Preparing Your Heart for the Lord’s Supper

10In the crush of modern living (i.e., busy, scattered, fatigued, etc.), adequate preparation for the Lord’s Table is often overlooked. Combined with hearts that naturally pull away from grace and truth, growing Christians must take time to prepare for the Lord’s Supper. Time is needed to reflect on who God is, what Christ did, what you need to confess, and how you need to put to death sin in your life.

Still, even if time is made, some may wonder: How should I prepare my heart?

I was thinking about that as I preached on this subject on Sunday, and this is what I shared with our congregation. I pray it might help you as you prepare for the Lord’s Supper—this Sunday or the next time your church takes communion. 

How do you prepare for the Lord’s Supper?

When God descended on Mt. Sinai, he told the Israelites to take three days to prepare themselves for his arrival (Exod 19:10). Likewise, when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they took three days to prepare for their entrance (Josh 3:5). So it is that the people of God, whenever they entered God’s holy presence, must purify themselves (cf. Leviticus 8–9).

In the New Testament Jesus picked up the same idea. When he celebrated the Passover, he went to each of his disciples and washed their feet (John 13). Though Peter objected at first, he learned the Master must wash him in order for him to abide with Jesus. Just the same, when Paul spoke of taking the Lord’s Supper, he addressed the need to consecrate ourselves for communion (1 Cor 11:17–34). Continue reading

Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

mealYesterday our church took the Lord’s Supper. Detouring from the book of Titus for a week, we considered the significance of Jesus’s gospel-proclaiming meal.

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, we observed how Paul corrected the twin problems of (1) divisions at the Lord’s Supper and (2) indifference to the divisions with three solutions (vv. 17–22). First, he rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ by re-explaining to the Corinthians what the bread and cup symbolize (vv.23–26). Next, he called for all participants to examine themselves before taking of the meal (vv.27–32). And last, he challenged the church to “receive one another” as they came to the Table (vv.33–34).

Paul’s view of the Lord’s Supper is a worthwhile reminder of how serious this meal is. He warns that when divisions go unchecked at the Lord’s Table, the church and its members eat the meal in vain (v. 20). While the bread, the cup, and the church may be gathered, it is possible that the people eat their “own meal,” not the Lord’s Supper (v. 21). Such a sober reminder calls us to examine our hearts and repent of anything that would bring division in the body of Christ.

At the same time, those who are resisting sin and trusting daily in the gospel need not worry about taking the meal in an unworthy manner, as many earnest saints often do. The warning is directed to those resisting repentance, not resisting sin. On this point, Ray Van Neste offers a helpful corrective about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:28.

It is a fairly common practice for believers voluntarily to abstain from Communion because they feel they are not properly prepared at that given time. They think they should not partake of Communion if they are struggling with sin. This . . . arises from a misunderstanding of the call to examine ourselves. The warning . . . is against partaking in an unworthy manner, referring to the unrepentant self-centeredness of the Corinthians who were ignoring other members of the body. The warning does not apply to those who are struggling with sin but are looking to the cross in repentance, hating their sin and yearning to be pleasing to God. (Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Suppered. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, 386)

All in all, the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of the Christian experience. It calls the hard-hearted to repentance and it invites the broken-hearted believer to taste afresh the grace of God. Sadly, it has been misunderstand and misapplied in too many contexts. Hence, the reason why we considered it yesterday.

If you desire to better understand how Paul speaks about this meal in 1 Corinthians, I pray that yesterday’s message might serve you. You can find it here: “Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Holy Heart for a Holy Meal.”

At the same time, for those interested in diving deeper into the theology, history, and practice of the Lord’s Supper, let me encourage you to pick up The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comesedited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford. As I preached on 1 Corinthians 11, I found Jim Hamilton’s chapter particularly helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Seven Things to Know About Elders

eldersEarlier this week, I highlighted three things about elders in the New Testament: (1) the term ‘elder’ is interchangeable with pastor and overseer; (2) elders function as a plurality of leaders in the local church; and (3) elders may or may not be compensated, which is to say an elder may be vocational or non-vocational.

Today, I want to pick up where I left off and add to the picture of elder leadership in the New Testament. What follows are seven truths about elders—three concerning the title (presbuteros) and four concerning the function of elders in the New Testament church. Again, this list won’t cover everything, but it is intended to show what Scripture says about this vital office. Continue reading

What does the New Testament say about elders?

elders“Elder” (presbuteros) is not a very Baptist word. Or at least, it hasn’t been readily in our vocabulary since the nineteenth century, when the likes of J. L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, wrote, “The permanent officers of a Church are of two kinds: elders (who are also called pastors, teachers, ministers, overseers, or bishops) and deacons” (see his “Church Polity, or the Kingdom of Christ in its Internal and External Development,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Lifeed. Mark Dever).

Nevertheless, “elder” is a term used 76 times in the NT. Nine times it is used to speak of those advanced in age; four times of Israel’s forefathers; twelve times to refer to the heavenly elders in John’s Apocalypse; and the Gospels and Acts apply the word to the religious leaders of Israel twenty-nine times. The remaining uses of the word “elder” (20x) refer to leadership in the local church. (See Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, p. 54).

While we can’t consider every facet of eldership, let me offer three observations about elders and their function, as found in the New Testament. Continue reading

Why Should You Study Church History?

chIn the introduction of his book, Christian History Made Easy, Timothy Paul Jones gives a compelling answer to that question. Let me quote him at length.

In a classic Peanuts comic strip, Sally carefully labels her paper, “Church History.” As Charlie Brown glances over her shoulder, Sally considers her subject.

“When writing about church history,” Sally scrawls, “we have to go back to the very beginning. Our pastor was born in 1930.

Charles Schulz’s comic strip may be amusing, but it isn’t too far from the truth. In sermons and devotional books, Christians encounter names like Augustine and Calvin, Spurgeon and Moody. Their stories are interesting. Truth be told, though, most church members have a tough time fitting these stories together. The typical individual’s knowledge of church history ends with the apostles and doesn’t find its footings again until sometime in the twentieth century.

Still, the story of Christianity deeply affects every believer in Jesus Christ. The history of the Christian faith affects how we read the Bible. It affects how we view our government. It affects how we worship. Simply put, the church’s history is our family history. Past Christians are our mothers and fathers in the faith, our aunts and uncles, our in-laws and –in a few cases—our outlaws!

When a child in Sunday School asks, “How could Jesus be God and still be like me?” she’s not asking a new question. She is grappling with an issue that, in AD 325, three hundred church leaders discussed in a little village named Nicaea [ni-SEE-ah], now the city of Iznik in the nation of Turkey. Even if you’ve never heard of Iznik or Nicaea, what those leaders decided will influence the way that you frame your response to the child’s question.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why are there so many different churches?” the answer is woven somewhere within two millennia of political struggles and personal skirmishes. When you read words like “predestined” or “justified” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, it isn’t only Paul and your pastor who affect how you respond. Even if you don’t realize it, Christian thinkers such as Augustine and John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards also influence how you understand these words.

So, if the history of Christianity affects so much of what we do, what’s the problem? Why isn’t everyone excited about this story? Simply this: A few pages into many history books, and the story of Christianity can suddenly seem like a vast and dreary landscape, littered with a few interesting anecdotes and a lot of dull dates.

Despite history’s profound effect on our daily lives, most church members will never read Justo Gonzalez’s thousand-page The Story of Christianity. Only the most committed students will wade through all 1,552 pages of Ken Latourette’s A History of Christianity. Fewer still will learn to apply church history to their lives. And so, when trendy novels and over-hyped television documentaries attempt to reconstruct the history of Christianity, thousands of believers find themselves unable to offer intelligent answers to friends and family members.

What we don’t seem to recognize is that church history is a story. It’s an exciting story about ordinary people that God has used in extraordinary ways. What’s more, it’s a story that every Christian ought to know. (Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 6–7: Book and DVD)

Do you believe that? I hope you do. Continue reading

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

childrenDaniel Akin has rewritten the article that he and Albert Mohler wrote on where infants go when they die (HT: Denny Burk). It’s entitled,”Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” In his brief essay, he gives six biblical reasons why we can know that infants and those who die before the “age of accountability” die in the Lord. Here they are:

  1. The grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 John 4:8)
  2. When the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died, David spoke as one who trusted that he would see this child again in the presence of God. (2 Samuel 12:15-18)
  3. Those who know sin and choose to do it are held accountable; those who do not know the difference are not. At the judgment seat, it is our sins done in the body that will be judged. (Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; James 4:17; Revelation 20:11–15)
  4. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom, he seems to indicate the presence of children in heaven. (Luke 18:15–17)
  5. Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great. This points to the fact that those who die as children will be received into heaven. (Revelation 7:9) 
  6. Some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb. (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15)

Interestingly, just days before I came across President Akin’s update, I wrote my own essay for our church. Some of my arguments stem from his earlier essay; some come from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-WhirlAltogether, I pray they may encourage and assist you (or someone you love) as you grieve the loss of a child who has been called home by King Jesus.

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

Continue reading

John 3:16: A Word-by-Word Meditation

john316For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Last night I preached at Bethel Baptist Church in North Vernon on who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and what it means to believe in him. (You can find the audio here). My text was John 3:16, actually John 3:14–16, and I sought to help those at Bethel’s revival service to understand how God is inviting them to come and be saved by faith in his Son.

John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature, a veritable gold mine for precious truth, and a passage that solidifies the believer’s faith with every word. Indeed, it seems that every single word contributes to the beauty of the verse. So, with that in mind, I want to run through the verse, word-by-word.

God

While there are many so-called ‘gods’ in the world (even if someone doesn’t call them what they are), there is only One, True, and Living God. He is the triune God who has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The One who promised to turn back the curse through Abraham’s offspring, the holy God who gave Moses the law, the God who promised an eternal throne to a son of David, the God who inspired the prophets, and turned all of history to bring salvation to the world through the Incarnation of God the Son.

Specifically, in John 3:16 “God” refers to the Father, the One sent his Son to redeem the world. In this sense, he is not some angry deity in the sky who demands blood atonement; he is the loving Father who redeemed sinners by the voluntary death of the Son. This is the God of John 3:16. Continue reading

What Happened “Before the Foundation of the World”?

worldIn the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. From nothing, the triune God made everything. Light, land, and lemmings all came from his all-powerful world. Genesis 1 records this marvelous, six-day creation, and the rest of the Bible treats the universe as one that had a beginning.

But what was there before the beginning?

Before the Foundation of the World

While Genesis starts with creation, later revelation explains that God was active before the beginning. John 1, which takes its cues from Moses’ introduction, says that in the beginning the Word already was: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (vv. 1–2). John’s grammar makes it plain that the Son of God, the Word, was already existing when the world was made. And John is not alone, Matthew, Paul, and Peter all reveal an awareness of events transpiring in the mind of God before he spoke light into the darkness.

On Sunday, my sermon considered one of the passages that speaks about what transpired before creation. Titus 1:2 says of eternal life that it was promised before the ages began. With such a phrase, it is worth asking what does the Bible say happened before the foundation of the world? Since the phrase “ before the foundation of the world” occurs five times in the NT, and “before the ages” three times, it will be profitable to list these verses and see what they say. While space doesn’t permit an explanation of each passage, let me simply draw your attention to them. Continue reading

The Language of Election in the Bible: A Few Word Studies

electionIn today’s sermon on Titus 1:1–4, I considered the question: What is election?

I stated the New Testament teaches that election is individual and unconditional. This, of course, is not an undisputed interpretation, but it is my conviction after wrestling with the doctrine over the last dozen years. In my sermon, I only had time to quote Ephesians 1:4–6 and Romans 9:15–16, 18 as evidence for an individual and unconditional election.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:15–16, 18)

However, for those who are interested in considering this subject in greater detail, I have outlined the following word studies. I wrote these a few years ago and edited them this week. For those desirous of seeing what Scripture says about election, predestination, and other related subjects, these documents will introduce and comment upon a number of important texts.

All together the studies comprise over 30 pages. Therefore, to help arrange it, I’ve broken them up into smaller studies. Since I haven’t had time to add the Scripture reference in every case, you should read these word studies and theological reflections with an open Bible. (Because they were written with my congregation in mind they are based on the English Standard Version, not the original languages. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I update the contents with further attention to the Greek and Hebrew).

Word Studies

Theological Reflections

Let me know what you think and what questions remain concerning the doctrine of salvation. I believe iron sharpens iron and that humble, honest discussion about this biblical truth is good and needed in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. Continue reading