisely the problem. We think we can do it. We find a solution to the problem of obeying the commands—but we aren’t obeying him at all.
Instead, stop and feel the weight of the commands Jesus gives. Feel the way money holds power over your heart. Let Jesus’s challenge expose you. Every command found in the pages of Scripture will have that effect if you stop and listen. No, it doesn’t feel comfortable; no, it doesn’t give you warm fuzzies about how great you are. But it is there, in that place of weakness, that you will truly learn to whisper those two little words: I can’t.
And that admission honors God more than you will ever know. It’s the first step on the road to joyful, deep, and satisfying obedience.
What’s the difference between a pizza and a seminarian? A pizza can easily feed a family of five.
I never thought that joke was funny. However, when we first moved to seminary, it was definitely true for us. With three young kids younger than 4 and a host of bills, I was in desperate need of a job. I started working the 4 a.m. shift at a local grocery store to make ends meet. A few months in, I received a call from a pastor of a large, growing church who asked if we could meet after service to discuss a possible job opening. I was elated.
As I listened to him preach that evening, I was admittedly distracted while I should have been worshiping through the hearing of God’s Word. Instead, I was dreaming about the possibility of working for this man and the great opportunity it could be for our family.
I stayed after the service and met him in the back of the sanctuary. He asked me to share my testimony, asked questions about my family and the standard “where do you see yourself in five years?” Next, he told me what every young, aspiring pastor dreams of hearing from a headline speaker. He said he’d read some posts from my blog and was impressed with my writing ability. I was swooning . . . until he extended me a tentative offer.
He asked if I would be interested in being his ghostwriter.
I asked what that meant. The pastor explained that I would write blog posts, conference papers, and work on book projects for him. After this, he would look over my work, make small edits as needed, and put his name on it. Unsure of how to respond, I just stood there staring at him with a blank look on my face.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me.” He commented that ghostwriting was a common practice for pastors in his sphere of influence and rehearsed a litany of well-known pastors who supposedly use ghostwriters. He closed his pitch by saying it was an honor I was even being asked, and he encouraged me to chew on it for a few days before giving him a response.
My head was spinning, and my stomach was in knots. I thanked him for his time, told him I would get back to him shortly, and walked silently to the car, where my wife and kids were waiting. I was thrilled at the possibility of not waking up at 2:30 a.m. five days a week to sort through rotting vegetables, dairy, and meat products. But ghostwriting? A week later, I politely declined the position, confident that—despite his claims that this was standard fare—he was the exception and not the rule.
I was wrong.
I reached out to a contact in the Christian-publishing industry to ask: Is this normal? He replied that it is and that he doesn’t like it either.
I used to imagine pastors sitting in their studies after an hour on their knees, begging God to open the eyes of their heart, hugging their yellow legal pad and their Greek New Testament, laboring into the night to put together a message for Sunday morning. That bubble had burst.
Over the next few years, I was approached by a writing firm to perform similar services, and on multiple occasions, I have been offered thousands of dollars to write or complete doctoral dissertations. In all of this, I wondered if maybe this is just the new normal. It could be that I’m too idealistic. Perhaps I’m the weaker brother. Or maybe I’m not. Ultimately, what he was asking was to take credit for someone else’s work. Let’s call that what it is: plagiarism.
I have chewed on this issue for the last six years and want to offer some thoughts on the matter. Here are three reasons I think plagiarism is wrong and should never be practiced in the church.1. Plagiarism Doubts God’s Power
After Peter and John were arrested for proclaiming the name of Jesus, they stood and gave testimony to the assembled Jewish leaders that salvation exists in no one else. How did their accusers respond? Luke tells us:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
God’s power still echoes through these earthen vessels. We should preach with the hopes that those who hear will be astonished, recognizing that we, too, have been with Jesus. Plagiarism squanders God’s promise to be with us always and exposes that we believe we need to fend for ourselves.
Stealing the work of others insinuates that he will not give us the words of life for the nourishment of his church. It questions the calling, unction, and gifting of the Spirit in our lives. Plagiarism doubts God’s power to work in and through us for his purposes.2. Plagiarism Refuses to Boast in Weakness
Pastors often feel crushed by the constant pressure to perform. The number-one reason people usually give for leaving their church is that they “aren’t being fed.” With enough sobriety to know they aren’t the next John the Baptist, John Chrysostom, or John Piper, some pastors look to upgrade their ammunition by raiding someone else’s armory.
This is a travesty.
Presuming enough of a sense of calling to stand in God’s pulpit, but not enough to believe he’s gifted us to use it, plagiarism convinces us that God’s church is built on the strong and not through the weak. It covets the abilities of others while embracing the lie that God’s been withholding something from us. Plagiarism operates under the premise that our ability to articulate profoundly and uncover penetrating new insights in the Scriptures somehow adds something to the potency and persuasiveness of the gospel message.
God’s grace is sufficient, and his power is made perfect through our lack of words, mental prowess, busyness, and lack of confidence. If we are faithful with our five talents, we will hear the same resounding “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master” as the pastor with ten (Matt. 25:21).3. Plagiarism Fails to Give Honor Where Honor is Due
I knew one pastor who began “preaching” a sermon by saying, “Now, this is not original to me.” Then he proceeded to read an entire sermon written by someone else verbatim, feeling as though he’d covered his bases. The sermon he was reading, of course, was written by a famous pastor who employed a team of writers. The irony is that his sermon also began with the words, “Now, this is not original to me.”
While you are called to be all things to all people, you can’t be all things and all people. The church, not the Christian, constitutes the body of Christ. It requires each part working correctly to make the entire body grow (cf. Eph. 4:16). While I think many pastors will heartily preach this on Sundays, some struggle in their heart of hearts to grasp that “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14).
Plagiarism believes that giving credit means losing credibility. It diminishes the efforts of some to build the platform of one. It’s like swinging the bat with two hands for additional power, then hiding the left behind the back as we lift the right into the air for booming applause. Plagiarism violates the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Indeed, plagiarism is a kind of inverse gospel: It considers oneself as better than others.
Instead, the logic of the gospel should move us to celebrate others, prompting us to pay “respect to whom respect is owed” and “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7). Paul is so serious on this point that he ensures even his amanuensis, Tertius, gets credit for penning the letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:22). If you need a rule of thumb, here it is: Err on the side of showing honor, knowing that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).Parcel of Sins
Like paying your bills with a credit card, putting your name on the work of another’s may alleviate the immediate pressure of a closing deadline, but it utterly ignores the negative dividend it accrues. Plagiarism promises to save us time and garner the approval of men. However, when exposed—and in this digital age, it will be exposed—plagiarism disqualifies the perpetrator, hurts the family, confuses the parishioner, and taints the collective Christian witness.
Plagiarism is a sin. In fact, it’s a parcel of sins: pride, dishonesty, theft (even if paid for), covetousness, and collusion. Plagiarism operates in darkness under the auspices of light. Most importantly, it dishonors the God whom we claim to serve. Plagiarism is never worth it.