Five Questions on Discipleship: (5) Why Should You Make Disciples?

Thus far we have asked four questions about discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?  (2)  What is a disciple? (3) Who makes disciples?  And (4) How do you make disciples?

Today we finish by simply asking the question, Why?  Why should you make disciples?  Let me give five answers that will serve as great motivation for stepping out in faith to make disciples.

First, It is disobedient to ignore this command (Matt 28:19).  The Great Commission is for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ. To ignore this command is to ignore the heart of Jesus. Making disciples is not an optional aspect of the Christian life for a select group of Christians.  It is part and parcel of every Christian’s calling.  Some may be more gifted at it than others, but all are called to be participants.

Second, the presence of God is found in it (Matthew 28:20).  The promise of God’s nearness is not found in your daily devotion or in a cabin retreat. It is found in the ministry of making disciples.  While such personal times of reflection are sweet, God’s word promises more emphatically his presence when we are laboring with him in finding, winning, and growing the sheep that Christ has purchased with his own blood.

Third, the promise of success is given in this task. (Matthew 16:18).  Disciple-making is guaranteed to work.  Sure, there will be many who you meet and minister to whom may fall away.  However, there will be others who will have their place marked out in heaven because of your willingness to serve.  You cannot save anyone, but God has chosen to use means (you and me) to build up his church.  And like the Father’s promise to the Son that his death would effect the salvation of his children, so we are given the promise that our labors will not be in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  The word of God never returns void, God has guaranteed that his church will be built, and he has shown us that this building comes through disciple-making.

Fourth, your greatest Christian joy will be had in disciple-making (1 Thess 2:19-20).  Just ask Paul.  His glory and joy were found in the men and women that he won to Christ and established in the faith.  His greatest anxiety was seeing disciples he had invested in turn from Christ.  Truly, if you are a Christian, this will be the source of your greatest joy, too.  The treasure you are to lay up in heaven is people–those whom you lead to the Lord and help along the way will be your greatest joy.

Fifth, churches grow as we make disciples.  The truth is, only disciple-making guarantees church growth.  The one “product” that the church should be producing is disciples.  Just read John 15:1-8.  When the church abides in the Word of God (i. e. the gospel) and the gospel permeates that church, disciples will be born unto the glory of God.

All other activities must be subservient to this main purpose. Therefore, block parties, special events, Power Team performances, and movies may draw a crowd, but they do not make disciples.  Children’s programming, bus ministries, friend days will get people in our building, but they will not make disciples. A cool website, newspaper ads, and yard signs will announce a church’s presence,  but none of these things guarantee disciple-making.  All of these events must be linked up with slower, more intentional process of life-on-life discipleship.

What This Means

If you commit to making disciples, you are committing to doing church in a more simple fashion.  While many programs and activities may be going on at your church, only one thing is necessary–Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel in the context of loving relationships that are growing disciples.

Similarly, if you commit to making disciples, you are committing yourself to slow growth.  If you want an instant helper in the home, buy a robot.  Don’t have a baby.  Children take time to rear, but in the end there is great reward in seeing a baby become a boy become a man, one who receives and lives out all the priorities you instill in him.  So it is with making disciple-making.  While it takes time and comes with seasons of pain, slow growth in pouring your life (with the gospel) into the life of another will be impact disciples in ways programs cannot.

Finally, if you commit to making disciples, people may wonder what you are doing to grow the church.  After all, the point of church growth is larger numbers, right?  It is true that numbers do provide a means of measuring the ministry, but perhaps we should find a quotient that divides the number of believers by the time that they stay and grow.  Of course, this sort of metric is impossible, but in our discussions about numbers, we should add to the conversation not only how many converts are won to Christ, but how many of those converts are grown up to be soul-winners themselves.  Or to use more biblical terminology, how many of the disciples made in your ministry are reproducing themselves?

May we continue to let the Great Commission ring in our ears and reverberated in our hearts, so that disciple-making becomes a central feature of our personal lives and church ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (3) Who Makes Disciples?

Yesterday we considered what a disciple is, today we answer the question: Who Makes Disciples?  And I would suggest that there are two ways to answer that question.  First, churches make disciples; second, mature believers make disciples.  Let’s consider.

Churches Make Disciples

At the institutional level, God has created the church to be a disciple-making community.  This is not to say that parachurches, camps, publishing houses, or Christian radio cannot be involved in the process, but in his wisdom, the church is the ordained means of defending the gospel, proclaiming salvation, and making disciples (Eph 3).

Accordingly, churches would be served by asking: If Jesus came today and evaluated our church, on what would he evaluate?  What are his expectations?  I think the answer and expectation is simple.  Jesus would inquire “What are you doing to make disciples?”  I don’t think he is very impressed with all sorts of activities, fellowships, and programs that make us busy but fail to make disciples.  He has not called us to be active, but to be active in making disciples.  Since Christ is in the business of making disciples, that is what he expects of us.

God’s word on this is clear.  As the body of Christ, we are to be the hands, feet, mouthpieces of our Lord.  Accordingly, if God is going to make disciples in this age, it is through the church, by his Spirit.  If his greatest passion is to see the lost converted into disciples, then he expects that his body would be about the same work.  The Great Commission is the explicit statement of this truth. “Go into all the world and make disciples.”   Churches that excel in ministry but do not excel in making gospel-centered, word-saturated disciples who are able to reproduce themselves are not excelling as much as their numbers might indicate.

Big or small, churches are called to make disciples.  That is the first level.

Mature Believers

At the individual level, it is mature believers that make disciples. As in life, mature adults have babies, so adult Christians “give birth” (or rather, serve as attending nurses to the birth from above) to new Christians.  While young Christians, infants in the Lord, can and do witness with great zeal and effectiveness, it is mature believers who are in a position to “disciple” newborn Christians.

The Great Commission includes a call to teach all that the Lord has instructed.  New believers rarely know all there is in Scripture, or how to apply it.  This is why Scripture repeatedly demonstrates older believers mentoring or discipling younger believers (think of Paul with Timothy, Titus, and Silas, or Barnabas with Paul or John Mark).  Titus 2 gives clear instruction that older women are to teach younger women, and older men are to be models for younger men.

Thus, all disciples should strive for maturity such that they can disciple others.  This is not an optional calling, this is part and parcel of being a growing disciple.  Sadly, as Hebrews 5 laments, many who should be teachers are in need of learning the elementary truths again.

As a way of evaluation, we can say that mature believers are those who exhibit Christlike character and who are able and actually discipling younger believers.  Discipling others shows Christian love, an understanding of God’s purposes in the world, and a self-sacrificing, others-centeredness that behooves a mature believer.  By contrast, maturity should not be measured by the number of years a person has gone to church or even by how many studies they have led, how many committees they have chaired, or even by the number of Bible certificates or degrees they hold. Maturity is measured by ones personal Christlikeness and their reproduction.

May God continue to raise up disciple-makers in this generation, that more and more disciples would be born, raised, and sent out.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (2) What Is a Disciple?

Answering the question “What is a disciple?” is not as easy as it might first appear.

First, there is a shift in the meaning of the term disciple from the gospels to the book of Acts.  For instance, in John 6, many of Jesus’ “disciples” leave him.  These are the ones who follow him to hear his teaching and to eat his bread, but when he calls them to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they can go no further.  In this situation, disciples are simply those who followed and learned from him, but were not saved by him.  Likewise, you could say of Judas, that he was a disciple in one sense (he followed and learned from Jesus), but not a disciple in another sense (he failed to follow Christ until the end and he betrayed his master).  Thus, in the Scriptures themselves, there is some ambiguity in the term.

Why does this matter?  Well, the other day, I heard a radio preacher stating that the disciples in the Bible are just like us.  Yes and no.  There is much similarity between the followers of Jesus in his day, and in genuine believers today.  However, there is dissimilarity too.  Few are called to leave their fishing nets behind to become Christ’s disciples and none are called to to follow a wandering Nazarene through the hills of Israel.  Likewise, at a more doctrinal level, many of the followers of Jesus did not abide in him, and thus were not saved (cf John 6:66).  But this reality should not form the basis of our doctrine of discipleship.  True disciples today are those who are born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and will not fall away because through the Spirit and the Word, God will preserve them even as they persevere in faith.

That is the first qualification, but there is another. In popular Christianity, there interpretations of discipleship.  Perhaps two of the most helpful explanations of discipleship today to explicate these differences are Michael Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship and Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship.  Gleaning from their observations, I would posit a few ways that disciples are defined today.

(1) Disciples are COMMITTED believers.  Salvation is one thing, discipleship is another.  There are Christians and then there are disciples.  This posits a two-tiered system in the Christian life–with the saved and the sanctified.  The problem with this is that it rips apart the unified work of salvation, and it does not fit with biblical language.  In Acts 4:32, the church is described as a band of believers; but Acts 6:2 describes the church as “the full number of disciples.”  Disciples are believers; believers are disciple.  No tiers!

(2) Disciples are ministers.  Like the twelve, disciples are called to a special ministry of service.  This results in a view where churches  have clergy and laity, disciples and congregants.  This separation is often found in special dress for the clergy, or unhealthy veneration of church leaders.  By contrast, the Great Commission calls all people to discipleship and to disciple others.  Church work is for everyone.  Disciples are ministers, but if I am reading Ephesians 4 correctly, we are all called to various roles of ministry in the church.  Christianity is not a spectator sport.  Jesus calls us to join him in the work.

(3) Disciples are Christians.  Christians are disciples.  While we are at different phases in our journey with Christ, Christianity is not two-tiered, any more than your families are two-tiered.  While wisdom cautions against young disciples leading, there is no two-stage approach.  Rather, as in any family, there are babes, children, young adults, and mature adults.  The same is true in the church, and every age are called disciples.

A Definition of Discipleship

In light of these previous observations, here is an attempt at a definition: A disciple is a man or woman who is a new creation in Christ that no longer lives for self, but who has (a) believed on Christ for the forgiveness of sins, (b) possesses eternal life, and (c) lives to learn, follow, and imitate Christ in all areas of life.

To say it another way, if we take our cues from the Great Commission: (a) Disciples identify themselves with Jesus Christ in baptism; (b) Disciples learn AND practice all the words of God has given us; and (c) Disciples serve our Lord, going into the world to herald the message of Christ and to reproduce disciples.  This is the Great Commission.  This is what the twelve did, this is what Paul did (Acts 14:21), and this is what Paul called his followers to do (2 Tim 2:2).

Another place to get our bearings for defining a disciple is Mark 3:13-19.  There we find that discipleship goes all the way back to Jesus, and that three things stand out.  Those whom he calls to be disciples (and apostles– a calling that makes the twelves position different than our own), he gives three requirements:  First, the twelve are to be with him so that they might learn from Jesus, copying him, imitating him;  Second, the twelve are sent to preach.  So they are not passive learners but active servants.  Third, the twelve were given authority to cast out demons as is witnessed in the Gospels and Acts.

Now, on this last point, we may think that this is only for them, after all we do not cast out demons.  But I would suggest, that the calling we have to win souls and to nurture them in the grace and truth of the gospel is even greater than the commission given in Mark 3.  Just listen to John 20:23:  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  In the gospel, we have been given authority to declare forgiveness and eternal life.  We are not simply casting out demons, we are calling men to eternal life, and by God’s design, the effectual call that converts a man is conveyed through the general call of God’s human witnesses.

Thus, according to Mark 3–if we can use this text in any sort of prescriptive way–Scripture shows that disciples are those who are with Jesus, who serve at Jesus commission, and who are involved in Christ’s ministry of making other disciples. Certainly, more can and should be said, but this is a start.

Tomorrow, we will consider in more detail who is able to make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Questions on Discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?

A number of years ago, I followed the Christian crowd and wore the trendy WWJD bracelet.  For those who have forgotten (or never heard), the letters stood for “What would Jesus do?”  Developed from the book In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, a book that favored a social gospel and promoted a man-centered kind of Christian imitation, the bracelet asked an important question:  How should we live our lives in a manner that would please our Lord?  The question was meant to stimulate obedience and lifestyles that reflected the kind of things true believers should do.  While missing the beautiful, objective work of Christ for us, it did helpfully ask how we ought to live for Christ.

That is what we are after this week too: How do we adhere to the Great Commission imperative to “make disciples”?  What is a disciple?  How should we go about making disciples?  And why should we do it?  Those are the questions we will consider this week, but instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” which orients the Christian life around subjective obedience of Christ’s followers, our inquiry begins with the better question: “What did Jesus do?”

Putting Christ at the center, instead of our Christian obedience, we will be able to see how central disciple-making is to our Lord and then from their to see how we might follow him in the work.  Therefore, today as we consider what Jesus did (past tense), we will look at a number of purposes statements spoken by Jesus that explain why Jesus became a man (Cur Deus Homo?), and how each of these purpose statements relate to disciple-making.

Here are five reasons why Christ came to earth.

First, Jesus came to preach the gospel

The first thing to note is that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:38 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to them, “Let us go to the next town, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”  When we are introduced to Christ, in the Synoptic gospels, the first act of his ministry is to go out into the regions surrounding Galilee preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15).  What was his purpose?  The answer is surely pluriform, but it at least involved the calling and creation of disciples.

Second, Jesus came to fulfill the law

Not only did Jesus come to preach the gospel, he came to fulfill the law—to keep covenant with God, so that he could establish a new covenant, not based on works of the flesh, but faith in the Spirit.  So he says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  In fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus made it possible for his disciples to one day be clothed with his righteousness (Isa 61:10). Likewise, he provided a perfect example of love and service to God that disciples are called to imitate (cf. John 13).

Third, Jesus came to provide salvation

In Luke 19, Jesus seeks out Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector, for the singular purpose of making this unlikely sinner a son of Abraham. Verse 10 gives a larger explanation of Jesus’ ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Clearly, Jesus the lost, so to make them his disciples.  The same thing can be gleaned from Matthew 9:13, which states, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Here, Jesus explains that his target audience is not religious professionals, or even good people, but those who weary and heavy-laden with sin.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection served the purpose of making disciples.

Which leads to a question:  How can a righteous God who cannot stand the sight of sin or sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5; Hab 1:13), extend blessings to sinners?  Again, the life of ministry and his biographical purpose statements explain.  In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The many harkens back to Isaiah 53:11-12, but it also bespeaks of the many disciples that Jesus is purchasing with his blood.

Fourth, Jesus came to judge the world

Jesus came not only to save a people for his own possession; he also came to judge the world, to cleanse the world from those who stand opposed to God.  In John 9:39, Jesus debates with the Pharisees concerning the healing of a blind man, and he says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Likewise, with greater graphic illustration, Jesus states in Luke 12:49, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”   The fire is that of judgment.  While John can say that Jesus did not come to bring judgment; in another sense he did.  He is preparing the way for his return when he will call all men to account.

Even the demons recognize this, though they did not know how it was going to work out.  In Mark 1:24, Jesus heals a man suffering from a demon, and they reply “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?

Jesus is not directly making disciples with these judgments, but in another way he is. By judging the world, Jesus is creating a place for his people to abide with him.  Today, we do not yet see all things in subjection to Christ.  The new creation is not yet here in its geographic form.  However, Christ is saving me and women.  These are his new creations, disciples who are learning how to live in his kingdom–the kingdom that they will inherit at the end of the age (Matt 25:34).  Thus, Jesus purpose statements about judgment promise that all those who have become his disciples will escape his coming judgment, and will instead be protected by his sword.  This leads to a final point.

Fifth, Jesus came to create a new community of disciples

The final answer to the question of what Jesus came to do is this: Jesus came to call a new community of disciples.  Now indeed all the previous purposes are related to this.  (1) He preached the gospel to call people to faith; (2) he fulfilled the law and died on the cross so that he could remove the sin of his followers and clothe them with righteousness; (3) He announced his kingdom authority and his right to judge in order to assert the kingdom he was going to establish—a world free from sin, evil, Satan, and death.  Jesus came to create a new humanity.  He came to make disciples.

Significantly, this is what we find  then in Matthew 10:34-35.  In a context where Jesus has sent his disciples out to proclaim the message of the kingdom, Jesus explains his purposes after there return: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Everything Jesus did, he did for the purpose of making disciples.  His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and heavenly session are all aimed at bringing in the sheep of his fold.  While acquiring many names in he gospels (sheep, children, given ones, friends), Jesus did everything for the purpose of making disciples.  So should we.

In the days, ahead we will answer four more questions on discipleship, as we consider this central feature of our Lord’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Operation World Wednesday

If you are not familiar with Operation World, you should be!  It is the resource for praying with knowledge for all the peoples of the world.  Last year, our family used this resource to focus our prayer each morning at breakfast.  This year, we will continue to do this at home, but I am hoping to add it to our Wednesday evening prayer group and on this blog each Wednesday.

Here is a five-minute video with Operation World’s founder Patrick Johnstone, and the current leader/editor, Jason Mandryk, chronicling the origins and history of Operation World.  Take ten-minutes to watch this video.  Give thanks to God for this blessed book and its many editions.  And then if you don’t have a copy, go buy one now!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Jesus Has Absolute Authority

In John Piper’s 1998 sermon on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20),  Piper gives a representative list of all the things that Jesus has “authority over.”  Its a powerful reminder that today Jesus upholds the universe with the power of his word (Heb. 1:3; cf. Col. 1:16-17) and that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

So consider: Jesus has…

AUTHORITY OVER  Satan and all demons, over all angels -good and evil – over the natural universe, natural objects and laws and forces: stars, galaxies, planets, meteorites;

AUTHORITY OVER  all weather systems: winds, rains, lightning, thunder, hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, typhoons, cyclones;

AUTHORITY OVER all their effects: tidal waves, floods, fires;

AUTHORITY OVER all molecular and atomic reality: atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, undiscovered subatomic particles, quantum physics, genetic structures, DNA, chromosomes;

AUTHORITY OVER all plants and animals great and small: whales and redwoods, giant squid and giant oaks, all fish, all wild beasts, all invisible animals and plants: bacteria, viruses, parasites, germs;

AUTHORITY OVER all the parts and functions of the human body: every beat of the heart, every breath of the diaphragm, every electrical jump across a million synapses in our brains;

AUTHORITY OVER all nations and governments: congresses and legislatures and presidents and kings and premiers and courts;

AUTHORITY OVER all armies and weapons and bombs and terrorists; authority over all industry and business and finance and currency;

AUTHORITY OVER all entertainment and amusement and leisure and media; over all education and research and science and discovery;

AUTHORITY OVER all crime and violence; over all families and neighborhoods; and over the church, and over every soul and every moment of every life that has been or ever will be lived.

When we face cancer or consequences for sharing the gospel, Jesus’ absolute authority marshalls confidence and assuages fear.  When we consider missions, it beckons us to move forward past armed guards, because there is no such thing as a ‘closed’ country to the Christian commissioned by the King with absolute authority.  LORD Jesus, may we be so bold.

Listen to the whole sermon: The Lofty Claim, The Last Command, The Loving Comfort.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission (pt. 2)

Yesterday, we considered the biblical theological continuity and discontinuity of the creational imperatives of ruling and bearing children and how they are picked up in Jesus’ Great Commission.  I concluded by asking how gender roles in marriage impact the presentation and the proclamation of the gospel.  In other words, I wanted to get at how gender roles in marriage interact with the Great Commission.   Are they necessary for the discipling of the nations in such a way that if abandoned the message of salvation would be distorted or denied?  Or are they merely inconsequential components that actually impede the progress of the gospel?   Would it be better to “get over” issues of gender so that we can reach the plethora of egalitarian socities that are resistant to the gospel?  Which is it? Surely Scripture which in its opening chapter distinguishes male and female has something to say about the matter. 

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman” (1 Cor. 11:2).  Just as Peter says, “wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1ff), commending them to be daughters of Sarah who showed her husband respect and deference by calling him “lord.”  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wifes in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  Even if the world lives to turn the Bible on its head and rejects these teachings in passionate unbelief, the Scriptural portrait is undeniable.  Men and women are equal, yet distinct.  Both made in the image of God, they are co-heirs; nevertheless in their roles and natural relations they are different.  Husbands are to lead and wives are to help.   This is the original pattern, and this is the restored relationship in the plan of redemption.  The man’s good works are uniquely masculine, while the woman also displays a particular feminine conformity into the image of Christ.  And in the Great Commission, these roles are not to be undermined.  Rather as mutually distinctive partners, husbands and wives, can, should, and must complement one another in the work, not compete for one another’s place of service.  Douglas Wilson writes about this in his book, Reforming Marriage:

A husband and wife are not to be shoulder-to-shoulder, marching off to work at the task together. Nor are they both to be home all the time, face-to-face, eternally and perpetually ‘in love.’ Rather, with both man and woman understanding their respective roles, he faces his future and calling under God, and she, by his side, faces him (Doug Wilson, 66).

The point is, Jesus’ Great Commision is not a sex-less enterprise. Rising from the dust of the original imperative to be fruitful and multiply, it is not to be accomplished by androgynous disciples; rather, it is to be fulfilled by redeemed men and women who are shaped by the Spirit into distinctly masculine and feminine representives of the kingdom. Paul commends this in Titus 2 when he instructs older women to teach younger women and older men to model the faith before younger men (cf. 2:1-10).  Though cross-gender evangelism is frequent and fruitful, this is not the same thing as biblical discipleship.  Men need godly men to whom they can pattern their lives, and women need mature females to train them in domestic holiness.

Likewise, we who claim the name of Christ must realize that the evangelistic task is not simply about winning disconnected individuals to the Lord, though many will come on their own (Matt. 10:34-36), but to see the families of the nations (Ps. 22:27)–men, women, and children–saved and adopted into the family of faith.   When this happens, relationships are built, roles are revived, the household of God flourishes, and the glory of the gospel is seen.  The gospel then does more than give eternal life to the transexual male who flees from their former lifestyle, it completes its task by “restor[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).  Likewise, the gospel’s witness and effect is not only seen in that it redeems the soul of a pro-choice prostitute, it also dignifies that woman’s choice to become a mother, so that she may be saved through child-bearing as she “continue[s] in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).  Here we are not talking about the rudiments of the gospel–what must be believed–but the effects.  The gospel is seen in the transformed lives of men and women (cf. James 2:14ff, not coincidentally James includes a man and a woman in his illustration–Abraham and Rahab).

This kind of specific gospel transformation can only take place when gender roles are upheld.  Moreover, the Great Commission can only have its true effect when the nations obey all Scripture has to say about men and women’s roles.  This can take place in the jungle tribe that forsakes polygamy to conform their marriages into unions that resemble Christ and the church, or it can take place in the urban jungle where a young married couple decides against the pill and to pursue a family in a culture that normalizes two-person incomes.  In his wisdom, God designed his Spirit-indwelt children to find gender-specifc niches in his family–as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters–and in doing this the Great Commission is advanced.  To neglect this is to reject the whole counself of Scripture and the need to rightly reflect in our marriages and homes the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional, but absolutely essential.

Focusing on the need for marital conformity to the Great Commission is instructive because it calls Christian husbands and wives to consider their marital orientation and to ask, “How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?” For those who are married, this must be the central aim of their marriages. It must become the one thing that sets the agenda for everything else. Truly, this is a high and holy calling and one impossible without the Spirit, but then again, why should we settle for anything less?  Jesus promised to all those who believe in him, that he would come and live within them, until the end of the age, and that by his Spirit we would be bold witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  This is the promise that accompanies the command to be worldwide witnesses. This reality is true personally and in marriage.

May the Spirit of Christ be pleased to grant us grace and wisdom to fulfill the task of winning the nations, through husbands who lead their families to love the kingdom of Christ and wives who come alongside their men to help accomplish the task.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission

Over the next couple days, I want to consider the subject of gender complementarity and the Great Commission. While reading Reforming Marriage by Doug Wilson, this subject arose, and it prompted some lengthy reflections. I hope you will consider the subject with me.

“For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

Douglas Wilson comments on these verses: The prepositions in these verses are important. The woman was created for the man. The man was not created for the woman. Now Paul is telling us here about how God made us. His instruction elsewhere about what we are to do as men ans women is based on what we are as men and women, and how we are oriented. The fundamental orientation of an obedient man is to his calling or vocation under God. Under normal circumstances, he cannot fulfill his calling alone–he needs help. The fundamental orientation of an obedient woman is to give that help.  Another way of saying this is that the man’s orientation is to do the job with her help, while the woman’s orientation is to help him do the job. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him (Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage [Moscow: Canon Press, 1995], 64-65).

Responding to Wilson’s cogent analysis, the question becomes, “What is the God-given task?  And what difference do gender roles make in the accomplishment of the task?”  In other words, can the task that Wilson describes be accomplished without particular attention to the roles?  Fortunately, the Bible is not silent to the nature of the task or the means by which men and women united together accomplish the task. 

In Genesis 1:28, God instructed Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Their task was to have dominion over the earth, labeling all creation and overseeing its productivity. In Genesis 2, before the formation of the woman, this was Adam’s vocation in the garden of Eden:  “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In other words, by drawing connections between Genesis 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 11, the plain teaching of Scripture is that man was given the task of having rule in the world and the woman was created to assist in that endeavor. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”, says the Lord (Gen 2:18). Why?  So that together they could accomplish the task of multiplying image-bearers, cultivating creation in the field and at home, for the purpose of having God-glorifying dominion over all creation.  This was the original task.

Enter Genesis 3 and this program is destroyed through stealth.  Adam fails miserably at his priestly task of service and protection in the garden (cf. Num. 3:5-10), and Eve is acts as his tempting accomplice when she listens to the serpent and dismisses Adam’s protective role of authority.  (Adam is by no means guiltless.  He watches the whole scenario take shape, and passively remains silent [Gen. 3:6]).  The result is a curse upon creation, the land that the man and woman were to cultivate and keep (Gen. 3:17; cf. Rom. 8:20ff).  Moreover, a curse is put on them with the promise of pain, toil, interrelational strife, and ultimately death.

But what about the task?  Does it change?.  A survey of the Scriptures, seems to indicate that it does not.  Despite the increased difficulty, in fact, the impossibility of accomplishing the task, the imperative to be fruitful and multiply does not change, nor does the command to have dominion over the earth. The problem is now that men and women have insufficient resources to accomplish the task.  This is because all descending offspring are now marked by their father’s pattern of rebellion and sin (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), and their ability to rule over creation as God’s vice-regents is now infused with personal ambition, relational competition, and the ever-present threat of re-appropriating the serpents promise, “to be like God.”  The task of subduing the earth for God, when humanity is in sinful rebellion against God.

Still the task remains. As the biblical narrative unfolds, glimpses of YHWH’s creational directive surface. To borrow terminology from Stephen Dempster’s work on the Hebrew Bible, dominion (rulership over creation) and dynasty (the proliferation of offspring) continue. Man’s orientation to the field and to the task of subduing the earth remains, though viciously skewed by sin and sometimes enacted with utter disregard for the Creator. Likewise, women in the Bible and in history continue to fulfill the task by bearing children who image God (cf. Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). Nevertheless, humanity itself has been unable to fulfill the task in all of its glory as is apparent in a world that groans and in a human race that dies!

So what can be done? 

The resolution to the problem is that in the midst of mankind’s puny attempts to carry out the work established by God in the beginning, God himself interceded and interjected his own man to accomplish the task. Promised from the beginning (Gen. 3:15), brought about in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), Jesus Christ came as the second Adam (cf. Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) to accomplish the task, to redeem and remake humanity, and to put all things once again under humanity’s feet. He did this by living a life completing obedient to his Father in heaven, thus attaining perfect righteousness, by dying an undeserved death on a Roman implement of torture and punishment–the cross, and by raising again on the third day proving his righteousness and newly creating the promise of life after death (1 Cor. 15:1-3). In so doing, Jesus Christ accomplished the task and recast it in the form of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

In the Great Commission, we have the miraculous and powerful reversal of the effects of the Fall and the re-establishment of original task: “Make disciples” corresponds with the original command to be fruitful and multiply.  Now image-bearers of the risen Christ are not simply born, they are reborn, and all those who are born again will be able to enter and see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). Moreover, the authority that Christ possesses is a promise that the earth, knocked from under the feet of Adam and Eve, will one day be restored to all those who have submitted themselves to Jesus Christ, believed his gospel, and have been made ready (i.e. made ready through imputed righteousness) for his coming reign. In this, the task has been restored to redeemed humanity in an already but not yet fashion. Whereas the creational imperative to be physically fruitful remains, and the task of cultivating the earth–even in its corrupted state–continues, the greater task now becomes the preaching of the gospel and making disciples of all the nations in preparation for the age to come. This is the task of the Great Commission, and the task of every Christian couple!

From here we can ask, “How do gender roles fit into this biblical mission? Are they essential or merely optional?  And why does it even matter?” Certainly, the Bible is not neutral and gives us instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Tomorrow, we will pick up this theme and continue to consider marriage, gender roles, and the Great Commission.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Sex in the Service of God

When was the last time that you read a book or a chapter and had your worldview rocked?  Where as soon as you finished the chapter, you wanted to start it again?  When the result of extended meditation on the book actually changed your thinking and your view of life?  For me this has come from John Piper’s Desiring God, Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism, A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God,  and only a handful of others.

This morning I would have to add Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of Godto the list.    Like an unexpected earthquake, Ash set off a series of tectonic shifts in my thinking about marriage, sex, and the glory of God.  His premise is that the primary purpose of marriage is not human companionship to overcome loneliness or personal satisfaction derived from a heterogeneous coupling.  No, instead, the divine design of marriage is more cosmic, more missional, and larger than just two people in bed together. 

Going back to the Garden, God’s intention in creating mankind male and female has always been to perform a work that could not be done alone.  God’s command to mankind to till and cultivate the earth, to serve God and guard the garden has cosmic significance.  And today, after the Fall, it has a missions imperative.  This changes everything about marriage, because the blessed union is far more than simply two becoming one. 

The force of Ash’s chapter, “Sex in the Service of God,” comes from the fact that his argument is clear, intensely biblical, and incredibly relevant–not to mention inspiring in a Great Commission sort of way.  Marriage and sex as an act of proclaiming the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ has been something I have thought about before, but never with such clarity and potency as I had this morning.  I pray it will have a lasting effect.

So I commend you to pick up the book and read the chapter yourself and ponder its significance.  I know that I will, again and again. Here is a sampling to consider your marriage in the light of God’s glory:

Marriage is to be a visible and lived-out image of the love of the Lord for his people, and this relationship is so central to reality that the project of imaging it is seen as the primary purpose of marriage.  The paradox is that when we begin to think of the marriage relationship as an end in itself, or even as an end that serves the public signification of the love of God, we slip very easily into a privatization of love taht contradicts the open, outward-looking and gracious character of covenant love.  By this I mean that the covenant of the Creator for his people is a love that has the world, the whole created order, as its proper object; in loving his people with a jealous love he has in mind that this people should be a light to the nations and that through them blessing should spread more and more widely.  The moment we begin unquestioningly to treat marital intimacy as the primary goal of marriage, however, we contradict the outward-looking focus and the project becomes self-defeating (Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, 127).