Prophecy, Tongues and 1 Corinthians 14

This is a short exposition of 1 Corinthians 14. It’s based on notes I prepared for our adult bible study class. It doesn’t interact with the scholarly commentaries, and nobody will mistake it for a crushing blow that will lay Wayne Grudem low. Still, I believe it’s a faithful and accurate way to understand this difficult chapter. Perhaps some people will find it useful. 

Tongues are useless without an interpreter (1 Cor 14:1-5).

Paul wants Christians to cultivate love in their congregation (1 Cor 13), and to especially desire the ability to prophecy. I understand this to refer to direct revelation from God, in the Old Testament sense. Some believe it refers to general teaching or preaching. This view is possible, but I disagree.

I understand “tongues” to refer to intelligible, human language. I think this agrees with the evidence from Acts 2 and makes the best sense in this chapter. Paul doesn’t exactly denigrate tongues, but he remarks over and over that this gift has limited use in a church setting. Tongues is a gift for evangelism.

The one who speaks in a foreign language during a church meeting isn’t actually speaking to the congregation, but to God – because nobody but God understands what he’s saying (1 Cor 14:2)! Instead, he’s uttering mysteries by the Holy Spirit, who gives this miraculous gift. However, the person who speaks prophecy directly from God can be understood. He can encourage and build up the congregation. The man who speaks a foreign language can’t do any of that; nobody understands him (1 Cor 14:3). Instead, he builds and encourages himself. The man who prophesies builds up the congregation (1 Cor 14:4). This is why the gift of prophecy is better for the church than tongues, unless someone is available to interpret (1 Cor 14:5).

Build up the church, not yourself (1 Cor 14:6-12)

Paul asks an obvious question; how can you understand someone who speaks a foreign language unless an interpreter is present (1 Cor 14:6)!? You can’t, of course.

If a flute doesn’t sound a clear note, nobody can understand or appreciate it. If a bugle isn’t clear, nobody can obey the call. Likewise, if a foreign language isn’t interpreted, nobody will even know what’s being said! It’s like you’re speaking into the air (1 Cor 14:7-9).

There are lots of languages in the world, and they all mean something (1 Cor 14:10). But, if you don’t understand the language, the audience and the speaker will be foreigners to one another (1 Cor 14:11). So, Christians should focus on gifts that will actually build up the congregation (1 Cor 14:12). The gift of tongues won’t do that.

How to use the gift of languages (1 Cor 14:13-19)

This is why the person who has the gift of speaking in a foreign language should pray that he has the ability to interpret (1 Cor 14:13). This implies that some people could speak foreign languages, but didn’t even understand what they were saying! In this case, I assume the Christian is somehow a passive vehicle for communicating via the Spirit. This is strange, because Acts 2 suggests the Christians understood what they were saying to the Pentecost pilgrims. Whatever the situation was, Paul suggests they not be content with being passive actors.

Our minds must be engaged in worship (1 Cor 14:14-15). If you pray or speak in a foreign language, and you yourself don’t even understand what you’re saying, how can this build up anybody (1 Cor 14:16-17)? This is why Paul would rather instruct believers than speak 10,000 words in a foreign language that doesn’t do any good for anybody (1 Cor 14:19).

What tongues (“languages”) are for (1 Cor 14:20-25)

Paul suggests the Corinthians be mature as they think about this (1 Cor 14:20). Isaiah 28:11 suggests that, one day, Gentiles will come with strange languages and teach the Israelites about Yahweh (1 Cor 14:21). Paul takes this ironic situation and applies it to his own context – the gift to speak foreign languages isn’t for believers, but for unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22). Prophecy, on the other hand, is for believers (1 Cor 14:22).

This is why, if an outsider wanders into your assembly and sees everybody speaking foreign languages to one another, he’ll think you’re all insane (1 Cor 14:23)! But, if someone enters and hears prophecy direct from the Lord, he is convicted, he’s called to account, and he’ll worship God and confess that He’s present in the church (1 Cor 14:24-25). This is because prophecy can be understood by anybody, but tongues is for evangelism (cp. Acts 2).

Orderly worship (1 Cor 14:26-32)

So, prophecy and foreign language gifts should be done decently, in order, without chaos. Everything should be for edification (1 Cor 14:26).

If someone has the gift of languages, then have no more than two or three speak in turn, and someone must be there to interpret (1 Cor 14:27). If there isn’t an interpreter, nobody should speak (1 Cor 14:28).

For prophecy, let two or three speak and have others weigh what they say (1 Cor 14:29). If one person receives a revelation from God during the meeting, others should give way to let him speak (1 Cor 14:30). The prophets should speak one by one, so everyone in the congregation can be encouraged (1 Cor 14:31). The prophets are subject to one another, to critique and “check” one another (1 Cor 14:32).

Women and prophecy (1 Cor 14:33-36)

1 Cor 14:33-36: As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

This is the most difficult part of Paul’s letter. I believe Paul means that wives should keep silent (1 Cor 14:34) in the context of critiquing and “checking” their husbands, who have just uttered prophesies.[1] Paul can’t be saying women can’t ever speak in a public gathering, for several reasons:

  1. it would imply women are somehow structurally inferior; contra Gal 3:28
  2. it contradicts 1 Cor 11:5, which says women did regular prophesy in church services
  3. it would contradict Joel’s prophesy (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:18)
  4. it contradicts the prominent servant roles of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3), Priscilla (Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19); Mary (Rom 16:6), Junia (Rom 16:7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12), Phoebe the deacon (Rom 16:1-2), Nympha who hosted a house church (Col 4:15)

The language of submission and shame suggest this is likely a case of women who are critiquing their husband’s prophesies during a church meeting. Indeed, Paul has just finished explaining how to handle prophecy during a church meeting, including critique or questioning afterwards. There is probably a local context to this controversy that we’ll never know. The data of other women performing prominent servant roles in various New Testament churches (see above) means this is likely a local command, for a local context, for a very specific situation.

I assume Corinth had a particular problem with some wives criticizing, critiquing or otherwise embarrassing their husbands during public church meetings. The overriding principle is that husbands and wives should not embarrass one another in public (cp. Eph 5:21ff). If the wife has concerns about her husband’s prophecy, she must ask at home – where there is no danger of embarrassment or shame.[2] In other words, rather than embarrass your husband in public, just ask in the car on the way home!

The reference “as the law also says” (1 Cor 14:34) is a general reference to the Old Covenant, likely to Gen 3:16 and the perpetual battle between the sexes in a marriage relationship in a post-fall context.

Wrapping up (1 Cor 14:36-40)

Paul concludes with some sharp, rhetorical arrows. The word of God didn’t just come to the church in Corinth, did it (1 Cor 14:36-37)!? Any true Christian should acknowledge Paul’s authority to speak on Yahweh’s behalf (1 Cor 14:37). If someone doesn’t acknowledge Paul’s authority, he shouldn’t be considered a Christian (1 Cor 14:38). Ask God for the ability to utter prophesies. Don’t forbid foreign languages in the church; just make sure everything is done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:39-40).


[1] I am following (1) David Garland, 1 Corinthians, in BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 664-673 and (2) Simon Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 510-515.

[2] “Paul disallows speech in the assembly that would suggest that a wife is being insubordinate toward her husband, whether it is an interruption or a challenge to a prophetic utterance. The delicate relationship between husband and wife is imperiled by the wife’s public questioning, correcting, or challenging,” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671).

Likewise, Kistemaker observes, “[t]he Corinthian women at worship are not told to be silent in respect to praying, prophesying, and singing psalms and hymns. They are, however, forbidden to speak when the prophesies of their husbands are discussed,” (1 Corinthians, 513).

Pray for Christians in China

The Chinese government continues to persecute religious groups, including Muslims and Christians. This is largely a policy by China’s President, Xi Jinping, who is attempting to construct a cult of personality around himself not seen since the days of Mao. Organized religion is an obvious roadblock to this goal; thus the systematic persecution. If you have a New York Times subscription (or some free articles remaining), see these background article on China’s attempts build a civil religion centered on the State: https://nyti.ms/2SCC5cO

An evangelical Chinese pastor was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for his refusal to lead his church to bow to persecution. For a latter-day example of Acts 4:23-31 in action, see the church’s statement on its pastor’s sentence, which includes the following:

Praise God for the faithful witness of our brother in Christ, whose reward is now great in heaven. May the Lord use Pastor Wang Yi’s imprisonment to draw many to himself and to bring glory to his name.

China’s mass imprisonment of Muslims in the Western portion of the country is likely the largest mass incarceration and round-up of an ethnic group since the Holocaust. For some context on the crackdown on Muslims, see https://bit.ly/2SQf4n9, and especially:

For news about the Christian persecution, see the articles here: https://bit.ly/39nOGqm.

Pray for the Christians in China!

Good Advice from a Dead Englishman

J.B. Phillips is best known for his translation of the New Testament, which he began during the War while he was a young Anglican vicar. He also wrote a number of small, practical books for “ordinary” believers. One of these was a little book titled New Testament Christianity, published in 1956.

I picked the book up on my annual pilgrimage to Powell’s Books, in downtown Portland. This is a great little book. I’ll write more on it in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a taster (pg. 99):

We may be full of joy, but we are not here for our amusement. We are here to be used as instruments in God’s purpose. It is a fine thing to know that we are ‘right with God,’ ‘converted,’ ‘born again,’ and all the rest of it, but after a while such experiences become stale an unsatisfying unless we are passing the Good News on to others, positively assisting the work of the Church, or definitely bringing to bear upon actual human situations the pattern of Christian living.

This means in effect that each Christian must ask himself, ‘Am I myself outward-looking in my Christian experience, or am I content to remain in a safe ‘Christian rut?’ The recovery of the Church’s power rests ultimately upon the individual Christian’s answer to such a question.

More to come later …

Grace

I adapted this article from a sermon I preached this past Sunday.

When you read the Gospels, and you get past Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and you read about the last week of His incarnation – how often do you wonder about how the absolute demoralization Jesus must be experiencing?

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him (Mk 14:10-11).

We often skip over Jesus’ feelings in our minds because we know He’s divine. We assume He’s just fine with treachery. We assume He can take betrayal. We assume He can deal with being double-crossed.

More than that, we can sometimes assume Jesus isn’t bothered by this; the worst kind of backstabbing imaginable. It’s almost as if we see Jesus as a stoic philosopher, a rock which can’t be moved. But, He was also human! In the incarnation, He added a human nature to His divine nature. He’s one divine Person, with two natures. And, because He’s a flesh and blood person, betrayal hurts; being stabbed in the back hurts; being forsaken by a guy you’ve trained for three years hurts.

Think about it.

Jesus left heaven to come here. He trained Judas for three years. He poured His heart and soul into him, all while knowing in advance Judas is going to betray Him to be killed. And, Jesus still sincerely trained this guy and all the others anyway. He didn’t go through the motions; He continued to preach, train and equip Judas and the others.

Jesus deliberately chose Judas, knowing what would happen (Mk 3:14; cf. Jn 2:24-25, 5:42, 6:64). Judas was one of the 12 who had divine power to heal the sick and conduct exorcisms – to have power over demons! Judas preached the Gospel with a partner throughout Galilee. Judas was one of the guys who came back from their mini-missionary tour in Galilee, excited, and telling Jesus everything that had happened (Mk 6:30)

Jesus has done so much for the 12. He picked each of these guys. He trained them. He taught them. He coached them. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He orchestrated the heavenly preview of the Kingdom at His transfiguration, complete with the Father speaking from heaven (Mk 9:1-9).

He let Lazarus die a terrible death on purpose, so He could go raise him from the dead (Jn 11:4, 11-14), so it could be another proof for the disciples that He was the divine Son of Man (Jn 11:41).

The disciples don’t even confess He’s the Messiah until Mk 8:27-30! Now, by the time Judas hatches his plot, it’s two days before the crucifixion and the disciples are still as clueless as can be, and one of the 12 has deliberately plotted to betray Him … and that has to hurt bad.

Jesus knew all this would happen, and He kept on keeping on. He even spoke about His struggles:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again,” (Jn 12:27-28).

The Father spoke to reassure the Son, and to testify to the crowd who listened – but more to reassure Jesus. This is why Jesus can sympathize with you, because He understands what it’s like to be discouraged, abandoned, forsaken, betrayed, stabbed in the back, and even killed.

He understands injustice. He understands unfairness. He’s been there – and unlike you, He won’t let it cripple Him from doing God’s will.

But why, in the face of all this, did Jesus even bother? Why didn’t He pack His bags and go home? Why didn’t He “sense God calling Him elsewhere?” Why did Jesus know this was how it was going to end, and still come here anyway? Why does Jesus bother with people like us?

He did it because of grace:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53:3).

Jesus knew this would happen. Isaiah wrote all about it 700 years before, and Jesus still came to live and die for His people. As we move forward, to the account of the last supper, think about the grace and love inherent in Jesus’ actions, even as He knew how this night would end.

Judas, like a hungry dog, is actively looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus (Mk 14:11). Wherever it happens, it has to be somewhere out of the way and quiet. The Sanhedrin doesn’t want a disturbance at Passover. Judas is one of the 12 who come to Him, eager to figure out where they’ll celebrate Passover (Mk 14:12). As Jesus gives the answer, Judas is likely figuring out if this is a suitable ambush site.

The disciples prepare Passover meal (Mk 14:16). The location isn’t secluded enough for Judas’ purposes. So, still plotting, Judas actualy helps to prepare the Passover; perhaps the supreme irony. Passover celebrates God rescuing His people from slavery and bringing them to the promised land. Jesus is the “new Moses” (cf. Deut 18:15-19) who rescues His people from spiritual slavery and leads them to the figurative promised land in eternity (Heb 3-4). But Judas helps prepares the Passover, all while plotting to kill the prophet who inaugurates the New Covenant!

As they prepare to observe the festival, Jesus explains, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” (Lk 22:25-26). Jesus means this; it isn’t an act. Judas listens, perhaps even smiles and nods, and he’s probably already decided on Gethsemane as the ambush site.

Then, Jesus teaches a lesson on humility and service in the covenant community – and He washes Judas’ feet (Jn 13:10-11).

Jesus announces someone at the table is going to betray Him (Mk 14:18-19). They each (including Judas!) look at one another, astonished, and ask if they’re the culprit (cf. Mt 26:22; Jn 13:22)! Jesus explains He has to die, because Scripture prophesied His death. But, the man who betrays Him still bears personal responsibility.

Jesus then challenges Judas:

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” (Jn 13:26-27).

I can picture them locking eyes. Jesus’ words are a direct challenge (“are we gonna do this, or not?”). They look at each other, as Judas holds the piece of bread on his hand . Then, Judas makes his decision; “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night,” (Jn 13:30).

Even though one his closest students, a guy He’s known for three years, has run out the door to betray Him – Jesus calmly continues the meal and explains why He came:

And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” (Mk 14:24-25).

The Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood; an object lesson that taught penal, substitutionary atonement. The New Covenant is inaugurated the same way; with Jesus’ blood. It’s a covenant that’s infinitely better, built on better promises. It’s efficacious to anyone who repents and believes the Gospel. Jesus’ remark about a future Kingdom reunion signals His death isn’t the end.  

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities (Isa 53:10-11).

I would have given up and walked out a long time ago, and so would you! Jesus stayed anyway, and He did it so that whoever believes in Him wouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

I’d be just as clueless as Peter, James and John, and so would you! Jesus knows all about your cluelessness and your sins. He even taught Judas, gave Him supernatural gifts, and commissioned him to preach the Gospel. He even washed Judas’ feet! He let Judas betray Him to be tortured and executed.

And He did all that, to rescue people from this present, evil age (Gal 1:4); people from every nation, culture and color. Jesus let Himself be abandoned, in order to save the people who betrayed Him. He didn’t simply die for “really bad” people like Nero, Hitler, Stalin or Caiaphas. He died for the sins of the very guys and gals who’ve followed Him around Galilee, Samaria and Judea for three years. He died to atone for my sins, and yours.

He died to atone for our sins; for Hitler, for Stalin, for Caiaphas, and for you. Let’s remember what Jesus endured for His people, and remember His grace that’s greater than all our sins.

Orphans, Widows, the Poor … and Justice

God wants His people to live a certain way. To act a certain way. To have certain honest motivations. He wants His people to love one another, and to prove it by their actions.

The fruit of real salvation is moral and spiritual reformation, because you love God. You don’t “clean yourself up” to gain favor with God; that’s not possible. Instead, because God has already changed your heart and mind and given you spiritual life, you reform your life with His help. Part of that means you love your fellow believers.

Well-meaning Christians often cite biblical commands to care for the poor, the widows and orphans, and try to apply these to mercy ministries. Douglas Moo, a conservative commentator, is representative of this trend when he applies one of these passages (James 1:27) in a generic way to society at large. He implies James is issuing a call to mercy ministries in the context of evangelism:

Christians whose religion is pure will imitate their Father by intervening to help the helpless. Those who suffer from want in the third world, in the inner city; those who are unemployed and penniless; those who are inadequately represented in government or in law—these are the people who should see abundant evidence of Christians’ ‘pure religion’.

Douglas J. Moo, James, vol. 16, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 90.

This is all true, but it isn’t what James meant. That passage, and others like it, don’t teach this. Instead, they teach Christians to care for one another, to love one another, to watch out for one another. To be sure, it’s a wonderful evangelistic strategy to couple mercy ministries with Gospel proclamation. You can win a hearing for the Gospel by helping people. But, that’s not what these passages are about.

Who’s the audience?

When Jesus summarized the entire thrust of the Old Covenant law (Mk 12:28-34), He said it had two foundations:

  1. to love God with everything you had (Deut 6:4-5), and
  2. to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (Lev 19:18).

If you look at both these citations, who was the audience? They were both addressed to Old Covenant members. They weren’t for unbelievers. They were for believers.

Regarding the first citation (Deut 6:4-5), Moses preached the Book of Deuteronomy to explain the Old Covenant to the people as they prepared to invade the Promised Land (“Moses undertook to explain this law …” Deut 1:5). As for the second, the context in Leviticus shows it was written for believers, too. But, beyond that, take a look at the context around the citation to “love your neighbor.” It tells us quite a bit:

  • Israelites had to leave some of their harvest from vineyards and crops for the poor and needy in their covenant community; their believing community (Lev 19:9-10)
  • They couldn’t steal or lie to one another. They also couldn’t bear false witness against one another (Lev 19:11-12)
  • They couldn’t oppress or rob one another; that is, they had to compensate one another fairly. They had to pay wages on time. They couldn’t take advantage of the blind or deaf. Why? Because Yahweh is Lord, and they should fear His wrath for disobedience (Lev 19:13)
  • They had to uphold justice and righteousness in legal matters (Lev 19:15)
  • They couldn’t slander one another (Lev 19:16)
  • They had to settle disputes among themselves, rather than let hate simmer in their hearts. There was no room for grudges or plots of vengeance; rather, they had to love one another (Lev 19:17-18).

What’s behind all this? What’s the concept undergirding all these commands? Simple: God’s people ought to love each other. They ought to care about each other. They should want to prove it by their actions. God expects His people to live His way, and part of that is to love fellow believers.

If you can understand this, then you can understand the references in the Bible to the widow, the orphan and the poor. You can understand who those commands are directed to.

Proving the point

The rest is pretty easy. Here are some representative examples from Scripture:

When Moses said this:

You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.

Deuteronomy 24:14

He was referring to fellow covenant members; either native born Israelites or proselytes who had joined the community. He was referring to how God’s people should interact with each other. This echoes the commands from Leviticus 19.

Moses meant the same thing when he continued, and wrote this:

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 24:17-18

This speaks for itself, and so does the audience.

One of the condemnations the prophet Ezekiel brought against nation of Judah was their moral wickedness; specifically, the way they mistreated one another. Ezekiel wrote:

Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you.

Ezekiel 22:7

You should read the entire paragraph for context, but Ezekiel’s point here is very clear. Part of their sin is their mistreatment of one another, especially those who deserve special respect – parents, proselytes who have joined the community, and the most vulnerable in the covenant society.

This was the same sentiment the Apostle John had when he wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,” (1 Jn 3:18). His observation was borne out of the same worldview that Ezekiel had, that Moses had, that Jesus had. God’s people should love one another, and show it.

In Zechariah’s day, as he and Haggai struggled to encourage the returned exiles to rebuild the temple, he reminded them of their father’s mistakes:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention hand turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.

Zechariah 7:8-11

Before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, before the Babylonians crushed Judah, God was angry with His people for how they mistreated one another.

Even Amos, who wrote during the secular glory days of the Northern Kingdom, had the same message:

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals—

Amos 2:6

What does this mean? It’s difficult to nail down precisely, but it’s clear the rich and powerful in Israelite society were oppressing the vulnerable. You get the picture of them accepting bribes to sell out the righteous for silver, or for material possessions. He continued:

those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted

Amos 2:7

You get the image of those in power smashing the faces of the poor into the dirt, and turning away those who are afflicted and helpless. This is a perversion of the society God commanded the Israelites to model.

And, finally, we come to James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27

James is talking to Christians about what their faith should look like. The fruit it ought to bear. What is the mark of a true Christian, of true religion? Well, simple! This command is really an inversion of Jesus’ summary. James says we must (1) love fellow believers, and (2) keep ourselves free from this evil world, which really means an all-consuming love for God.

What about the parable of the good Samaritan?

This is a good question. Why did Jesus give the parable? What prompted Him to employ it? He had a reason, didn’t He? Here’s the context:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 10:25

The 72 disciples have just returned, and given an ecstatic report of their ministry success (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven …” Lk 10:18). Jesus rejoiced with them; “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” (Lk 10:23). He is glad God has revealed His plan to these simple men.

And, on the heels of this great event, the lawyer stands up and asks Jesus the question. He isn’t sincere; he wants to “put him to the test.” Jesus asks the man about the Old Covenant law, and he correctly responds by summarizing it the same way Jesus has done (Lk 10:26-28).

But, the man wants more. He’s “desiring to justify himself,” (Lk 10:29). He wants to limit his responsibilities as much as possible. He responds just like a stereotypical lawyer. Define “love.” Define “neighbor.” If he can narrow his target as much as possible, it’ll make his obligations so much easier to meet!

Think about it; would your spouse accept this kind of logic? What would you think if, at the altar on your wedding day, your husband halted the ceremony and said, “Now, I agree with all the lovey stuff, in theory. But, let’s clarify a few things. Define ‘until death.’ Define ‘love.’ Define ‘cherish.’ Let’s get this down on paper before we go any further!”

Are these the actions of a loving, would-be husband? I don’t think so! This is a guy who’s not serious. A guy who’s looking to do as little as possible. It’s the same with the lawyer. Jesus knows this; it’s why he tells the parable.

The Samaritan was a “good neighbor” because he didn’t care about legalistic qualifications, or legal definitions, or his strict scope of responsibilities. He saw a need, and he met it. That man is the good neighbor. That man fulfills the intent of the Old Covenant law, because he showed mercy.

What’s the point? The point is that a good neighbor is someone who shows mercy, not someone who seeks to do as little as possible in order to justify himself in his own mind. That’s why Jesus told the parable.

Wrapping up

The Old and New Covenant commands to care for widows, orphans and the poor are to believers, and their primary application is to widows, orphans and the poor within the believing community. True faith and Christian religion won’t seek to minimize this responsibility or shirk it; it will prove itself by genuine mercy and kindness to fellow believers in need.  

Mercy ministries to the general public are outstanding vehicles for evangelism. They just aren’t what these “justice” passages are talking about.

What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus?

This article is adapted from a sermon I preached on 13 January 2019, entitled “Following the Leader.” Video and audio may be found here.

Peter has just made an important confession; that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (Mk 8:27-33). How do you sum up what this office means?[1] It’s common to see Christ as the prophet, priest and king. Millard Erickson shifts the emphasis from office to function, and presents Jesus as the revealer, ruler and reconciler.[2]

Because Jesus does these things; because He reveals God’s message, will rule over all creation and reconciles any and everyone who comes to God through Him, how should you follow Jesus? That’s what this passage (Mk 8:34 – 9:1) is all about.

Then, after Jesus summoned the crowd, along with His disciples, He said to them, (Mk 8:34).

Jesus’ lessons on discipleship aren’t just for “super Christians.” Jesus invited apostles and the crowd to listen. If you’re a Christian, this message is for you!

If someone wishes to be following me, he must deny himself, then pick up his cross, then keep on following me (Mk 8:34).

If you’re a Christian, what does Jesus say a faithful life looks like? What do you have to do to be the kind of Christian Jesus can smile at?

Here it is:

  • Deny yourself
  • Pick up your cross
  • Keep on following Jesus; don’t turn back!

What do these mean!?

Deny yourself

This mean God is on the throne in your life; not you. It means you aren’t in charge of your life, God is. Your life isn’t your own (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). If you’re a Christian, then Christ is your Lord (Rom 14:8-9); do you live like it? The issue is motivation and drive; what gives your life meaning and purpose – your status in union with Christ, or something else?

Christ died so that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (2 Cor 5:15). Do you live your life in service to Jesus? The point is that your purpose in life isn’t to please yourself, or to pursue your own goals – it’s to please God!

Does that mean that, in order to be a faithful Christian, you have to sell everything you have and move to Antarctica and preach the Gospel to penguins? Or, does it mean you have to live on top of a mountain alone, with your wi-fi, so you can be close to God?

No! You don’t need to become a monk; you just need to view your life in the proper perspective. What give your life purpose and meaning? This is a question that goes to motivation, and only you and God know what motivates and energizes your life. If you’re a Christian, it ought to be God. If you’re a Christian, your overriding drive should be to please Him, and serve Him with your life – wherever He’s put you. You aren’t your own, He bought you with a price – do you live for yourself, or for the One who for your sake died and was raised?

Does this mean your job is pointless? No! It just means you need to have the proper perspective about your job. There’s honor in working hard to provide for your family, and God gave you the gifts to do the job you do – it’s not an accident you have the job you do, or that you’ll get the next job you’ll get! It just means your job isn’t your life; it doesn’t define you – your relationship with Jesus Christ defines you (1 Pet 2:9-10). That’s the inspired blueprint for how you ought to think of yourself, if you’re a Christian. You’re a priest for God, saved so you can show and tell the message of the Gospel to the people God has put you around.

Who is on the throne in your life?

You must pick up your cross

This was the cruelest, worst form of capitol punishment in the Roman world. People took hours to die. They were often left to die on their crosses along the roadsides, as a warning to others, where birds and dogs would eat and pick at them as they died! So, what did Jesus mean by this?

He meant you had to be ready to be considered the worst of the worst by the same people who would kill Him (Jn 15:18-19). Condemned prisoners were made to carry the cross-beam of their own crucifixion cross to the execution site (Mk 15:21); Jesus meant you had to be willing to figuratively pick up your cross and march to your own death, if need be (1 Pet 4:12-13).

The Roman Emperor Nero infamously blamed Christians for a massive fire in the city of Rome. Contemporary accounts tell us Nero crucified and burnt Christians alive in Rome. These are the same people Mark probably wrote his Gospel to.

Real faith means that, if necessary, you’re willing to suffer and die for your Savior, for the sake of the Gospel. That means Jesus and His Gospel ought to be the most important things; everything else (including your life) fades far into the background (Phil 3:8).

Who is on the throne in your life?

You must keep on following Jesus!

The Christian faith isn’t a once and done event; it’s not something that stops. A faith that isn’t living, active, and bearing fruit is a faith that’s either in serious trouble, or non-existent (read 1 John). You need to keep on denying yourself. You need to keep on carrying your cross

Why does Jesus say all this?

Because, if he keeps desiring to save his life, he’ll lose it. But, if a person would lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, he’ll save it (Mk 8:35).

If a person keeps trying to “save his life,” it means Jesus and the Gospel aren’t the most important things in his life. If that’s you, it means your own desires are more important. You’d rather save your life, then potentially lose it by following Jesus. It means everything about the “here and now” is more serious and more important than the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

If that’s you, then you’re actually losing your life. You have no spiritual resurrection, the wrath of God abides on you (Jn 3:36), and one day your chance for salvation is gone. One psalmist asked, “what man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol,” (Ps 89:48)?

The answer is that God can, through Jesus, and you frittered it away because you valued the things of this world over the things of eternity; the temporary over the permanent, the fleeting over the transcendent.

Is this you? Do you desire to save your life? Solomon said everything in this world is transitory, momentary, fleeting, impermeant – there’s of lasting significance there to hold onto! Wisdom, great possessions, sex, money, living for pleasure, your work and career – all of them are fleeting and transitory. Whatever you’re hold onto instead of Jesus, whatever you’re not willing to let go of for Jesus, that thing will not be there for you in the end.

The only way you can save your soul is to be willing to lose it for Jesus and His Good News. If you’re a Christian, this means your rescue from sin your reconciliation with God, Jesus’ perfect, substitutionary life and death, His miraculous resurrection, your adoption into God’s family from the kingdom of darkness, your status as a brother or sister whom Jesus is not ashamed to call by name – all of these should be the most important things in the world to you. How can wisdom, sex, possessions, money, living for pleasure, or the idol of a career compare to these things?

Whose stamp do you bear and what’re you going to do about it?[3] Is your faith the driving, motivating factor in your life, the thing that gives you purpose and fuels you? Or, is it an add-on; something affixed to the tail-end of your life with dollar store scotch-tape?

Who is on the throne in your life?

For, how does it benefit a man to be gaining the whole world and be losing his life!? (Mk 8:36)

It doesn’t!

After all, what would a man give in exchange for his life (Mk 8:37)?

Everything! Anything! The moon! So, have you? Have you made the decision to deny yourself? Have you made the decision that Jesus and the Gospel are worth picking up your cross for? Have you made the decision to keep on following Jesus, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year?

These aren’t things you do to get salvation; they’re things a genuine Christian will want to do because of salvation; they’re the fruit of spiritual life. Apple tree produce apples. Orange tree produce oranges. Mexican restaurants produce nachos. A Christian likewise ought to do the things Jesus said

Now, Jesus backs up and lays it all out for us:

This is what I mean – if someone is embarrassed about me and my words in this adulterous and sinful age, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in the Father’s glory, [and] with the holy angels,” (Mk 8:38).

What does this mean? Here’s what it means:

  • If you won’t deny yourself for Jesus,
  • If you won’t take up your figurative cross and be prepared to suffer and die for His sake and the Gospel’s sake,
  • If you won’t keep on following Him, or at least have the honest desire to keep on following Him for the remainder of your life  

Then Jesus looks at you and says:

  • This guy is embarrassed about me!
  • This guy is ashamed of me!
  • This guy is embarrassed about my message, about what I said!
  • This guy is ashamed about my message and what I said!

It means Jesus looks at you and says:

  • This guy isn’t ashamed about his greed, but he is ashamed about me!
  • This guy isn’t ashamed about his loving his career more than anything in the world, but he is embarrassed about how nobody comes to the Father, but through me
  • This guy isn’t ashamed of the Gospel, as long as it stays a secret part of his life

If that’s you:

  • Jesus says, “I’ll be ashamed of you when I come back, full of power and glory, along with the holy angels, to set everything right”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I never knew you!”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I don’t know who you are!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “This is sinful guy; a criminal!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “This guy is unfaithful to the God who created him, just like so many other people – he’s a spiritual adulterer!”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I’m embarrassed that you claim to belong to me!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “I’m ashamed of this guy!”

Consider the contrast. A life lived for yourself, for your own ends, for your own transitory dreams, all so it can go into the trashcan at the end of your life? Or, a life lived in service to God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, using and channeling your gifts and abilities for His glory, having (perhaps) that same career, but with the right motivations, having (perhaps) the same money, but with the proper perspective, willing to suffer loss and perhaps die for the sake of the Gospel, and seeing Jesus return in power, glory and honor, and welcoming you with open arms and a great smile, by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,” (Mt 25:21).

Jesus will return one day, with power and glory, accompanied by the holy angels – and what value will “whatever else” be for you, then?

Then Jesus said to them, “I’m telling you the solemn truth, that there are some people standing here who will not taste death until they see God’s kingdom coming in power,” (Mk 9:1).

As a way to encourage His disciples to take the longer view, to have the proper perspective, to see Him as he really is and (thus) to count everything as loss compared to Him, Jesus will lift the curtain a bit and show them a taste of His glory, power and honor … in the next passage (Mk 9:2-8)!

If Christian churches expected people to follow Jesus with the same passion and fervor He told us to have, then churches would be smaller, and the people left would be more zealous for Christ and the Gospel. If you’re a Christian, you need to follow Jesus with the same all-consuming passion He said you must have!

Who is on the throne in your life?

Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to put Him on the throne in your life. Choose to keep on following Him, just like He said


Notes

[1] I addressed this issue in a sermon from Mark 8:27-33, preached on 30 December 2018, entitled “Jesus is the Christ, But What Does That Mean?” You can find the audio, video and sermon notes at https://bit.ly/2R0IZt0

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 780ff. 

[3] See Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 5:1-5. 

The Obligation of Marriage

adams.jpgJay Adams is known as the father of the Christian counseling movement. When people think of “counseling,” they may have images of a contemplative psychologist, pen at the ready, and a comfy couch.

No.

Biblical counseling sounds stuffy, but its really about applying the bible (and its worldview) to real Christian people, with real problems, in real life, in the real world. You can read more about the principles behind this biblical approach here. This is the presuppositional approach Jay Adams brought to the mainstream in 1970, when he published his landmark book Competent to CounselThis is also the approach many conservative Christian universities and seminaries teach their students to use in pastoral ministry. My own alma mater, Maranatha Baptist Seminary, uses this method. So does The Masters College.

Here, in this excerpt from his outstanding book Solving Marriage ProblemsJay Adams discusses the overriding obligation that comes with marriage:

When a couple takes marriage vows, whether they realize it or not (and often they do not), they are vowing to provide companionship for one another for the rest of their lives; that is what their views amount to. Notice, they do not vow to receive companionship, but to provide it for one another. Marriage itself is an act of love in which one person vows to meet another’s need for life, no strings attached.

That means that when a husband or a wife complains,

“I am not getting what I want out of marriage,”

his or her statement is nonsensical. And you must reply,

“You did not enter marriage in order to get something for yourself. You vowed to give something to your partner. Marriage is not a bargain in which each partner says, ‘I will give so much in return for so much.’ Each vows to give all that is necessary to meet his or her spouse’s need for companionship, whether or not he or she receives anything in return. Therefore, the only question for you is, ‘Are you fulfilling your vows?'”

Many marry for what they can get out of the marriage; but that is lust, not love, and is biblically untenable.

Ouch.