Who is your master?

In the last two posts found here and here I have looked at what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-23. There Jesus gave two illustrations concerning how one in the Kingdom should view money–where ones treasure lies and what ones eyes see. The  last illustration is found in verse 24:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

At first glance it seems that this phrase “no one can serve two masters” is just untrue. I mean, some could respond and say “I serve two masters, I’ve got two jobs—I have two bosses.” But this response fails to understand the meaning behind the word “serve (an unfortunate translation).” The word in the original literally means “to be a slave.” It has to do with the relationship between a slave and a slave-owner. And with that understanding, Jesus’ words make perfect sense. As well know Scholar R.T. France put it:

No one can serve two master is patently untrue; we do it all the time…but a slave was not employed under contract, but was normally wholly owned by the person who had bought him or her.

Just like a slave is unable to devote his life to two slave-owners so Christians cannot be a slave to God and a slave to money. We have to choose one or the other. That’s really the meaning behind the words love/hate in this context—either we will choose God or we’ll choose money, period; you can’t have both! Unfortunately, some become a slave to money. Paul warned Timothy about it:

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 Timothy 6:9-10)

He even had friends who deserted him for it:

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:6)

But Jesus calls us to be a slave of His. This is really the whole point isn’t it? That we are single-minded in devotion to the Lordship of Christ. What he says goes; what he wills we will do; what he desires we desire. Money is nothing, only a means to make His name glorified! We are slaves of Christ! 

Being a slave is not the most relevant nor accepted picture I admit, but it is exactly how the New Testament describes us. We are slaves, and we are going to be slaves in one way or another. But when we’re slaves to Christ that makes us slaves to an enormously benevolent master! I heard well-known Pastor, John Macarthur, speak on this idea of slave/master recently. I loved what he had to say:

“I was doing a pastors’ conference with African-American pastors in North Carolina, and the subject came up. We were having a great time. We were in the football stadium at Wake Forest; it’s really kind of a neat place. We were up in this beautiful football complex with a glass window overlooking the football field; all these pastors where there. One of them said, “How in the world am I going to tell my congregation? How am I going to tell my congregation this message about slaves when it has such a stigma? What am I going to tell them?”

And I said, “Well, I’ve got good news for you. You have a loving Master who is all-wise, compassionate, generous, powerful, resourceful, protective, kind, merciful, forgiving, who takes you from being just a slave to making you a slave that is also a friend…Are you ready for this one?…and takes you from being a friend to a son, and not just a son but a joint-heir. And if you follow the rest of the count in the New Testament, you become a citizen of His Kingdom. Do you understand that no slave in the Roman Empire could be a citizen? Couldn’t own anything? Didn’t have any rights? Couldn’t give testimony to a court of law? Couldn’t be defended in court? This is a different kind of slavery. He provides everything you need; makes you an intimate friend and gives you full disclosure of everything that’s on His heart. First Corinthians 2:16, “We have a mind of Christ.” He’s revealed it to us on the pages of Scripture, and He makes us sons, and He makes us heirs and joint-heirs with His own Son and He–we could go on–He makes us reign with Him, citizens of His glorious kingdom.”

And so it is with us. We are slaves of Christ, not our money. For, how we view our money determines how we view God. May we see our money as only a means by which we store our treasures in heaven, view our lives through generous eyes, and never let it control our sole allegiance to Christ!

An Evil Eye

Two Visions

In my last post I discussed Jesus words in Matthew 6:19-21. There he focused on two treasures–treasures stored on earth and treasures stored in heaven. In verses 22-23 Jesus offers a second, more ambiguous illustration. But once you dig past the surface and discover what Jesus had in mind, it’s a sobering truth. Notice verses 22-23:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

An evil eye or a healthy eye?

At first glance it seems quite obscure. But the more we ponder at the text, its meaning becomes clear.  First, Jesus says that the “eye is the lamp of the body.” What does that mean? Simply, that through our eyes we see things. That’s it. Jesus isn’t trying to be scientific; he is just trying to build a metaphor to teach a spiritual truth. Our eye is the way we see things before us. 

Then, he gives us two comparisons. First, we have “a healthy eye.” The word “healthy” here is important for us in understanding what Jesus means. The word carries two primary meanings: (1) undivided/single, and (2) generous. Usually and most often the word takes on the first idea, but I believe the context lends itself to the latter. The reason is because of how it fits with Jesus comparison of the good and bad eye as we will see. 

The clarity of what Jesus means here comes to light when we understand what he meant by the phrase “bad eye.” The phrase literally means “evil eye.” What is interesting here is that the phrase “evil eye” was a Jewish idiom that meant “stingy/greedy.” Take for example Proverbs 28:22 which says:

A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him (Proverbs 28:22)

The word “stingy” in the above passage means literally “a man whose eye is evil.” An evil eye therefore was used to describe someone who was greedy, and stingy. 

Therefore, when we read “bad eye” and “healthy eye” what Jesus is comparing is a “stingy person” verses a “generous person.” The one with a bad eye is full of darkness. They are unable to view the world through the lens of the Kingdom because of their greed and stinginess. On the other hand, those with healthy eyes are full of light. They are generous and understand that money is simply a means of investing in God’s Kingdom. 

Now follow me here, what Jesus is saying is this: the way we view Money—whether we are greedy or generous—carries over into the whole of a person! That means the way we deal with our money directly affects how we will live in every other area of our Christian life! In essence Jesus is saying “if you are greedy your whole life will be full of darkness, but if you are generous your whole life will be full of light.” That’s why Paul says so clearly in Colossians 3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4)

So the question as Jesus puts it in the end of verse 23 is “how great is the darkness? This is a call to reflect on our own lives! Do we have evil eyes or good eyes? Are we greedy or are we generous? Do we view our money as wholly devoted to God’s Kingdom or do we view our money as ours, and long for more? What’s are view? We have only two choices.  The main point is the same:  How we view our money determines how we view our love for God

What do you treasure?

When we love someone there is nothing we wouldn’t do to make our significant other happy. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, when it comes to our relationship with our father in Heaven, we are ready to offer our lives to him, except for our wallets and purses. 

I have heard somewhere about a technique Africans use to capture monkeys. They put a banana in a small-mouthed jar chained to a tree. The monkey will reach in to get the banana, and get his hand stuck the jar. Because he refuses to let go of the banana, he is captured. He could have easily set himself free if he had just been willing to let go of his prized possession.

That is a picture of many who are trying to hold to their possessions and at the same time be devoted to Christ. But  there really is only two choices when it comes to our money and our relationship to God. A good place to begin the conversation about God and possessions is found in Matthew 6:19-24.

Jesus offers three illustrations that each point to two choices concerning how we view our money. I’ll discuss the first in this article and the next two in the following. Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Two Treasures

Treasure on earth

You may not be able to observe it in the original but Jesus is doing a little play on words here (You can see in the original Greek how the two bolded words share the same verb stem:  Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυρος). He says literally do not treasure for yourselves treasures.

Treasures here simply refers to those things in your life in which are extremely valuable—your car, your house, your boat, your clothes, your food, your dog…etc. One person defines it as “that which is of exceptional value and kept safe—‘treasure, wealth, riches (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains New York: United Bible Societies, 1996, 620).’

 But is Jesus then saying that it’s wrong to have things? To have a home. . .to have a car. . .to plan for the future and have a savings account?

Simply answered, no. But there is a parable Jesus told in Luke that helps us get a grasp on exactly what “storing up treasures on earth” looks like. It’s in Luke 12:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).”

So what is storing up treasure on earth look like? We store up treasure on earth when we move beyond our needs and begin storing up our wants. This is admittedly a hard truth to swallow, but Jesus is telling us that our material possessions—our money—is not for the purposes of “stocking up.” But why?

Foolishness of earthly gain

Storing up earthly gain is stocking up for ourselves more and more stuff—for the sole purpose of stocking up stuff! That’s the goal! To make sure we have a lot of things in our possession! But Jesus says this is foolish! Why? Because our possessions are temporary. Observe the last part of verse 19:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal

In the time of Jesus one’s wealth was not indicated by paper currency. It was in metals (like gold and silver) and clothing. And one’s money was not stored away in a bank somewhere but was hidden in a safe place inside the house. 

Jesus says, don’t store your treasures on earth because the moths will eat away your clothing, and the metals and materials will “rust (literally “eating”) away, and thieves will (lit. “dig through” because thieves would literally dig through the walls of a house) steal your belongings. In other words, it is foolish to store up material possessions on earth because they only last a short while.

  • Our Iphones—become obsolete in weeks!
  • Our cars (we bought our first “new Car” in 2014, and after our kids got a hold of it, it was done!
  • Our bodies decay
  • Our things will eventually rot!

And yet, that’s what we tend to do. We get fixated on making sure we have enough stuff. We want the nicest things. We desire lots of money in the bank. And for what? What is it accomplishing? One day it will all be gone! Jesus says elsewhere: 

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?

As Christians we need to realize that the things in this life are temporary. This world is not our home. Listen to how Peter describes us in 1 Peter 2:11:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).

That’s what we are: sojourners, exiles, and aliens to this world. This world is not our home! I like how the Christian Contemporary Band, Mercy Me puts it:

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now

Treasure in Heaven 

So that brings us to the other choice: treasure in Heaven. Look at verse 22:

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Jesus calls us to a better choice—treasure in Heaven. But what does that entail?

What is treasure in heaven?

I think Craig Blomberg in his commentary on Matthew put it as good as any: 

Treasure in Heaven is the compassionate use of material resources to meet other’s physical and spiritual needs, in keeping with the priorities of God’s Kingdom (Blomberg, Craig. Matthew, 123).

The Apostle Paul helps us understand what storing our treasures in Heaven looks like:

 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Storing our treasures in Heaven is simply thinking about investing our possessions/money with a Kingdom mindset. It means asking the question:  “How can I use my money—what I have over and beyond the physical needs of my family–to invest in the work of the Kingdom? 

The wisdom of storing treasure in heaven

Now, notice the wisdom of storing treasure in Heaven opposed to the foolishness of storing our money on earth in the next part of verse 20:

but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

When we store up for ourselves treasure on earth—for the here and now—we are investing in temporary and fading things. But when we invest our money in God’s Kingdom, it carries over eternal dividends! When we invest in the Kingdom God will bless us eternally in the future. I like how Mark Moore puts it:

It’s true you can’t take it with you but Jesus said you can send it ahead.

Furthermore, investing in the Kingdom means that we invest in the lives of others. We invest in seeing lives changed, people come to know Christ, people freed from the separation of God for eternity. That’s a true and lasting investment! 

The Main  Point

What’s the point to all of this? Here it is: how we view our money determines how we view our love for God. It’s right there in verse 21:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We have two choices: invest our money in ourselves or invest our money in God’s Kingdom. However, when  we spend our money one thing is inescapable—how we spend our money determines how we view our love for God. Moore is right when he goes on to say:

Our wallets are one of the best barometers of our spirits

See, when we truly understand what life in the kingdom is, we begin to view our money differently. Money is only a means by which we can help bring people into the kingdom! Therefore:

  • The car we drive
  • The boat we own
  • The house we live in
  • The savings account
  • The toys and things we have cluttering up our basement

All of these things and more are only seen as vehicles by which we can bring the Gospel to a lost and dying world—period. The way we view our stuff inevitably points to how we view God. If we store up treasures on earth we say that our wealth is more important than our worship! 

How should we view homosexuality?

In the last post found here  I sought to outline four areas in which the Bible brings clarity on human sexuality. Here I want to discuss one particular sexual issue that has grown increasingly divisive in not only the world but in the church, namely homosexuality. As elders and church leaders one of our main priorities is the protection of our church from false teaching (see Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, one of the obligations church leaders have  before God involves clarifying clearly and directly what the Bible teaches on this important and sensitive topic.The following are 5 points regarding homosexuality that I believe are essential for Christians to unify on.

1. The Bible is clear—homosexuality is a sin against God.

I think it is important to clarify from the outset that homosexuality, like any sin, is wrong, a transgression, and should be rejected as a Christ-follower. We reject any modern connotation that homosexuality is something different than what is spoken of in scripture, and that any sexual activity outside the realm of biblical marriage, which consists of one man and one woman for life, is to be denied. Below are the most prominent passages in the NT that speak to this issue and make it clear that God opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1: 24-32).”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-10).”

2. Christians are called to love all people, including homosexuals.

It is abundantly clear that many in the church have failed to express genuine Christ-like love to the LGBTQ community. Too many lives have been destroyed by a Christians unloving and judgmental spirit. We have used the Bible as a club instead of a gift. And as a result many who could have found freedom in Christ have been totally turned off by it. This is simply wrong! Many times we have elevated the truth of the Bible above or without regard for our love for people. We must remember that Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and Paul said that we were to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must maintain both truth and love when it comes to how we treat those in the world. 

3. Christians are to speak the truth to all people, including homosexuals.

So, does this mean we are to accept those who live openly homosexual lifestyles without exception ? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we are to show them the love of Christ by calling them to repent of their lifestyle and surrender their lives to Jesus. When Jesus said that true discipleship involved “denying oneself, taking up your cross, and following him (Luke 9:23),” that involved turning away from all sins of the flesh and being “born again (John 3:5);” to “walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Loving the world by accepting people where they are without calling them to repent is the opposite of love. True love is telling people the truth, and for those living a homosexual lifestyle it means calling them out of that way of living. The great news we have for those living in sin is that they can be forgiven! As Paul plainly put it in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

Therefore, we can love someone while  not condoning their behavior. Loving someone is not synonymous with agreeing with everything they do. So, we love all people. Like the good Samaritan we are to help those in need no matter their cultural background or sexual orientation. But Like Jesus and the adulterous woman, we meet the need, but reply “go and sin no more.” We are to  love the broken, the sinner, the outcast but our love moves us to tell them the truth. If we condone their sinful behavior, forsake to tell them the good news of the Gospel, and call on them to trust Jesus with all their brokenness, it would bring into  question our sincere love for them. As Paul said: speak the truth in love, you can’t have one without the other.

4. We must remember that God is both loving and Just

God is love, and God is grace. But, we must never forget that God is also holy, perfect, and righteous. He is a wrathful God. Because God is holy and just it creates a predicament in us as unholy human beings having a relationship with Him. In all reality, God’s justice and holiness demand that we as an unholy people receive death. So, what hope is there for us? This is the good news of the Gospel. Because God is both holy and loving he desired for his creation to be in relationship with him, but it was impossible because of our unrighteousness. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die in our place. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s judgment of sin and love for his creation collide. Jesus as a perfect sacrifice took on our sins so that we could stand justified in the sight of God. It’s not our works that save us, its His!

Nevertheless, we still have a choice to make. We can either except Christ’ sacrifice by faith, or we can deny him by rejecting Christ and remaining in our sin. This is where the rubber meets the road. For someone to stand justified in God’s sight, one must put their faith in Christ, repent of their sins and be transformed. This is the only difference between the open homosexual and the Christian—a change of mind, to repent and trust in Jesus. Christ demands a change of heart. 

5. Those who call themselves Christians have a higher standard than those who are of the world. 

One major area of confusion for many is the difference between the saved and the unsaved. When one becomes a Christian they have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers each Christian to live holy and sanctified lives. This does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they are automatically “perfect,” without sin. But it does mean that one is in a continual denying of oneself, repenting of sin, and a pursuing of Christ-likeness. One aspect that stems from this is that each Christian has a responsibility to help their fellow Christians grow in Christ (e.g. Gal. 6:1-2, Heb. 10:25).

Sometimes this means that when a fellow Christian is living or teaching falsely, it is the responsibility of the church to call them to stop and repent of their actions; this is called church discipline. Underlying this idea is a fundamental difference between those “in Christ,” and those “outside of Christ.” Believers are called to live holy lives. Unbelievers are unable to live holy lives simply because they have not been regenerated and saved by the Gospel. Believers need to live out the Gospel; unbelievers need to believe the Gospel. The best illustration of this is in 1 Corinthians 5 in which the church was openly condoning sexual immorality. The apostle Paul was appalled at such behavior and admonished the Church to remove the offender from membership. He then offers an important differentiation between those in the world and those in Christ:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As you can see Paul realizes that inevitably those who are in the world are going to live unholy lives. Thus, we as Christians have an obligation to take them the Gospel. To associate with those of the world does not mean condoning their behavior, but rather,  calling them out of it. However, for those who call themselves Christians, yet live in open and unrepentant sin, they are to be removed until they repent and acknowledge their sin. The reason is because such people are in danger of influencing other Christians to follow their false teaching/behavior. As Christians then, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for what we teach and how we live. 

Closing comments

We as Christians are called to love all people as God has loved us. However, sometimes love involves  speaking the truth even though it may sting. Someone who is living a homosexual life or teaches that it is ok to live a homosexual life is in error. Therefore, we as Christians have an obligation to speak the truth in love. For the unbeliever it means calling them to receive Christ by denying their sin and seeking salvation through the blood of Jesus. For the believer it means that we confront them in their error and call them to repent of their sin. If one calls himself a Christian and yet still lives in continual and habitual sin, they are called to leave the fellowship of the church, with the hopes that they will come to their senses and return to Christ. In the end we desire all people to come to know the joy that is in Christ. Amen. 

Reasons why baptism should be performed by immersion and not to infants or young children.

I have had several conversations with some of my Christian friends over the issue of the mode and candidates for baptism. And while this topic tends to divide us on doctrine it is nevertheless a crucial and important topic to have. As I heard one theologian put it: “when doctrine divides the worst thing to do is to say nothing.” So here are some reasons why I believe the proper mode of baptism should be immersion, and the proper candidates should be those who can believe and repent (i.e. not babies or children):

The Mode—immersion

  • The original word “baptism” comes from the Greek baptizo which literally means to “immerse” or “dip (see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer. 2nd ed. 130).”
  • In John 3:23 we are told that John the Baptist was baptizing near Salim “because water was plentiful there.” There is no need for a large quantity of water if anything other than immersion is to be understood.
  • In Acts 8:38-39 we are told that Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch went “down into the water…and they came up out of the water.” This seems to indicate that Phillip Immersed the Eunuch, rather than sprinkling or pouring.
  • The picture baptism symbolizes in Romans 6:2-4 is one that can only make sense with immersion in view. According to Romans 6 baptism pictures a death burial and resurrection.When one is immersed into water, and comes up out of the water it pictures Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Sprinkling or pouring cannot picture these symbols.
  • In the early church the only mode of baptism was immersion (see The Emergence of the Church, Arthur G. Patzia. 240.)

The Candidate—a Repentant believer

  • Baptism is always accompanied with faith and/or repentance (e.g. Acts 2:38; Romans 6:2-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, one would have to have the ability to place their trust in Christ and understand that they need to turn from their sin—babies and children are unable to do this.
  • Nowhere in the NT do we find children being baptized. Therefore, the silence of such examples leads one to conclude that infants are not required to be baptized.
  • Jesus says in Matthew 19:14 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. Thus, until they reach an age of accountability it seems appropriate to conclude that Children are under the grace of God.

Are You Worthy?

The Following is a sermon I wrote for my Graduate Class at Johnson University (Knoxville, TN). My prayer is that my thoughts from this glorious passage of scripture bring much encouragement to you in these seemingly treacherous of times.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:1-14)

“Do you think you’re worthy…? Strange question I admit, but ponder it for a moment. Do you think you are worthy…? Sit back, and consider it briefly. Allow it to soak in a bit; do you think you are worthy? What is your response? Your first inclination I am sure is to ask “worthy of or for what?”  Allow me to elaborate. Do you think you are worthy to fix the brokenness of life? The pains, the struggles, the hurt, the tears of sadness felt all over the globe—are you worthy to fix it? You might be nervously thinking “what kind of question is that—am I worthy to fix the brokenness of life—of course not! Who would ask that sort of thing? And how is that any way to begin a biblical sermon? Thanks a lot for the encouragement pastor!”

Well, before we get carried away and dismiss the question, I truly believe it deserves a second glance. Because when we begin to think about the significance of the world’s brokenness combined with our unworthiness (and by that I mean our inability to carry it out), then we are left with a sincere, deep, and heavy problem—one of hopelessness, despair, and doom. It’s bleak I admit, but it’s a reality if in fact the only resolve to our world’s brokenness is dependent on our worthiness, because as we have already admitted, we are in fact not worthy.

Revelation 5 perhaps helps us resolve this terrifying and complex situation. It is my desire that at the conclusion of all that has been said, concerning this most majestic text, that each of us will have a renewed sense of hope and awe of Christ; that our only response will be one of true worship. But first, may we set some context for our passage.

CONTEXT

Revelation, as we are aware, deals primarily with future events. John, the author on the isle of Patmos writes down visions that are supernaturally given to him regarding “last things” that is, events that will transpire during the last age of history, the church age (the time between Christ first and second coming). In fact John tells us the clear outline of the book in 1:19: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are (chapters 1-3) and those that are to take place after this (chapters 4-22). Thus, while chapters 1-3 discuss the present situation facing the seven churches in Asia Minor, our present passage until the end of the book depicts how the rest of human history will unfold, climaxing with the final return of Christ.[1]

It may be important to remind ourselves that the book Revelation is written in a special type of genre. One in which has been appropriately called “apocalyptic (taken from the very first word of the book, ἀποκάλυψις).” In its very nature the book is to be taken symbolically and not literally. Therefore, as we unfold the main points of the passage we will have to unpack a few images John describes for us in order to get the overall idea.

Our specific passage (5:1-14) picks up in the midst of a tremendous worship service held in the splendor of Heaven itself! The transitional word “then (καί in Greek, but no doubt a note of sequential transition, thus rightly translated “then”) in 5:1 points us back to the events described in chapter four. There we discover John being transported to the doors of Heaven. The imagery given reminds us of the similar picture pained for us in Isaiah 6 as Isaiah also observed the majesty of Heaven. Here we are introduced to God himself—a description that is seemingly indescribable, and yet John with the best of precision, pictures God in all His splendor being worshiped by all of creation (depicted by the four living creatures of verses 6-8), and the twenty-four elders (most likely the superior order of  angels, so Morris, p. 88).  And they never cease to praise God:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8)!”

So, the setting of our passage is Heaven, and the focus is on the creator of the cosmos, Yahweh, the Great I AM. But the focus takes a slight shift as we enter into chapter five. And it is here that we are introduced to the dilemma—who will fix the brokenness?

OUR UNWORTHINESS

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

The scene seems somewhat simple but it may be helpful to unpack a few images here. First, it seems obvious that the one on the throne is God (see 4: 1-8). Second, we observe a scroll with seven seals. Some have suggested that this scroll is (1) the lamb’s book of life, (2) The OT scriptures, (3) or perhaps a testament that guarantees the inheritance of the saints. But most likely the scroll simply contains, as Mounce puts it, “the full account of what God in His sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the World (Mounce, 142).” In other words, the scroll contains the events of the rest of history—the events between the time of Christ ascension and His second coming. The scroll is protected with seven individual seals which when opened will reveal the description of what will happen during the end time events.

Now, it is here that we discover a complicated dilemma. As we read in verses 2 through 4 there was a call for someone, anyone, in Heaven, on earth, goodness…even under the earth, who was worthy enough to open the scroll and unveil the events of History. And all at once it’s as if the overwhelmingly joyful, hopeful, majestic, and praiseful, mood of 4:1-11 takes a complete downward spiral to despair and dismay. No one is worthy. No one was able (δύναμαι) John writes in verse 3, to open the scroll.

The implication seems to point toward a hopeless and saddened conclusion. John himself begins to weep (κλαίω, carries the idea of weeping loudly or intensely) in verse 4 because “no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”

But why…? Why such saddened emotion at the fact that no one was found worthy to open the scroll? I think it lies in a couple of factors. First, John was told earlier in 1:19and in 4:1 that he was going to be shown what would take place—that is, how history would unfold in God’s grand plan. Upon hearing that there was no one worthy communicated the sad possibility that this amazing revelation would actually never come to fruition.

However, I think this text points to a more subtle truth. This scroll containing the rest of human history would undoubtedly reveal not only how the world would end but more importantly how God would make all things right (the point of the entire book for that matter)! There is magnificent hope within the content of that scroll. Within its pages lie the greatest news ever—God’s complete plan for mankind’s final redemption! So, when John heard that no one was worthy—that no one had the ability—to open the scroll, it conveyed a huge message: the world’s brokenness would never be fixed by our worthiness. The fact remains that we are completely unworthy to bring hope to our final destination. We are unworthy!

These verses develop, I think, a most fundamental truth about understanding our relationship to God. Worship must begin with an understanding that we are unworthy. Our first acknowledgement when faced with the reality of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, should always be the overwhelming sense of our inadequacies and inability to fix the problems of sin and pain that this world is saturated in. In light of this, one of the greatest obstacles each of us face when seeking to relate and acknowledge the almighty God, is our self-pride. Deep within us, we may feel like we are worthy— that we deserve and are able to open the scroll, break the seals and reveal the divine plan for humanity! How egotistical of us!  Instead what we need to do, what we must do, is respond like John, weep bitterly. John realized, just like Isaiah, that he was a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips! And if no one was worthy to unseal the scroll then what was to become of the state of humanity? And I believe that when we get to this point we begin to realize genuine worship. We begin to realize that God is longing for brokenness, humility—when we get there, we begin to worship. N.T. Wright articulated this realization well:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian.).”

And this text seems to indicate that a part of glimpsing the reality of God involves acknowledging our unworthiness. We then begin to look for someone who may fit that description. And that brings us optimistically to the rest of the passage.

CHRIST’ WORTHINESS

The sorrowful tone of verse 4 is quickly interrupted by the enthusiastic news of verse 5.One of the 24 elders reassures John that there is no need to cry, there is in fact someone who can open the scroll, an individual who is in fact worthy to do so! Look at how the elder describes him in verses 5-9:

 

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

I don’t believe there is any other passage of scripture that elevates Christ in a more dynamic and significant way. As an announcer at a boxing event introduces, to a highly anticipated crowd, the undefeated champion of the world, so the elder announces the reigning Lion and Lamb! It is Christ—He is the one, and the only one, who is able…who is worthy…to open the scroll and its seven seals!

And let’s refrain from reading too quickly the text to miss a most profound imagery of Christ here. Verses 5 and 6 convey a rather significant truth about the conquering Messiah, and the means by which He has established His kingdom. Read closely again verses 5 and 6:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

As we know, the Jews of the 1st century were looking for a messiah who would in fact be an earthly King establishing an earthly Kingdom, who inevitably would put away all oppressing rulers and authorities. So, when Jesus entered the scene claiming to be the anointed one, the religious rulers were more than a little suspicious about the claim. In fact, they counted it as plain blasphemy. And as a result they had him executed on a cross. So much for Christ reigning as king—or so they thought.

In verses 5 and 6 we get a glimpse of how Christ actually did conquer as the reigning king and messiah—he conquered through his death! He is the lion of Judah, the root of David—this points to his kingship. But he’s also the “lamb that was slain”—this is the means by which he conquered. Through his death on the cross Christ conquered sin and death and by his resurrection overcame the power of death allowing all to live forever (1 Cor. 15:53-58).

And so based on his work on the cross Christ then approaches the throne of God and takes the scroll—He alone is worthy to break the seals. And as a result the entire heavenly assembly shakes the walls with adoration, praise….worship!

The song sung to Christ offers us the reason why Christ is worthy to open the scroll (notice the “for” in verse 9, ὅτι equals a causal conjunction) .These statements differentiate clearly the unworthiness of man and the worthiness of Christ:

First, Christ is worthy because he “was slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God.” It’s clear, is it not, why in verses 1-4 there was no one to be found worthy? The fact remains, the only requirement worthy of opening up the pages of History, and revealing the outcome of God’s divine and redemptive plan (and by implication resolving the salvation for the world), was the perfect and unblemished sacrifice of God himself. This is the heart of the Gospel! It was “He who knew no sin, becoming sin, that we might be the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).” And it was by Christ’ sacrifice that our sins were “ransomed,” that is, purchased, bought. Our redemption and salvation was not free—it cost Christ taking the form of a servant, walking our ugly sod, and dying a wretched and spiritually overwhelming death! And as the end of verse 9 makes clear, that salvific event of the cross was available for every nation in the world!

May we just pause for a second and take in the implications of all of this?! I think we may begin to see the foundation of true genuine worship taking place here. Notice, that the assembly in Heaven expresses their gratitude and praise, their adoration and worship, in light of the worthiness of Christ. Worship must always be Christological. It must always be Christ-centric. Once we acknowledge our unworthiness to fix the brokenness of life—our inability to unseal the scroll— and shift our eyes to the only one who is worthy to bring salvation to all—Christ Jesus—then there is nothing left to do but to worship! When we come face to face with the realization of Christ and his salvific work on the cross we must worship! This is what it means to truly worship in spirit and in truth.

  • This is Moses taking his sandals off on Mt. Sinai
  • This is Abraham raising a knife to slay his only son
  • This is David dancing naked in ecstatic joy
  • This is Isaiah in the presence of Yahweh
  • This is Thomas falling down and saying “my Lord and my God.”

May I repeat Wright’s words once more:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.

OUR WORTH IN CHRIST’ WORTH

We are unworthy, Christ is worthy. This seems to be the formula given in our passage for

true worship. But I am drawn to one more simple truth this text seems to indicate. Let us read slowly verses 9-10 once more:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Notice again the words “you ransomed a people for God.”  Worship is acknowledging our unworthiness, Christ worthiness, to bestow unto us His worthiness! Worship happens when our unworthiness meets Christ’ worthiness. Worship therefore, is an expression of our overwhelming gratitude to Christ for redeeming us to God. And di d you notice the rest of the passage? Through Christ’ sacrifice he has made us a “Kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth!” That’s incredible! The story of Revelation, and the Bible for that matter, points to God, in His divine mercy, taking our brokenness and replacing it with Christ’ perfection! Through Christ, God has adopted us in to His family, called us His own, and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that is in Heaven! He has taken our unworthiness, and replaced it with Christ’ worthiness! It’s no wonder that for the rest of the passage everyone represented in Heaven can only respond with worship. It’s no wonder that verse 14 ends with these words: “and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Let me ask you, are you worthy? Perhaps now you pause a moment before answering. Because the answer to that question depends on a proper perspective doesn’t it? If we are asking if we are worthy to fix the brokenness of life based on our own worthiness then the answer is a resounding No! However, if one was to ask if I am worthy to be fixed, then the answer is an overwhelming Yes! Based on the worthiness of Christ I am worthy! I find my identity, my worthiness in Christ. So, may we this morning take time to confess our unworthiness, acknowledge Christ supreme worthiness, and bask in the blessings of Christ’ worthiness in us! As we do I am sure we will find ourselves bowing in worship to our Savior Christ Jesus!

 

 

[1] I am aware of the various viewpoints regarding the structure and interpretive stances in the scholarly community. I personally take what is popularly known as the “spiritual” interpretive view and see Revelation in light of the cyclical structure view held by many amillennialist. Due to time restraints I neglected to go into further detail concerning the books structure and its relation to the passage at hand.

What about women preachers?

Note: The following is a response to a question submitted in conjunction with a sermon I preached on 9/20/15 at SonRise Christian Church, Summerville, SC. 

QuestionMy question to today’s question is, if women can’t be leaders or preachers or lead a church is Joyce Meyers wrong?  What’s the difference between a Children’s Sunday school teacher and a preacher?

Answer: Great question! The New Testament teaches that women are to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4), teach children (2 Timothy 1 :3-5), evangelize and disciple (Acts 18:24-28), and serve in the life of the church body (1 Cor 12). However, as far as authority (i.e. Oversight and leadership) and teaching the Bible in the corporate body of the church 1 Timothy 2:12-15 makes it clear that this role is to be done by men. Therefore, I humbly disagree with our sister Joyce Myers. I feel that if she is taking on a role as pastor-teacher then she is ignoring the clear point of 1 Timothy 2:12-15. Furthermore,  those who teach children seem not to be in violation of  1 Timothy 2 because they are not taking on the role as the pastor-teacher of a local church assembly.

It is admittedly a touchy subject and the stance that I take confessedly goes against the cultural norm. However, the Bible must take precedent over our cultural inclinations. Thanks so much for your willingness to dig deeper and for being a great Berean! Here is a fantastic resource to further your study: http://cbmw.org/topics/complementarianism/50-crucial-questions/

The following is a follow-up question along with my answer:

Question: Thank you Pastor Will. I guess I am still a bit confused with my Joyce Meyers question. Not because I think your wrong, the word clearly says that.  I just don’t see how he could deny her heaven due to not following the word. She has saved so many souls. But I wonder by saving so many souls and being she is doing it wrong is she still saving them or leading them to damnation. Surely not right? I know someone that will be knocking on suicides door but listens to Joyce and can be routed in another direction. She gets peace from her sermons and able to put things back in perspective. I hope God has compassion on her (Joyce). Thanks for your never ending patience and love for me.

Answer: Those are compelling questions, and ones that I admittedly struggle with myself. The basic foundation of your thoughts revolve around the question of how someone so successful and influential in communicating God’s truth could miss such a straight-forward passage of scripture. I must admit, I am boggled by it as well 🙂 That moves us into an even more difficult situation–that is, how is it that all of us can read the same Bible and come up with completely different answers and beliefs? Again, not an easy question to resolve. My humble response would be as follows:

First, while I believe that Joyce Myers is incorrect in her application and interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15, I don’t believe that necessitates the basic message of the Gospel that results in people receiving Christ as Lord. God can, and does use miss-guided messengers(like myself at times I’m sure)  to reach effectively people with the basic message of the Gospel. A great case study of this in the Bible is Philippians 1:15-18 in which Paul distinguishes between the “Motive” of the speaker and the Result of the “message” given. In other words some can even preach the Gospel with false motives and it still do the job of convicting the lost listener!

Secondly, as to how so many devoted Bible-believers can disagree I propose a few thoughts: First, I think all Bible-believing Christians agree on the “essentials” of the Gospel–The “Bulls-eye” points. That is, what we believe about salvation, Jesus deity, God, The Work of the cross, the resurrection, and the fact that Christ will definitely come again.

However, on the secondary issues (for example women preaching) there are definitely disagreements. I think in light of this we must avoid two extremes.

On the one hand, some respond with subjective relativism. That is, there is no way we can come to the ultimate truth and thus every person’s individual interpretation is fine, so long as we don’t subject anyone else to hold our position. This is dangerous however, to those who believe in the inerrant word of God. We believe that when God wrote the Bible he didn’t mean to communicate 2, 3, or a thousand different ideas, but one. Therefore, the Bible has one interpretation and our job as Bible students is to find out what that is.

On the other hand, there are some who go to the opposite extreme and believe that if you don’t adhere to every belief on every verse of the Bible as they do, then your completely wrong and sinful! This is completely unnecessary however. While we do need to agree on the essentials, we also need to have room to lovingly dialogue about our differences.

So while I think Joyce Myers teaches  some important issues incorrectly I would never advocate her as sinful or unsaved or the like. I do feel compelled to caution others when there are areas of biblical teaching that are off base in my view of Scripture. But these need to be done in a spirit of grace, love and patience. In conclusion I think it is helpful to follow the old adage: “in essentials unity, in opinions liberty, in all things love.”

Love ya, keep up the growth!