Anomaly: Kingdom People Making a Difference (Matt. 5:13-16)

Introduction: Obedience to God is Rebellion

There is a notable quality among the major characters of the Bible: they were different. 

Abraham defied his culture and its standards by following God wherever He called him to go. He didn’t question God about the things we consider important, but simply followed God out of faith and reliance on Him (Gen. 12:1-9). Joseph remained faithful to God in extremely difficult circumstances, when no one would have blamed him for turning against those who had made his life difficult (Gen. 37-50). Moses, while he made plenty of mistakes, still followed the Lord when the whole nation of Israel wandered away from God (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). Joshua obeyed the Lord even when it didn’t make since; and he conquered through God’s strength. And there are many other characters in the Bible who obeyed the Lord when it seemed unreasonable and when it didn’t seem relevant. Even though they made mistakes, these characters are remembered for their faithfulness to the Lord. Among these in the Old Testament are Job, Samson, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and many others.

In the New Testament, we have a treasury of courageous accounts of obedience to God that defied the culture and standards of the time. Jesus first of all didn’t conform to the legalist religion of the Pharisees, but remained truly obedient to God even to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). Peter preached some of the boldest, fiery sermons recorded in all of Scripture. They flew right in the face of the culture and standards held by the religious rulers, and even those who weren’t religious (Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-26; 4:5-12; 10:28-47; 11:4-18; 15:7-11). Stephen remained faithful to God and even prayed for the forgiveness of those who were killing him, while they were killing him (Acts 7:54-60). Paul was the most influential person to Christianity, apart from Jesus Christ. He was one who counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8a). Of course, there are many others that could be mentioned, but I believe without question, that our Bibles are replete with bold figures who remained obedient to God when no one else would, and who preached and proclaimed the truth in changing cultures.

Seeing this trend among the characters of Scripture, should not surprise us that the Scriptures themselves describe believers as outsiders:

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you shall be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6)

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jesus in John 17:16).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Romans 12:2a)

Sanctified in Christ Jesus . . .” (1 Cor. 1:2b)

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

We just don’t belong in this world. Think about it: obedience to God is rebellion in our culture—because hardly anyone is obedient to God. Taking obedience to God seriously will define you in different ways—both good and bad. Divergent. Weird. Peculiar. Abnormal. Strange. Outsider. Or better known as anomaly. 

No one defines what it means to be anomaly better than Jesus. In Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, we’re going to look and see what He says about being an outsider. This sermon is known as the Sermon on the Mount, spanning Matthew chapters 5 through 7. You will see it very evident in this sermon, that what He describes are not found in the people of the world. The actions and characteristics in the way that Jesus pictures in the Sermon are absent in those of the world. In fact, after Jesus finished His sermon, Matthew says that “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus never continued the status quo; and the people were surprised and blown away by this fact.

The Sermon on the Mount—it’s all about doing things that nobody else is doing. It’s all about true Christian character. It’s all about making a difference in the world for the glory of God. If you live in the way that Jesus talks about here, it will be clearly noticeable that you don’t fit in. Everyday you are confronted with a decision to make. Do you dare live in the way(s) that Jesus describes here? Will you dare to live recklessly in obedience to God, through the ways Jesus describes? Are you ready to accept that challenge? Are you ready to accept the challenge of being anomaly?

With that being said, what do you think Jesus would say about being an outsider? Surprisingly, Jesus begins talking about being an outsider by saying that we as believers are salt and light.

The Text: Matthew 5:13-16, ESV

“13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I. Being Salt (v. 13)

A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Salt (v. 13a)

First of all, notice that Jesus compares the disciples to salt. He says to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” After the discourse on the Beatitudes (5:1-12), Jesus compares the disciples to an earthly element: salt. Immediately, we recognize that this is such a strange comparison. To find out what Jesus means here, it’s helpful to define how salt would have been used in Jesus’ day.

In Jesus’ day, there were many uses for salt (nearly all of them still in use today). It was used as a preservative to prevent corruption, fertilizer, it was used to add flavor, and it was used to symbolize wisdom (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). There were other uses still: “It was, among other things, an element in sacrifices, a purifier, a condiment, a preservative—and its several symbolic associations—a sign of purity, of necessity, of loyalty, of peace, of good speech, [and] of wisdom.”¹ It’s not likely that Jesus is limiting His comparison of the disciples to salt to any one of those uses. Because of the wide range of uses, it’s impossible to single out any one.
But essentially, when it comes to the uses of salt—it affects what it comes in contact with right? It affects meats by preserving them, it affects food by adding flavor, it affects ice by melting it, and so on.

That’s what Jesus was saying here. He is talking about making an impact on the world—affecting the world around you. We know this is true from what Jesus says we are the salt of. We, as His disciples are the salt “of the earth.” Jesus wants us to act like salt here, and make an impact. The way we will make a true impact is by being effective, as we will see, for the glory of God. But for now, we will leave it at this: Jesus wants us to make an impact just as salt affects everything that it comes into contact with.

B. The Emphasis: Salt Maintaining its Taste (v. 13b)

Jesus compares His disciples to salt, saying that they are to make an impact on their world. But look what He says next: “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (v. 13b). Jesus asks a question and gives a warning in the same sentence, emphasizing the importance of salt keeping its taste; this is what He talks about throughout the rest of v. 13.

How can salt lose its flavor? It can be diluted. Have you ever tried to separate salt from water once it is mixed together? That’s what Jesus is talking about here—He’s saying that it is impossible to restore saltiness or flavor to salt once it has been diluted. Jesus’ point is that we will become useless in our effectiveness in making an impact if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. The world needs our impact, and we will be useless to the world and being used by God if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. A prevalent theme in Scripture is that is impossible to associate or flirt with sin without harming yourself. Do you recall the proverb that says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27).²

Think about it: if we become diluted by sin, what makes us different from anybody else? If we’re just doing what everyone else is doing how are we influencing others? By God’s grace, we are to resist from being influenced, and instead—influencing others. Influencing but not being influenced.

C. The Consequence of Salt Losing its Taste (v. 13c)

Notice last, in Jesus’ words about salt, that he talks about the consequence of salt losing its taste: “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (v. 13c). Salt that lost its salt-like character would have no value. What Jesus is saying is that His disciples dare not allow the world to dilute their effectiveness, or they belong on the garbage heap. Such Christians will indeed be “trampled” because they are ineffective and useless. Luke has an interesting reading of Jesus’ words here:

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34-35).

Jesus says here that if you’ve lost your influence, you’re not even worthy to be among the manure! Christ isn’t saying that if you become diluted by sin that you will lose your salvation, but He is saying that you will lose your effectiveness, and that if you lose your effectiveness, what good are you really accomplishing?

John MacArthur reminds us of this, and he is worth quoting at length:

“With great responsibility there is often great danger. We cannot be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own purity. We cannot sting the world’s conscience if we continually go against our own. We cannot stimulate thirst for righteousness if we have lost our own. We cannot be used of God to retard the corruption of sin in the world if our own lives become corrupted by sin. To lose our saltiness is not to lose our salvation, but it is to lose our effectiveness and to become disqualified for service.”³

Jesus says that we are to make an impact on our world, because if we don’t—we’re pretty useless. Are we making an impact? Or are we allowing ourselves to be diluted by the sins of the world? The world needs our impact, an ancient church treatise says, “What the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.”4

II. Being Light (vv. 14-15)

A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Light (v. 14a)

Just as Jesus compared His disciples to salt, notice here that he compares them to light: “You are the light of the world” (v. 14a). Light is one of Scripture’s most common symbols. God is light (Ps. 18:12; 104:2; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 1:5), Christ is light (Matt 4:16; John 1:7, 9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46), and God’s people are light (Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5). Now think, what are some uses for light? While there are various uses for it, its chief function is to make one able to see. Again, like with what Jesus says we are the salt of, what does He say we are the light of? We are the “Light of the world.” This is because we are the window through which God’s light enters the world. He chose us to do this very thing. Paul says concerning our conversion, that God “has shone [His light] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, emphasis mine). God didn’t give us the gospel to be a hidden secret, but so that the whole world can see His light and transformation in us.

B. A Clear Example of the Impossibility of Hiding Light (v. 14b)

Notice next, that Jesus gives a memorable, visible example of how impossible it is to hide something that is big: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” You can imagine that can’t you? The picture Jesus is painting is of houses and buildings that stand out on a landscape, shining brilliantly during the night. The point He is making in this discourse on light is this: if you’re truly saved—it’s hard to hide it. If you’re truly loving God and growing in your passion for Him, people are going to notice. You’re going to be like a city set on a hill. Can you really hide a city setting on a hill? Indeed not. Neither can you hide the gospel’s transformation in you, if you truly have that transformation.

C. The Folly of Hiding Light (v. 15)

Finally, Jesus talks about the foolishness of hiding light (after He has established that it is virtually impossible to hide): “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (v. 15). People have always understood this concept. Candles are put on holders to increase their range. Decades ago, a man would come around your street and light oil lamps in the streets—but he would get on a ladder because the pole was so tall, that way it would have better range. Ceiling fans are also on the ceiling for a purpose. The lamp here that Jesus is talking about was probably a small oil-burning portable with a wick. It would be extremely foolish to light it and then hide it under a bowl; especially since people need the light to see. Jesus’ point is that it is even more foolish for a disciple to hide the light of the gospel. People need the light we possess in us, they need it so that sin can be exposed and salvation can be recieved. Why would we hide it?

You can hide your light by being quiet when you know you should speak. When you know that someone needs to hear the gospel, or when you know God should be defended, but you say nothing, you’re hiding your light. You can hide your light by going along with the crowd. How are you shining God’s light if you’re doing what everyone else is doing? You can also hide your light by simply denying the light. Some other ways you can hide your light is by letting sin dim your light, not explaining your light to others, or ignoring the needs of others. We must not hide our light, because it is what the world needs.

II. The Purpose: The Glory of God (v. 16)

A. The Command (v. 16a)

In a summary statement, Jesus tells His disciples the reason for comparing them to salt and light. He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others.” Just as men do not hide light under a basket, the disciples were to let God’s light shine brightly before others. Jesus is saying that the light of God must shine through the disciples’ life. They were not to keep this light to themselves.

B. The Purpose (v. 16b)

Finally, Jesus gives the purpose for shining our light, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16b). The purpose for shining their light was to glorify God. We don’t engage in good works so that people we look at us, but so that their attention will be drawn to God. In other words, we shine by becoming invisible. Even everything we do is to be for the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) We make an impact by our deeds to draw attention to God. That’s what really matters.

Conclusion: A Buddhist’s Evaluation

According to Jesus, being anomaly means making an impact in our world, but making an impact and change for God’s glory; for His fame and honor, not for our own. Let us live so fervently for the glory of God that we disappear from the scenes, and our good works done so that people’s attention will be drawn to God. I am reminded, as I study this passage, of a story of a young Buddhist student. He had made a very careful study of Christianity, and particularly of Christ. He studied the history of Christianity, the Scriptures, and the person of Jesus. He talked to a Christian about his studies and he said this: “Your Christ is wonderful, oh, so wonderful; but you Christians, are not like Him.” Without knowing it, that Buddhist pointed out the greatest need of present-day Christianity—more of Christlikeness in those who bear His name. Let us be salt and light for God’s glory, that’s the kind of kingdom people that God wants to make an impact.


1. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 70.
2. Clearly, this is a comparison by the caring father to his son concerning the sin of adultery (see Prov. 6:29). But by implication, it is a greater biblical principle that applies to all sin in a general sense (Psalm 1:1; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:7-11; 2 Thess. 3:14; James 1:27)
3. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 246.
4. The Letter to Diognetus, Cited in Davies and Allison, 71.
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The Healthy Church: Principles for True Ministry – Our Character (Titus 1:1a)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, on the 25th day of January 2015:

Neglecting Health

There is perhaps nothing more important to the human body than its health. This is due mainly to the fact that good health is necessary to the human body. In fact, this is especially true in our own age. We find that there are more organic and wholesome foods sold today than ever before. Cigarette smoking is at its lowest percentage now among high school students.¹ Fast food restaurants are being questioned about their practices, the way they prepare their food, and what they put into it. This focus on health is evident even in my own life. I went on a search the other day to a few general stores because I was looking for coffee creamer. Sounds strange right? Not quite, if you’re a coffee drinker like myself. The reason I went on this search is because I was looking for coffee creamer that was actually made with real sugar. I never noticed this before, but more and more stores are carrying products that are sugar-free. Every store I went to, the label read, “Sugar-Free” on all the creamers. I was seriously making sure I hadn’t missed the Rapture, because it sure seemed like the start of the Great Tribulation.

So we have this emphasis on health today more than ever before, and there are certain principles we put into practice in order to maintain our own health (at least we’re supposed to). We eat right, we exercise, and I might add—we avoid sickness. Nobody enjoys being sick and unhealthy, expect maybe the guy whose job is to drain out Porta-Potties in the Summer and calls into work sick. Praise the Lord for his days off, right?

But in the area where health should be regarded as infinitely important is where it is nearly totally neglected, in fact I would say, nearly entirely lost—and that is in the church. The church, more than a human body, needs health to have a beating heart. It needs to have health in order for its hands and feet to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus. Simply put, there are certain things that must be done in order to maintain the health and life of the local church.

That’s what Paul’s letter to Titus is all about. It’s all about what we should do in order to have a healthy church, what we should do in order to have healthy, biblical families, and what we should do to have a bold witness before a watching world. All of that is influenced by a healthy church. Those are the three themes in this letter: the church, the family, and our witness before the world. In this epistle, Paul talks about:

1.) Doctrine and duty in the local church (1:5-16)

2.) Doctrine and duty in the Christian home (2:1-15)

3.) Doctrine and duty in the world (3:1-11)

This epistle to Titus is really a bargain book—you get more for less. It is theologically jam-packed, and it goes to show the magnificence of God in inspiring Scripture because He can say so much in just a few words. Paul begins this letter by talking about how we can maintain the health of our ministry here: ministry to one another, and ministry to our community and the world. We will see how Paul put certain principles into practice in order to maintain effectiveness in his own ministry. He begins this letter by talking about his own character, the purpose for his ministry, his message, his proclamation, and then his power.

The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

I. Principles for Ministry

Notice first how formal and drawn-out Paul’s introduction is here. It is the longest of Paul’s introductions in the pastoral letters, and the second longest in all of his letters (Romans being the longest). This passage itself is one long, elegant sentence in the original Greek—in fact, it is just one sentence in the English translation, too. The question we should be asking is this: Why such a long introduction for a letter to a friend in ministry? Was it because Paul had a distant relationship with Titus and had to remind him of who he was as an apostle? Not likely.

Paul had a unique relationship with Titus. Paul traveled with him to do missionary work: “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me” (Gal. 2:1). Also, Titus worked with Paul to relieve the problems of the church at Corinth. He is mentioned nine times in 2 Corinthians (2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18, 18). Paul calls him in those places his “brother,” and “partner and fellow worker.”

Paul didn’t write out such a formal introduction because his relationship with Titus was distant. But did he perhaps, write such a long introduction to introduce themes he would talk about in the letter? Not necessarily. Now, the themes of the introduction, like salvation, and knowledge leading to godliness are clearly picked up in later sections of this letter (2:11-14; 3:3-7); and Paul does this often times, mentioning a few things in the introduction(s) that he will talk about later (Paul’s introduction in Romans and Galatians are excellent examples).

It seems that Paul has written such a lengthy introduction here to give unchanging, objective, external principles to guide his own ministry. Paul used these principles in his own ministry, and he was expecting Titus to do the same. Because Titus had an important task: to strengthen the churches in a pagan region of the world. He needed biblical principles for his own ministry that would stand the test of time. Paul was aging and he would soon die, and these principles he lays down for Titus’ ministry could be, and should be used even after Titus passes on. Why? Because these are eternal principles—unchanging, and biblical. These churches still needed a lot of work ( v. 5), they had to work through the bugs—these churches weren’t established Southern Baptist churches with orders of service and Lottie Moon mission offerings. In fact, they were likely the opposite—in need of sound doctrine, elders who would lead biblically, and the proper perspective for Christian families, and a proper perspective of the world. And it begins with the principles he would use for the ministry of the local church. Ministry can’t be done effectively, biblically or even purposefully without scriptural principles guiding, leading, and directing Paul, Titus, and us today on our journey of faith. As we see them, we need to ask ourselves if we have these individual principles in our own lives, and in the life of our local church.

II. Our Character (1:1a)

Paul begins with his own name—characteristic of all of his letters. That is one main reason why Paul is rejected as the author of Hebrews, because his name is absent. In all of Paul’s letters, his name is present at the beginning—it is the first word penned before anything else. When we write letters today, we usually sign our names at the bottom of the page, but in Paul’s day it was the exact opposite. You began letters by identifying who you were. Sometimes the letters were still signed for authenticity reasons (2 Thess. 3:17). And we see that Paul begins this letter by identifying himself in two significant ways: 1) “a servant of God,” 2) “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”

1. A Servant (δοῦλος) of God

Notice first that Paul says he is a “servant of God.” Now, Paul does not casually call himself a “servant of God” here. First of all, this phrase occurs only here in Paul’s introduction to this letter. Never does Paul refer to himself this way except here. Paul sometimes calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ” (as in Romans 1:1, and with Timothy in Philippians 1:1). Usually, in his introductions he refers to himself as simply, “An apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” On every occasion (with the exceptions of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), Paul always calls himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” If we are going to be good interpreters, this should cause us to ask why he deviates here, when his normal self-identification is “an apostle.” Every word in the Bible counts, so there’s a significant reason why he does this.

I believe we find our answer in the Old Testament, for the expression “servant of the Lord” is an explicit OT expression. In defining his relationship with God in this way, he draws on the Old Testament pattern established by Moses, David, and other prophets who stood in the special position of those who had received revelations from God. Typically, God’s chosen prophets were described as “servants.” Let’s see a few examples:

“Moses the servant of the LORD” (Deut. 34:5).

“. . . my servant David” (God to Nathan in 2 Sam. 7:5).

“For the LORD GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

And in Jeremiah 7, God says that he gave the Israelites His commandments, but they did not obey. And in an attempt to get them to obey, here’s what God did:

“From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:25-26).

It seems that Paul is aligning himself with obedient servants of God who preceded him as recipients of divine revelation. Just as the towering figures of the Old Testament were obedient servants of God and received God’s revelations, so was the same of Paul. By describing himself this way, Paul anchor’s his ministry in the story of the covenant God of the Old Testament. Those great characters of the Old Testament served God’s people, His elect (and notice later in this verse that he says that his purpose as an apostle was the exact same purpose for all of the Old Testament prophets).

If this is true of Paul, his authority and obedience to God are not to be questioned. This was important for the Cretan culture that Titus ministered in. They had discounted the teaching of the gospel of Jesus and had devoted themselves to “Jewish myths,” (1:14) and they were an untrustworthy, lying culture that was proud to admit it, too (1:12). So while they would have been taught that Judaism in its various forms was superior to Christianity, Paul was saying that he received revelations from God just as the prophets of old.

But there’s another important reason why he says this. The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. This is literally translated “bondservant,” which in this case is someone who has no rights of his own, no will of his own—but his sole desire is to do the will of his master. If anyone in the Bible could say this of himself, it was Paul. In the passage where Paul lists all of his credentials and spiritual accomplishments, what does he say concerning them all? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). Also recall in Acts 22 where he recounts his conversion and he notes that he inquired of the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord?” (22:10). Paul was a doulos of God—he had no will of his own, no agenda of his own. Paul’s will was to do God’s will and God’s agenda.

And he is laying this down as a principle for Titus, too. If Titus is going to be a successful pastor of his church, a leader of his own home, and a witness in his pagan culture—he must be a servant of God. How would he expect his church to be servants if he wasn’t a servant? How would he expect his family and the families of his church to be servants if he didn’t model it for them by being a servant? And how would he expect for a lost world to be a servant and follow Christ if he wasn’t being a servant?

The same applies to us. If we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God. The Bible already says we are slaves of God, we just need to act like it. For instance, Paul in Romans 6 says, “But now [you] have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God . . .” (v. 22). We just need to become what we are already—slaves of God. What about you? Are you a slave of God? If you want a healthy church, here’s where it starts. This is where it started for Titus, and this is where it must start for us.

Most of the time, our plans are rarely God’s plans, but Paul was someone whose whole life was changed because of submission to God’s will. Living in submission to God’s will is perhaps the greatest thing on this present earth for a ChristianGod wants us to be His servants, and He will give us strength and grace daily if we will only surrender. This is so important because not only was being a servant characteristic of Paul, but of our own Savior—in Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .and [became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 7-8). And Peter, speaking in Solomon’s portico, defending the messianic Jesus before the peoples, says this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13). Jesus is our supreme example—He was a servant of God. Paul was a servant of God, and this must characterize us as individuals and us as a local church. If we can’t honestly say that we are servants of God, maybe we need to get our hands dirty and out into the action, pull up our bootstraps and get to work—empowered and motivated by a passion to serve God because of who He is and what He’s done for us in the gospel. Motivated not because we want God to love us—but motivated because He already does love us. We need Paul’s attitude: “What do you want me to do?”

2. Messenger/Apostle of Jesus Christ

We’ve seen the first way that Paul identifies himself, as a doulos of God, and as we expect from Paul, he defines himself secondly as his usual designation, “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” To further confirm his authority as an apostle, not only is he in the spiritual line of prophets who received revelation from God, but he was a special messenger of Jesus Christ Himself. That’s what it means to be an apostle. The word apostle literally means a messenger, a representative, or envoy. This is the usual way he describes himself, because that’s what he was.

During Paul’s conversion, the Lord Jesus says of him, “[He] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He was Christ’s instrument. In Romans, Paul says in introducing himself, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). And Paul defends his apostleship in Galatians:

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16a)

But I just want to make you aware of something at this point. We have really elevated the term apostle in our language. Yes, Paul being an apostle meant that he was given revelation from the Lord and of course, penned 13 letters of our New Testaments. But the word apostle is really nothing lofty—it just means to be a messenger. Someone is an apostle simply because they carry a message. If I have a message I need to send to someone, say across the street, and I get someone to take it for me, then they would be my apostle—my messenger.

The same is true of us. We are ambassadors for Christ, we are His messengers—and having a healthy church starts here too. We must realize that we are His messengers in this world. I love Paul’s description of this in 2 Corinthians 5:20, where he says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We may not have the gifts Paul had, and we certainly will not be agents of divine revelation—but we have a responsibility to be messengers.

True ministry begins with our character—we must understand who we are; slaves of God and messengers of God. It is our birthright; when we become believers, we have the responsibility to live every day in these ways.

Let me add something in closing. Being servants of God and being His messengers are not simply things we need to be, but they are things we can be. This is not legalism; God has all the empowering, motivating grace we need to be servants and messengers. To reinforce this point, what does Paul crave for Titus in v. 4? He says, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” Paul couldn’t be a servant or messenger without the grace of God, Titus couldn’t either, and neither can we. Without the grace of God, we are powerless, lifeless, and useless. But because He has “lavished upon us” the “riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7, 8).


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cigarette Smoking Among U.S. High School Students at Lowest Level in 22 YearsJune 2014.

3 Important Reasons to Study Church History

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”—Michael Crichton.

Studying the history of any field or subject is important. For Christians, there is perhaps no historical study more important than the study of our Christian heritage and history. For several reasons, studying church history is important, and I would argue necessary to truly appreciating and understanding the Christian faith. What then, are the reasons for studying church history?

1. Christianity is a historical religion. As I said above, knowing the history of any field is important – especially the history of Christianity. It can be confidently said that Christianity has made many positive contributions to the world we now live in. More in fact, than any other movement, religion, or individual in the history of the world. Further, the waves made by the towering individuals of church history have rippled into our own theologies and practices, and they deserve a hearing. That’s where church history comes in. In this field of study, we can sit with individuals such as Irenaeus who combated early heresies, Tertullian who contributed to the doctrine of the Trinity, and Basil of Casearea who strengthened peoples understanding of the Spirit. We can be discipled by the greatest theologians who ever lived like St. Patrick, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others. Christianity didn’t begin yesterday. It has a history, like everything else, and it deserves to be studied, or what it is today will not be appreciated to the full extent that it could be.

2. To correct mistaken views about what has happened in history. This is, perhaps, one of the most vital reasons for studying church history. There are many concepts in theology and many practices in churches of different denominations that have not always existed. Many seem to have the understanding that our denominations, beliefs and practices have always been what they are today. However, Baptist churches have not always existed. Neither have Pentecostals been around for centuries, along with Methodists, Presbyterians, and other mainline denominations. Also, Roman Catholicism was not the first form of Christianity; it has not always been what it is today. It was, by no means, the dominant form of Christianity since the time of the apostles. These are only a few examples, and if church history is actually studied, these mistaken views can be corrected.

3. Spiritual Nourishment. This is a very practical reason for studying church history. God spoke throughout church history, just as He does today. God has never been silent. God revealed many things to individuals of church history, and it would be foolish to think that we are more intelligent than they were. For the most part, they read the same Bible that we have today. Charles Spurgeon remarks about the ignorance of not studying what God has revealed to them: “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.“¹ The theologians of church history will serve spiritual nourishment to us today through their defenses of Christian doctrine against the earliest heresies, their rich interpretation of Scripture, and their brilliant philosophies.

Church history deserves our careful consideration and study. There are several other important reasons for studying church history, but these three cast the net widely, and I think rightfully so. Would you agree? What would you add to the list? What would you change or take away?


1. Cited in Rediscovering the Church Fathersby Michael A. G. Haykin (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 14.

John D. Hannah on the Centrality of the Gospel in Christian Proclamation

As a Bible-believing Christian, it is my conviction that there should be doctrinal unity among Christians in the local church (Eph. 4:1-6). There are, of course, things we can differ on. There are minor issues that we can hold differing views on, that should not divide us. If we can’t accomplish the mission of the church together because of our differing views on minor issues, something had better change; either our character or conviction(s).

I have been reading Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrineby scholar John D. Hannah. It has been a great read thus far. It is an exhaustive read on the history of the development of doctrine. But what makes this book different from any other book on Christian history, is that it contains practical applications about what we can learn from church history and it’s developments. I am finishing up this 395 page book, and read something about doctrinal unity that caught my eye, and I felt it was worth sharing with you. Here is a lengthy portion from John D. Hannah’s brilliant book:

“Doctrines are not all created equal; some are more important than others. Consequently, the Christian theologian finds it useful to talk of gradations of convictions. Think of three concentric circles.

First, in the center ring, there are the essential beliefs of Christianity. These are the core doctrines of Christianity—those beliefs without which there can be no Christianity; those beliefs so central that one should have willingness to die for them. Among these, in my view, are the existence of God, the deity of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and salvation by grace without any human merit.

Second, moving outward by ring one, there are beliefs that are reckoned to be important but about which there is legitimate debate among Christians. Examples of these convictions might be particular views of baptism or the Eucharist, church polity, or the chronology of last things. While Christians may hold such convictions with a significant degree of fervency, they are nonetheless subject to a variance of opinion and are not issues that should divide the fellowship of the saints in the broadest sense. Nor should such doctrines hold center stage in our discussions of the Bible. The central things, the topics that should be our most frequent, fervent topics are those in the center circle.

Third, in the outermost of the concentric circles, there are distinctly personal beliefs. They are neither core doctrines of Christianity nor those embraced in a creedal statement by any particular Christian group. They are simply private, personal views that arise from the study of the Bible and the experience of life. Traditionally these have been defined as adiaphora, “things of difference.” They might have to do with certain moral issues that are neither prohibited nor propounded by the Scriptures.

While it is useful to think of concentric circles of beliefs, these three categories are often blended in practice. Sometimes, for example, mere personal beliefs are treated as core truths. My plea is that these distinctions be recognized and that our Christian pastors, teachers, missionaries, and laity make sure that the central truths be foremost in our proclamation of Christianity.

The most important person in all of history is Jesus Christ; he must always be the passionate message of the church. Without Christ, there can be no gospel that is really good news. While there are teachings that are important, greatly adding to the maturity of the church, Christ is the keystone of all.”

Very powerful and practical.

What do you think about doctrinal unity, and the centrality of Christ in our beliefs?


1. John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), pp. 342-343.

 

New Year’s Eve: Reflection and Anticipation

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, December 31, 2014:

God is the giver of many wonderful new things.

He gives us a new birth (John 3:3), He gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), a new life (2 Cor. 5:17), a new hope (Rom. 5:2), and a new task (Matt. 28:19-20). Finally, when our heart has beat its last, He will give us a new body in a new home called heaven. In fact, God says “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

And now, for those of us here tonight, God has given us another new year. Tonight contains an opportunity that never comes again until another year has passed us by.

There are two main things that happen tonight that normally do not happen any other time during the whole year: reflection, and anticipation. Reflection occurs as we think about our year’s past; Anticipation occurs as we think about our new year’s future.

I would like us to turn to a text in Scripture where this phenomenon takes place. A passage of Scripture that describes this idea of reflection and anticipation.

There was someone in the Bible who reflected on not just his past year, but his past few years and they were very dark—very full of sorrow. In fact, it was the worst few years he had probably ever seen. This person was Jeremiah, and he pens a 5 chapter book, lamenting and sorrowing over what had happened to the nation of Israel.

Israel was in some deep sin, and God sent Jeremiah the prophet to them to call them back to Him in hopes that they would repent and remain faithful to God again. However, Israel did not heed the warnings of Jeremiah to repent and turn to the Lord, so they were destroyed by Babylon. Jeremiah writes the results of this destruction in the book of Lamentations.

But as he describes Israel’s death, their starvation, and their weeping—he pens something that shines brightly, like a brilliant light in a dark, wet, solitary cave; and tells us something about reflecting on the past, and anticipating, looking forward to the future:

“21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Jeremiah 3:21-23, ESV)

I. Jeremiah Reflects and Anticipates

In v. 21, it is easy to see that two things are taking place: Jeremiah is remembering, and Jeremiah is anticipating.

Notice that he is reflecting/remembering: “But this I call to mind.” He is remembering something—that’s what he means by “this I call to mind.” When something is called to your mind, it is brought to your attention again.

Notice also, that he is anticipating: “and therefore I have hope.” Hope is always for the future—hope is what we need for the future; for the future, unlike the past, is not fixed. Things happen in the future that are unexpected because they are in the future—which we do not know.

II. The Object of Reflection and Anticipation: God’s Faithfulness

So Jeremiah is reflecting on the past, and what he remembers is what gives him hope for the future. But what is it that he is reflecting and remembering? And what is it that gives him hope for the future? Well it isn’t difficult to find the answer if you look at what he says next: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 22-23).

Jeremiah had seen the destruction of Israel—he had seen the families who were killed, the people who had been starved, and their weeping and affliction—but in light of that, Jeremiah had hope for the future: God was a faithful, loving, merciful, covenant God. He writes about four truths that give him hope for the future:

1. Jeremiah says that God’s love never ceases. His love doesn’t end because your love for Him isn’t what it should be—God’s love never quits or gives up—that’s one thing that gave Jeremiah hope for the coming days and years.

2. Jeremiah says that God’s mercies never come to an end. God’s compassion and forgiveness never runs out—God’s mercy is not measured by some amount, in fact, it cannot be measured. Everything else can be measured; you can measure lifespan, temperature, blood cell count, distances, time, etc. It’s not that God’s mercy can’t be measured because it doesn’t exist, but it cannot be measured because it has no beginning and end.

3. Jeremiah says that God’s mercies are new every morning. He makes a comparison—just as each day presents new opportunities, so every day is an opportunity to experience the grace of God—and this grace will always be there, just as the sun rises every day to usher in a new day—so God’s grace will always be there, and you can trust it just as you trust the sun to rise.

4. Jeremiah says that God’s faithfulness is great. This is a summary statement to everything he has said about God’s love and mercies—“great is your faithfulness.” God’s faithfulness and promise-keeping remain intact no matter what happens.

III. Our Reflection and Anticipation

We are now reflecting on our past year—we are thinking about all the troubles we had been through—how we didn’t expect them to happen.

We are reflecting on our failures and sins that we struggled with this past year—and how we wish we could go back in time and rewrite our history. We are reflecting on the past New Year’s Resolutions that faded out within the first two months, and we regret that. But according to the Bible, if we want true hope for the future, and power to fulfill our New Year’s resolutions, we need to be reflecting on the faithfulness of God to us in the past year.

Name one time God failed you this past year—can’t do it; because He never failed. God kept every promise to you this past year—He has sustained you and brought you through all of our failures and all of your difficulties and trials you endured this past year. Something that should boil up praise in every Christian is reflection on the faithfulness of God in the past.

Are you pondering, as Jeremiah did, on God’s faithfulness in the past? In what ways did God prove His faithfulness to you this past year?

Not only are we reflecting on our past year, but we are anticipating the one to come. We are anticipating new goals to be fulfilled. We call those New Year’s resolutions, sometimes we even pray for God’s help in fulfilling those resolutions—I read a prayer once about someone who wanted God’s help in fulfilling their resolutions: “Dear God, my prayer for 2015 is a FAT bank account and a THIN body. Please don’t mix it up like you did this year.”

But we are anticipating new opportunities, new relationships, new ministry opportunities, and so many things. But like Jeremiah, we need to anticipate God’s faithfulness in the future. It is always a challenge to trust God for the future, because we don’t know the future. But that’s the awesome thing about God—He knows the future; and calls us to trust Him as a loving Father with our futures. With a new year comes new problems. New difficulties. New troubles. Things that are going to happen to us that we never could’ve imagined on this night. But we need to put our trust now, daily, and throughout the year, in the One who knows our lives (including our futures) from beginning to end. Are you trusting God for the future now? When you think about the new problems you will face—and when they come your way, say with Jeremiah, “This I call to mind, therefore I have hope.”

Conclusion

The hymnist, Frances Havergal penned these words in 1874:

“Another year is dawning;

Dear Father, let it be,

In working or in waiting,

Another year with Thee;

Another year of progress,

Another year of praise,

Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.”¹

As we celebrate a new year, let us reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past, and anticipate God’s faithfulness for the upcoming year as we trust Him for whatever we may encounter.


1. Adapted from Robert J. Morgan’s, Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, Another Year is Dawning (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 587.