J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

A Good Man is Hard to Find: Qualifications of an Elder from I Timothy 3

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1Sermon audio can be found online at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

The ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

1Timothy 3:1-7 – The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now the context of this letter is Paul writing to Timothy to prepare him for ministry once Paul is gone.  Paul is interested in encouraging Timothy in his personal discipleship as well as encouraging Timothy to continue to disciple and train church elders and deacons.  Paul says that if someone wants to be an elder or overseer, the office itself is a noble calling.  It is noble office because as we saw in Hebrews 13:7, God entrusts the oversight of the souls of His people to the leaders of the church.

The language most often associated with this kind of relationship in the scriptures is the language of headship.  This is when a person or persons leads and represents others before God.  And how things go for them is how things go for everyone else.  The life and health of the people they represent and care for are intrinsically tied to the Godliness of the head.  Adam is the head of the human race in Romans 5.  That didn’t work out too well did it?  The husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5.  The husband bears the spiritual responsibility of leading His family in Godliness and I’m sure we’ve seen good and bad examples of that.  Jesus is the head of the church in Ephesians 5.  He by His work has led His people in all Godliness.

And the elders of the church have the noble task of overseeing the souls of God’s people.    Godly and wise church leadership guides the church in Godliness and wisdom.  Ungodly and unwise church leadership leads the people towards sin and foolishness.  I’m afraid we’ve seen both of those in our days and maybe more of the latter than the former.

But if someone desires to fulfill that calling they need to meet several requirements, and these requirements fall into basically 3 categories:

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

Now before I go any further, let me make this point.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel a commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.  As we look at those 3 categories of requirements, we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.  Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.

Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”   That is a perfectly fine application and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But it is not higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.  People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.

No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.  The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

So, a gifted overseer or elder in the church will have a holiness in his personal life.  The phrase above reproach is a summary description of the following 10 Godly characteristics.

  • The husband of one wife
  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

Let’s start with the first one:  the husband of one wife.  Well, let’s ask a couple of things first.  Why would this characteristic, whatever it means, matter?  The answer is that an elder, an overseer must be committed and dedicated not given to quitting or impetuousness.   Being an officer of the church requires perseverance in the midst of the most difficult situations.   But believe it or not, this is a very contested characteristic.  Appears simple, but here are some of the questions that arise with this quality.

  • Does this verse mean that you have to be married to be an elder?
  • Does the husband of one wife mean you can’t be divorced?
  • Does this mean that you can’t be a woman and be an elder?

So, let’s eliminate a few things first.  Fist, you cannot be married to more than one woman at a time and be an elder.  That’s clear from the verse, so you can’t be a polygamist which was still pretty prevalent in that day.  Second, you don’t have to be married to be an elder because if being married was a requirement then Jesus himself wouldn’t qualify to be an elder.  Jesus wasn’t physically married, and if Jesus doesn’t qualify to be an elder, I sure as hell don’t want to be part of a church that wouldn’t allow Jesus to be their elder.

So, onto our next question:  can you be divorced and be an elder?  Well, being divorced is not a sin if a person divorces for biblical reasons.  So, since as we mentioned, officers are not held to some false higher standard, and being divorced is not a sin, you can be divorced and be an officer.

So what about women elders?  To eliminate the confusion, Biblically, there is no support for female elders, but I don’t think this conviction comes solely from this verse.  That conviction has to be seen in the larger Biblical context.  Now, as we jump into the issue of male/female elders in the church I would like to recommend 2 books on the subject that have informed me well on this subject.  “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by John Piper and Wayne Grudem and “Vintage Church” by Driscoll and Breshears.

The qualification of being the husband of one wife does lend some weight to this church’s stance on that issue if it is seen in the larger context. Again, being an elder is about headship and just as the husband is the head of the family, so are elders heads of the church.  Think of it in this way.  God created men and women in the image of God which means that we are equal but last time I checked incredibly different.  It takes the distinctions of both male and female to understand the image of God.  The differences are not merely physical appearance.  I don’t any men who have had babies lately, so obviously the idea of different roles with equality is something that God is okay with.

So men uniquely reflect God’s being a Father with leadership and guidance of His people by being the heads of their families.  Women uniquely reflect God’s creation and compassion by being mothers.  It takes both the headship of the male and the creation of the female to gain a full and accurate picture of the image of God.  Those roles begin to become clear as we walk through the Bible.

Despite the presence of many Godly women in the OT, the senior spiritual leadership of Israel was the male priests.  Jesus taught and trained many Godly men and women but His 12 disciples were male and He appointed them to be the apostles and leaders over the church.  Now, just because the priests were male and that Jesus trained 12 men that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want well trained females.  God intends for the entire church to be incredibly qualified theologians but He has commanded men to be the elder and teachers.

1 Timothy 3 commands that women should learn quietly in all submissiveness while forbidding them to teach or exercise authority over a man.  Now obviously the verse has been misapplied in many churches where women walk in looking like they are afraid to speak, keep their heads down, and avoid all eye contact.  But by commanding that women learn quietly, Paul was actually revolutionizing the approach towards women for the day.  Paul was saying, “Hey, this is the church.  The women of the church should be as stout as theologians as the men are.  They should learn and no one should prevent them from learning, so men, get over your backward ways, and women, get over your fear.

However, the women are to learn in all quietness.  Now the Greek word for “learning quietly” does not mean total silence as it has been translated and applied quiet often.  “Learning quietly” means learning in a peaceable demeanor.  It means learning in such a way as to be humble and respectful.  Women are to learn these things in submissiveness to authority without taking on teaching roles over the other men.  Now this of course does not mean that women are not incredibly gifted teachers or gifted in shepherding.  Of course they are.  If that’s the case though, why would God say that women should not teach or have authority over men when they can completely function in those roles if they had to?

The answer is that God has appointed the leadership and headship of the church to men.

  • Romans 5:12:  Adam was the head of Eve and the human race and took responsibility for her sin.
  • Ephesians 5:23:  Husbands are the heads of their wives and heads of their families and thus responsible for the spiritual health and teaching of the home.
  • Ephesians 5:23 – Christ is head of His bride the church.
  • In a few verses where we are told that an elder must lead his household well.  Can’t do that you can’t lead the household of God.
  • There are no Biblical examples of headship given to any female.

I know some folks want to say that the commands for an elder are written in such a way because of the male-biased slant of Paul’s day.  I would caution such a view for this reason.  God has written what He wants written in His scriptures.  If the Biblical writers could prophesy and then we see those things fulfilled, why wouldn’t God just command in such a way as to fit our “supposed enlightened” gender views.  God didn’t inspire scripture and then sit around waiting for our egotistical enlightened views of how those things were really supposed to be lived out.  God commanded what He wanted here.

Biblical wisdom finds its highest fruition if it is lived out in the context of God’s command.  Our women here have incredible, Godly skills and talents which include teaching and shepherding.  Deployed as God commands, those skills will find their highest fruition.  Deployed as we think best, they will not and churches who have gone against these commands have suffered for it as witnessed from the denomination that the PCA pulled out from 35 years ago.

Having said those things, let’s walk a little further in understanding holiness in personal life.  Let’s examine what those who will function in the headship of the church should look like.  Let’s look at 2 that are very similar:  Sober-minded and Self-controlled

Being sober-minded doesn’t mean that God is looking for men who never laugh or men who sit in stuffy rooms wearing big hats making decisions with furrowed brows.  Sober-minded really means big picture type guys.  Sober minded is the ability to assess how everything from the direction of the church all the way down to the questions that you have are part of the work of the Kingdom, the work of SK, the work of Christ in people’s lives, and how all of those things are reflective of the truths of scripture.  To be that leader, one must be self-controlled.  Now as I love to do, let me dispel another myth.  Self-control is the ability to say no to bad things like drunkenness, pornography, and anger.  But it is much more than that as well.  Self-control is more about saying yes than saying no.  Self-control is about being disciplined in all areas of life.

This is one thing that the men at Fight Club have tried to grow in.  Godly leaders to exercise self-control in every discipline of life.  They need to be disciplined in praying, studying their scriptures, disciplined in physical exercise and showing moderation in eating and drinking.  No one can expect to show discipline in saying no to temptation if they haven’t already said yes to the disciplines of Godliness.

The next two characteristics that demonstrate holiness in one’s personal life:  Respectable and Hospitable.  These two go hand in hand.  Now, no one can be respected by every single person, but across the board, this will be someone that you look around and say, “Huh, I don’t too many that would not resonate with that person.  They are respectful to me, respectful to others, and respected by most.  If you peak ahead to verse 7, Paul says that an elder has to be so respectable that even those outside the church, non-believers respect them.  Essentially, if the world doesn’t respect you, then the church won’t either.

  • The key to being a respectable Godly person is being hospitable.  Every Christian is commanded to be hospitable because in doing Matthew 25 says that we are serving Jesus Christ Himself.  People can disagree with your theological convictions all day, but if you serve them, they will respect you and that service in and of itself with provide for you a platform to proclaim the Gospel.  These two qualities, respectable and hospitable, are where you should look for people within SK who embody the mission of this church (creating and engaging).  If they aren’t doing those things, they cannot lead you well.

Another and a very important qualification for an elder:  Able to teach.  This is one of the distinctions between being an elder and deacon.  For the most part, the qualifications are the exact same, yet your shepherd, your elders should be able to teach.   Now the ability to teach is not something a person can proclaim about themselves unless it has been affirmed by others and here specifically affirmed by the leadership of the church.  Teaching is not exemplified by the ability to explain but exemplified by others ability to learn underneath a person’s teaching.  Teaching is tied to other qualities.  If you aren’t honorable in your home, or if you aren’t sober-minded or self-controlled, if you aren’t respectable and hospitable, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you will not be a good teacher because most will not want to learn from a person who is not those things.

Let’s try just a few more before we wrap up for this week.  You cannot be an elder and be a drunkard.  This goes back to the issue of self-control.  God wants disciplined believers and disciplined church leadership.  You cannot be an alcoholic and be an elder.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t have been one and have recovered to sobriety, but it does mean that you cannot be an alcoholic.  If you are one who is controlled by either your access or lack of access to alcohol, then you cannot lead God’s people because you are driven by something other than your desire for God.

Two more:  Not violent but gentle and Not quarrelsome.  Are you a gentle person?  Do people walk in fear of either your fist or your tongue or do people find themselves resting in your presence.  Do you love arguing everything from theology to politics to sports?  I don’t mean debating the BCS vs a playoff system or a flat-tax vs. income tax.  I mean do you love arguing?  Do you value being proven right more than value relationship?  God does not want quarrelsome men leading His church.  This is a tough one because many Christians fashion themselves excellent debaters when what they really are discontent quarrelsome men.  How do you know the difference?  Well, are you violent?  Do you regularly hurt people either with your tongue or with your fists?  Do you enjoy putting people down with your speech?  If you don’t know if you are or not, ask your children or your spouse if they think you are gentle.  If they struggle to answer or are scared to answer that you are those things, you are probably disqualified to be an elder.

And finally for today, an elder cannot be a lover of money.  This is tough one for the American church because we are so rich.  In America, if you qualify for welfare, you are in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world, so American’s have a lot of money.  The question is, “Do you love money?”  You know, for as much greed as I see, even with the church, and as much as church’s struggle too meet budget, I’ve met very few Christians who will admit that they love money.  So how can you tell?  I’ll make it as clear as possible.   Do the works of your hands whether they may be at a job, the spending of your income or the debts you choose to take on, do they serve the work of the kingdom as a faithful servant or do they seek your own pleasure and enjoyment?  If those things serve your comfort and enjoyment first, you love money.  If they serve the kingdom first, you don’t.

Folks, this list should make each and every one of humble.  They are guidelines by which all of us should examine ourselves and Godly characteristics to which we should all aspire.  Even given to teach.  We all should know our scriptures well enough to speak to them in an instructional fashion.  As it comes to nominating Godly men, you are looking among this congregation and asking yourself, “Are there any men that are either these characteristics or men who are radically being transformed in their direction?  No one apart from Jesus will embody these things perfectly.  You have to see who is most set apart in becoming these qualities.

Continued next week.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

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October 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

boyfriendpillowThe ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

Related Articles:

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

helpTypically, we don’t just wake up one day as adults after spending our entire lives as children.  Instead, we experience moment by moment opportunities to mature and become “grown up” if you will.  However, along the way, there are larger moments, rites of passage if you will, that create leaps of growth towards adulthood:  puberty, learning to drive, graduations, marriages, etc.

These same truths apply to a church.  No matter how mature or Godly the people are within a congregation, maturing as a Body takes time.  Along the way though, there are moments where maturity leaps forward.  Sovereign King Church is about to embark on one of those moments, and we invite you to join us.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 detail what Godly leadership looks like within the church.  Obviously, church leadership is not perfect and still sinful, so immediately, the process of finding, training, and installing leadership is a grace filled one.  As much guidance as possible is needed.

Towards that end, over the next 2 Sundays (October 18th and 25th), SK is going to take a small break from the book of Romans to pursue an understanding of the Biblical descriptions of Godly church leadership.  In a mini series entitled, “Lead, Follow, & Getting Out of the Way,” we are going to do 3 things.  We will study the Biblical requirements of being an Elder and Deacon.  We will discuss the process of nominating, training, examining, and electing church officers, and we will seek God’s glory as He builds His church.

We invite all of you to join us for this series.  The process of initially electing church leadership is rarely seen because so many churches are older and established.  They already have their officers.  Even new churches often start with all their leaders in place.  SK is making the transition from being a young, church plant to a maturing growing church.  Part of that process involves seeking, training, and installing Godly leadership.

So, whether you are a part of SK or not, learning what scripture requires in these areas is beneficial.   Perhaps you have been curious about SK.  Aside from the vision of the church, there is probably no more beneficial thing to know than understanding what our leadership is going to look like.  We invite you to find out.

Let’s be honest.  We know that disillusionment abounds when it comes to church leadership.  Sadly, their failures are more widespread than their successes.  We are seeking to change both the perception and the reality of church leadership by seeking what God wants in the governing of His church (novel concept).

Come check Sovereign King out October 18th and 25th for this series.  We look forward to the next step in our maturation, and we would love for any and all of you to join us.

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October 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Preview: God’s Math

MathI’m no mathematician nor am I the son of a mathematician.  In fact, in college, the classes I enjoyed the least were my math’s especially the two statistics classes I had to take.  I have jokingly referred to myself as a “math atheist” on more than one occasion.  How surprised was I when I found myself managing an eye doctor’s office, keeping the books and trying to make the place more profitable.  All of sudden, numbers, projected profits, and balance sheets were my way of life.  Then for a couple of years, I made my living working the numbers as optometric consultant.

The good thing about math is once you get the formulas, they are tried and true.  2 + 2 + 4 will be the same tomorrow as it is today.  You can even do the formula in reverse and it works because 4 – 2 = 2.  When doing financial analysis and you’re looking at what a company grossed, their average day is always going to be total gross divided by the number of business days.  It work the other way around.  The number of business days times the average is going to equal the total grossed.

But here is the problem.  It is generally deduced that addition is easier than subtraction.  Development behaviorists determine this by studying children and observing that children deduce differences by their knowledge of sums.  So it takes learning to add and building a knowledge base in order to do subtraction properly.  The math works both ways adding and subtracting but subtracting is apparently a little harder for many.

Well the truths of God work the same way.  They are true forwards and backwards but if we start with ourselves and have to subtract to get to God, it is always going to be a bit harder.  Starting with God and His promises is always the best route.  Let me give you an example.  A few weeks ago, we looked at how God has made absolutely sure that His children will be secure.  He chooses them.  He calls them.  He justifies them.  He glorifies them.  Because of that, those that have faith in Jesus can live fearless, faith-filled lives of obedience because God has guaranteed not only that His children will grow in being like Christ, He has promised that they have nothing to fear.  Nothing can stand against them:  no job, no lack of job, no broken relationship, no nothing.  When God plans, enacts and secures a work in the life of His children they have nothing to fear.

That truth gets tricky though if we start with ourselves and work backwards to God.  If we start by saying, “Oh I would really like to live securely and fearlessly,” there are a host of challenges that can get in the way.  We look at our weaknesses; we look at our circumstances and get discouraged.  We hear the promises of God, but wonder if they are still possible in light of all the problems in our lives.   You can find your way back to God and His promises will still be true but it might tough going to get there.

Instead, we need to start with who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do and then see our lives in light of that.  Addition is easer.  God did His work.  Mankind does His work because God did His work.

If you were here two weeks ago, you are going to find some similar themes as Paul is always apt repeat Himself, but that’s okay.  Paul starts with God and moves to us, so it will be refreshing to hear what He has to say.  In light of that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How do the promises of God make life secure?

If you would like to worship with us at Sovereign King, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.

If you would like to watch a video preview of the sermon, click the image below.

October 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans 8:18-25 – Sermon Notes

Audio for this sermon can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

Hands down, we live in one of the most narcissistic cultures of all time.  If not the most, we are at least one of the worst cultures at flat-out loving ourselves.  Two recent books, “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic” by sociologist Jean Twenge highlight this growing phenomenon in America.  The premise of Twenge’s research is that, “We’ve built up the confidence of our kids, but in that process, we’ve created a generation of hot-house flowers puffed with a disproportionate sense of self-worth (the definition of narcissism) and without the resiliency skills they need when Mommy and Daddy can’t fix something.”

Essentially, parenting styles today make every action a success and every entitlement an expectation.  The author cites a few examples.  For example, in her research, she found that 30% of college students today think that they should get at least “B” in a particular subject if they never miss a class.  When the author asked the same question to a group of college students in Connecticut, nearly 100% agreed with statement.  The author offered this suggestion as a cure for the prevailing attitude of our day.  She says an antidote to a skyrocketing self-worth is humility, evaluating yourself more accurately, mindfulness and putting others first.  Now that sounds incredibly Biblical doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, this type of narcissism has not escaped the church.  The reduction of Christianity to a mere “personal decision for Christ” has taught many believers in Jesus that that the Kingdom of God is here for one reason:  to serve them.  For example getting people to truly care about a hurting neighbor is incredibly difficult.  For many, if your neighbor disagrees with you politically, environmentally, or sexually, you can forget most Christians helping them out.  Why?  Well the prevailing thought is, “If you have the audacity to disagree with me, then your problems are your own fault,” and completely lacking humility, we use words like “dumb” or “stupid” or whatever else makes us feel morally superior.

If you want to gauge your own sense of Christian narcissism, take this little test.  Recall your most recent prayers.  Are there more petitions for your self than there are prayers for others and praises for God?  If so, perhaps you should ask who you think is serving whom?

Sadly, if your church preaches that the intention of God is to make you personally healthy, wealthy, wise, and completely remove your life of suffering, you can pack the place out.  In fact, you can build a tower of Christian Narcissism very easily; it’s just that you get to call it a church building.  But what we are going to see from the book of Romans this week is that the redemptive work of Jesus is about saving individuals, but it also about so much more.  Not wanting to make that mistake, let’s ask this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  The work of Jesus is about redeeming sinful people, but how is the work of Jesus about so much more than just that?

8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Now this is a bold a statement as any human being can make about suffering.  You have to ask, “Is it okay to say that the suffering of this time is not worth comparing to the glories of heaven while so many people are suffering immensely.  For example,

  • 171,000 Christians were martyred for their faith last year.
  • 7.6 million people worldwide die from cancer each year
  • 100,000 children died from Cancer in America alone
  • Or you can make it more personal.  Last week 2 children in Garner suffered massive burns all over their body when their house caught on fire.
  • A 6 year old girl died while waiting at a bus stop.
  • In Garner High School, over 60% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch which means the vast majority of students are living in incredibly difficult financial situations.

There is a lot of suffering in this world.  Right here in this congregation, we have had deaths in our families, long term sickness, loss of jobs, and on and on.  And Paul has the audacity to say that the present troubles and sufferings we are experiencing are not even worth comparing with the glory to be revealed.

You see, he is saying that the glories of Heaven are so great that you won’t even think about comparing your suffering to them because the glories will be so far outweigh whatever pain you are in right now.  Ask your self, “What would it take right now for you to not worry about your suffering?”  What incredible thing would have to happen for you to say, “It doesn’t matter if I am broke,” or “It doesn’t matter if I’m not healthy,” or fill in the blank with whatever it is you wish would go away right now.

Would it take unlimited money?  Would it take perfect health?  Would it take a perfect marriage or job or whatever?  Those things might be nice but none of them are intended to give you the joy that God intends to give you.  In fact, Paul wants your suffering to make you want real, true joy.

So, let’s ask this, “What makes the glories of Heaven so great that our present suffering can’t even compare?”  We saw that last week in verse 16-17 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”  Because God has made you His child, the Spirit causes your heart to cry, “Daddy, Father.”  Not only are you God’s children but you are heirs with Jesus Christ sharing glory in Heaven.  But if you are going to be like your brother Jesus in Heaven, you must be like Him in suffering here on Earth.

What makes the glories of Heaven so much greater than your suffering on earth is that you are a co-heir with Christ.  Not only are you forgiven.  Not only are you spared the torment of hell.  Not only are you privileged to spend eternity with the Father, but you are a co-heir with Christ sharing in the glory that He has earned for you.  You arrive in Heaven not as a prodigal son or daughter but as an obedient son and daughter through Jesus Christ.  And there, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, you will enjoy the redemption of your physical body while relishing in God’s presence without any physical limitations or pain.

I fear even to articulate these words with the fear that I have not done them justice.  Paul’s intention is to fill you with hope and expectation by giving you a big picture of your suffering.  Yes your present trials, sicknesses, heartaches, and pains are difficult.  But you do not have a Savior who is unacquainted with those things.  You know what you should do when you suffer?  Mediated on the sufferings of Christ.  You know why?  Because not only do your sufferings not come close to what He suffered, Jesus was perfect and all His sufferings were without merit.   He suffered when He should have been the one pouring out suffering for sin.  He suffered for those that inflicted His suffering.  Yet He endured it all to usher you and me into the glories of Heaven and then on top of that, He shares the glories of Heaven with you.

Now, once we get a big picture view of our suffering, Paul intends for us to get a big picture view of Jesus’ redemptive work.  Look at verse 19.

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Paul wants us to see a bigger picture of the effects of sin and a bigger picture of redemption in these verses.  Specifically, he speaks about how not only is the human heart affected by sin and the fall of mankind, but all of creation is as well.  So much so is physical creation and nature suffering that it longs for the day when God will redeem it again.  This will happen at the revealing of the sons of God which is another way of saying that creation will be redeemed when God’s children are ultimately redeemed in Heaven.  But this an often overlooked topic in scripture, so let’s dig in a bit.

How has creation been affected by sin?  Well verse 20 says it was subjected to futility and verse 21 says that it is in bondage to corruption.  Now if you read those verses carefully, you would see hope and redemption spread throughout them but we need to understand the prognosis before we pursue the prescription.  The word for futility here also translated frustration is the same word for vanity which is another way of saying that it is alienated.  Who or what are nature and creation alienated from?  Us.  Think about it.  What was God’s original intention for the relationship between mankind and creation?

Genesis 1:28 commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth and have dominion over it.  Making human’s responsible for subduing and dominion is making them vice-regents – that is an agent of the King who acts in the best interest of the king in His stead.  This is Kingdom language.  Which means creation and mankind should be living in harmony with humanity ruling over all creation with the same gracious, creative intent of God.  The Kingdom of God should have not only a spiritual impact on this world but a physical one as well.  You as God’s children are called to extend and spread the influence of the Kingdom of God in every area, arena, nook, and cranny of this world.

Now many people think that subdue and dominion is language to mean that people can treat nature and creation anyway they want but the Creator of the universe who just pronounced creation good is bequeathing to humans a responsibility.  Now, I refuse to have lengthy arguments here about the size of the hole in the ozone or whether there is global warming or not.  No matter what side of the argument you come down on, if all you do is argue pro or con about environmentalism then you have missed the point of this passage.

But reducing the language of subduing and dominion to the environment and our care of it is too narrow of a focus.  God’s intention is that man would rule and reign over all creation as if God Himself was doing it.  In light of sin, that job becomes pretty difficult.  These verses would say that your mere presence on this earth subjects creation to futility because you are sinful and the curse of the fall into sin is that the ground has been cursed because of your sin.  That is how bad your sin is.  You should thank God for every day you take another breath because you do it not at your own expense but at creation’s expense.  But your mere presence as a saved, redeemed child of God should also spread the influence of the Kingdom of God everywhere.

Here is where we begin to see that the redemptive work of Jesus is bigger than just saving individual sinners.  Creation groans because of your sin and the effects of sin but it also eagerly waits for your redemption and longs to be set free.  Verse 20 says that creation was subject to futility but it did so with hope knowing that God would redeem it one day.  Isa. 65 and 66, 2 Peter 3, and Rev 21 all speak of God making a new Heaven and a New Earth one day.  God is going to redeem everything that is tainted with the stain of sin.

Understanding that then, we need to understand what it would look like to have a big picture view of God’s redemptive work.  Look at verse 22

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Paul likens creation’s groaning and desiring to be redeemed to the groaning pain of childbirth.  Now, I know nothing of that kind of pain, but I have witnessed it a few times, so I can at least tell you what it should look like.  From my vantage point, the pains of childbirth that typically bring the glorious joys of children come about through a lot of grunting, sweating, agonizing, and sometimes even saying a few cuss words.

So what is creation groaning for?  It is groaning for two things:  It is groaning for you to be the proper vice-regent for God, but knowing that you are sinful, creation really longs for the ultimate redemption that God has promised it.  Paul’s point is that creation groans, groans like it is trying to push out a baby, for an ultimate, final redemption and YOU should groan for an ultimate, final redemption.

Your suffering reminds you that there is a redemption yet to come.  Your suffering is not intended to embitter or anger you but remind you that this place is not your home.  There is yet greater redemption and glory to come.  God has given you this picture of redemption, the firstfruits of the Spirit to encourage you and remind you that God is doing an ultimate work of redemption bringing His children and creation back to their original relationship with Him.  And I promise you, if you lose perspective on this you will not only become embittered but some of you very well may turn, shake your fist at God

We should groan and eagerly await just as creation does.  The physical earth will be redeemed and your physical body will be redeemed.  But we still don’t know how to play a part in this larger than we can imagine redemption that God is doing.  Well look at verse 24 and we will see How we play a larger part in God’s redemption of humanity and creation.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

You know some of us, really struggle with hope.  One of the main reasons folks struggle with hope is because they haven’t yet received the thing for which they hope.  So, I guess hope for most folks apparently has its limitations.  Why is that?  I would offer that our hope has its limitations because of our narcissistic nature.  We will hope in something as long as we know that we are going to get it which begs the question, “Is that really hope at all?

For example, when our children ask for something and we say that it is way too expensive, somewhere deep down inside, they still think they are going to get it.  Why?  Because we pretty much get our children whatever it is that they want.  Whenever we want something, we might say we are hoping to get it, but deep down inside we know we can charge it or we expect someone to get it for us.  And if we don’t get what we want?  We are disillusioned and disappointed and depressed.

In all honesty, we don’t know what hope is because we either aren’t patient enough to wait and we just go get what we want for ourselves or we just get angry and write off anybody or anything that doesn’t serve us immediately.  We are in essence spoiled brats.

But Paul says here, hope is the essence of salvation.  It is only hope if it is unseen which means it is beyond our grasp or beyond our ability to get it for ourselves.  If we only hope for things that we know we can get for ourselves or for things that we know people will get for us, it is not hope.  Do you want to take part in the grand redemption story that Jesus is undertaking?  Do you want to properly serve your role as vice regent?  If you do, the way in which that becomes a possibility is for you to have true, honest, earnest, hope and patience as we wait for God.

Unfortunately, what gets in our way of having hope is our impatience and to be honest, our low view of God.  We think He is constantly ready to destroy His children when He is actually about redeeming them.  We see every difficulty in the day to day as God’s curse and forget that God desires to redeem and not destroy His creation.

Spurgeon put it this way, “My Lord is more ready to pardon than you are ready to sin.  He is more able to forgive than you are to transgress. My Master is more willing to supply your wants than you are to confess them. Never tolerate low thoughts of my Lord Jesus.”  Since we are so impatient and don’t want to live in hope but instead want everything we want right now, we as a consequence live without hope or without great faith in God.  We would rather Him serve us instead of us serving Him.

You can’t very well point people to the hope they should have unless you have hope.  You can’t tell people that God can save a marriage unless you are willing to wait and trust that He is going to save yours.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting All Over Again

Well, the day has finally come. I’m leaving Xanga. Actually, I have left Xanga, and all of my posts from now on will appear at www.jgordonduncan.wordpress.com. www.jgordonduncan.com will also point to WordPress. Xanga just won’t do what I want it to do nor will it integrate properly with the new Sovereign King website. I’ll still let the Xanga site know when there are new posts over at WordPress but only for so long.

The biggest obstacle to the whole process has been what to do with 4 years worth of blogs on Xanga. Going back and looking at them made me realize that many of them really weren’t worth transferring anyway. Instead, what I will do from time to time is repost the ones that I think are worth reading. That way, I can properly tag them, and perhaps some of you who have recently begun reading can experience them for the very first time.

In addition, the Sovereign King sermon notes will also appear on this site. The old notes will stay at www.xanga.com/sovereignking, but going forward, I’ll post them at WordPress on Sunday evenings. The reason I’m doing that is because my sermons are in manuscript form and are essentially long journal articles, so if you are looking to do the work, they are relatively easy to read. So, going forward www.sovereignkingsermons.com will point to the new WordPress page.

Also, WordPress integrates with things like Twitter and the like, so it will be just one big happy webpage over there. Should be fun. Look for more changes (all good) to come in the next few months.

Gordon ponders.

Gordon ponders.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments