The Christian Home as the Context of Discipleship

For the first time in its history, Western civilization is confronted with the need to define the meaning and purpose of the word family. We as Christians recognize that the family is not merely a sociological development, nor a product of human evolutionary progress, but God’s good design for human living–the family is most basic unit of human society, and for us as Christians the primary context of discipleship. Biblically speaking, the family is grounded upon the integrity of biblical marriage, as one man and one woman who are of like faith and both seeking to know and love God. This is lived out in front of our children. Moreover, the family is the context in which children are seen as gifts from God to be raised, educated, spiritually trained, and disciplined for their well-being. It is within these contexts that you and I, and our children, face the most intimate and consistent challenges of our faith.

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Devotions on 1st Peter

For the past few months I have been writing devotions on 1st Peter for The Biblical Recorder, the North Carolina baptist newspaper. Each devotion is only 300 words and follows the outline of LifeWay’s Sunday school curriculum “Explore the Bible“. Perhaps you will find them helpful.

To download a PDF of the complete devotions on 1st Peter click here

Living with Lasting Hope (1 Peter 1:1-12)

The Apostle Peter penned First Peter to be circulated among God’s elect scattered throughout modern-day Turkey, an area that covered about 130,000 square miles. The purpose of the letter was to encourage the people of God in remaining faithful. We are reminded that Peter’s precious Savior Jesus Christ once charged him to feed the sheep. Here he does so very sweetly reminding them of the hope they have in the work of the triune God.

If there is anything that a troubled person needs, it is hope. And if there is anything that the promises of God in Christ offer, it is a hope that cannot be sabotaged. But sometimes Christians need to be reminded of this truth, especially when the cold dark clouds of suffering, distress and uncertainty block the horizon. Hope, according to Paul, calls believers to look beyond present circumstances towards an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.

This eternal hope has undeniable implications on how we face difficulty in the present life. There are many people around us who hold on to the empty philosophies of the world. Nevertheless, people continue to sacrifice their lives for these empty promises. Yet, for Christians we realize that Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be brought to God, the only one in whom our deepest needs could be met.

We need to be reminded of the hope we have in Christ. May the Spirit stir up a longing for our true home with God, and for the inheritance we have in Christ. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “observe that the inheritance is kept for the saints, and the saints for the inheritance.” This is certainly a message that should circulate among believers as we are scattered as strangers in a fallen world, awaiting the glorious appearing of our Savior. Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

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The Funniest Oil Anointing Story Ever…

In light of pastor appreciation month I wanted to share this video clip from one of Will Toburen‘s recent sermons. This story is famous around our church. I love and appreciate Will’s friendship, leadership, and gospel-centered preaching – I also appreciate his humility and sense of humor. Enjoy!… and share the joy with others.

Sermon Video: “Until the Coming of the Lord…” (James 5:1-12)

 

Last Sunday I preached from James 5:1-12, and titled the sermon “Until the Coming of the Lord…”. I am thankful for Will Toburen‘s willingness to share the pulpit, and for his devotion to developing other preachers at Calvary.

Saturday Seminar on Amos, Hosea, Jonah with Dr. Heath Thomas

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It’s time for another Saturday Seminar at Calvary! If you are a Bible Fellowship teacher, part of a Bible Fellowship teaching team, or just love to study the bible, you will not want to miss this training opportunity to learn from one of our Southeastern Baptist Theological  Seminary professors! Dr. Heath Thomas will be at Calvary Central Campus on Saturday, November 10th from 9am-12noon. Dr. Thomas will be walking us through Amos, Hosea, and Jonah.

Dr. Heath Thomas is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He earned a Ph.D. in Old Testament from the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham (United Kingdom) and has also done studies at Oxford University.

Dr. Thomas recently contributed a chapter on the minor prophets to a volume titled Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans, 2012). Thomas’ chapter has a very helpful section focusing on God’s address to the Twelve (Minor Prophets) which explores the themes of history and theodicy, Israel and the nations, the future hope, and life before God. The end of the chapter is wonderful. Thomas closes out his presentation by focusing on the story of Israel and the story of Jesus. He writes:

The story of Jesus serves as the climax to the story of Israel, as is apparent in the citation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”…a striking portrayal of Jesus as the true Israel, whose sojourn in and departure from Egypt intimates a ‘new exodus,’ during which Jesus proves faithful where Israel had not been. As Israel experienced the wilderness, Jesus too has his wilderness temptation (Matt. 4:1-11). But Jesus – as the faithful son of God (Matt. 4:3-6) and the true, obedient Israel – overcomes temptation and obeys the Father. Ultimately, Jesus as Israel is the Son in whom the Father is well pleased (Matt. 3:17). Readers of the Gospels receive the identity of Jesus and are invited to have faith in the Son and be incorporated into faithful Israel as well. By following him, Jesus disciples constitute the nucleus of eschatological Israel, of which Jesus is king.” (373)

The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family

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Introduction

In his classic work Knowing God, J.I. Packer poses and answers a very simple, yet profound question that gets to the heart of our faith. He writes:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father…[He continues] If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”[1]

Now, within this room we have various experiences concerning fatherhood; experiences that will influence how you approach the topic of fatherhood. Some of us have had wonderful fathers and see that God is like that, only more so. Some of us would say: my father disappointed me over and over. But, I pray, you will see that God is very different. Some of you in this room have never known what it is to have a father on earth. Hopefully, after considering the doctrine of adoption you can have a renewed thankfulness to God that you have a Father in heaven. In many ways the doctrine of adoption is one of the great theological categories that has been ignored in recent church history. For this reason, I would suspect that many Christians have at best a weak sense of their own sonship. Or, as puritan pastor Thomas Manton said, “years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it.”[2] Perhaps far too many people experience a relationship with Father God that seems somewhat remote and distant, failing to realize the intimacy and freedom we have in the gospel.

A Story of Adoption

I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Selamu into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house we were staying in and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house. It was a house full of orphaned children and infants. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, walked up to the second floor, and picked Selamu up out of his crib. He was in a room with about 6 other babies. Over the next few moments we could hear all of the women behind the gates kissing on and saying goodbye to little Selamu. Our worker opened the gate, walked out into the street, and handed us our son, Solomon. For what would happen next, I was woefully unprepared.

We turned and got back into the van. We got situated. Laura was holding Solomon. And as the van pulled off, Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip, holding on for dear life. Sure, Solomon was holding on to Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura who was holding on to Solomon. And Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son. It’s been a year now since Solomon was placed in our arms and the stranger the he wrapped his little baby arms around in that frightening moment in a van in Ethiopia, he now knows as “mommy.” That is the beginning of Solomon’s story with us. There is also a beginning to our story as a people.

A Biblical Theology of Adoption

If we start at the very beginning of creation, you know that God lovingly creates Adam and Eve. They were created in the image of God and thus were the living images of God on earth. Adam bore a relationship to God much like a child to a parent, begotten by the Father. Yet when Adam and Eve sin and break fellowship with God, they are cast out of God’s presence and away from his care. In essence, Adam and Eve orphaned the whole human race. Yet, we are not merely orphans, our plight is much worse, we were orphaned into slavery under sin.[3]

Ever since then, the human race has not intimately known the love of the Father in the purest sense. And yet, even though the relationship was broken at the fall, very quickly we see the adoptive love of God. Several generations later God chooses Abraham and proclaims, through your offspring I will make you a Father of a mighty nation, a nation that will be a blessing to the whole world. As the story continues, people are fruitful and multiply. Out of the many nations there is one nation that is small and weak, from the seed of Abraham, Israel. God adopts Israel as “son” through a covenant relationship, and redeems Israel from slavery. Several times in the Old Testament God calls Israel “my son.”[4] The imagery is that of a tender and loving father raising his child, disciplining his child, and showing mercy to his child.[5] Out of Israel God raises a King, David, to whom God promises “I will be a Father to him, and he shall be my son to me,” speaking of David’s offspring.[6]

Seen here, the promise made to Abraham is set by the adoption of Israel, narrowed by the lineage of David, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true son of God that will succeed where God’s first son, Adam, failed. Jesus is the one who is from the family of Abraham who will be the blessing to all nations. Jesus is the one from the royal lineage of David who will reign on the throne forever. Now “adoption is never used of Jesus because he had always been a son of God by nature, and unlike us, he does not need to be adopted…into a new relationship with God as Father.”[7] But we do. Our first parents orphaned us. In the New Testament it is very clear that when you repent of your sinfulness and place your faith in Christ, you are adopted.  You are brought into the family of God. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:26, “…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” As Children of God we find our identity from the Father, our intimacy from the Father, our imperative from the Father, and our inheritance from the Father.

Galatians 4:1-7

[1] I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, [2] but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. [3] In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. [4] But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

[6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Our Identity from the Father (4:6a)

You often hear people say things like “all people are children of God”. However, “the idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere.”[8] Now, there is a sense in which all human beings are God’s offspring by virtue of being made in his image,[9] but the language that Paul uses here in verse 6 reveals a much deeper kind of relationship. The Greek verb translated adopt literally means “to place as a son.” According to Paul, sonship to God is a gift of grace.[10] It is not a natural, but an adoptive sonship.[11] We are made sons through the work of the unique son of God, Jesus Christ, because he came, as we just read in verse 5, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. So the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but being born again. As John 1:12-13 tells us,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Do you see why this is important? What we see in verse 6 is a declarative statement: “You are sons!”[12]  In the ancient world, if we were to look at adoption from a legal context, most cases would be that a “wealthy childless man might take into his family a slave youth who thus, by a great stroke of fortune, ceased to be a slave and became a son or an heir.”[13] Slaves are bound to work for their master; sons are free to serve the Father. Either we are serving our flesh, and we are slaves to sin, or we are serving our Father, and we are slaves to righteousness. So, the “image of adoption [here] is a particularly well chosen one because it illustrates, in a way nothing else can, the nature of our relationship to God in Christ. As an adopted child is not the natural offspring of his adopted parents, but neither is his/her presence in the household an accident. His parents have deliberately chosen him and made him a member of their family. [That child is brought into the family by an] act of will that is sealed in love and self-sacrifice.”[14]

There is such assurance and security in the Father’s love for us because adoption is a declaration God makes about us. It is irreversible, dependent entirely upon his gracious choice, in which he says:  ‘You are my son, today I have brought you into my family.’”[15] So we have absolute security and stability in the family of God. We see that our identity is found in our position before God. We have been made sons. “Just as a child does not worry about getting fired for disobeying the rules…so we know that God’s affection for us is deep”[16] and abiding. If adoption is about anything, it is about belonging, a belonging where God as Father pulls you into his loving household and declares you are mine! This should give us a secure identity in who we are. We are the children of God. There is no need to define ourselves because we are not our own creators. The creator alone has the right to define his creation. Our identity is something given to us from the father. So, if our identity is set, how do we experience our identity?  “God the Father sent the Son in order that believers might have the position of sons and He sent the Son in order that believers might have the experience of the same reality.”[17]

Our Intimacy with the Father (4:6b)

Some pastors and theologians have argued that adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers, namely because of its relational context. Consider it this way, “…in a court of law a person may be acquitted by the judge of all charges against him; but this acquittal does not make the person a member of the judge’s family.”[18] So, yes – when God justifies us and forgives us of sin, he also gives us the identity as a child of God, but “he [also] sends his Spirit that we might have an experience of sonship.”[19] Interestingly enough, ancient “adoptions required a witness of the transaction.”[20] Paul is arguing that the Spirit gives witness to our adoption in Christ. The Spirit of God confirms and authenticates. He gives us a deep-seated persuasion of our identity as sons and daughters of the living God.[21] How does the Christian experience this security of relationship with God the father? Paul suggests that one of the ways a Christian experiences this reality is through prayer. In verse 6 the verb “cry out” denotes a loud or earnest cry.[22] Based on the construction of the Greek it seems that it “…is the Spirit who cries out to God the Father on behalf of the believer,” or better yet, through the believer.[23] It is the indwelling Spirit of God that teaches the believer to come to God as Abba.[24]

Not too long ago, Laura and I were sitting in our driveway as Solomon was outside playing. All of the sudden, Solomon let out a glass shattering scream, the kind of scream that every parent dreads. Within seconds, he was in my arms – whimpering and shaking. Oh, by the way, he had seen a worm. Dads know these moments all too well. Children can remember these moments also. When the thunder and lightning is too loud. When the child falls and gets hurt. When your child wakes up from a nightmare. Who do they cry out for?

The word ‘Abba’ is “an Aramaic expression that may have been derived originally from the first syllables uttered by an infant.”[25] It is the term of familial intimacy, endearment, used by children towards their Fathers. Moreover, Abba is the term that Jesus, the unique son of God, himself used[26] in addressing God.[27] I think “…something of shock is implied in using this word as an address for God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth…The sense of awe and holy wonder that accompanied the praying”[28] in this manner. It’s almost as if when saying Abba, one is to experience the joy of sonship, a feeling that God was drawing him into an almost frightening intimacy.[29]

We do not serve a distant God. There is free access to our loving Father through Jesus Christ. Our adoption is the basis of Christian prayer. The Father is always accessible to his children and is never too preoccupied to listen to what they have to say. Because of the personal nature of the relationship, prayer should be free and bold. Most of the time, children do not prepare speeches to their parents. There is a spontaneity and freedom to express themselves transparently because of the security of the relationship. When Solomon talks to me it is not mechanical or even formal, it’s warm and free. And trust me, the boy likes to talk. Even though he can formulate well-articulated sentences, he feels secure enough to just ramble – because he knows I care. Just as a child calls out automatically to the nearby daddy when there is a problem or a question, so shall we, as children of God, call on our heavenly Father.  Just as a child does not doubt the security and openness of daddy’s strong arms, so we, as God’s children, have an overwhelming boldness and certainty in our Father’s loving care.

Far too much we stand back “at a distance [and are] very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushing right in, [and grabs ahold of his father]. The child has a right that no-one else has…it is instinctive.”[30] Perhaps we should “imitate the…child who is not afraid to ask his parents for [things openly], because he knows he can count completely on their love.”[31] We are free to take our problems and desires to him without fear of being ignored or rejected. We also know that the Father will answer us according to our best interest. See, this is a total experience, embracing every aspect of our lives and filling us with the joy of knowing that we are loved, and that we can rest in his presence knowing that we are safe in his everlasting arms. Moreover, we have a new authority over sin and the evil one, our adoption removes the fear that is at the root of much of our disobedience.

Our Imperative from the Father (4:7a)

God’s purpose was both to redeem and adopt; not just to rescue from slavery, but turn slaves into sons. No longer are believer’s “relationships determined by…race, rank, or role.”[32] They are secure in the family of God. Now, “in the ancient world family membership was the primary context of social, religious, economic and political security and fulfillment. To move from one family system to another was an event of life changing importance.”[33] By implication, when brought into a new family – new expectations were placed on you as a son or daughter. So what is Paul saying when he argues that we are no longer slaves but sons? In verse 3 he argues that all of orphaned humanity is enslaved to the “elementary principles of the world.” In other words, we are enslaved to the broken and evil worldly philosophies, legalistic ethical systems, and distorted freedoms of the flesh. When you were enslaved to these things you worked for them. They held you in bondage, you did their bidding.

Essentially, as sons and daughters of Eve you are born into a family of orphans who by their very nature are enslaved to the depraved systems of the world. Therefore, it is quite natural to act as one far from God. But something happens when one is adopted into the family of God. See, adoption brings with it benefits as well as responsibilities of family membership.[34] When an orphaned child is placed into a new family, “the adopted child inherits a new family narrative and is expected to live and act in accordance with that story and its ancestral heritage.”[35] As believers we have all been given the status as God’s sons[36], and thus have been granted the freedom and power to use sonship responsibly. Just because God adopts you freely by his grace, it does not mean that you can abuse his grace and behave anyway you want. Remember Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! Paul also writes in Ephesians 5:1; Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“If the church is the family of God’s adopted sons and daughters, then it is they more than all people in earth who ought to reflect and mirror”[37] a likeness of God before the watching world. “As witnesses to his grace and beneficiaries of his love”[38] we are to respond in worshipful obedience. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that children of the Father are called to reflect their family likeness in their conduct. How we behave, what we say, and the things we do all advertise who we are.

Consider Solomon. Solomon loves to please Laura and I. He is a picky eater, and by picky he always wants cookies and candy for dinner, much like his father. Not too long ago Laura made his dinner and he would not touch his peas. I didn’t get it. He has eaten peas before, and told us how much he liked them. But there in that moment he decided that he didn’t want them. Once he realized that Laura and I wanted him to eat his peas because they are good for him and because it would make us happy, he ate them with joy. He even said “Daddy, Mommy, watch me!” Solomon’s obedience does not make him more of a son, but he loves for us to delight in his loving obedience. His obedience is nothing more than trusting us; that we know what’s best for him.

What motivates us to live like a son of God? I think Jonathan Edwards was very wise when he argued that the root of all human action is the affections. “By affections he meant something deeper than feelings. He saw them as the fundamental loves and hates of the whole person.”[39] The affections are the source from which our behaviors flow. If the love of the Father will not make a child delight in him, and delight in pleasing him, what will?[40] We are not to behave as slaves, but as sons. If we are children of God, there should be a family resemblance. We should take great delight in living in a way that pleases the Father. And when we don’t, his love also allows us to accept the Father’s discipline and change accordingly.

In Paul’s world, royal children had to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with us as children of the King of Kings. The clue to understanding the Father’s discipline is to remember that in our lives you are being trained for what awaits you; you are being molded into the image of Christ.[41]

Our Inheritance from the Father (4:7b)

In the time Paul wrote this letter, it was the firstborn who inherited the Father’s “estate,” and it was his right to determine how much each of his brothers and sisters would get. In Colossians we read that Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.[42]In this way, Christ, as firstborn, holds all the rights to His Father’s kingdom. He owns everything! Everything was created for him. What does Christ do for us as fellow children of the living God? He lovingly and graciously makes us co-heirs with him.

Being in Christ makes one a son of God and thus an heir of God. How often do we reflect on this glorious truth? When one is adopted in Christ, they cease to be a slave and receive all the legal and financial privileges within the Father’s estate as a result of God’s grace.[43]This is why Peter writes in his first epistle, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”[44]How often do we set our hope on the grace that is to come when Jesus returns? When Jesus returns he will overwhelm us with his grace. As the Father’s beloved children we will enter into our inheritance and that of our co-heir, Jesus Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth God will be fully ours to enjoy and be satisfied forever. But for now, it is clear that our sonship is just beginning. It is evident in the Bible that although believers already experience an official status as sonship in Christ through the Spirit…such sonship has not been revealed publically to the cosmos.[45] As Paul writes in Romans 8:15ff,

 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Church, there will come a time when our sonship is declared climactically through the resurrection of our bodies.[46] Just as we read in 1 John 3:1-3:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

There will be a day when our status as children of God is evident to all creation; a day when we experience our sonship in purity and fullness, much like what our first parents experienced in the presence of God before the fall. Why do we allow our lives to be so dominated by our problems, temptations, and sins? Why do we often forget what lies ahead? Why can’t we, like Paul, proclaim For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. I pray that God would teach us to look upward and forward to our final adoption. This is not merely a possibility or likelihood, but a guaranteed certainty, a promised inheritance. Since Jesus rose from the grave this promise was made secure. As we look forward we long for the experience of heaven, a family gathering. On that day a great host of the redeemed meet will together in face-to-face fellowship with the Father-God and Jesus. If you are a believer, and so an adopted child, this should satisfy you completely beyond anything in this world.[47]

Continue reading “The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family”

The Barbershop Sessions 2012: Gospel

Saturday Seminar on 1 & 2 Peter with Dr. Ed Gravely

To sign up for the seminar click here

It’s time for another Saturday Seminar at Calvary! If you are a Bible Fellowship teacher, part of a Bible Fellowship teaching team, or just love to study the bible, you will not want to miss this training opportunity to learn from one of our Southeastern Baptist Theological  Seminary professors! Dr. Ed Gravely will be at Calvary on Saturday, August 25th from 9am-12noon. Dr. Gravely will be walking us through 1 & 2 Peter.

Dr. Ed Gravely is professor for Biblical Studies, History of Ideas, and is the Coordinator for the Charlotte Extension Center of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Gravely earned a Ph.D. from SEBTS with a focus on textual criticism. Dr. Gravely also serves as pastor for Discipleship at Christ Community Church in Huntersville NC.

To sign up for the seminar click here

An Introduction to The Book of Judges

Introduction

While the book of Joshua highlights the possession of the Promised Land, the book of Judges illuminates the stains on this accomplishment. Judges contains the history of Israel during the transition from centralized leadership in the desert under Moses and Joshua to the centralization of leadership in Jerusalem under David and Solomon.[1] The statement that “there was no king in Israel in those days; each man did what was right in his own eyes” summarizes this period of time.[2] So, “although the Israelites dwell physically in the Promised Land their disobedience prevents their enjoyment of the promised blessings.”[3]

The Structure and Cycle in Judges

The book of Judges has a structure that breaks quite nicely into three parts[4]:

  1. An overview story of the failure to complete the conquest (1:1-2:5)
  2. The stories of judges, which collectively portray a downward spiral of repeated cycles of sin, judgment, distress, and deliverance (2:6-16)
  3. Two final stories of religious and moral depravity (17-21)

There is also a ‘cycle’ that flows through the narrative of Judges. The ‘cycle’ is introduced in 2:11-19 and repeated in 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1. Heath Thomas describes the cycle as follows:

  1. Israelites rebel against God
  2. God raises up an oppressor
  3. The Israelites cry out to God
  4. God raises up a deliverer (Judge)

Thomas argues that this cycle teaches us the propensity for Israel (and us) to sin, the power of prayers and confession, and the mercy of God, both for Israel (and for sinners today).

Theology of Judges

Drawing from the theology learned in Deuteronomy, Israel’s leaders were to be constantly reminding Israel of God’s covenant faithfulness to them using past events as well as point to His ongoing and continued faithfulness. Israel was to fear the Lord and keep the covenant.[5] In the threat of apostasy and opposition from foreign nations God raises up judges to lead the people in battle and renewal. The judges are mostly “fighters and adventurers”[6] who play a role in discerning and deciding in a lawless time. Goldsworthy notes that the “…giving of the Spirit to the judges indicates that what the Israelites could not do for themselves, God does for them through a chosen, Spirit-powered  human being.”[7] But the judges were temporary means of grace to the people.

Alec Motyer notes that the judges ultimately failed because “they came, they delivered, they went, they achieved no permanent blessing or security, and they interrupted but did not change the deadly sequence of apostasy and captivity.”[8] So while the judges’ help achieved limited relief, they failed to bring a permanent solution. Therefore, one of the purposes of the book is to address the difficulty that Israel’s leadership faced in leading the people of God to fear the Lord and keep covenant. Judges demonstrates the failure of Israel’s leadership to pass on the knowledge of God to the next generation or to lead them in covenant keeping.

Daniel Block writes that “…the book of Judges is not so much a written memorial to Israel’s heroes in the Early Iron Age as a witness to Yahweh’s gracious determination to preserve his people by answering their pleas and providing deliverance.”[9] If not for God’s mercy and grace, Israel would go the way of death. But, Judges testifies to the grace of God. As sinful as Israel is, God’s grace still abounds.[10] It is important to note that ultimately the hero in the book was never one of the judges. As already stated, the judges failed and the people long for a greater judge. Therefore, the hero of Judges is God. The temporary role of a judge pointed people towards an ideal covenant keeping leader. “For the writer, the right kind of leader – exemplified by King David – was essential for transforming the people of God.”[11] This type of leader came into fruition with Jesus Christ. To outline a theology of Judges simply:

  1. Judges reveals God’s plan, purpose, and character: His faithfulness to his covenant. His patience and compassion in delaying judgment upon his people.
  2. Judges reveals the human heart: Our inability to serve God faithfully and our need to be reminded of God’s covenant faithfulness.
  3. Judges also points to Christ, the perfect leader who alone can truly redeem, change hearts, and reveal God.

The Judges and Jesus Christ[12]

Point by point the book of Judges traces the religious, political, moral, and social collapse of Israel. “The book of Judges called its original audience to follow a leader who would lead them in knowing and fearing the Lord. In its place in the Christian cannon, it issues the same call, except that the king is Jesus.”[13] The following points are taken from J. Alan Groves:

  1. The unfaithfulness of the judges and kings ultimately cost Israel the Promised Land. Jesus’ perfect faithfulness secures heaven itself for his people.
  2. The judges were unable to bring about permanent peace. Jesus, from the line of David (Tribe of Judah), brought about an enduring kingdom and eternal peace.
  3. Judges urged the need for a king, from Judah, who would fear God, live in covenant faithfulness, and lead the people in doing the same. Jesus, who was from the tribe of Judah, feared God and lived in perfect obedience to the Father, giving his people a perfect example. Yet, even more so, Jesus sends His Spirit and do what the judges and kings could not accomplish, break the cycle of sin and deliver the people of God by changing their hearts and empowering them to be faithful to God.

A Theology of Work

“The doctrine of vocation amounts to a comprehensive doctrine of the Christian life, having to do with faith and sanctification, grace and good works. It is a key to Christian ethics. It shows how Christians can influence culture. It transfigures ordinary, everyday life with the presence of God…The priesthood of all believers did not make everyone into church workers; rather it turner every kind of work into a sacred calling.”[1]

Introduction

For most people work is a major part of their existence. More often than not, the second question one will receive after exchanging names in initial conversation is “so, what do you do?” In ancient societies one would derive their primary meaning in life from family, namely in fulfilling a subscribed social role as father, mother, brother, etc. Work was only a means to provide life’s necessities. But in our culture we define ourselves by what we do, where we work, and where we are on the corporate ladder. Because of this there is more psychological and emotional pressure tied to our work than ever before. In a society where productivity and utilitarian values reign, work is seen as one of the most important functions of our lives. Christians are no exception. With the increase of connectivity to work through mobile devices “…vocations occupy a great deal of most Christians’ lives and tends to define their existence in ways that transcend the workplace.”[2] Unlike the agricultural economies of the past, where work ceased when the sun went down, work in modern society continues day and night. Even in our leisurely hobbies many of us are drawn to activities that involve some kind of work.  It seems that having a biblical foundation to understand the role and purpose of work is of increasing importance. Yet John Hammett observes:

“…churches rarely give their members teaching on how to integrate their vocational life as part of their Christian life. As a result, most Christians think about their work as a separate compartment, something outside of their Christian life. But since we are called to be full time Christians, then our work must be part of our service to God.”[3]

Fortunately the bible is not silent about work and vocation. The biblical narrative overflows with work. From the opening lines of Genesis to the last word in Revelation work and vocation are a fixture in creation order. While work should not be the meaning of one’s life, there is a sense in which one cannot have a meaningful life without some form of productive work. So, what is the proper place of work?

Developing a Theology of Work

Human beings were created and placed in paradise and given work to do. We read in Genesis 2:15 that “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Notice that the call to work occurs before the fall of man and is included within the description that all God had made was “very good”. Hammett rightly describes work not as a necessary evil but, as God intended, part of our created nature and good.[4] In other words, work is not a curse; it is something we were designed to do. There are several theological implications that flow from the doctrine of creation that impact our work and vocation. As a foundational point, “productive work is ordained by God and inherently dignified”.[5]

  1. Work reflects the image of God in us: From creation to new creation God works. We see God’s work not only in creation but also in sustaining and providentially governing all of creation order.[6] Moreover, we look ahead to God’s recreation of the entire cosmos.[7] Therefore, in a certain sense, man reflects God in his creativity, energy, and authority in exercising dominion over and cultivating the earth.[8] Probably every one of us has tasted at some time a deep satisfaction of a job well done. In those times we can look at the work of our hands and proclaim that ‘it is good’.
  2. Work is tied to our calling in creation: Beyond the initial call to work and keep the garden, Adam and Eve were told to be fruitful and multiply.[9] The vocation of parenthood is added on to the care of creation[10] as work given to humanity. All of these activities could be categorized under the calling of humans to propagate life and develop culture. Furthermore, we are to exercise great care over what we have been given.

Again, it is important to note that work is part of God’s good will for humanity.[11] This is why Paul writes in Colossians “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord”[12]. Obviously, one must take into account the fall of humanity when discussing any particular aspect of humanity from a theological perspective. In Genesis 3:17-19 we find that immediately after the fall a curse is laid upon humanity which affects work.[13] As Richard Phillips notes, “the introduction of sin into the garden changed the nature of work.”[14] Several observations can be made on this point.[15]

  1. We encounter resistance, rather than cooperation, in our work: There is an objective change in our bodies and in physical creation as a result of human sin, therefore all work, though rewarding, is also mixed with frustration, difficulty, monotony, and sometimes requires enduring pain.[16] Underlying much of this difficulty is a deep sense in each of us that work is supposed to be meaningful and enjoyable. But, Meredith Kline notes that even with the “…curse of man it is presupposed that man’s dominion over the earth would be continued and that here too divine blessing would be granted on man’s labor to such a degree that human life would be sustained and cultural satisfactions realized.”[17]
  2. While work was created to be a blessing, post fall it becomes an occasion of temptation: Consider humanities capacity towards injustice and oppression.[18] We have all seen or experienced someone using their work for worldly glory or self-power. Furthermore, there is also the temptation of laziness in our work.[19] The Apostle Paul addresses this in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 when he writes, “…If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”.
  3. We naturally tend to make work an idol: Work often provides us with a sense of worth and self-esteem and thus temporarily satisfies needs within our own soul.[20] “Because God is good and has chosen to be glorified through our labor, we are able to enjoy work and find a significant part of our identity in it.”[21] But work becomes an idol when one is devoted to it in an unhealthy way, not allowing any rest (Sabbath) in the quest for satisfaction or making a name for oneself. Work always fails to satisfy completely.[22] It needs to be established that our work is not salvific, nor is it the most important aspect of our lives.

Though the fall has affected our work in a significant way, the presence of sin does not change our calling to be workers. Therefore, we need some sort of salvation for our work, to put it another way, our work needs to be transformed by the gospel.

  1. We work as a means to honor Christ: Any job that is undertaken should be aimed at blessing others and glorifying God.[23] Since work is an inherent part of our human nature as created in God’s image, we should work as to glorify God.
  2. We work as a testimony to others: The reality of God’s dominion over us, and Christ’s love in us should be on display in the quality of our work. If the goal of our work is to glorify God then we are enabled to value all honorable types of work, regardless of their monetary value and cultural utilitarian purposes.
  3. We work to provide for our own needs as well as the needs of others: We are not only called to provide for our families (thus our own needs)[24] but also to be generous in sharing with others and providing for those in genuine need.[25] Our work should benefit others to the glory of God. God does not need our work, but man does. Gene Edward Veith Jr. notes that “when God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people”[26].

In all of these things, we as Christians keep in mind that we await the new heavens and new earth where there will be rest from work in this fallen world[27], and work will be as it was before the fall.[28] In other words, heaven will not be an eternal vacation, but all good aspects of human culture will be continued in a pure state. It seems that Scripture teaches us that part of our reward for faithfulness in this life is a capacity for increased work alongside of Jesus in the new heavens and new earth.[29] Though for now, as we wait for that day, let us work hard to the glory of God.

Principles for Working to the Glory of God

While the New Testament provides general characteristics regarding the conduct of Christians in the world, we also find general admonitions to heed in the work environment.

  1. Christians should work hard and not be idle.[30]
  2. Christians should work hard and mind their own business.[31]
  3. Christians should respect authority structures in the workplace.[32]

In essence, the Christians work should reflect their faith in Christ and be dedicated to his glory. This dedication helps us avoid idleness, meddling in issues that are not ours, and upholding the common grace structures that God has provided in this fallen world. “In a world where sin pervades the workplace, basic things like maintaining ones integrity, using sound speech, and not stealing provide testimony to the reality of God’s grace and power of the gospel.”[33] As Tim Keller has written, “…the Bible tells us that Jesus has to be the Lord of every area of life…The gospel shapes and affects the motives, manner, and methods with which we carry out every task in life, including our vocation.”[34] Richard Phillips provides 6 questions that are helpful in sifting through our own philosophy of work and personal vocation.[35]

  1. Does my work glorify God?
  2. Does my work benefit man?
  3. Do I consider myself “right’ for this job, or can I at least do it well and find enjoyment in that?
  4. Does my work provide for material needs?
  5. Does my work permit me to lead a godly and balanced life?

Finally Ben Witherington suggests, “…we are all called to be workers and that is an essential part of our purpose and mission on earth, all the more so since we now have God’s salvation in Christ to proclaim to the world. We all have limited time on earth, whether short or long, and we all have a God-given purpose on earth, regardless of whether we realize it.”[36]

Final Theological Considerations

In Christian theology work is implicitly tied to Sabbath rest. Sabbath is patterned after God resting on the seventh day of creation.[37] It’s not that God was tired, but that God was finished. When God is finished with each work of creation he proclaims that ‘it is good.’ In essence God was declaring that he was utterly satisfied with what had been done. Sabbath means to cease from, and to enjoy the results of, your work. I believe this principle can be applied to our own work in a certain sense. To rest means that we are satisfied with what’s been done. Is this not the only way we can walk away for our work? Two implications of Sabbath rest are tied to this principle.[38]

  1. Rest from work is an act of liberation[39]: Sabbath was designed to show you that there is more to you than your work. If you cannot rest from work you are a slave to your work. Many of us are over committed and are always busy. Rest enables us to remind ourselves that our work does not define who we are.
  2. Rest from work is an act of trust: You will not take time off unless you truly believe that you are not God. Things will not fall apart if we take a time to rest. In his sovereignty God providentially holds all things together. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[40]

Ultimately Sabbath rest is found in Christ and in Christ alone. The deeper work of the soul is satisfied in Christ’s call from the cross that “it is finished”[41]. Through Jesus and only Jesus can you get the deep rest of the soul that enables vocational rest. Remember his words, “come to me all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…take my yoke…you will find rest for your souls.”[42] When you are in Christ God looks at you and says, ‘it is good’. The only set of eyes in the world that you have to prove yourself to has already declared, because of your union with Christ, “…you are my beloved Child in whom I am well pleased”[43]. As Tim Keller has said, “…external rest of the body, however, is impossible without inner rest from anxiety and strain. It takes the deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation[44] to avoid over-work. Only then will you be able to regularly walk away and rest from your vocational work.”[45]

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