A THEOLOGY OF PREACHING

A THEOLOGY OF PREACHING

What is preaching? Have you ever pondered that question? For many the modern day preacher conjures up pictures of a legalistic, close-minded, money hungry, overweight, car salesman-like individual who seeks the platform of the pulpit as a means preacherto gratify his selfish ambitions. Yet the New Testament elevates the act of preaching and pictures it as the “event through which God works.[1]” Preaching is so vital to the Kingdom of God in fact, that if it were to cease no one would ever have the opportunity to hear the message of Jesus and in turn receive Christ’ wonderful gift of salvation” (Rom. 10:14-16 ESV)! The preacher stands as the mouth piece of God, announcing to the world God’s desire and will. It only seems logical therefore, that the Christian understand the role and duties of the preacher as described in the Bible. Thus, the following seeks to provide a biblical theology of preaching. A biblical basis for preaching will be provided, followed by a discussion of how the New Testament defines preaching, and concluded by two guiding principles for the modern preacher in light of the New Testament’s explanation of preaching.

THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATION FOR PREACHING

Before anything can be said about the subject of preaching, a biblical foundation must be developed, offering a reason for preaching in the first place. Imagine the modern day preacher’s surprise if he discovered his hours of study and preparation were all in vain due to a lack of biblical emphasis to preach! If indeed there lacks a clear exhortation to preach in the scripture, tremendous unproductive efforts have been wrought by preachers throughout the years. Thankfully, this is not the case. The Bible has indeed set forth a strong emphasis on the importance of preaching. The Bible emphasizes preaching through the ministry of Jesus, the commandment of Jesus, the ministry of the early church, and the source of divine compulsion,

            Few doubt that the Gospel writers highlighted Jesus’ preaching ministry. In fact, one of the main reasons Jesus entered into the cosmos involved preaching. For example, in Luke 4:43 Jesus says “but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” When asked of John whether Jesus was actually the messiah one of the proofs Jesus gave included preaching (Lk. 7:22 ). Furthermore, Jesus sent out his disciples to “proclaim (kerryso) the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 10:7 ESV), implying the importance and significance of preaching. One of the main thrusts of Jesus’ ministry therefore, included his preaching.

            In what way does the emphasis on Jesus’ preaching ministry speak to the overall biblical emphasis on preaching today? Simply stated, Jesus’ preaching ministry highlights the importance of preaching or proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Jesus set forth for all believers through his preaching ministry an example for all Christians to follow. Because Jesus preached, we too preach! 

            Not only does the Bible emphasize preaching through the example of Jesus preaching ministry but also through Jesus’ command to preach. Before Jesus ascended into Heaven he appeared to his disciples in order to commission them before his departure. In this commission Jesus commanded his disciples to “go into all the world and preach (kerusso) the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15 ESV). Of all the commandments Jesus could have left the disciples with, preaching revealed the one that Jesus saw as most necessary. Additionally, Peter in his sermon spoken at the house of Cornelius in Acts 10 said: “And he (that is, Jesus) commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42 ESV). Therefore, preaching is important because Christ commanded that we do it.

            Just as Jesus exemplified the importance of preaching in the Gospels, so did the early church as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. A significant example of preaching in the book of Acts comes from Stephen’s remarkable sermon as recorded in Acts 7. Preaching the Gospel was so important to Stephen that he accepted the consequences of speaking the truth in exchange for his own life. After preaching a powerful and convicting sermon to the Jewish religious leaders, Stephen was executed by way of stoning. Stephen’s boldness and courage sets forth a strong case for the essentiality of preaching for the contemporary church.

            Final biblical evidence behind the necessity of preaching lies behind what R.H. Mounce calls “divine compulsion.[2]” Preaching the Word of God results not from some trivial decision to do so, but begins with a divine movement within the heart of the individual. That is, one can’t help but preach; the preacher is compelled to preach. For example, after being told not to speak about Jesus, Peter and John respond by saying “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 ESV). Similarly, the apostle Paul cries “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9: 16 ESV). Therefore, divine compulsion points to one of ways the Bible underscores preaching.

THE DUAL NATURE OF PREACHING

            Now that a biblical basis for preaching has been set forth, preaching can be defined and explained. Preaching involves both evangelism and discipleship.

           preacher 3 Generally the word “preach” carries the idea of proclaiming something. The announcer for a baseball game or the spokesman for a T.V. commercial can just as easily be called a “preacher” because they proclaim or announce information. In the ancient Greek world the most common usage of the word preach was kerysso, which meant to proclaim as a herald. The herald was a man of significant importance, employed by the king or state to make all public proclamations. The New Testament writers carried this idea of public proclamation and related it to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Preaching therefore, at its core, is “the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world.[3]

            Preaching carries first and foremost evangelistic connotations. Preaching involves proclaiming the core truths of the Gospel, that is, Christ’ death burial and resurrection (see 1 Cor 15:1-3). The usage of the Greek word euaggelizo assists in developing this understanding of preaching. The compound Greek word euaggelizo comes from two Greek words, eu meaning “good,” or “well” and aggello meaning “to proclaim,” or “tell.” Thus, euaggelizo means “to proclaim the good news,”  “preach the Gospel,” or “to evangelize.[4]” It is at no surprise then that euaggelizo “is almost always used of good news concerning the Son of God as proclaimed in the Gospel.[5]” Therefore, the purpose of preaching consists of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel to ears that have yet to hear of it. This understanding of preaching is clearly repeatedly seen in the New Testament.

            The early church described in the book of Acts highlights preaching as the means by which evangelism takes place. The majority of the 34 references to the word preach in Acts refer to preaching for the purposes of evangelism. For example, following the dispersion resulting from the martyrdom of Stephen, Luke records that those who had scattered went about “preaching the word” (Acts 8:4 ESV). Among those preaching included Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6, who had gone down to Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. The response to Philip’s message underscores the fact that Philip’s preaching was in fact evangelistic. Philip’s preaching resulted in the Samaritans (v.12) and even Simon the sorcerer (v.13) believing in the message and being baptized. Thus, Philip’s sermon to the Samaritan’s advocates preaching for the purposes of evangelism. Similarly, in Acts 11 men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had traveled to Antioch were “preaching the Lord Jesus to Hellenists.” (Acts 11:20 ESV) Again, the results of their preaching climaxed with “a great number who believed and turned to the Lord (v.21),” showcasing preaching as an evangelistic effort.

            This idea of preaching as proclaiming the Gospel to the unchurched is also emphasized in Pauline literature. In Romans 10:14-15 the apostle Paul seems to indicate that preaching is in fact the means God uses in order to reach unbelievers. Paul writes: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Ro. 10:14-16 ESV) Preaching then, is the vehicle in which the message of the Gospel is conveyed to the unsaved. The weight and importance Paul places on preaching staggers the mind, without preaching there lies no hope for the Gospel to be communicated to the world.

            Another outstanding Pauline passage that focuses on preaching as the proclamation of the gospel to the unchurched is found in Romans 15:20. Here Paul states that he makes it his “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20 ESV). Schreiner notes that “named” refers to “where Christ has not been ‘confessed’ or ‘acknowledged.[6]’” Paul implies that preaching involves proclaiming the Gospel to those who have yet to hear of Jesus Christ.     

            Few deny that preaching should be defined as the proclamation of the Gospel to those who are unsaved. But what about preaching and its relationship to discipleship, is their any correlation between the biblical concept of preaching and teaching? In the modern church preaching and teaching seem to be in some ways synonymous with one another. The modern sermon may involve both preaching and teaching. The question arises however, does the New Testament see preaching and teaching as synonymous pairs or are they separate entities with entirely different functions and purposes?

            The difficulty arises when one discovers that in some circumstances preaching seems to be unique and distinctive from that of teaching. That is, preaching is solely seen as the proclamation of the Gospel to the unsaved without any inference toward teaching for the purposes of edification or discipleship. However, there are instances when the scriptural context seems to define preaching as much more than just an evangelistic effort. On occasion preaching includes an element of teaching for the purposes of growing the church spiritually.

            In Romans 1:15 Paul explains that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15 ESV). If preaching is defined as solely the proclamation of the gospel to those who are unchurched, then why would Paul long to preach the gospel to those who had already heard and received it? Since Paul’s audience was already Christians, preaching must include more than just an initial presentation of the centrality of the Gospel and initial conversion.[7] The word translated “preach” is the word euangalizo, and as we have already observed its primary usage is preaching the Gospel to the lost. But as seen in this passage “it also has the connotation of explaining the fuller content of the gospel to the church, the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.[8]”  So, while preaching consists of preaching the gospel to the lost, it also involves expounding and explaining the gospel more fully to the church for their edification and spiritual growth. One thing that seems clear from this verse, and the book of Romans in a whole, is that “the gospel of grace is often misunderstood and often requires a lot of follow-up clarification and explanation[9].”

            The above conclusion leads me to believe that the New Testament does not draw much of a distinction between preaching and teaching. Preaching involves a great deal of teaching and vice-versa. This is explained, for example, when the words preach and teach are used so tersely that the logical conclusion demands the same meaning. For instance, in Matthew 11:1 Jesus is pictured going into the city in order to preach and teach. It would seem odd that Matthew intended to have the reader think Jesus would be preaching something entirely different then what he would be teaching. Rather, preaching and teaching seem to be identical. Similarly, In Acts 5:42 we find the early church “every day in the temple and from house to house, not ceasing to teach and preach Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42 ESV). In this example the content of what is preached and taught is exactly the same namely, that Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, Preaching and teaching can be used interchangeably. The same type of construction arrives in Acts 15:35 where Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the lord with many others also. Again teaching and preaching are not seen as two distinct purposes but involve communicating the same content to the same group of people.

            Preaching therefore, carries a dual purpose. On the one hand preaching involves proclaiming the gospel message to those who have yet to hear of it. Like a herald in the ancient world carrying good news from the King, so the modern day preacher delivers the greatest news of all, from the greatest king of all, to a hopeless world in need of a savior. To preach is to evangelize. However, preaching includes the development of that initial gospel message for the strengthening of those who have accepted it, explaining in detail everything that is entailed in the gospel and how the believer can apply it to their everyday life. Preaching takes on the characteristics of teaching and develops more fully the implications of the Gospel. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to “preach (kerysso) the word… with complete patience and teaching (didache)” (2 Tim 4:2 ESV). 

PREACHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY 

            In light of what has been said concerning the meaning and purpose of preaching, two principles will be set forth as a framework to guide one’s preaching ministry.

           preacher 1 First, preaching should address believers and non-believers differently. As been observed, preaching contains a dual nature, a proclamation of the gospel for the unbeliever and an explanation of the gospel for the believer’s spiritual growth. Thus, whenever the preacher presents the gospel he must do so differently for both groups because they are both in need of the gospel differently. Koessler writes: “The difference between preaching the gospel to those who do not believe and to those who do is the difference between announcement and implication. Both involve obedience, but of a different sort.[10]” For the unbeliever the gospel needs to be presented as the good news of salvation, for the believer the gospel needs to be explained in depth and applied for their daily spiritual growth. The reason the gospel must be preached differently to unbelievers and believers involves a “fundamental difference between the two groups…those who do not know Christ are fundamentally incapable of living the Christian life.[11]” Before one can receive the detailed guidelines of the gospel for empowered Christian living one must first receive the empowered dwelling of the Holy Spirit in order to live a Christian life. Therefore, “when we preach the gospel to those who are lost, we hold out the hope of Christ to them and call them to the obedience of faith. When we preach the gospel to those who already believe, we hold before them the Bible’s vision of reality and call them to act accordingly[12]

            Second, preaching should include the whole counsel of God. Paul told the Ephesian elders “And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming (kerusso) the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:25-27 ESV). It has been noted that preaching involves an element of teaching the Word of God for the spiritual growth of the saints. Thus, one of the preacher’s jobs includes teaching the Bible in its entirety. That is, seeking to preach the Bible holistically and refraining from preaching only things that come easy or bring large crowds. The apostle Paul also warned that “the time is coming when people will not endure soundteaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV). Moreover, preaching involves speaking on tough issues. A good preacher resists the temptation of preaching only on topics that are receivable and non-controversial. Instead, if a biblical passage covers material that is not socially acceptable the preacher remains faithful and preaches the truth withoutcompromise.      

            The emphasis the New Testament places on preaching testifies to its importance. Preaching, as outlined above, includes a dual nature, both the proclamation of the gospel for unbelievers and the expounding of the gospel for spiritual growth for the believer. Because of this understanding preaching should address the believer and the unbeliever from different approaches. To the unbeliever the gospel is presented as the call for salvation. For the believer the gospel is presented as the call to an obedient lifestyle. Furthermore, preaching should seek to include the whole counsel of God, preaching all the truths from scripture.


            [1] Robinson, Haddon W.  Biblical Preaching.  (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 19.

            [2] Mounce, R.H.  “Preaching,”  Pages 1023-1024 in The New Bible Dictionary.  Edited by J. D. Douglas.  (Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity, 1962), 1023.

            [3] Ibid. 1024.

            [4] Zodhiates, Spiros, ed.  The Complete Word Study Dictionary.  (Chattagnooga: AMG, 1993.), 668.

               [5] Unger, Merrill F. and White Jr., William.  Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980.), 481.

            [6] Schreiner, Thomas R.  Romans.  (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1998.), 770.

            [7] Ibid. 53.

            [8] Cottrell, Jack.  Romans. ( Missouri: College Press, 2005.), 59.

            [9] Ibid. 59 

            [10] Koessler, John.  Folly, Grace, and Power:  The Mysterious Act of Preaching.  (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2011.),114.

            [11] Ibid.  115. 

            [12] Ibid. 116.   

BOLDNESS

When one reSt-Paul-Preaching-in-Athensads through the book of Acts it is quickly discovered that the early church was a unique group of individuals, a group like no other. So moved by the event of the resurrection, these early believers could not withhold the things that their eyes had seen. As Peter proclaimed to the Jewish council, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had changed the early church forever, and they would not stop until the whole world knew of the Gospel (i.e. “the good news of Jesus”).

One particular area of interest concerning the early church is there courageous and fearless proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. A running theme in the book of Acts that seems to sprinkle throughout the narrative, involves the extreme boldness of the early Christians. The word “boldness” (from the Greek “parrēsia”) appears several times in the book of Acts. One lexicon captures the essence of these early Christians by defining “parrēsia” as “the absence of fear in speaking boldly (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Joseph Henry Thayer).” The Christians as described in Acts feared no man. Even in the midst of death itself they stood their ground, boldly proclaiming the message of the Gospel. Their confidence in the resurrection was so real, so alive, and so profoundly true, that they feared nothing!

We see this boldness exemplified in Acts 4 when Peter and John are facing the Jewish council. The Jews, annoyed at their message of the resurrection, threatened them to no longer speak of Jesus. However, Peter and John, with great boldness, looked them in the eye and spoke evermore passionately the resurrection of Jesus. So filled with the Spirit, the educated Sadducees were astonished of how Peter and John, uneducated men, could speak with such authority! We see it again when the seized Stephen stands confidently in front of the high priest and the hostile crowd. Eloquently Stephen articulates the continuity of the Old Testament scriptures with the person of Jesus. Stephen’s message creates such uproar that the hearers begin to grind their teeth at him, unable to accept the convicting message. Nevertheless, Stephen remains bold; so bold and so in tune with the father in fact, that he is able to look into their hate-filled eyes and say “Lord do not hold this sin against them!” We see it in beloved Paul, possibly the boldest of them all. We read time and time again of how Paul would preach and in return be physically mutilated. So much so, that on one occasion in Lystra, Paul was stoned so severely that the people left him for dead (Acts 14:19). But, he kept on preaching, he would not stop boldly proclaiming the story; it was that important.

And then, there is you and me. Decades separated from the time of those faithful early Christians. There work is now simply words on a page and at times it is difficult to recapture the fire that resided within those bold believers. So, we replace confidence with complacency, courageousness with cowardliness, and boldness with fear. We shriek at even the thought of inviting a stranger to church, let alone telling them about Jesus. And our concept of evangelism has shifted from proclaiming the good news of the resurrection to simply being a “silent witness.” Thus, we pass them by, hundreds of people, who need to hear the most profound and life-changing message on the planet.

But Why?

Why does the boldness described of those early Christians seem to be less evident in today’s Christians? Doesn’t the same Spirit who empowered the early church empower us today? Surely Joel’s prophecy concerning the indwelling of the Spirit for all believers is still true now as it was on Pentecost Day. If so, why the lack of zeal and courage to spread the Gospel to the entire world? Maybe it’s because we have been distracted by an ever growing culture of materialism and consumerism. Desire to reach the lost has been substituted with desire to reach our personal goals. Or maybe the pressure of subjectivism, relevance, and tolerance, that invades our culture, prevents us from proclaiming a message that is counter-cultural; a message claiming to be the only true worldview. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the boldness for the Gospel as seen in the book of Acts looks much different than contemporary American Christian evangelism. Perhaps it is time to set aside our many reservations and simply proclaim the message of Jesus with boldness!

What do you think about the church’ effort to evangelize? Do you think we have become too complacent in our effort to reach the lost? How is the early church, as described in Acts, different from today’s church?

TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE?

5.0.2Have you ever experienced a situation in which you lovingly sought to correct another Christian concerning a serious sin in their life, only to receive a most offended “don’t judge me!” The underlying assumption presupposes that condemning someone’s sinful actions disobeys Christ command to judge not that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1). Besides, didn’t Jesus say that one should remove the log from their eye before pointing out the speck in another’s eye? Likewise, did he not tell the Pharisees, concerning the adulteress woman, “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at he (John 8:7)?” But are these conclusions correct? Is it wrong for Christians to point out other Christians sinless lifestyles? How do we respond to Jesus’ words “judge not?”

As one studies the Bible it becomes clearly evident that the above responses to the issue of judging are sadly mistaken. The position that Christians are prohibited to admonish and rebuke one another’s immoral behavior results in a relative and subjective code of Christian ethics. That is, removal of spiritual accountability and church discipline allows for each individual Christian to live life in any manner he or she wishes. Furthermore, this illogical position goes contrary to the biblical position on the issue as we will see. The Bible speaks clearly on the Christian’s responsibility and obligation to hold each other accountable to the teachings of the Bible.

The Bible is clear that Christians are to hold each other to spiritual and godly standards of moral conduct. The same Jesus who said that we are not to judge also gave commands to confront Christians who are living immorally. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus prescribes how the church is to go about dealing with someone who sins against another. The person who has been sinned against is to go and confront them about their sinful behavior. If the person does not repent, then they are to take two to three others with him and confront the person a second time. Finally, If the person still refrains to change they are to be taken in front of the church and given an opportunity to repent. If the person still refuses to change then he is to be released from the congregation.

The apostle Paul provides a case in point in the book of 1 Corinthians 5. Apparently a son was having sexual relations with his father’s wife and the church of Corinth was condoning the behavior. The response from Paul may seem shocking to some. He plainly states that the church, rather than condoning the sinful activity, should be mourning the immoral behavior. But that’s not the shocker. What appear harsh are the words that follow.  Paul states that in his absence he had already cast judgment (same word that Jesus used in Matthew 7), not just on the situation, but on the “one who did such a thing.” Later in the passage Paul states some additional shocking words:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 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. 11 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. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage seems to go contrary to the way that most think about judging. In my estimation the contemporary church flips this logic on its head. We do a fine job of judging the un-churched but stray away from confronting the immoral behavior of the Christian, stating that it is wrong to judge each other. Contrarily, the apostle Paul states that we are not to judge those outside the church but are to judge those inside the church. Paul’s reasoning seems rational. The foundational reason we are to take serious the sins of Christian’s inside the church is because sin in the church affects the health of the entire church. Thus, Paul says in verse 6 “do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” In other words, sinfulness within the church doesn’t just affect the person sinning; it also affects the health of the church as a whole. Therefore, when sinfulness is brought into the church the church has an obligation to confront it, and remove it so as to not be affected and ultimately damaged by its disease.

Although judging is obligatory upon the church toward Christians who live openly and habitual sinful lifestyles, it should always be done in love and with the hope of reconciliation. In the passage mentioned earlier in Matthew 18 Jesus concludes his thought with a very familiar (and usually misinterpreted) passage: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Here Jesus is referring to one who repents of his sinful ways and reconciles with the brother he sinned against. The entire reasoning behind church discipline is for reconciliation. Similarly, Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 is not pictured as a bully thrashing all Christians with shortcomings. In fact, Paul mentions elsewhere that “all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23),” and even referred to himself as the “chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).” Paul’s hope in confronting the young man in 1 Corinthians 5 was that he would ultimately see his sin, repent, and be reconciled to the church (see verse 5). Elsewhere Paul calls for church discipline and confrontation to be done in gentleness, “brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).” This word “gentleness” is a medical term and was used in reference to mending a broken bone. Thus, we as Christians must confront, but do so with the utmost gentleness and love.

As Christians we are called to love one another. But, love involves telling each other the truth and drawing each other’s attention to sinful behavior that we may be blinded to. In doing so, we not only help the individual who is blinded to their sin (see James 5:19-20), but also protect the Church body from sin leaking in (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Ultimately, our hope is that we are continually being reconciled with one another and with God our father.

Have you ever experienced a situation like the one described above? What do you think of the conclusions made here; do you think Christians have a place for judging each other?

Corporate Fasting

Recently my church decided to designate a time for corporate fasting and praying, in order for repentance, renewal, and revival to develop within our congregation. Our Elders have humbly concluded that we as a congregation have become complacent in our evangelism, and spiritual growth. Thus, in response they have called the congregation to fast and pray.

In light of this, I began to think again about the topic of fasting in the Bible. While the practice seems far removed from western American culture, it appeared to be a central practice among the Jewish community and early Christians. Additionally, fasting was never done for fasting’s sake alone; fasting was always done with a purpose. Fasting was not an end, but a means to an end.  As one sifts through the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments several purposes manifest.

Donald Whitney in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” defines fasting as “a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”[1] The number of purposes for fasting goes beyond the following, but I have focused on these three in order to emphasize fasting in a corporate context.

TO SEEK GOD’S GUIDANCE FOR THE CHURCH

Fasting was seen as an intricate part in deciding how to go about the work of the church. In Acts 13:1-3 we find that the church was “worshiping and fasting” when the Holy Spirit instructed them to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work of God. In similar fashion, we find that elders were decided upon in Lystra in conjunction with prayer and fasting in Acts 14. It seems fitting that when decisions for the early church were to be made, and guidance from God was sought after, fasting was involved.

TO EXPRESS REPENTANCE

Whenever a genuine and passionate cry for repentance is offered up by God’s people it is usually evidenced by a time of fasting. That is, fasting outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer. A proper example is found in Daniel 9 where Daniel prays a beautiful prayer of repentance on behalf of Israel. Here is a sample of that prayer from Daniel 9:

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land…To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.”

TO UNITE GOD’S PEOPLE IN WORSHIP TO GOD

When corporate fasting is described in the Bible it usually places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God. Fasting expressed in a practical way, the desire to acknowledge the folly of man and the perfection and power of Yahweh. In Nehemiah 9 following the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, the people of God assembled together and participated in a corporate fast (9:1). Later on the text describes that upon reading the Law of God, the people confessed their sins and worshiped God (9:3). The early church also connected worship to God with fasting in Acts 13:2. Fasting therefore, appeared to be a response to God’s perfect holiness. It’s as if those we read in the Bible saw fasting as a declaration of their total dependence on God’s provision and grace.

So, how does all of this apply to the church today? While fasting seemed routine in the days of our forefathers, does it have any relevance in the contemporary church? I think it does. I believe fasting draws our attention away from the cares and desires of the flesh and points us to the purpose of our existence, to glorify God. It is so easy for us in today’s culture to lose sight of the mission and purpose of the church. Fasting, as a unified body, helps direct us back to that purpose, to reestablish the reason we were called out in the first place. It outwardly portrays the subjective emotions of the repentant believer, and places focus on a unified single-mindedness toward the holiness of God.

What do you think? Should Churches participate in corporate fasts?


[1] Whitney, Donald S. (Nave Press, Colorado Springs) Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 160

Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

After my recent encounter and ongoing conversation with Ida and Jim, two dedicated Jehovah Witnesses, I have pursued again the topic of the trinity and deity of Jesus Christ. As a result I have accumulated some notes on the subject. I thought that others may find the notes helpful in their own personal Bible study. Thus, below are some thoughts concerning the trinity and deity of Jesus. I hope you find the information helpful and let me know if there Is anything you would add to the information below?

Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

OLD TESTAMENT

Plural references to God (“us”)

  • Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8;

Passages where one person is called God or Lord and distinguished from another person called God or Lord.

  • Psalm 45:6-7 (Hebrews 1:8  refers this to Jesus); Psalm 110:1 (See Jesus’ reference in Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44); Malachi 3:1-2; Hosea 1:7; Isaiah 48:16

Passages where “angel of the Lord” (angel =mal’ak=messenger, equivalent to angelos, Greek for “angel, or messenger) seems to indicate christophony.

  • Genesis 16:13; 18:1-19:1; Exodus 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Numbers 22:35,38; Judges 2:1-2; 6:1,14

Other O.T. Passages

  • Genesis 1:26

o   What do we make of the plural pronoun here?

  • Psalm 110:1

o   The most quoted OT passage in the NT.

o   Jesus uses this passage in Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44 to prove his messiahship and deity. The verse implies that the Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (Jesus the son) sit at my right hand. How can Jehovah speak to himself? He must have been referring to another person.

  • Proverbs 8:22-31

o   Wisdom here is much more than mere personification. It is reference to the son of God (see 1 Cor. 1:24). However, what is one to do with verses 22-25? It seems that these verses make Christ out to be created. Not the case; the Hebrew word usually rendered “create” (bara) is not used in verse 22. Rather it is the Hebrew word “qanah” which appears 84 times in the OT and almost always means “to get, acquire.” Thus the NASB rendering: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way.”

  •  Isaiah 9:6

o   This messianic passage explicitly calls Jesus “mighty God.”

o   Some state that the term mighty God is different than almighty God. They point out the fact that only the term almighty God is a reference to Jehovah whereas “mighty God can refer to anyone. This is simply not true. In Isaiah 10:21 and Jeremiah 32:18 both refer to Jehovah as “mighty God”

  •  Isaiah 40:3

o   Prophetic text referring to the messiah. Used by John the Baptist in Matthew 2 as he prepared the way for Christ. In this passage the terms Lord and God are both used to describe Jesus.

NEW TESTAMENT

Passages where all three persons of the trinity are simply named together

  • Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21;

The use of kyrios in the NT.

  • The term kyrios is the term used in the Septuagint (over 6,814 times) to refer to Yahweh. In the NT there are instances where it is clear that the term kyrios when applied to Jesus refers to the OT usage as Yahweh.

o   Luke 2:11; Luke 1:43; Matthew 3:3 (see also Isaiah 40:3); Matthew 22:44; Philippians 2:11; Acts 2:36; John 20:28; Romans 10:9.

A look at significant texts

  •  In the following passages Jesus is worshipped. If God is the only one worthy of worship (Matthew 4:10) why then is Jesus worshipped?

o   Matthew 2:2,11;  Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:14; 22:3

o   Note: In Rev. 22:9-10 John falls down and begins to worship the angel who had been speaking to him in the vision. But the angel stops John, and tells him not to worship him, but to worship God. It is only fitting then that if both the son and the father are worshipped in Revelation then both are in fact God. If not, then John contradicts his own message when he pictures Jesus as being worshipped.

  • Matthew 1:23

o   Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and connects it to Jesus’ birth. Jesus is called Immanuel which in translation means “God with us.”

  • Matthew 12:39-41

o   After quoting Isaiah 6:10 John refers Jesus as the one he saw in the vision recorded in Isaiah 6:1-6.

  •  John 1:1

o   The fact that the word was with (pros) God shows a distinction from God.

o   Colwell’s rule shows that John 1:1 is correctly translated “The word was God.” Colwell’s rule simply states that in the event where the predicate nominative precedes the copulative verb (the verb “to be”) then the predicate noun will drop the article. The subject on the other hand, if definite, will retain the article. Furthermore, “copulative verbs express a state of being rather than an action…These verbs link together a subject and an object which are in apposition, which are closely related if not identical (Brooks and Winberry, p. 4).”

o   If the lack of article does in fact attribute an indefinite quality than one need explain the lack of the article in John 1:6, 12, 13, and 18 of the same chapter. Here we have the word God without the article. Surely no one would suggest that in these instances John is referring to “a god” rather than “Jehovah God.”

  •  John 5:18; John 19:7

o   The Pharisees denied Jesus of Being equal to God and Jesus never denied there claim.

  •  John 8:58

o   Jesus claims that before Abraham was “I Am.” The “I am” remark definitely alludes to the “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14.

  •  John 10:38

o   What is meant by “the father is in me and I am in the father?” what does It mean for Jesus to be “in the father.

  •   John 20:28

o   Here Thomas explicitly calls Jesus Lord (kyrios) and God (theos). Those who claim that Thomas was involuntarily speaking to God about Jesus’ appearance miss the emphatic phrase “Thomas answered and said to him.” That is, Thomas directed his comment to Jesus himself. He was not merely speaking abstractly into the Heavens.

  •  Romans 9:5

o   Christ is simply called “God over all” (epi panton theos).

  • 1 Corinthians 8:6

o   Here Paul says that God (theos) is the source (ek) of creation and the Lord (kyrios) is the means (dia) of creation.

  • Philippians 2:5-11

                     “Uparkon” points to Christ’ pre-existence with the father.             (uparkon is present active participle, showing an ongoing existence.

o   Morphe (“form”) is “the sum of those characteristics which make a thing precisely what it is (Cottrell, p. 238).”

o   The previous point is reinforced by the phrase “did not count equality with God something to be grasped at.” That is, although Christ was the same as God, he didn’t seek to utilize his authority/status/privilege as God when putting on human flesh. On the contrary, Jesus “emptied himself (or made himself nothing) taking the form of a servant (doulos) being born in likeness of men, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the cross.” In other words, Jesus who was God, didn’t use his status as God for his own personal gain, but rather humbled himself and became obedient to the father through the cross.

  •  Colossians 2:9

o   Jesus is said to have the “fullness of deity in bodily form.”

  •  Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1

o   Both these passages fall into the category of the Granville sharp rule, which states “when two nouns of the same case are connected by kai, a single article before the first noun denotes conceptual unity, whereas the repetition of the article denotes particularity.[1] In these two passages “God” and “Savior” are governed by one article. Thus, God and savior refer to Jesus. It is wrong to render the passage “of our God and of our savior Jesus Christ,” distinguishing between God and Jesus. The proper understanding is that Jesus is both God and savior.

  • Hebrews 1:3

o   “exact imprint/representation/duplicate” of God’s “Nature/being.” That is, Jesus duplicates the being or nature of God the father in every way.

  • Hebrews 1:8-9

o   This quotation from Psalm 45:6-7 is a description of Jehovah God. The Hebrew writer applies the meaning to Jesus Christ.

  • 1 John 5:20

o   Here Jesus is clearly called the true God. He in the latter part of the verse clearly fits the antecedent “Jesus Christ.”

PROBLEM TEXTS AND TERMS

  • Colossians 1:15

o   Jesus is called the “firstborn of all creation.” This seems to imply that Jesus was created.

o   First, the term “image” (eikon) refers to the very nature and character of God having been perfectly revealed in Christ (see also John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Hebrews 1:3). The Bible is clear: no one has ever seen God, but Jesus has made the invisible God known. O’Brien writes “the term points to his revealing of the father on the one hand and the pre-existence on the other—it is both functional and ontological.[2]

o   If “image” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to God than “firstborn” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to creation. It may be tempting, at first glance, to view “firstborn” as referring to Christ as a created being among all other created things. But it avoids the immediate context. The following verse introduced by “oti” explains what is meant by verse 15. That is, Jesus is the one from whom all things have been created. It is true that the term “firstborn” (prototokos) can refer to priority of time (i.e. “my firstborn son”). This is how the word is used for example in Luke 2:7 referring to Christ earthly relationship with Mary. However, with regard to Christ nature and identity with God it carries the theological idea of superiority or supremacy, not as a first child (see Rom. 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5). In conclusion, Jesus cannot be both creature and creator. The title “firstborn” is better understood as “The one preeminent over all creation,” thus the following verse which depicts Jesus as the one who created all things.

  • John 14:28

o   Those who oppose Christ’ deity point out the fact that Jesus himself claimed that God was greater than he. At first observance it can seem that Jesus in fact is limiting his equality with God the father. However, at closer examination one finds that the issue is one of position rather than nature. This is clearly seen when the Greek word translated “greater” in John 14:28 is compared to the Greek word translated “better” in Hebrews 1:4. In Hebrews 1:4 the writer states that Jesus is “better” (Grk= kreitton) than the angels. In the context it is clear that the comparison between Jesus and angels is one of nature and not position. That is, Jesus is qualitatively more superior to the angels because he created them (Hebrews 1:3, 8-13). However, in John 14:28 the comparison between Jesus and the God the Father is not one of nature but of position. That is, Jesus is quantitatively limited by his becoming a man (see Philippians 2:5-8), while qualitatively equal with God (John 1:1). Thus, Jesus in John 14:28 was speaking to his state as a man and observing the fact that his temporary humbled position makes God greater than he since God the father was in Heaven where Jesus had formerly resided.[3]

o   Illustration of this point: One might be able to say that the president of the U.S.is greater positionally than I but it would be a much different matter if one was to say that the president was a better man.

  •  “Only Begotten”

o   From “monogenes,” compound word, from “mono” meaning “one” and “ginomai” meaning “only,” unique.” Thus, momgenes literally means “unique one.”[4]

o   Monogenes is used in reference to Jesus’ relationship to the father in the following passages: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9.

o   Many have misinterpreted this term to mean “only begotten.” This rendering is false however, on the basis of monogenes deriving from the Greek term genos meaning “only, or unique” rather than “gennao” meaning “to beget, or create.” Monogenes means then “one of a kind” or “unique.”[5]

o   Two traditional views regarding the use of monogenes:

§  The first view (originating with Origen) suggested that Christ’s unique Sonship and begetting was eternal “being predicated of him in respect to his participation in the Godhead.”[6] Dr. Martin sums up Origen’s view by saying it was “the concept that God from all eternity generates a second person like himself, ergo the ‘eternal son.’”[7]

§  The second view suggests that monogenes, rather than being a process that established the relationship between God and Son (which confuses monogenes with gennao instead of genos) describes the kind of Sonship Christ possesses. Christ’ Sonship is distinguished from all other sonships. “Christ’s unique Sonship and generation by the father are predicated of him in respect to the incarnation…it is the Word which designates his personage with the Godhead. Christ’s Sonship expresses an economical relationship between the Word and the Father assumed via the incarnation.”[8] Thus, it is incorrect to speak of the eternal Son. Rather we speak of the eternal Word who in the fullness of time came into the realm of humanity as the “only unique” son of God.

 


[1] Black, David Alan. Learn to Read New Testament Greek. (Nashville, B&H), 200

[2] O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians. (Waco, Word Books, 1982), 44

[3] Martin, Walter. “Kingdom of the Cults”, 170-171

[4] Adapted from Zodhiates, Spiros The Complete Word Study Dictionary, 995

[5] Zodhiates, 996. For a good example of this rendering see Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called the “monogenes” son of Abraham. Obviously Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, but a “unique” or “one of a kind” son of Abraham.

[6] Zodhiates, 995

[7] Martin, 168

[8] Zodhiates, 996

All you need to be a witness for Christ

We all long (or we should) to see individuals come to Christ. We are encouraged and motivated when we see those being baptized into Christ. Yet, many of us become nervous, anxious, and downright scared when faced with the conviction to share the gospel with another individual. Our minds run frantic, wondering what others will think of us, or if they will deny our attempt to reach out to them. Sometimes, our hesitancy to speak to others about Christ revolves around our lack of confidence in how much we know about the Bible. We feel that a doctoral degree in theology is required before we can accurately share the Gospel with others; but this is not the case. While, we should seek to learn all we can from God’s Word, knowing everything in the Bible is not required to be a witness for Christ. The only requirement for telling others about Christ is your story; what has Christ done for you!

In the 9th chapter of John we discover a most exquisite story of a man blind since birth. Following the man’s miraculous healing by Jesus, the Pharisees, who are outraged because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, arrive on the scene and begin to interrogate the previously blind man. The Pharisees are convinced that Jesus is a false prophet and that this miracle was the result of some scam or hoax. However, after clear proof that the man was in fact born blind and the miracle was undeniable, the Pharisees approach the man again and say “give glory to God, we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner.” The response of the blind man is incredible: “whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

This man had become a witness for Christ, and he didn’t even know that much about Christ. He had no scriptures to quote or a carefully developed theological framework. He did know one thing however, he once was blind and now he sees! That was proof enough for the blind man, and it should be proof enough for us. Therefore, when you go to share Christ with others and you become worried about what people will think of you, or if you know enough scripture, remember the blind man. Tell all those around you about how you once were blind, but now you see. That’s all you need to be a witness, and I promise you, it’s all the proof you’ll need!

Original Sin or Original Grace?

Below I have outlined a chapter in Dr. Jack Cottrell’s book “The Faith Once For All.” The chapter attempts to discuss the issues regarding the doctrine of original sin and specifically how one should understand Romans 5:11-21. I found the content fascinating. What do you think of Dr. Cottrell’s conclusions?

 

Original Sin or Original Grace?

What is the meaning of Romans 5:12-19?

Cottrell believes that this passage teaches original grace not original sin.

Cottrell seeks to answer four questions in explaining original grace in Romans 5:12-19.

 

Question 1: What is the purpose of this passage in relation to the epistle as a whole?

  • It is best understood as continuing the theme of assurance that began in 5:1.
    • Paul assures his readers that we can put all our hope and confidence in one saving act (the cross) of one man (Jesus Christ).
    • In verses 1-11 there are 10 references to the saving efficacy of Christ and his cross.
    • Some may wonder “isn’t this expecting a lot from just one man?” Yet this is essentially what the gospel asks us to believe. Therefore, the one act of Jesus on the cross has the power to save the whole world.
    • In order to show that Jesus’ one act can in fact save the whole world Paul shows how the one sinful act of one man (Adam) effected the whole human race.
    • So, in verses 11-19 Paul compares and contrasts the one sin of Adam and the one act of righteousness of Jesus. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater: If we can accept the fact that the one sin of man brought sin and death upon the whole world then surely we can believe the one act of Christ can bring salvation upon the whole world

Question 2: Does this doctrine teach the doctrine of original sin?

  • This passage definitely teaches that humanity has inherited more than just physical death; there is a spiritual death as well.
  • However, the biggest problem to the approach that every child is conceived in a sinful state is that it assumes that Paul’s main subject is Adam’s sin and its consequences. This is not the case however; Paul’s subject is Jesus and his cross, and the universal, all-sufficient consequences of that saving event.
  • In reality it does not matter which view of “original sin” one takes because Paul’s main point is this: whatever the whole human race got (or would have gotten) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Question 3: What is the scope of the words “many” and “all” as they are used in 5:12-19?

  • If the answer to the above question is correct why do so many still teach a doctrine of original sin? The answer lies in how they interpret the words “many” and “all” in these verses.
  • Most all interpreters view the words “all” and “many” to be synonymous terms not contrasting each other but contrasting the words “one” in reference to Adam and Jesus. In other words the term “all” is used to convey totality, but is not meant to be broader in scope than “the many.”
  • The problem lies in how one applies these terms to Adam on the one hand and Jesus on the other. The common approach is that when the terms are used in relation to Adam they are universal in scope but when used in conjunction with Jesus they are more limited and do not literally mean all people. Therefore, Adam’s sin did in fact come to all people but Christ saving work is only given to those who have received Christ by faith.
  • More often these terms are understood in light of an Augustinian view of original sin which are stated thus: The consequences of Adam’s act extended to all who were in him or belonged to him when he sinned—which includes the whole race; but the consequences of Christ’s act extended only to “all” who were in him or belonged to him when he died—which only includes the elect.
  • It must be emphasized that the above approaches are false. The reason is that all attempts to reduce the words “many” and “all,” when used of Christ, to anything less than their scope when used of Adam, would negate the whole purpose of the Adam-Christ comparison!
  • The question of assurance is this: can I have confidence that Christ’s work is sufficient for taking away all of my sins—and the sins of the entire world? Paul’s answer is yes based on how Christ one act of righteousness has already counteracted everything brought upon everyone by Adam’s one sin.

Question 4: Does this passage teach universal salvation?

  • Some do take Paul’s use of “all” and “many” to teach universal salvation
  • However Cottrell argues that this passage does not teach universal salvation for the following reasons:
    • The primary focus of this passage focuses on how Christ’ one act of righteousness counteracts the one sin of Adam for every single individual.
    • However, Paul here absolutely does not say the same thing about the consequences of all our personal sins. Personal sins are only removed through personal faith.
    • The universal language in this passage only refers to what we have inherited from Adam.
    • From a practical point of view this passage addresses the question of the spiritual state of infants when they are conceived and born. Infants are therefore born in a state of original grace because of Christ one act on the cross negating the one act of sin committed by Adam.
    • However, when one reaches the age of accountability they enter into a state of personal sins which requires personal faith in Christ to receive forgiveness.