Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What You've Always Wanted

Part 3 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

You can listen to this sermon here.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:1-2). 

The Worst Thing That Can Happen to Us 

In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie desperately wants a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. But the adults in his life—his mother, his teacher, even the department store Santa Claus—keep telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” It appears unlikely that Ralphie will get what he most wants for Christmas. But on Christmas morning, Ralphie’s father surprises him with one last present: a Red Ryder air rifle. An excited Ralphie goes outside to try out his gift. His first shot ricochets off a metal sign and hits the lens of his glasses. He almost shot his eye out. Getting what he wanted for Christmas almost became the worst thing to happen to Ralphie.

What have you always wanted? People say, “If I could […], then I’d be happy.” We are all prone to think, “If I could get what I’ve always wanted, then I’d be happy.”

Getting what we’ve always wanted can be the worst thing to happen to us. 

Tim Keller tells about a woman he knew who desperately wanted to have children. Eventually she did have two children, but she didn’t live happily ever after. She wanted to give her children perfect lives, but she became so overprotective and so demanding that she made her children and herself miserable. Keller comments, “There’s a good chance her drive to give her children won-derful lives will eventually be the thing that ruins them.” Her problem was not that she loved her children too much but that she loved God too little. [1]

In the book of Genesis, Abraham desperately wanted a son—a son who would fulfill the promises given to Abraham by God. Eventually a miracle son was born to Abraham and his wife Sarah. But years later God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). [2] God wanted to make sure that that Abraham getting a son would not be the worst thing to happen to him.

Now I Know You Love Me

God didn’t really want Isaac to die. God’s command was a test of Abraham’s devotion (“God tested Abraham,” v. 1). Whom did Abraham love more: God or Isaac? John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3]

1. When God gives us what we’ve always wanted, there is the danger of loving the gift more than the giver. 

Just before Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the LORD stopped him. He said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Are there any “Isaacs” in our lives that need to be demoted (not necessarily removed).

2. When our love for God begins to fade, we must remember that he gave up his Son for us. 

What God asked Abraham to do, God actually did. [4]  He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). When we understand what God has done for us, we say, “Now I know that you love me.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

God Is Not Merely a Gift-Giver 

Some of you probably remember the Cabbage Patch craze. Cabbage Patch dolls were the must-have gift of 1983. Children desperately wanted them, and parents were desperate to give them—sometimes even resorting to violence. According to Wikipedia, “Reports of violence included hitting, shoving, trampling as well as some customers attacking others with hand-held weapons such as baseball bats in order to obtain a Cabbage Patch doll.” [5]

God is not a means to an end (i.e., just a gift-giver).Would you be happy in heaven if it contained all of God’s good gifts but not God himself? That would be like a child saying he would like to have Christmas if it included all the gifts but not his parents.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 1-3.
[2] It’s unclear how old Isaac was at this time. The text provides a few clues that suggest he was not a little boy and that he might have been willing to die.
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Skeptics often try to discredit the Bible by saying that God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was im-moral. But if the incident was meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus, the heart-wrenching nature of the test helps us further appreciate God’s love for us in the giving up of his Son.
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabbage_Patch_riots.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Image Is Everything

Part 2 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Romans 1:18-25

You can listen to this sermon here.

[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:23). 

Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).

A Foolish Trade 

Have you ever made a bad trade?

In Romans 1, the apostle Paul declares that those who worship idols have made a foolish trade. He writes that idolaters “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (v. 23). Paul also states that idolaters “exchanged the truth for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25).

Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. Idolaters exchange the worship of God for the worship of a substitute.

Resembling Our God

How does our worship—either of God or an idol—affect us?

Paul was probably thinking of Psalm 106:19-20 when he wrote verse 23: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” The psalmist is referring to the golden calf incident. After God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they “made a golden calf” (Exod. 32:4) and “worshiped it” (Exod. 32:8).

The worship of the golden calf took place while Moses was receiving God’s commands for the Israelites. And what were the first two commands? First, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). And, second, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5).

After the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, God described them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exod. 32:9; cf. 33:3, 5; 34:9; 2 Chron. 30:8; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29; Jer. 7:26; Acts 7:51). The golden calf would have been a bull (an ox?), a stiff-necked animal. The Israelites resembled their idol. [1] Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them” (cf. Ps. 135:18; Isa. 42:17-20). This is true for both traditional idolaters and idolaters of the heart. 

We become like what we worship. 

We were not made to worship and resemble an idol; we were made to worship and resemble God. Genesis 1:26 says that God made us “in [his] image, after [his] likeness.” When we worship idols, God’s image in us is distorted. Idolatry is a distortion of reality. Idolaters think they are wise, but they’re really fools. Traditional idolaters pray to idols who “have ears, but do not hear” (Ps. 115:6). Idolaters of the heart seek happiness in things that can’t satisfy. Paul says that idolaters “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18; cf. vv. 21-22).

Ruin and Restoration

In his book We Become What We Worship, G. K. Beale writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” [2] In Romans, the Greek word for “image” (eikon) occurs twice: “images [i.e., idols] resembling moral man and birds and animals” (1:23) and “the image of [God’s] Son” (8:29). Idols ruin God’s image in us. God restores his image in us.

Idolatry is really the root of all sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they doubted the goodness of God. They thought that God was withholding something from them that would make them happy. The serpent said to Eve, “God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4). Adam and Eve made knowledge an idol, desiring to eat the fruit more than desiring to obey God. Their idolatry brought ruin to their lives. And Adam became like his idol, acting like a know-it-all when con-fronted by God about his disobedience (Gen. 3:12).

When we give our hearts to God, he begins to restore his likeness in us. 

Do you want to know what God’s image looks like? It looks like Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). For God to restore his image in us means to make us like Jesus: “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). The gospel is the story of God’s restoration plan.

Image Is Everything

Back in the ‘90s, Andre Agassi used to be on Canon camera (EOS Rebel) commercials, and the slogan was “Image is everything.” The image that Agassi portrayed in those commercials seems kind of silly today.

For God, image is everything. He made us to be like him. He made us to know him. When we trade God for idols, we further distort his image in us. In the end, there will be ruin.

Salvation is not just about delivering us from God’s wrath against our sin. It’s also about restoring us. Contrary to popular opinion, obeying and imaging God is the path to true happiness.

[1] The Israelites repeatedly acted in a stiff-necked manner in the wilderness, refusing to obey God. This was espe-cially seen when they refused to enter the promised land.
[2] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 16.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Idol Factory

Part 1 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Exodus 20:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). 

Idols of the Heart

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Is idolatry a problem in our city? Yes, it is. This afternoon, our city will be filled with idolatry. Mic Mac Mall and Dartmouth Crossing will be crowded with shoppers worshipping the idol of materialism. People will be visiting salons and gyms worshipping the idol of physical beauty. Football fans will be seated in front of TVs worshipping the idol of sports. Idolatry is a problem in our city because it’s a problem that originates in our hearts.

The human heart is an idol factory. 

When John wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” he was probably writing to Christians living near or in the city of Ephesus. [1] In Ephesus, there was both traditional idolatry and idolatry of the heart (cf. Ezek. 14:3, 4, 7). Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (see Acts 19:21-41). The worship of Artemis was traditional idolatry. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Covetousness is one form of idolatry of the heart.

How to Make an Idol 

What is idolatry? John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [2] Tim Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [3]

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes than an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [4] Whenever there is a financial crisis, there are some people who commit suicide. Without their money, life isn’t worth living. Money is their god. 

Idolatry is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. 

Something like sports is a good thing. But if we begin to care more about sports than God, we have committed idolatry.

Guarding Against Idolatry

In 1 John 5:21, the Greek word for “keep” (phylasso) means “to guard.” “John is urging his readers to watch out for anything that may become a substitute for God.” [5] How can we guard against idolatry in our lives? We must continually remind ourselves of two truths.

1. Only God deserves our highest love, not an idol. 

God told the Israelites, “You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5). [6] In the OT, God is described as the husband as his people, and idolatry is said to be spiritual adultery. In Jeremiah 3:20, God said, “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.”

God will not tolerate any rivals for our love. Nor should he. To the Israelites, he was the one “who brought [them] out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). To us, he is the one “who redeemed [us]…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV). He deserves our highest love. Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). [7]

2. Only God can truly satisfy us, not an idol.

When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If only I could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. 

God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).

We Are All Worshippers

Every baby is born with a desire for milk. What would happen if you gave a baby Coke to drink instead of milk? It wouldn't be good.

Whether people realize it or not, everyone is born with a desire for God. We are all worshipers. We either worship God or a substitute.

As a baby’s life would be harmed by drinking something other than milk, our lives are harmed when we worship an idol.

[1] D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 451.
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[4] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[5] Gary M. Burge, Letters of John (NIVAC), 218.
[6] Jealousy is not always sinful. It’s fitting for a husband or wife to be jealous if his or her spouse commits adultery.
[7] The command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” is stating positively the negative command “You shall have no other Gods before me.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Justified by Works

Part 3 of Faith and Works

You can listen to this sermon here.

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). 

Same Word, Different Meaning 

Do you know what a homograph is? A homograph is a word that is spelled like another word but is different in meaning (e.g., “park,” “bat,” “fine”).

The word “faith” has more than one meaning in the Bible (though perhaps not technically a homograph). “Faith” in the Bible does not always refer to saving faith. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (v. 14). In this verse, James is referring to a certain kind of faith—a faith he describes as “dead” (vv. 17, 26) and “useless” (v. 20). [1] It’s a faith of words but not deeds. How can I be sure that my faith is not dead and useless? 

Saving faith results in good works. 

Abraham's Faith and Works

James writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (v. 21). In Genesis 22, God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). [2] But as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the LORD said to him, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12).

In verse 23, James writes, “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (v. 23). The quote about Abraham’s faith is from Genesis 15:6, which indicates that Abraham had faith in God long before his obedience recorded in Genesis 22.

Abraham believed God before he obeyed God. 

How was Abraham “justified by works”? “Justified” is another word that has more than one meaning in the Bible.
James 2:21, 24, and 25 are the only verses in James that contain forms of the verb “justify”...; in each case, the term means to “show to be righteous.” Thus [Abraham was] shown, in history, to be righteous by [his] actions, giving proof of [his] prior spiritual state (cf. Ge 22:12, with its “now I know”). [3]
When Paul writes that Abraham was “justified by faith,” he’s referring to Abraham’s initial justification (declared righteous by God through faith). But when James writes that Abraham was “justified by works,” he’s referring to a present justification (shown to be righteous through works). [4]  Jesus used “justified” in the same way that James does: “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37; cf. 11:19).

James states that Abraham’s obedience demonstrated that “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (v. 22). The Greek word translated “completed” (teleioo) is also found in 1 John 4:12: “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Douglas Moo writes,
Clearly our love does not "complete" God's love in the sense that the love of God is in-adequate or faulty without our response. It is rather that God's love comes to expression, reaches its intended goal, when we respond to his grace with love toward others. So also, Abraham's faith, James suggests, reached its intended goal with the patriarch did what God was asking him to do. [5]

Testing the Genuineness of Our Faith 

James states, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24). The NIV says, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

How we treat others is a good test of the genuineness of our faith.

What James writes in 2:14-26 is possibly in response to people saying, “We have faith. Don’t bother us about helping others.” This could be why James says what he does in vv. 15-17 (see also 2:1-4, 8-9; 3:8-11).

[1] John 6:66 mentions that “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” John 12:42-43 says that “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” These are two examples of people who possessed faith that did not save.
[2] Skeptics often claim that it would be immoral for God to tell Abraham to kill his son. However, God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was a test of faith (Gen. 22:1) that resulted in a promise of divine blessing for Abraham and his descendents (Gen. 22:15-18) and foreshadowed God’s gracious sacrifice of his only Son (Rom. 8:32).
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Miriam J. Kamell, James, 136.
[4] Many commentators see this justification as a future justification at the final judgment: “Paul refers to the initial declaration of a sinner’s innocence before God; James to the ultimate verdict of innocence pronounced over a person at the last judgment. If a sinner can get into relationship with God only by faith (Paul), the ultimate validation of that relationship takes into account the works that true faith must inevitably produce (James)” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, 141).
[5] Moo, 137.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Justified by Faith

Part 2 of Faith and Works

You can listen to this sermon here.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).

Standing Before the Judge

On Friday, Justin Bourque, who shot and killed three RCMP officers, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. It is the longest sentence in Canadian history, and the harshest since the death penalty was abolished.

The writer of Hebrews states, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). That’s a sobering thought. One day I will die, and then I will stand before God. And without God’s provision of justification there wouldn’t be hope for any of us.

What Is Justification?

The most common meaning of the word “justify” is “to prove or show (something) to be just, right, or reasonable.” When you justify a purchase, you declare the rightness of the purchase.

What does it mean to be justified by God? It means to be righteous in God’s sight (i.e., innocent of wrongdoing).

When God justifies a person he declares that person to be innocent of wrongdoing. 

But how is it possible to be justified? Paul repeatedly states in Romans 3 that everyone is guilty of wrongdoing. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).

Justification is possible because of Christ. Sinners “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:24-25). All who put their faith in Christ are justified (see 2 Cor. 5:21).

People sometimes ask, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why didn’t God excuse our sin?” When people ask these kinds of questions, they reveal that they are underestimating the awfulness of sin in God’s eyes (like a baby not realizing he has filthy hands). There had to be atonement for our sins.

Boasting Eliminated

Paul writes, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28). Since we aren’t justified by works, “our boasting” is “excluded” (3:27).

In 4:1, Paul asks, “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh?” (v. 1). “With the word ‘then’ Paul connects what he is about to say about Abraham with what precedes (3:21-31), where he claimed that a righteousness of God comes through faith in Christ apart from the law.” [1] Is Abraham an exception? Was Abraham justified by works? Paul says no.

1. Justification is not a reward earned by works. 

Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (v. 2). What does Paul mean by “but not before God”? John Piper puts it this way: “But before God such a thing is inconceivable.” [2]

2. Justification is a gift received by faith. 

Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God’” (4:3). In Genesis 15, God said to Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.... So shall your offspring be” (v. 5). Abraham was childless and was in his nineties. But Abraham believed God’s promise. His faith revealed that he was relying on God, not himself. Because Abraham believed, his faith “was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3).

Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (vv. 4-5). Thomas Schreiner comments, “Righteousness is obtained not by working for God but by believing in a God who works for us in that he justifies the ungodly.” [3]

Is Justification Just? 

Does justification violate the principle of Proverbs 17:15: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (cf. Exod. 23:7; Isa. 5:23). God condemned a righteous person (Jesus) and justifies wicked people (e.g., me). How is God not an abomination to himself?

First, when judges acquit a guilty person, they often do so because they are bribed. But to justify sinners, God gave. He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Second, when judges acquit a guilty person, they the acquitted person is a high risk to reoffend. But those whom God justifies, he also transforms. Douglas Moo writes,
…God’s “justifying the wicked” cannot be seen in isolation. Yes, it is clear that God puts us right before him when we are still sinners and that justification in itself does not change our moral status or basic nature. But Paul insists that God does more than “justify” us when we become Christians. He also “regenerates” us, “sanctifies” us, and causes his Spirit to indwell us. These acts of God change us “from within.” Paul is one with James in insisting that a genuine Christian must always reveal the transforming work of God in a new life of obedience. 
The person who claims to be justified but has no interest in doing works is an abomination to God. 


It's been said that we don't truly worship God until we are amazed by him. The truth that God justifies us by grace through faith should amaze us. We sing songs about God’s “amazing grace” and his “amazing love,” but have we stopped being amazed?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Faith That Works

Part 1 of Faith and Works

Text: Romans 3:28 and James 2:24

You can listen to this sermon here.

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28). You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). 

A Contradiction?

Someone once famously described the epistle of James as an “epistle of straw.” [1] Do you know who it was? It was Martin Luther, the man whom many historians see as the Father of the Protestant Reformation.

Why did Luther have a low opinion of the epistle of James? One of the slogans of the Reformation was sola fide, which is a Latin phrase that means “by faith alone.” And Luther thought that James 2:14-26 contradicted the doctrine of justification by faith alone (seen most clearly in the writings of Paul).

Does James contradict Paul? The supposed contraction is seen most clearly when comparing Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. Luther even added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 in his German translation of the Bible.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28). 
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). 
It’s easy to see why people think that Romans 3:28 and James 2:24 are contradictory, but my view is that they are actually complementary.

Why does this matter? First, if there are contradictions in the Bible, our trust in what it says will be lowered. Second, there is nothing more important for us to understand than how to be justified. 

Complementary, Not Contradictory

How can Romans 3:28 and James 3:24 be complementary, not contradictory?

1. Paul and James use the word “justified” differently. 

In Romans 3:28, to be “justified” means to be declared righteous by God through faith (a past event). Our acceptance with God is not based on what we have done but on what Christ has done on the cross. In James 2:24, to be “justified” means to demonstrate righteousness through works (a present activity). James was probably responding to a distortion of Paul’s teaching on justification (which Paul also confronts in Romans 6). [2] David Nystrom writes, “Between James and Paul there is no disagreement of substance, but only of vocabulary and emphasis.” [3]

2. Paul and James agree on the necessity of works for the believer. 

James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (2:14). “That faith” refers to bogus faith, not biblical faith. “James is not arguing that works must be added to faith. His point, rather, is that genuine biblical faith will inevitably be characterized by works.” [4] Paul wouldn’t disagree. He refers to “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). He writes, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). And he states, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).

A Working Faith

In verses 15-16, James presents a hypothetical situation: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” James comments, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (v. 17). Workless faith resembles the “worthless” religion of James 1:26-27.

Genuine faith results in good works.

“Works are not an ‘added extra’ to faith, but are an essential expression of it.” [5] The epistle of James was not Martin Luther’s favourite book of the Bible, but he actually did agree with James about genuine faith: “Faith…is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” [6]

[1] This quote only appears in Luther’s original 1522 Preface to the New Testament. After 1522, all editions of Luther’s Bible dropped the ‘epistle of straw’ comment.... It was Luther himself who edited [this] comment out” (James Swan, “Six Points on Luther’s ‘Epistle of Straw,’” http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2007/04/03/six-points-on-luthers-epistle-of-straw/).
[2] James probably wrote his epistle before Paul wrote Romans, which would mean that James was not commenting on Romans 3:28.
[3] David P. Nystrom, James, 160.
[4] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, 120.
[5] Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 121.
[6] Ronald H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, 259.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Part 8 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 3:5-6

(Sorry, there is no audio available for this sermon.)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Prov. 3:5-6). 

Trusting in My Stud Finder

This month I have been doing some renovations in my basement (see picture below). One of the most important tools that I used in this project was my stud finder. When you use a stud finder you have to trust that it knows what’s behind a wall (because you can’t see with your eyes what’s behind the wall). To “trust” in something is to “put your confidence” in that thing.

Trusting in the LORD 

Trusting isn’t easy. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (v. 5a). The Hebrew word for “trust” (bātah) is often used for a foolish kind of trust. For example, Psalm 52:7 says, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” The object of one’s trust determines if that trust is wise or foolish. It’s foolish to trust in a false god like “the abundance of riches.” But it’s wise to trust in “in the LORD.”

Trusting in the LORD is the wise way to live. 

We are to trust in the LORD “with all [our] heart.” In the English language, we distinguish between the “heart” (emotions) and the “mind” (intellect). But in the OT, the “heart” (leb) is “the center of a person’s emotional-intellectual-religious-moral activity.” [1] In the OT, the heart thinks. [2] For example, Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

So Proverbs 3:5 is not talking about an irrational trust (i.e., a separation of the intellect from trust). It’s not saying that we are to just trust and not think. Proverbs 15:14 says, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge.”

Many people would say that it’s foolish that Christians put their trust in a God who can’t be seen (and, in their opinion, whose existence lacks evidence). It’s true that we can’t see God, but it’s not true that he hasn’t revealed himself. God has revealed himself through creation, through Scripture, through Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit.

Strengthening Our Trust

Trusting in the LORD “with all your heart” is complete trust. If we’re honest we’ll admit that we often lack this kind of trust in God. We’re like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

How can our trust in God be strengthened? Proverbs 3:5-6 give us three truths about the LORD that can strengthen our trust in him.

1. The LORD is a promise-keeping God. 

Our trust is to be “in the LORD.” Who is “the LORD”? He is Yahweh. [3] Yahweh is God’s personal name. There is a connection between the name Yahweh and the covenants with his people. In Exodus 6:2-5, God said to Moses,
I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 
Yahweh “remembered [his] covenant” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he kept his covenant. He told Moses to tell the people of Israel,
I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you will know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD (Exod. 6:6-8). 
We now live in the days of the new covenant. During the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “This [cup] is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). This covenant was promised in the days of Jeremiah the prophet:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34). 
Yahweh kept this covenant when Jesus entered into our world to die for our sins. When we put our trust in him, we are delivered from slavery to sin and enter into a relationship with Yahweh (i.e., we “Know the LORD,” Jer. 31:34). Yahweh will keep all of the promises that he has given to those whose faith is in Christ. 

2. The LORD is an all-wise God.

We are told to “lean not on [our] own understanding” (v. 5b). Our “understanding” is often faulty (like a broken deck railing—don’t lean on it!). Sometimes we doubt the wisdom of God.

There’s a category of Psalms called the psalms of lament. Psalm 142 is a psalm of lament. David wrote Psalm 142 when he was hiding from King Saul in a cave. In the psalm, David complains, “No refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul” (v. 4). But he ends the psalm by expressing trust in God: “I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living’” (v. 5). When life frustrates us, God wants us to bring our complaints to him, but he never wants us to stop trusting him.

3. The LORD is a guiding God. 

Verse 6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” [During my sermon I drew a zigzaggy line on a piece of paper. The line doesn’t look straight. But if you drew similar lines on several pieces of paper and connected those pieses of paper together and looked at the line from a bird’s-eye view, it would look straight.] Waltke writes, “One has to view the course of one’s life from a bird’s-eye view, not from a worm’s eye view, to see this truth.” [4] A Portuguese proverb says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 91-92.
[2] The function of the brain was unknown in the Old Testament.
[3] The Jews eventually stopped saying “Yahweh” out of reverence for the name and replaced it with the Adonai, meaning “Lord.” Most English translations of the OT have followed this tradition.
[4] Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 245.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Part 7 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 31:10-31

You can listen to this sermon here.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Prov. 31:30). The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).

Why So Much Talk About Women?

Have you noticed that the book of Proverbs talks a lot about women? When you become aware of the book’s target audience, you’ll understand why. Tremper Longman writes, “Proverbs discusses women and wives and not men and husbands because in its original setting the book was addressed to young men. However, modern women can certainly read the proverbs and apply them to their relationships with men.” [1]

This means that Proverbs 31:10-31—the passage about the “excellent wife”—was written for the benefit of young men. Earlier in Proverbs they were warned about the kind of women to avoid (see 6:24-29). Now at the end of Proverbs they are shown what kind of women to pursue. [2]

Wisdom Needed

Marriage requires lots of wisdom, which really is skillful living. After a few years of marriage, a man learns a few things.

  • “I’ll be ready in five minutes” doesn’t actually mean what it should mean. 
  • A husband should be very careful how he answers the question “How do I look in this dress?”
  • Instead of directly stating what they want, women will often give subtle hints. 
  • When a wife tells her husband about a problem, she wants him to listen to her talk about the problem, not necessarily solve the problem. 

The Excellent Wife

Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent [3] wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” The Hebrew word translated “excellent” is hayil, which means strength.[4] She is a strong and able woman [5] (as seen by all of her strengths and abilities listed in this passage). [6]  Hayil and the Hebrew word for wife/woman are found together two other times in the OT: “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4); “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11). 

Many Christian women say, “I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman.” [7] But then they get discouraged when they fall short of this woman’s standard. What we need to understand is that the Proverbs 31 woman is the ideal wife.

The Proverbs 31 woman should be imitated, but she will never be duplicated. 

Verse 29 states, “Many have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” So a woman can be an excellent wife without completely measuring up to the Proverbs 31 woman.

The husband of the Proverbs 31 woman is often neglected. The husband is mentioned in verses 11 and 28, which show us that a man needs to show confidence in his wife (“The heart of her husband trusts in her,” v. 11) and to praise her (“he praises her,” v. 28). A husband should never forget that a good wife is a blessing from God: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22; cf. 19:14).

The Fear of the Lord in Marriage

Verse 30 says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, [8] but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Bruce Waltke writes that the “fear of the LORD” is “the key to Proverbs.” [9] Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Charles Brides defines “the fear of the LORD” as “affectionate reverence” [10] for God. It is the foundation (“the beginning,” 1:7) of wisdom, including wisdom in marriage.

The foundation of a successful Christian marriage is the fear of the LORD. 

When a person fears the LORD, he or she seeks to obey God. So when a God-fearing man enters a marriage, he is seeking God’s glory more than his own glory. How do we glorify God in our marriages? By being like Jesus. (Remember Proverbs can be seen as more about a who—Jesus—than a what.)

Christian husbands need to be Ephesians 5 husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “In your relationships with one another [including marriage], have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5, NIV). What is this mindset? If Paul were speaking directly to husbands and wives, he would say, “Let each [husband and wife] look not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of [their spouse]” (Phil. 2:4). Of course, we can’t perfectly duplicate the mindset of Jesus, but we can imitate it.

Tim Keller writes, “Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christians teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.” [11]

It's Not All About Me 

One thing I discovered this week is that a popular name for bridal boutiques is “It’s All About Me.” If a marriage is “all about me,” it’s doomed to failure.

A successful Christian marriage begins with the fear of the LORD. Those who have a reverent affection for God seek to glorify him. And we glorify God by acting like Jesus. How do we act like Jesus in a marriage? By sacrificially loving our spouse.

[1] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 578.
[2] The ESV notes that Proverbs 31:10-31 is “an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”
[3] The KJV calls this woman “virtuous,” while the NIV says she is a woman “of noble character.”
[4] Bruce Waltke believes that “valiant” is a good translation of hayil in Proverbs 31:10 (The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 520).
[5] This is why the HCSB says she is “a capable wife.”
[6] The Proverbs 31 woman works both inside and outside the home. Basically, she does whatever is in the best interests of her family.
[7] Or many single Christian men say, “I’m looking for a Proverbs 31 woman.”
[8] This does not mean that beauty is unimportant. Proverbs 5:19 says, “Let [your wife’s] breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
[9] Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 100.
[10] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 17.
[11] Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 47.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Part 6 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 22:6

You can listen to this sermon here.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6). 

What Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean? 

If a Christian parent “train[s] up a child in the way he should go,” is that child guaranteed to stay on the right path? In other words, is Proverbs 22:6 a command (“Train up a child in the way he should go”) with a promise (“even when he is old he will not depart from it”)?

To properly answer that question, we must identify the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6. [1] Identifying the literary genre of Proverbs 22:6 is easy. It’s a proverb. But what is a proverb? An example of a popular proverb that is not found in the Bible is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” When we say that proverb, do we believe it’s a promise that everyone who eats an apple a day will never be sick? No. But the proverb does contain a general truth: healthy eating generally leads to good health.

We should interpret biblical proverbs in a similar way. Richard Pratt writes that biblical proverbs are “adages that direct us toward general principles that must be applied carefully in a fallen world where life is always somewhat out of kilter.” [2] This means that proverbs are not promises.

Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise. 

Tremper Longman writes,
[Proverbs 22:6] sounds like a promise, but a proverb does not give a promise. The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in ways that are most likely to lead them to desired conse-quences if all things are equal. It is much more likely that a child will be a responsible adult if trained in the right path. However, there is also the possibility that the child might come under the negative influence of peers or be led astray in some other way. The point is that this proverb encourages parents to train their children, but does not guarantee that if they do so their children will never stray. [3]
Correctly interpreting Proverbs 22:6 is extremely important for a Christian parent. What happens when Christian parents believe that Proverbs 22:6 is a promise and diligently “train” their child, but the child ends up choosing a wrong path? They either lose confidence in the Bible, or they feel tremendous guilt as a “bad” parent. According to Bruce Waltke, Proverbs 22:6 “must not be pushed to mean that the [parent] is ultimately responsible for the youth’s entire moral orientation.” [4]

How to "Train Up" a Child 

Though Proverbs 22:6 isn’t a promise, it does contain a general truth. This means it’s vital that Christian parents “train up” their children in a biblical way. How should parents “train up” a child?

1. We should continually teach our children.

Children need to be taught many things, but it’s essential that they be taught to understand and obey God’s word. Waltke states that “train up” refers to “religious and moral direction, not professional activity.” [5] Much of Proverbs is written as a father teaching his son. Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” It’s important not only to tell our children what is right and what is wrong, but also talk to them about the benefits of doing good and the consequences of doing wrong.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Moses urged the people of Israel to teach God’s word to their children during the various activities of each day:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 
Timothy was a man who benefited from being taught God’s word while he was a child. The apostle Paul mentioned this in his first letter to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom [6] you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 3:14-17). 
2. We should lovingly discipline our children. 

Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who loves [his son] is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs speaks of “the rod of discipline,” which is unpopular today. For example, Proverbs 22:15 states, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of disciple drives it far from him.” But any form of discipline can be abusive if it’s not administered in love. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; cf. Col. 3:21).

3. We should consistently model Christ-like behaviour. 

Joel Miller writes, “If you’re looking for a gauge to measure how un-Christlike you are, try raising kids.” [7] Children notice when their parents don’t practice what they preach. A bad example can undermine good teaching.

[1] “There are many different genres in the Bible—songs, prophecies, proverbs, laments, visions, speeches, parables, historical narrative. Identifying the genre is very important to how we interpret a passage” (Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, Dig Deeper, 105).
[2] Richard Pratt Jr., “Broken Homes in the Bible,” http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/broken-homes-in-the-bible/.
[3] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 405.
[4] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 206.
[5] Ibid., 204.
[6] The Greek for “whom” is plural. It could refer to Timothy’s mother and grandmother (see 1 Tim. 1:5).
[7] Joel J. Miller, “What to See How Un-Christlike You Are? Try Raising Kids,” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ joeljmiller/ 2013/03/ parenting-need-grace/.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Part 5 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 30:7-9

(Sorry, there is no audio available for this sermon.)

Give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God (Prov. 30:8b-9).

In Money We Trust

Most people know that the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST” is written on American coins. But many Canadians aren’t aware that God is also mentioned on Canadian coins. Next to the Queen’s image the phrase “D. G. REGINA” can be found. This is a Latin phrase. The letters “D. G.” stand for dei gratia, and dei gratia regina means “Queen by the grace of God.”

It’s ironic that both American and Canadian coins mention God. Why? Because North Americans, in their day-to-day living, generally don’t trust in God (even if they identify themselves as Christians); they trust in money.

The Root of All Evil? 

Is money the root of all evil? No, the Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Money is morally neutral; it’s neither good nor evil. Anthony Selvaggio writes, “The moral issues regarding wealth arise entirely from how we acquire it, relate to it, and use it. In other words, the problem is us.” [1]

Money isn’t everything, but it is a blessing from God.

The book of Proverbs talks about money in a positive way. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD makes rich.” [2] We must avoid extremes in our view of money. Money isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing. [3]

What Should We Do with Our Money?

What should we do with the blessing of money?

1. We shouldn’t make money our God. 

Is it wrong to work hard and make money? No. But we need to be careful that we don’t make money our idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, any-thing that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” [4] Charles Spurgeon once said,
I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, “Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?” You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian. [5]
In Agur’s prayer, he asked for neither riches nor poverty. He prayed, “Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9). [6] It’s not sinful to be rich or poor, but Agur didn’t want the temptations that come with riches (“lest I be full and deny you”) and poverty (“lest I be poor and steal”).

The apostle Paul wrote about people who had “wandered away from the faith” because of their “love of money”:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:9-10). 
People who love money forget about God (“Who is the LORD?”). Agur was more concerned about honouring God than how much wealth he possessed.

J. D. Rockefeller was at one time the world’s richest man. Someone once asked him, “How much money is enough?” Rockefeller answered, “Just a little bit more.” Immanuel Kant once said, “Give a man everything he wants and at that moment, everything will not be everything.” If make money our god, we will end up being disappointed. Only God can fill the emptiness that’s within us. Jesus warned about “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22). It won’t deliver what people think it will.

2. We should be generous with our money. 

When God blesses us with money, we are to bless others by being generous. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” Jesus is the ultimate example of generosity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). When Paul wrote these words, he was raising money to give to needy believers in Jerusalem.

3. We should be content with our money. 

More money doesn’t guarantee a better life. [7] Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Paul wrote to Timothy,
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Tim. 6:6-8). 

True Wealth 

Who is the wealthiest person on earth? Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)? According to Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg is the world’s fourteenth wealthiest person ($34 billion). Warren Buffet? Buffet is the world’s third wealthiest person ($67.6 billion). Bill Gates (Microsoft)? Gates is the world’s second wealthiest person ($81.2 billion).

Does money make a person wealthy? It depends on how you define the word “wealthy.” One definition of “wealthy” is “characterized by abundance.” At the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) reads a card from Clarence (his guardian angel). The card reads, “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.” George had many friends because he was a generous man. In the final scene, George’s brother Harry raises a glass and says, “A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town.”

A wealthy person can be poor, and a poor person can be wealthy. A person can be wealthy no matter how much money he or she has. Generosity and contentment enrich our lives. Many rich people aren’t generous or content, so they lack love and happiness.

Whether a Christian has been blessed with lots of money or not, he or she is “rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) because of Christ. That’s true wealth.

[1] Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life (Kindle edition), location 1021.
[2] “Prosperity gospel” teachers often misuse a verse like this to claim that every Christian can receive material riches in this life.
[3] Proverbs 3:14 says that wisdom is more valuable than money: “the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.”
[4] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.
[5] 2,200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon, 216.
[6] There are a few similarities between Agur’s prayer and “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13). In both prayers there are requests for daily food, for protection from temptation, and for God’s name to be sanctified.
[7] There are some problems that the rich encounter that the poor don’t. For example, Proverbs 13:8 says, “The ran-som of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Part 4 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 6:6-11

You can listen to this sermon here.

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty (Prov. 14:23). 

The Ultimate Purpose of Work

When I was in Bible college, one of my friends was taking a lot of naps and getting behind on his assignments. One day, I went into his room when he wasn’t there and wrote the following words on the ceiling tile above his bed: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11). I don’t think he was too impressed by my prank.

How should we view our work?

Many Christians think they live two different lives: a spiritual life (attending church meetings, reading the Bible, praying) and a regular life (doing your job, preparing a meal, mowing the lawn). But the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. 6:19-20). This means that our work—whether it’s paid or unpaid work—should be viewed as spiritual.

We should view our work as a way to bring glory to God. 

“The ultimate purpose of work is neither income, nor prestige, nor self-fulfillment. Rather, it is to bring glory to God. That’s what it means for work to be a calling.” [1]

Created in the Image of a Working God

The Bible begins with God working. God is a working God. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27), and when we work, we act like God.

Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “subdue [the earth]” (Gen. 1:28) and to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19).

The Work of Jesus

For the Christian, Proverbs is more about a who than a what. The “who” is Jesus. He lived out the wisdom of Proverbs. So learning to live by the wisdom found in Proverbs is learning to live like Jesus.

When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell about his days as a rabbi (teacher), but what did he do before he became a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth were astonished by Jesus’ teaching, and they said, “Is not this the carpenter…?” (cf. Matt. 13:55). The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. A tekton was “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone. He could be a builder, a mason, or a carpenter. In Jesus’ Palestinian context, it probably denoted a woodworking handyman.” [2] Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work. The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a labourer.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.

Avoiding Two Extremes

If we are to glorify God in our work, we must avoid two extremes. We must not be a sluggard or a workaholic. Basically, Proverbs tells us that laziness is foolish and productivity is wise. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” [3] And Proverbs 28:19 says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (cf. Prov. 12:11). [4]

1. We must not be like the sluggard who hates work. 

I once saw a sign in a workshop that said, “Work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” There is one thing that the sluggard excels at: finding ways to avoid work. Of course, avoiding work is foolish: “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Prov. 20:4). In contrast to the sluggard is “the excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 who “looks to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov. 31:27).

2. We must not be like the workaholic who worships work. 

To many people, work is an idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. [An idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5]

Shining Our Light While We Work

Do you know how the early church grew so rapidly? Every Christian did evangelism. How did most Christians do evangelism? In the context of their relationships, including their work relationships. If a Christian was lazy or unethical in his work, he wouldn’t be an effective witness.

The best way to glorify God in our work is by being a “working missionary.” 

Jesus said to his followers, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). How do we shine our light? By doing “good works.” Are these good works limited to religious work. No, they include regular work. What will happen when we shine our light while we work? People will be saved (i.e., they will believe and “give glory” to God; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).

[1] Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life (Kindle edition), locations 502-504.
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] We must remember that proverbs are general truths, not promises. There will not be profit in all toil. There are exceptions to the general truths in Proverbs.
[4] In Proverbs, there is a distinction between “the poor” and “the sluggard.” “The sluggard” becomes poor because of his laziness, but “the poor” are “those who are poor by virtue of circumstances beyond their control” (Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 339).
[5] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Part 3 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 29:23

You can listen to this sermon here.

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Prov. 29:23).

The Irony of Pride and Humility 

When I was a kid, one of my favourite stories was Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. Yertle said to himself, “If I could sit high, how much greater I’d be! What a king! I’d be ruler of all that I see!” Yertle lifted himself up (on a stack of hundreds of other turtles), but eventually he had a big fall.

The irony of pride and humility is seen in Proverbs 29:23, which says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” When a person is arrogant, people want to see that person, but when a person is humble, they want to see that person honoured.

Pride lowers us, and humility lifts us up. 

Ray Ortlund puts it this way: “Pride humiliates us, and humility honors us.” [1] This is a theme found in Proverbs and throughout the rest of Scripture. “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Prov. 3:34; cf. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Prov. 18:12). “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life” (Prov. 22:4).

Bruce Waltke describes humility as “the renunciation of human sufficiency.” [2] In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), the tax collector renounced his human sufficiency (“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!,” v. 13). But the Pharisee did not (“God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” v. 11). Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14; cf. Luke 14:11). We can’t be “justified” (v. 14) unless we humbly confess our sin and our need of a Savior. And those whom God justifies will also be “glorified” (Rom. 8:30).

Acknowledging Our Pride

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” [3] This is seen in Genesis 3’s account of the first sin. Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God” (v. 5).

Pride is difficult to see in ourselves, but it’s easy to see in others. We all struggle with pride, and pride leads to the following sins: boasting, looking down on others, living for the praise of others, ungratefulness, not listening to advice or correction, and refusing to repent.

Of course, you can be proud of someone or something without sinning. It's good to be proud of your child. But if you say to yourself, "Look at how good my son is. I'm a much better father/mother than the other parents I know," that's sinful pride.

Becoming More Humble

Humility is very elusive. Many people who think they’re humble are actually proud of their “humility.” We are not naturally humble. How can we become more humble?

1. We must remind ourselves that every good thing we have we owe to God's grace. 

Most prominent among God’s blessings is our salvation. To the Ephesian believers, the apostle Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). But we should boast about what Christ has done for us: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). Pride is thinking too highly of ourselves. But being humble isn’t saying, “I’m a nobody.” It’s saying, “I’m a somebody because of God’s grace.” As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (cf. Jer. 9:23-24; 2 Cor. 10:17).

2. We must remind ourselves of the astonishing humility of our Lord. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He encouraged them to be humble by reminding them that Jesus, the God-man, “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8). From beginning to end—from the manger to the cross—his earthly life was one of humility. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:5). He told them, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (v. 15). During that same meal, “A dispute also arose among [the disciples], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Jesus rebuked them by saying, “Who is greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (v. 27).

We are quick to condemn the disciples for their pride, but don’t we often act the same? When we think about the humility of Jesus, doesn’t our pride seem so foolish, so awful, so out of place?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Being Wise with Our Words

Part 2 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 18:21a

You can listen to this sermon here.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21a).

The Power of Our Words

According to Ray Ortlund, the book of Proverbs “has more to say about our words than anything else it addresses in our lives—more than money, sex, or family.” [1]

When I was a kid, I used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But is there anyone who has never been harmed by words? We shouldn’t underestimate the power of our words. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Our words have the power to do great good or great evil, so we must be wise with our words. 

In the book of James, the tongue is compared to a small spark, and James writes, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5).

The Sin of Gossip

Sometimes people think that a sin like gossip is a “little sin,” but it destroys churches. The book of Proverbs addresses the sin of gossip. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9; cf. 16:28). “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov. 18:8). “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Prov. 17:4). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov. 20:19).

How would you answer the following question: Will a gossiper go to heaven? Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, [2] and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). This is true because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34). The apostle Paul states that “revilers” (“slanderers,” NIV) will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10; cf. Rom. 1:29-30).

Think Before You Speak

How many times have you said to yourself, “I shouldn’t have said what I said”? And how many times have you said to yourself, “I should have said something”? How can we be wiser with our words? We need to think before we speak. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov. 15:28). Before we speak, we should ask ourselves three questions.

1. Is this the right thing to say? 

We should remember the advice of Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (cf. 21:23). But this doesn’t mean we should always remain quiet. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Instead of gossiping about others, we should encourage others with our words. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25). What we say should be beneficial to others: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). 

2. Is this the right time to say it? 

Sometimes we are guilty of speaking when we shouldn’t. Other times we are guilty of not speaking when we should (e.g., sharing the gospel). Proverbs 15:23 says, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (cf. 25:11). Sometimes saying a good thing can be a bad thing if the timing is wrong: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Prov. 27:14).

3. Is this the right way to say it?

It’s better to say nothing than to say the right thing the wrong way. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We are to speak the truth, but we are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If you can’t speak the truth in love, don’t speak.

The Wise Words of Jesus

The book of Proverbs should not be seen as merely a book about good morals. We should view it as a way to follow the wise steps of Jesus. He has given us an example “so that [we] may follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus was the embodiment of wisdom. When he spoke, he always spoke wise words. The people of Nazareth “marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22; cf. John 7:46). Sometimes the words of Jesus were very strong (e.g., “You hypocrites!”, Matt. 15:7).

Jesus knew when to speak and when not to speak. The apostle Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:22-23). Imagine how difficult it was for Jesus to remain silent. But he remained silent because there was something more important than defending himself: dying for our salvation. He put others before himself, so he didn’t speak. If we always put others before ourselves, how would our words change?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Foundation of Wisdom

Part 1 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 1:7

You can listen to this sermon here.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7). 

A Strategy Guide for Life

Back in 1990, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 3. If you ever come across a list of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3 will probably be on that list.

During the summer of 1990, the company that makes Popsicles had a contest. You could collect Popsicle points and earn prizes. (The points were printed on the Popsicle sticks.) One of the prizes was a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. I remember my brother collecting Popsicle points that summer. (We must have eaten a lot of Popsicles!) Near the end of summer, he finally had collected enough points for the video game. He put all of his Popsicle sticks into an envelope and mailed them to the company.

As he anxiously waited for his game to arrive in the mail, my brother bought a strategy guide for Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm sure the more he read the guide, the more excited he got to play the game. Finally, something from the Popsicle company arrived in the mail. He opened it up, but there was no game. All of the copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 had already been given out. My brother had a strategy guide, but no game.

The book of Proverbs is sort of like a strategy guide for life. Of course, life is more difficult than a video game. But the book of Proverbs can help us make wise life decisions.

What Is Wisdom?

What is wisdom? There is a difference between having knowledge and having wisdom. There are many smart people who are also very foolish. In the age of the internet, knowledge is abundant, but wisdom is rare.

Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions based on knowledge. 

It could be said that wisdom is skillful living. The book of James is often call the NT’s wisdom book. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Having knowledge (hearing) without also having wisdom (doing) is not living skillfully.

Gaining Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Knowledge and wisdom are closely connected in Proverbs. We pursue knowledge so that we can have wisdom. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

Bruce Waltke writes that the “fear of the LORD” is “the key to Proverbs.” [1]  What is “the fear of the LORD”? It’s not being afraid of God. The fear of the LORD has been described as “worshipping submission,” [2]  “reverent obedience,” [3] and “affectionate reverence.” [4] The fear of the LORD consists of both reverence for God and love for God, and it leads to obedience. Job 28:28 says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with an affectionate reverence for God. 

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The fear of the LORD is like a foundation. When you build a house, you begin with the foundation. But you never stop needing the foundation.

Why should we have an affectionate reverence for God? The gospel stirs us to not only revere God, but also love him. When we revere and love God, we desire to obey his commands. The book of Proverbs provides wisdom for obeying God’s commands.

Valuing Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 also says, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Why should we choose the path of God’s wisdom? 1.

1. Living wisely is the best way to live. 

Consider how better (not necessarily easier) our lives would be if we (and others) always followed the wisdom of God. According to Proverbs, it’s wise to work hard: “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Prov. 10:5). It’s wise to be humble: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). It’s wise to listen to others: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). It’s wise to speak kind words: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

2. Living wisely makes us resemble Christ. 

Luke 2:40 tells us that Jesus became “filled with wisdom” (cf. 2:52). Solomon was wise, but Jesus declared that he was “greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31; cf. Matt. 12:42). Jesus is “the very incarnation of wisdom.” [5] (Many scholars believe that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a description of Jesus.) Jesus was also a teacher of wisdom.

Proverbs 4:9 says that wisdom “will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” “Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives.” [6] When our lives resemble the beauty of Christ’s character, we become effective witnesses for the gospel.

Life Isn't a Video Game

All of us make foolish decisions. Not all of our steps are wise. And, unlike a video game, life doesn’t have a restart button.

Proverbs gives us wisdom for our relationships, work, wealth, and words. We can’t change the past. But hopefully our study of Proverbs will help us take wise steps.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 100.
[2] Derek Kidner, The Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, 59.
[3] David A. Hubbard, The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs, 48.
[4] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 17.
[5] Tremper Longman, Proverbs, 67.
[6] Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, 17.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Can Prayer Be Less Frustrating?

Part 12 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:14-21

You can listen to this sermon here.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (vv. 14-15). 

Frustration with Prayer

After I preached this sermon on prayer, someone in my church told me that they had a frustrating experience with prayer the day before. They went to church thinking, "I hope today the sermon is on unanswered prayer."

Sometimes the biblical promises about prayer can cause us frustration because they don’t match up with our experience. One of these prayer promises is found in 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” How can prayer be less frustrating?

Four Realities of Prayer

There isn’t an easy formula for prayer. When we pray, we should remember four realities of prayer.

1. When we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. 

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

2. When we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a loving Father. 

Throughout 1 John, John has emphasized that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

3. When we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. 

Sometimes, when something good happens, we think, “Maybe that was going to happen whether or not I prayed.” But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

4. When we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. 

Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also prayer for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).