Tag Archives: practical helps

The Supreme Mission of the Church (Matt. 28:16-20)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of December 2015:

 

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Why I Love Expository Preaching (Pt. 1)

Delivering a Life-Saving Message

Suppose you were told to deliver an urgent message to someone, and this message was so crucial that their own life depended on it. Perhaps this person needed to know the location of a life-saving medicine, and they needed to know how to use it and apply it. This person is suffering from a debilitating disease, causing him to be very weak. And without this medicine to restore his strength, not only does it prevent him from performing simple tasks, but he will eventually die without it. The doctor has left you in charge, and he’s depending on you to be his ambassador and deliver to the patient the information that he needs. So he gives you a message to deliver. He tells you the location of the medicine, and walks through every step of the careful application of the medicine.

You scramble for your cellphone to call the patient. You’re running out of time. Adrenaline is pumping. A human life is at stake. The patient answers the phone with his last ounce of strength, and you bring him encouragement by saying that you have the answer, you have the cure. And because you know the message the doctor gave you to tell him, you can offer this dying patient exactly what he needs. He can have his strength restored and live a full life—but it is dependent on your full delivery of the message to him.

But instead of telling him the full message that the doctor gave you about the location of the medicine, and how to use and apply it, let’s say you choose only to tell one part of that message. Though you have the full message, you thought it would be sufficient enough to only tell the patient where to find the medicine. You thought that the location of the medicine was the most important part of the message you were given to deliver, so you left out how to apply the medicine because you thought it was less important.

Could the patient get the help he needs by only knowing one part of the message? Would you be doing justice to the doctor who gave you the message to deliver? The answer to those questions is an obvious and emphatic no.

minister-clipart-Preachers005Unfortunately, this is the lamentable practice that happens more in the local church than it does in a hospital or doctor’s office. Behind worn pulpits in the local church, many preachers and pastors with good intentions often fail to preach the whole message of Scripture. What’s worse, matters of supremely greater worth are at stake in the local church, than in the practice of medicine. As a result, the church becomes weak and may eventually die for lack of medicine (and nourishment) as prescribed in Scripture that is necessary for their sanctification. All people in the local church are patients in God’s hospital, and they all need the whole Bible (not just parts of it here and there) in order to live a healthy Christian life.

Some pastors and preachers often fail to preach the whole Bible because of their approach to preaching. Because of the approach to preaching that they choose, often only one part of the Bible is taught, and it leaves the people of God only partially equipped to live a life that glorifies God.

Failing to preach the whole Bible doesn’t do justice to the God who gave us the Bible to preach, if we choose only to preach one part of it. We would quickly consider telling one part of a crucial message to a dying person as inhumane and unthinkable—but yet in some churches today, pastors and preachers thumb through topical indexes looking for “something to preach,” instead of just preaching the Bible as it is.

So how do pastors and preachers teach and preach the whole Bible? What does this look like? Is there a method of preaching that even exists that ensures pastors and preachers will preach the whole Bible?

Yes there is, and it’s called expository preaching. Now, we will define further what expository preaching is and isn’t as we continue our look at it today, but for now I will give you a very appropriate definition for expository preaching. Borrowing David Helm’s definition,

“Expositional (or expository) preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text. In that way it brings out of the text what the Holy Spirit put there, and does not put into the text what the preacher thinks might be there.”¹

Expository preaching is faithful, biblical, and effective preaching—because it is faithful to the Bible, to God, and to His people who are in need of a word from Him.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re a member of a local church close to where you live. You are probably actively involved in your local church as well. And opportunities will arise where you will teach or preach the Bible – especially if God has called you to pastoral ministry, or worship and music ministry, youth ministry, women’s ministry, or missional life. But have you ever considered the importance of how you preach and teach the Bible? Have you ever considered the most biblical and effective approach to teaching and preaching the Bible? Let’s consider it today as we examine expository preaching as the most beneficial and faithful form of preaching for the local church.

Reason #1: I Love Expository Preaching Because It Is Thoroughly Derived from Scripture

Expository preaching has the Bible as its sole source. Because this method of preaching is expository, the goal of the sermon is to exposit the passage under consideration. By definition, expository preaching is preaching expositionally. It is preaching that explicates the meaning of a passage, verse by verse. Expository preaching seeks to preach the text and to preach the Bible, not just topics. Expository preaching seeks to excavate the true meaning of a passage as communicated by its author, and then verse by verse explain and apply that to God’s people today. A pastor or preacher exposits the meaning of a chapter, passage, or verse of Scripture and applies it to the 21st century based completely on what the original meaning was to the original hearers.

Now, this approach to preaching is altogether different from the other mainstream approach to preaching—topical preaching. There are other forms of preaching, but this is perhaps the most mainstream along with expository. In topical preaching, you typically have a topic in mind that you want to preach on.² And you search the Bible for passages or verses that support that topic. On the surface, this sounds like an effective approach. But without taking the time to point out everything that is flawed with that approach, let me just focus on one fundamental problem with preaching this way: If you already have the topic in mind that you want to preach on, and you’re simply searching for verses to support that topic, then who is really speaking when you get behind the pulpit?

Because when you choose a topic to preach on, you have already set the agenda, shape, and tone of your message. You already know what you’re going to say. If you’ve already set the agenda and shape of the message by your chosen topic, and you’re squeezing verses and passages into your preset agenda, then are you speaking or is the Bible speaking? If the Bible isn’t speaking, then God isn’t speaking. If God isn’t speaking, then your sermon is nothing more than an predetermined oration with the Bible as a footnote.

Expository preaching doesn’t do this, however. In expository preaching, the entire message is thoroughly derived from Scripture. This means that you don’t set the agenda or shape or tone of your own message—the Bible does. It is letting the Bible set the agenda for what you’re preaching. It is having the passage under consideration in authority over you—as you explain what the passage means. Expository preaching shows verse by verse what a particular passage means, not what you want it to mean.

If Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is about loving God and loving your family, then you will preach on loving God and loving your family as presented by that text. If Romans 10:14-17 is about the sovereignty of God in ordaining evangelism to reach the unsaved, then you will preach about the sovereignty of God in ordaining evangelism to reach the unsaved. The passage of Scripture you’re studying shapes and forms the message. In expository preaching, you don’t shape and mold a passage of Scripture to fit your topic.

This approach to preaching, then, also magnifies the infallibility and the authority of God’s word. This is because the expository sermon seeks to preach what God has said, and not merely what we want or think we should say. It takes the original meaning of Scripture and proclaims it now to the present world. Preaching expositionally is saying that what the Bible says is more crucial and more important than a topic I might choose. It is saying that God’s word has authority over you and the sermon. It is saying that “I will preach whatever this text means,” not what I want it to mean, or what I want to preach on.

treasure-hunt-memorial-service-ideasLet’s bring out the kid in you once again. Perhaps you embark upon a treasure hunt. You’ve found a map that reveals the location of buried treasure. You take your gloves and shovel and go where it says to go, then when you arrive, you dig where it says to dig. But what you uncover is sorely disappointing to you. It’s just a little piece of silver. You walk away from your makeshift excavation site, discouraged with the well-intended treasure hunt you took on. But you read in the paper next week that an archaeologist firm found an entire ship full of treasure at the exact same location where you were digging.They describe their findings this way: “We found only little pieces of silver and gold at first, but with more excavation we unearthed this ancient trade ship, loaded with gems and treasures that are worth more than a million dollars each.” That would be disappointing!

But with proper excavation, you would have discovered this great treasure. Because you failed to excavate it completely, and look into its contents, you made the wrong assumption about the treasure. This is what has happened with much preaching—many well-intended people who believe that the Bible is God’s word, are not excavating its contents. They are picking topics and verses here and there just like little pieces of silver. They are not preaching the intended meaning of Scripture. But the expository sermon doesn’t do this, instead, it presents the whole ship with careful detail to every gem and every treasure.

Expository preaching presents Scripture as it is, and not just one piece of silver. It presents the text as it is—of immeasurable worth to the Christian. It brings out the treasures of God’s word because expository preaching is derived and excavated from Scripture. It is preaching and excavating what is in the text, not what we think, hope or wish was in the text.

This is one of the major reasons why I love expository preaching. Week after week, I’m not sitting in my office worrying about finding something to preach. I’m not praying to the Lord, “God, give me something to preach.” I don’t have to despair in my study, thinking that I have to create and form some sermon to preach the following Sunday – because my sermon is derived thoroughly from Scripture. The passage of Scripture I’m studying creates and forms the message I preach – I don’t.


  1. Helm, David. Expositional Preaching, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), p. 13.
  2. Admittedly, there are times when topically preaching can be appropriate. For instance, when tragedy strikes (like recently in Orlando) or maybe when there is a special holiday. But even then there are a few things to keep in mind. First, we must remain extremely careful to draw out the meaning from a text through careful exegesis, and then preach it expositionally. Not even for a holiday or calamity should we ever mold and shape a passage of Scripture to address the needs of our hearers. God’s word already addresses their needs, and it will do this if it is presented as it is. Second, in today’s world it is impossible to address every tragedy or calamity. We have to use our wisdom when and if we want to take precious time behind the pulpit to preach on what the Bible says about a recent world event. If you attempted to preach like this every time something culturally shaking occurred, it’s all you’d ever preach on. Last Sunday you would’ve preached on the tragedy in the Orlando nightclub, the threat of ISIS, the assisted suicide bill, and the U.S. Senate’s vote to have women register for the draft. Additionally, still I think there is a faithful way to plan sermon or teaching series based on topics. Take the passage (or passages) you want to preach on and study them in-depth through exegesis, and let the passages determine the theme, direction, and goals of the sermon or teaching series. Still, sermon and teaching series are done better through whole chapters or books of the Bible. Usually a chapter or book of the Bible is about one major theological theme anyway.

When God Prayed: Jesus’ Devotion to Prayer (Luke 5:16)

That annoying alarm wakes us up. We grab a shower and a cup of coffee, then we’re out the door on our way to work. We might listen to a sermon on the radio during our morning commute, or we might read the Bible at lunch time. And soon enough, it will be time to go home. We go home, do a few things around the house, cook supper, pay bills, and then we’re off to bed to restart the process. But here’s a pressing question: when did we stop and talk to God, and really spend some time praying to Him? If you’re answer is anything like mine, you might feel a bit of shame. Most of us would likely admit that we haven’t been praying as much as we should be. For me, reading the Bible isn’t a problem. I’ve got a Bible reading plan that keeps me in line. But prayer . . . that’s another story. It is difficult for me to find time in my busy day to really spend time with God. That’s an honest confession.

I read something in the Scripture today that drove me to prayer this morning. It’s something I’ve read dozens, probably hundreds of times before. But a few details helped my understanding and application of it. What I read today was Luke 5, the verse that convicted me to prayer was v. 16 where Luke notes that Jesus prayed at His busiest moment at the beginning of His ministry. It reads in this way:

“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

In this passage, Luke records Jesus cleansing a leper saying that once He healed this leper, “even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities” (v. 15). Jesus cleansed this leper, and word got out about His healing power. Because of this, crowds came to hear Him preach and teach, and they came to be healed of their many diseases and infirmities. Jesus was getting popular at this point. More and more people began to know about Him as time went on. And Luke says that there was one thing He would always do, even when He was busy with His teaching and healing ministry: He would withdraw Himself from the crowds, to places where He could be alone, and He would pray. There are several passages of Scripture in the gospels that tell us that Jesus prayed alone, prayed for others, and prayed long prayers (Matt. 11:25-26; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12; 22:41-44; 23:24; John 17:1-26). The fact that Jesus prayed is astounding for two main reasons. First of all, because He was God in the flesh, and still prayed. Because He was God, it would make you think that Jesus would not need to pray, but it is very apparent from the gospels that prayer is something that He needed and something that He did. Though Jesus was God, He prayed to His Father and He made use of prayer.

Second, it is astounding that Jesus prayed because He was occupied with more tasks than any of us ever will be, and He still found time to pray. We might say, “But Jesus didn’t have a full time job like I do. Jesus’ didn’t cook supper for children, or pick them up from school everyday like me. Jesus didn’t have emails to send and receive.” Historically, that’s absolutely true. Jesus wasn’t a factory worker, working from nine to five. Jesus didn’t go to see His children play football at the high school. Jesus didn’t have an iPhone and wasn’t able to Tweet or check emails. But let me tell you what Jesus was involved in doing: Jesus was teaching crowds of hundreds of people everyday, and they were increasing as He became more popular. When is the last time you taught growing crowds of people multiple times a week? He was healing all kinds of diseases, people were coming to Him to be healed of all their infirmities and sicknesses. When is the last time you cleansed a leper? He was calling and teaching His disciples. He was dealing with the persecution of the religious rulers. Everywhere He went, He had to walk. When is the last time we did any of those things? And here’s the biggie: no one else could duplicate Jesus’ ministry. No one else could do what He was doing. It would be different if Simon Peter could heal the same way Jesus was, and teach the same way He was. But there was only one Son of God, and there was only one ministry that could do all this: Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was one busy man.

So even though Jesus was God, and even though He was unbelievably busy, nothing seemed to deter Jesus from spending extensive time in prayer. So we need to reflect now on our own prayer life. In light of this passage of Scripture, what is keep us from spending time in prayer? Whatever it might be, we need to get it out of the way and spend time alone with God, taking our requests to Him, praising Him for His blessings upon us, and praying for His grace and enabling to be obedient. I’ve said it before, and it’s something I have to constantly remind myself of: if you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Let us pray, and let us devote time to prayer. Jesus did, so should we.

QUESTION: Temptations Are Hitting Me Hard. What Can I Do?

Every Christian faces temptations, and they can come in all different shapes and sizes. The lay workman may be tempted to call his boss something vulgar. The pastor may be tempted to give up on his ministry. The teenager may be tempted to watch pornography. The believing sister may be tempted to keep quiet about the gospel in conversations with her unbelieving brother. Whatever the temptation may be, this facts stands true: we all face temptations. 

So the first thing to understand is that you should not despair when you face temptations, because everyone has them. Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13a). Paul says here that there isn’t a single temptation that only you are facing. All of mankind faces them. It is even a temptation within a temptation to believe that we are the only ones who struggle with certain sins or desires. But the Bible clearly teaches that believers are still fighting sin, and thus, all face temptations. So don’t feel like you’re the only one.

Secondly, you need to understand that temptation can be overcome.  Turning again to 1 Corinthians, Paul continues: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v. 13b). The hope we can have in our temptations is that God is faithful, and that He has provided “the way of escape.” While God does not cause temptations (James 1:13), He does want you to endure them and come out victoriously. And the way He does this is by providing for us the way of escape. But we must be willing to take that route and pursue His way of escape. I have a few practical, biblical suggestions for overcoming temptation in your life and fleeing through God’s way of escape:

1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.

3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.

5) Walk by the Spirit. Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He says that if we will live each step of our lives submitted to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we will not fulfill or carry out our sinful desires. The Spirit of God lives in us to enable us to live the Christian life victoriously and He will give us the power to overcome sin if we will submit to Him and walk by Him.

Friend, do not despair. Every believer faces temptations, and every believer can overcome temptations by taking God’s way of escape. Are you willing?


For further study, see Sin’s Greatest Weapon, Empowered to Fight Through Walking by the Spiritand What Happens if a Christian Gives in to Temptation?

3 Important Theological Pillars for Missions

If you’re like me when you hear the word missions, you probably think back to the Great Commission that Jesus gave the church (Matthew 28:19). Or you might think of those fighting for social justice, or those who sweat and work for years at building projects and digging wells, and feeding the hungry. But missions is even more than that, and missions does not originate with man’s desire for social good, and it doesn’t even originate or begin in the Great Commission. The idea of missions is rooted in the Bible and weaved carefully throughout it’s pages. The Bible teaches us that missions is not man’s idea. Missions is within the nature of God, it is Jesus’ chief reason for coming to earth, and it is the goal of the church. I believe the Bible reveals this to us by way of three major pillars, if you will. Let’s take a look:

I. God is Missional

The Bible teaches that God is missional in both His nature and being, and His plan for mankind. These are inseparable. We see throughout the biblical account that as God seeks after man, His mission is to redeem him. This originates from God’s own character and nature, and is revealed in His promises of redemption in the Old Testament, and the work of redemption culminated in the New Testament. We can see that God is seeking after man to redeem him in just the beginning chapters of Genesis. After Adam had sinned, God came looking for him once he had sinned (Gen. 3:9-13), and then promises future redemption (3:15).

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God in relationship to the patriarchs and to His people, the Israelites—but only because He sought them as His covenant people that He would one day redeem from the curse of sin through His promised Redeemer, Christ. This very truth is promised to Abram (later in Genesis) that through His covenant people who would eventually bring forth the Messiah, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). So while God first sets the Israelites apart as His chosen people, it is clear from the Old Testament and especially the Psalms, that God is seeking for “all the nations” to praise Him (Psalm 66:4; 67:3; 117:1). The narrative of the Old Testament would be enough evidence to say that God is a missional God who is seeking His people for a covenant relationship with Him.

But the New Testament attests to this fact as well. We read that God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s missional nature and plan climaxes at the highest point through the coming of the Lord Jesus, God Himself, who takes on flesh and bears the penalty for sin in order to accomplish redemption (Luke 19:10; John 3:17; Rom. 3:24).

II. Jesus is Missional

Secondly, it is evident that Jesus is also missional. The Bible implies that Jesus is missional in His purpose for coming to earth, and His work of redemption on the cross. First, the purpose for Jesus’ coming to the earth is missional. Jesus Himself testifies that He has come to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and that He came into the world “in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Indeed, the Gospels depict Jesus’ main purpose for coming to earth was to redeem man, and the Epistles explain the implications of this redemption, revolving around the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Second, the work of Jesus is missional. He accomplished fully His purpose for coming into the world by dying on the cross and resurrecting in order to reconcile man to a seeking God. His death and resurrection accomplished the mission of God to redeem mankind. Jesus’ work on the cross results in reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and now believers are “brought near [to God] by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13; cf. Col. 1:21-22). Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth was missional—He came to redeem mankind. And His work was missional—it did redeem mankind, reconciling us back to God through faith in Christ.

III. The Church is Missional

Finally, the Bible teaches us that the church is missional. The church, being the body of redeemed believers everywhere, is missional in its very structure and origin. The only way that the church can grow is through the goal of missions: making disciples. Jesus commissions His few disciples in Matthew 28 that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (v. 19a). This would not happen by keeping to themselves and being apathetic about sharing the gospel. Empowered by the Spirit, they made disciples and the church grew in only a short time to “about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

The church is missional because the only way it can grow is by disciples making disciples. It is within the context of the church that believers are equipped through the teaching of the word, in order to do “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is the mission of the church to bring the ultimate message of missions—God’s mission to mankind, to others so that God can “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).

War of the Soul: The Battle Within (1 Peter 2:11)

Introduction: Christian Fights Himself

Have you ever read The Pilgrim’s Progress? It’s an old book from 1678 written by John Bunyan about a man named Christian. He’s on his way to the Celestial City and Bunyan documents all the troubles and victories he encounters along his pilgrimage. It is a wonderful work that represents theological truths through allegory.  It’s a story that represents the believer’s real pilgrimage through this sinful world, as we are on our way to eternity with Christ. For example, Christian encounters Mr. Worldly Wiseman who attempts to sway him from his narrow path, clearly representative of the “wisdom” this world offers to deter us from walking with the Lord. Another example in this story is a man named Evangelist who points Christian on to the right path to the Celestial City, which represents the duty of all believers – pointing others to the right and only path to God.

There are dozens of other characters and events that represent biblical truths through allegory, and I would encourage you to read it. Recently I was reading it and there was a particular encounter that attracted my interest – and it was Christian’s encounter with a monster. Along Christian’s journey, he meets a beast named Apollyon. They fight against each other, and as Apollyon seeks to take Christian’s life, he throws “a flaming dart at his breast . . . [and] he had almost pressed him to death; so that Christian began to despair of life.”¹ Of course, we know that this was an epitome of Satan, powerful Satan, that Christian had fought against. But here’s what is interesting: Christian only fought with Satan for “above half a day.” The battle was brief and momentary – it was deadly, but it was quite pithy when you consider that Christian fought with himself all the way   to the Celestial City. He only battled Satan for a short time, but he battled a war within himself all the way through the rest of his journey. Throughout the rest of Christian’s pilgrimage, he is tempted to give up; he is tempted to go astray; he is full of doubt; he continued to battle within himself.

And this exemplifies a profound but painful truth: no enemy can be as powerful as ourselves. The influence of the world, and the fiery darts of Satan may come and go, but they cannot cause us to sin – we make choices to sin and fall short of God’s glory. And the reason we make those choices are because of desires. So while it is true that we face many other enemies in the Christian life,² none of them can control our actions. Satan cannot force you to sin, because he cannot control your desires – he can only use your sinful desires against you. Neither can the world force you to sin, even with its sinful influences. Only you have the ability (a weakness, really) to act on your desires. Our sinful desires are far more deadly than our adversary Satan, and the world – because sinful desires lead to sinful choices and acts. Scripture states that the source of our temptations are our desires (James 1:14), and that we should overcome them through the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). The 90’s rock band Lit had it right when they sang, “It’s no surprise to me that I am my own worst enemy.”

This doesn’t mean we should subject ourselves to nihilism (the belief that life is meaningless), and it doesn’t mean that we should be pessimistic about ourselves. But evidently, the warnings of Scripture about our own sin nature appear to be very serious and urgent. In James’ letter where we are warned that our desires are the source of our temptations, it is because those desires lure and entice us (James 1:14). In Galatians, we are exhorted to walk by the Spirit because there is a war taking place between our desire to sin, and the Spirit’s desire to glorify God (Gal. 5:16-18). In Romans, we are strongly exhorted not to supply our flesh with the weapons that it needs to defeat us in temptation: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14).

Among these warnings about our flesh and sinful desires, one of them is found in 1 Peter 2:11. This is perhaps the most imperative of all the warnings regarding our desires and sinful nature. In this verse, Peter the apostle admonishes his readers: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

Peter has been calling his readers to holy living all throughout this letter – he is genuinely concerned about their sanctification. And one of the noticeable patterns that emerges as you read this letter is that imperatives follow realities. Peter will state what has happened to the Christian, or Peter will state who the Christian is, and he will follow this with a command or exhortation. For instance, Peter states that the believers have been born again (1:3-5), and because of this they are called to set their hope fully on God’s grace (1:13). Or you could look at 1:22-2:3, where Peter exhorts his readers to live sanctified lives because they have been born again. 

This pattern is also found in the verse we just read. This verse follows a statement about a certain Christian reality, and it’s only one verse above it: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (2:10). Christians are God’s people, who have received God’s mercy. And it is on this basis that Peter admonishes his readers to abstain from their sinful desires. Because they are Christians, they have battle to fight – and just like Christian on his pilgrimage, it is a battle within with ourselves.

It is warfare, conflict, and combat. What is true of war is true of the war with our own passions and desires. For Christians, there is a war going on. It is real, it is deadly, and it is costly. It is with this in mind that we now look at this verse together. And as we unpack this passage, we are going to see why we are in this war, what we are fighting, why we are fighting, and how to fight this war.

The Text: 1 Peter 2:11, ESV

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

I. Who We Are (v. 11a)

Peter first describes who we are – we are citizens of God’s kingdom and His holy nation. He says in the first part of v. 11 that it is because of who we are (or better, whose we are) that a war is going on. He says that believers are sojourners and exiles, as he addresses his readers, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles” (v. 11a).

Because we are God’s people, there’s a war going on. There wouldn’t be any battle with sin if we still lived under the dominion and tyranny of sin. But because we are “set free from sin” (Rom. 6:7), and because we are those called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9), we are in a war against sin. That’s what Peter just finished talking about. He told them, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (v. 10). Since we have received God’s mercy, we are His people, now in an ongoing conflict with the sin inside us.

He addressed them as those whom he loves, as those “Beloved,” and then urges and exhorts them as sojourners and exiles. Those are terms used to describe outsiders, foreigners, a group or individual that doesn’t belong or fit in. Peter is saying that we as Christians are citizens of God’s holy nation, not primarily citizens of the society that we live in. As the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just-a passing through.” So this is who we are: citizens of God’s kingdom and rule. This echoes Paul, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

We are citizens of God’s kingdom because He has saved us through faith in Jesus Christ and has given us that privilege. Now this says a lot about the way we should live our lives. Citizens of a particular country conduct themselves in accordance with what is required of their citizenship. A Chinese man does things as a citizen of China that we wouldn’t do as a citizen of the United States. A citizen of an indigenous tribe on the coast of Vietnam has different requirements for citizenship than would a Hispanic living in Mexico.

We are citizens of God’s kingdom and world, so we are outsiders in our own society. This doesn’t mean we should completely abandon our social responsibilities, but it does mean that we should live as citizens of God’s world. Are you living like a citizen of God’s kingdom? Can people see a difference in you?

II. What We Fight (v. 11b)

We’ve seen who we are, and that answers why we are in a conflict. But what are we fighting in this war? What is our enemy? Peter answers by telling us that we are fighting the passions of our flesh, our own sin nature: “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” As one enlisted in battle, we have objectives to carry out. We have a task to be done if we are going to come out of this battle as victors, and that is to refrain from engaging in anything related to our sinful passions. The sinful passions that Peter is referring to here basically means our sinful impulses and desires to sin against God. Even though we are saved, it doesn’t make us immune to experiencing temptations to sin. And Peter calls us to abstain from the desires that cause our temptations.

In many schools today, students are taught about the importance of abstinence from sex before marriage. It’s an important program that I believe every student should go through. Sex is an irreplaceable gift that God has given to a man and woman within the boundaries of marriage, and misusing that gift is like opening a Christmas present that was meant for somebody else. What schools seek to do through teaching abstinence is to help students refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s a struggle to fight those impulses, but if we want to be safe and prevent ourselves from seriously damaging our bodies, we should abstain from sexual activity before marriage. Peter has a similar idea in mind. He is telling us to do the same thing with passions of our flesh. He is telling us to refrain and stay away from the  passions of our flesh, because indulging in them can bring great harm upon us, even our own souls (v. 11c).

Abstaining from these passions and desires to sin against God is to be obedient to one of the greatest commands in Scripture: “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-17). We must abstain from the passions of our flesh if we are truly members of God’s kingdom and society (we will see at the end how we can do this). This is our chief objective as soldiers against sin in this deadly war.

III. Why We Fight (v. 11c)

Now that we know who we are, and what we are fighting (the passions of our flesh), then why are we fighting? Why go through all the trouble to fight the sin in our lives? It shouldn’t hurt to indulge in a little sin should it? Peter tells us why it is urgent to abstain from the passions of our flesh and fight with all our might: “abstain from the passions of the flesh [because they] wage war against your soul” (v. 11c).

Our sinful desires wage war, and they do so upon our own souls. Our sinful desires have declared war upon us the moment we crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). The army of sinful desires have encamped around us, ready to ambush at any time – and like any army, sin has great strength. One person cannot wage war against an army, but war consists of armies against armies. So it is with our sin – it wars against us with an entire camp of evil desires.

Peter is also says here that the passions of our flesh target our own souls. They are aiming at our souls, they are shooting at our souls, they are fortifying their equipment against our own souls to wage a deadly war. And this is imperative to realize because our souls are the most valuable thing about us, and if our souls are lost, then everything is lost. 

These passions don’t wage war against our physical bodies, but they seek to destroy our own souls. Everyone has a soul, and our souls are our innermost beings. God gave us all a soul, and it is what gives us life. We are not just fleshy beings with emotions and desires, as today’s evolutionists teach. We actually have souls, and these sinful desires, even though they may seem harmless, “wage war” against our souls. If they are not fought, they can do the most serious damage to us. This is why it is urgent to abstain from the passions of our flesh.

IV. How to Fight (Rom. 8:13; Prov. 6:27; Psa. 51:10; 119:11; 1:1-3)

We’ve seen who we are, which explains why we are in this war. We looked at what we are fighting, and why we are fighting. But we would not do justice to this passage of Scripture without knowing how to fight those passions of our flesh. So how can we fight those desires within? How can we abstain from the passions of the flesh?

1. Depend on the Holy Spirit to overcome the passions of the flesh (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit indwells believers, enabling them to live a victorious Christian life. Galatians 5:16-18 teaches us that if we will depend on the Holy Spirit, submitting to Him consistently, we will overcome our sinful desires. He will give us the power we need to overcome sin. So we must walk daily with Him in order to abstain from the passions of our flesh.

2. Do not allow the occasion for the passions of the flesh (Pro. 6:27). We should not be willingly putting ourselves into situations that we know will light up our sinful desires like a fire. It is meaningless to try and fight our desires if we are putting ourselves in tempting situations that will only supply weapons to our desires. Anyone knows not to park a freshly washed car underneath a tree full of birds – and we should not expect to be clean if we put ourselves into situations that we know will get us dirty. The Proverbs give us practical warnings, and in Proverbs 6:27 we are warned that one cannot expect to remain unharmed or clean if he involves himself in sinful situations.

3. Pray that God would change your desires (Psalm 51:10). If the passions of our flesh are the problem, then they need to be changed. We need to ask God to create within us a clean heart, and continually ask Him to change our desires. When we have a sinful desire present in our lives, we need to combat it with the word of God and with prayer.

4. Get into the word of God, and let the word of God get into you (Psalm 119:11). If there are particular sins you struggle with, memorize particular Scriptures.  We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters.
It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or when we are dealing with our sinful desires. The Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. If the word of God is in you, then you’ve brought the greatest weapon you have to the very place of battle.

5. Remember the results of godly living (Psalm 1:1-3). Keep it constant in your mind that God doesn’t want you to live a life defeated by sin. God wants you to live godly. Living a godly life is living a prosperous life that God blesses, and He blesses our lives when we abstain from sin and associate ourselves with Him and His word: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).

There is a war going on inside of us – our sinful desires wage war against our own souls. We must fight through the sustaining and empowering grace of God that He will freely give us.


1. Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), pp. 80-81.
2. For further study, please see War of the Soul: Introduction.

The Work of the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The following message was delivered at Olivet Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky on the 19th day of July, 2015:¹

Introduction

The Bible isn’t like any other book in the whole world, is it? I was reading a story about two college students who shared a dorm together. One was a Christian and the other was a Muslim, and as they became friends, their conversation quickly turned to religion, as you’d expect. The Christian asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible before. He said, “No, but have you ever read the Koran?” The Christian responded, “No, I haven’t but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we both read together, once a week, alternating books?” The young men agreed to the challenge, and their friendship deepened, and only during the second term the Muslim became a believer in Jesus. One evening, late in the term, he burst into the dorm room and shouted at the Christian, “You deceived me!” “What are you talking about?” the Christian asked. This new believing Muslim opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read where it says the Word is living and active!” He grinned and said, “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power and that the Koran is just a book like any other. I never had a chance!” “Now you’ll hate me for life?” asked the Christian? “No,” he said, “but it was an unfair contest from the start.” The truth is, the Bible is not like any other book. It is not a textbook, it is not like the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, the book of Mormon, or even Christian literature.

The word of God is breathed out by God, it is useful for the Christian, and it equips us for Christian service. That’s what we’re going to learn tonight. It is also important to know what we believe about the Bible, for all of our beliefs about Christ, God, the church, salvation and last things, come straight from God’s holy word. What we believe about the Bible is without exception our most important belief. For from it flow everything else we believe about . . . everything. We’re going to see tonight that: the Scriptures are inspired, the Scriptures are useful, the Scriptures are equipping, and finally how to use the Scriptures.

The Text: 2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Preliminary: “All Scripture.”

First I have to make an important note here. Paul begins with saying, “All Scripture.” Paul is not beating around the bush here—everything that he is going to say about the Bible is going to apply to all the Bible. Not just a few parts. If the Bible says that all Scripture is breathed out by God, then all Scripture is breathed out by God. If the Bible says that all of it is useful, then all of it is useful. If the Bible says that all of it is equipping, then it is all equipping. There are not levels of importance in the Scriptures—all of it is important, all of it is God’s word. I’ve heard people say before that the historical parts of the Bible are not reliable or true, but the doctrinal parts are true. Folks, if God lied to you in Genesis and other historical accounts in the Bible, then why are you believing Him in John 3:16? If some parts of the Bible are not true, then none of it can be reliable or trustworthy. But because all parts are true, the whole Bible is trustworthy.

I. The Scriptures Are Inspired (v. 16a)

First of all, notice that the Scriptures (all of them) are inspired/breathed out by God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (v. 16a). Scripture is God-breathed, it’s inspired by God—it’s not inspired the way a poem or song is—it means its origin is from God. The Greek word for “breathed out” by God is theopneustos, the only occurrence of it in the Bible, meaning that the Bible is divine in its origin—the Bible is literally God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s words. Think about what happens when you speak. Whether you’re lecturing students, talking with your spouse, or verbally disciplining your children, your words are “you-breathed.” Because when you speak, your breath pours forth speech doesn’t it? You breathe out your words, and they are a reflection of your inner self. That’s what Paul means here by the inspiration of the Scriptures. He is saying that God has breathed His character into Scripture so that it is inherently inspired. If the Bible is not inspired by God, then there is nothing inherently special about it. We could say that it is helpful literature, we could say that it is a carefully crafted book of history, poetry, and narrative.

But the Bible is more than that. The Bible is inspired by God meaning that it has power, a divine Source, and is useful for God’s people. It is “the word of God [that is] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If Scripture is breathed out by God, this bears obligation on us as Christians. If it’s inspired by God, then it’s the most valuable thing we have. Just if we found the location to some buried treasure, because of what the Scriptures are, we are compelled to value them, pursue them, and study them. Do you realize that the Scriptures are alive because they are inspired by God? Do you treat the Bible as breathed out by God?

II. The Scriptures Are Useful (v. 16b)

We’ve first seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and as you would expect, notice secondly that the Scriptures are useful. Paul says in the latter part of v. 16: “[The Scriptures are] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Paul says that the Bible is profitable. If the Bible is inspired by God, then it is surely useful—simply because of what Scripture is implies that it is useful in one way or another. Thankfully for us, Paul didn’t leave us wondering why the Scriptures are useful. He spells out four ways in which the Scriptures are useful.

1. For Teaching. Paul first says that the Scriptures are useful “for teaching.” This is one of the most fundamental uses for Scripture. Paul says that Scripture “was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). This is because of what Scripture is. Because it has been breathed out by God, because of its content, it has this fundamental use of instructing us. The word of God teaches us how to live godly lives, and it is our primary and only source of doctrine. In fact, another word for teaching here is doctrine. For example, what we believe about God, ourselves, the world, and eternity is all informed by Scripture. As believers, we need to make sure that we are being informed and taught by the Scriptures. I’m afraid that much of people’s doctrine (or what they consider to be doctrine) is not informed entirely by Scripture—through its use of teaching. Just interview a few people on what they believe God, Christ, salvation, and many other important theological truths, and you are sure to see that misconceptions run rampant. This is because many people think what they believe is sound doctrine, but because of their ignorance of this use of the Scriptures, what they believe often times is just unbiblical.This should drive us to baptism in the Scriptures! If we are not studying the Bible regularly, in our personal lives and in the local assembly, how can we expect to recognize teachings that are unbiblical? And thinking of the historical context here, there were many heresies that were facing Timothy, Paul’s young protégé, and Paul emphasizes here that the source of sound teaching comes from Scripture alone. This is the first use of the Scriptures, and perhaps the most fundamental.

2. For Reproof. Secondly in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful “for reproof.” Reproof is best defined as a criticism for a fault. This too, is one of the fundamental uses for the Scriptures. Paul could be referring to a reproof that exposes the false teaching of the heretics that Timothy was dealing with, or he could be referring to the rebuke that Scripture has on our personal lives. But either way, Scripture does both. Scripture can serve as reproof for doctrinal errors, or it can show sinners like us our many failures, and show us what we need to do about it. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He prays for us and says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). Being sanctified means being set apart. Daily it is a struggle to be set apart from sin in our lives, and that’s how Jesus prays for us—that we would be set apart for God. But how is this accomplished? “. . . in [through] the truth; your word is truth” (emphasis mine). That’s how it happens—through God’s word. And if we’re honest, it’s not very pleasant when God points out what needs to change in our lives. But that is one of the functions of God’s word, and if we ignore reproof we are fools—if we listen to reproof we “gain intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).

3. For Correction. Paul says thirdly that the Scriptures are useful “for correction.” The Scriptures not only rebuke our wrong behavior, but they also point the way back to godly living by correction. Once the Scriptures have convicted us and rebuked our sinful behavior, then they aim at the goal of recovery. After the Bible reveals our sin and the deep things of our heart, then it works to repair us and build us up again. Again, no one likes to be corrected, but praise God that not only are our wrongs revealed to us, but we are shown how to stay on the “way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). When you are convicted of sin, do you search the Scriptures for ways to overcome it? Do you search the Scriptures and allow the Scriptures to search you in order to be corrected when you are in the wrong?

4. For Training in Righteousness. Finally in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful, “for training in righteousness.” The Scriptures are designed to train us in godly living. Training involves the action of teaching a person to acquire a particular skill or type of behavior. The idea here is that Scripture, by its teaching, rebuking, and correcting functions, trains us to live “in righteousness.” The Scriptures produce conduct in our lives whereby doctrine is actualized—that is, the Bible makes doctrine come alive in all areas of our lives. All of these uses for Scripture are intermingled and sometimes overlap, but they are all for training us in righteousness—putting us through a spiritual workout program to develop godly muscles for being under pressure from sin, and having the strength we need to carry out the commands of God.

Mobile phones are a great help today aren’t they? With all of their gadgets and applications, they can be hard to use, but once you learn how to work the basics, they are nearly the most useful tool in the 21st century. There are apps, calculators, dictionaries, image-editing software, and much more on today’s phones. In fact, I’ve heard it said that our mobile phones today are really mobile computers with a calling app. Mobile phones are very useful, and because they are so useful, we take them everywhere we go—we value them. They have a lot to offer, but we must simply access its many resources. Listen, the Bible has much to offer us. It is much more useful than a mobile phone—it is useful for teaching us, showing us where we are wrong and making it right, and for training us to be pleasing to God. I wonder what would happen to our Christian lives and communities if we viewed the Bible as valuable as we do our mobile phones? Do we turn to it when we need direction? The Scriptures are useful, but we must use them. Do you use the Scriptures? Do you use the Scriptures to teach you and correct you? Do you justify sin in your life because you think it can’t be corrected or do you turn to the Bible?

Set aside time each day to study the Bible. Get books that will help you understand the Bible. Once you start getting into the word and allowing the word to get into you, you will begin to notice that you are becoming exactly who God wants you to be—more like His Son every day through the ministry of the word of God. If you hope in your own life to overcome error and grow in doctrine, overcome evil and progress in personal holiness, then we must turn to Scripture, because it is profitable for these things.

III. The Scriptures Are Equipping (v. 17)

We’ve seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and we’ve looked carefully at the four individual uses for Scripture, so now let’s look at how the Scriptures are equipping. Listen to Paul in v. 17, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul tells Timothy here about the purpose for which God intended the Scriptures to be useful. Paul tells Timothy that all of these uses for Scripture serve one chief purpose, for the spiritual maturity of the man of God. This phrase “man of God” can apply to any Christian in general, or it can refer to a Christian leader. But by implication anyway, it will refer to all of us as believers.

The idea here is that the Bible is able to help us meet the demands that God places on us—to equip us with what we need to be “complete [and] equipped” for God’s purposes. First, Paul says that the Scriptures uses are for the man of God to be complete. This means that the Bible enables us to be capable of doing God’s work. In other words, we have all we need in the Bible to do God’s work in the world, to be obedient to His commands, for the Bible (considering it is used properly) makes us complete as believers. But secondly, Paul says that the uses of Scripture are for the Christian to be “equipped for every good work.” Similar to being complete, this means that the word of God enables us to meet all the demands of godly and righteous living.

Have you ever had problems with your plumbing? I know I have. We’ve just recently redone our entire bathroom plumbing system—it’s really a lot of work and sweat. Many of you have had problems with your plumbing before and have likely hired a plumber to take care of the job. Well, suppose you have a leak under your sink and you hire an experienced plumber to fix it. But there’s a catch: the plumber arrives at your door without any equipment—no wrenches, no clamps, no pipe, no tool belt, or anything. And he says, “Okay, I’m here to do the job!” How confident would you be? Probably not at all. Why? Because this man has no equipment to do the job!

For believers, we have a far more important job to do than fix a sink, and it is living godly lives—but we cannot and will not do this job without our equipment, the word of God. How can we expect to accomplish the job of godly living without our equipment, the Bible? How can we expect to know how to do God’s work without God’s word?

IV. How to Use the Bible (Selected Scriptures)

For many people, the only time their Bible is open is on Sunday—and those same people wonder why their devotion to God has grown cold, well no wonder. If you eat about three times daily to sustain your body’s strength, but you only get one meal of God’s word a week, no wonder you might be so malnourished in your life of faith. Because of what the Bible is and because it has many uses, I want us to look at a couple of ways to use the Bible. If God’s word is inspired, if God’s word is useful, and if God’s word equips us for Christian service, then how can we get the most from our Bibles?

1. Read the Bible. This is the most basic way we can use the Bible. Do you read the Bible every day? Everyone reads and learns at a different pace, so it may take some time to adjust to reading the Bible regularly—but perhaps the best way to read it is by reading a few chapters a day, in the morning and the night. A good Bible reading plan is also very helpful—helps keep you accountable and track your progress. We must take time out of our busy schedules to read God’s word. If you’re too busy to read the Bible, you’re too busy. The good part about it is that the more we read it, the more we will want to read it, and the more we will be equipped with its teachings.

Biblical Math. A while ago, I did a little math to calculate how long it would take someone to read through the entire Bible. The Old Testament, consisting of 929 chapters, would only take you 26.5 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s reading through the entire Old Testament in about 6 months. The New Testament, consisting of 260 chapters, would only take you 7.4 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s Matthew through Revelation in under 2 months. If you read 5 chapters of the Bible daily, you could read through the whole Bible once and read half of it over again. . . In a year. In a small 5 year period, you will have read through the entire Bible nearly 8 times.

2. Meditate on the Bible. This is not simply a suggestion, for the Bible implies that we should meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 119:15, 48, 97). Do you remember the first Psalm about the godly man who was blessed in every way? How did he get blessed? How did he become so prosperous? It was because “his delight [was] in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Scripture meditation involves pondering and thinking deeply on what we’ve read. We think about what they mean for us, and ponder how to put them into action. Meditation involves allow the Scripture to dictate our thought lives—to let it swim and boil in our hearts and minds throughout our daily commute. Do you have some Scripture that you’ve been meditating on?

3. Pray the Bible. Many people do not realize the benefits of this or see that it’s even necessary, but praying the Bible helps us to align our prayers to God’s will. That’s the only kind of prayers God answers anyway—according to His will:

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15).

God’s will is revealed in the Bible, so if we want to pray according to God’s will, wouldn’t it make sense to pray the Scriptures? Sometimes we pray for the wrong things, but if we want to pray for the right things, we need to be praying the Scriptures. When you’ve read your Bible each day, let what you read compel you to prayer, and then pray about what you’ve read.

4. Memorize the Bible. This one, like the others, seems to be implied by the Bible itself as a command. We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters.

It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or for someone else in a time of need. Because the Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. Do you take time to memorize the Bible? You can write it out on paper until you have it memorized, or you can repeat it back to yourself time after time, or you can simply read it over and over again. I’ve put Bible verses on note cards and slipped them in my pocket as I go about my daily tasks. That way, when I get my keys or phone out, I can always look at that verse first.

5. Study the Bible. Studying the Bible is key. It involves the most effort, but yields the best results. Studying the Bible is observing it, interpreting it, and applying it to our daily lives. We might spend a while studying a verse of Scripture, a chapter, or a whole book of Scripture—but studying involves doing much work to excavate the deep truths of Scripture. A good study Bible helps with this, good commentaries, or other helpful books like Bible dictionaries and Bible handbooks. In studying the Bible, we focus on it—think through it intellectually and emotionally. We discover what the particular author is saying about his subject and what it means for us today. Do you study the Bible? How much time a week is spend studying the Bible?

Conclusion: A Man Who Really Valued His Bible

We must value the Bible because of what it is—and if we truly value it, we will take the time to study and read it. I read a story once about a man who really valued his Bible. During King Philip’s War, a war between the Pilgrims and Indians during 1675-1676, there were a group of Indians who launched an attack on the Pilgrims. In March of 1676, a group of nearly 1500 Indians attacked the village of Rehoboth. As the inhabitants of the village watched from their garrisons, 40 houses, 30 barns, and 2 mills went up in flames. But only one person was killed. He was a man that believed that as long as he continued reading his Bible, no harm would come to him. Refusing to abandon his home, he was found shot to death in his chair by Indians—the Bible still in his hands. That’s someone who really valued the Bible. I wonder if we could say the same about ourselves. Do we really value our Bibles? Do you value your Bible like this Pilgrim man?

God grant us that we might pray with the psalmist in Psalm 119:

“With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word” (vv. 10-16).


1. This message was also preached at FBC Barlow in Ballard County, KY on the 14th day of June 2015.

9 Practical Tips for Teaching Vacation Bible School

Being one of the greatest evangelistic outreaches from the local church, vacation Bible school takes a lot of planning, promotion, and preparation. There are cooks, counselors, decorators, teachers, and many other positions to fill to make vacation Bible school a success. I have a passion for teaching and for training teachers, and below I share a few things that I believe will help you teach this year. I have used them in my own teaching ministry, and have found great success from them.

1. Pray for God’s guidance, strength, and direction. Praying for God’s intervention is one of the most important ways to prepare. The Bible tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). When you pray for His guidance, strength, and direction, it is likely He will reveal things to you that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen. He will give you the courage and strength you need to lead. And He will give you the wisdom and direction to make the right decisions moment by moment. When we try to serve the Lord out of our own strength, we only accomplish human-size results. But when we serve through His strength, we accomplish God-sized results. That sounds better to me. I encourage you to depend on God as you teach during VBS. Without dependence and reliance on God, nothing fruitful can be accomplished.

2. Know how to lead a child to Christ. Every church’s main goal during VBS every year should not be great numbers or even to simply have a “good VBS.” Our main goal is the salvation of souls. Through your Bible teaching and prayers, it is our hope that many children will come to Christ. Essential to this is knowing how to lead a child to Christ. This should be elementary for the Christian – every believer should know how to lead someone to Jesus. You need to know how to lead a child to Christ if they were to ask you. Chances are, you will have one or two in each class (depending on the size) who want to be saved but don’t know how. In your leader material, usually it is always emphasized that you remind your kids each day how to be saved. Speak with the child on their level and simply present the gospel. There are many helpful ways to present the gospel of Christ. The classic ABC’s of salvation are fine (Admit, Believe, and Confess). The Romans Road is a favorite (Rom. 3:23; 5:8; 6:23). I typically follow this acronym in explaining salvation to anyone of any age: R. R. R. or the 3 R’s. 1) Realize. Realize you are a sinner in need of a Savior (Rom. 3:23). Make sure the child understands they are a sinner. If they don’t understand that they are sinners, they won’t recognize their need for a Savior. 2) Repent. Repentance involves a turning away from sin towards God. The child must understand this concept of turning away from all the wrong we have done and towards God. 3) Receive. Finally, we must receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It’s not enough to realize we are sinners and repent of our sins—we must also put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ to be saved. If you feel inadequate for this task, but a child requests to be saved, see your pastor, youth pastor, elders or deacons, but never say no.

3. Set the atmosphere. VBS is a time for kids. The usual white wall class rooms you might use for your classes are not inviting. Decorate like crazy, and make sure it follows your VBS theme. Get on Pinterest for project ideas so you don’t spend much money. Most VBS material comes with a decorating guide as well. Go as far perhaps, as dressing up to match up with the theme. Think of ideas and ways to decorate your room to look to fit the theme.

4. Study the Bible. This is perhaps the most important tip for effective teaching. In fact, teaching effectively is impossible without it. You cannot teach the Bible rightly without studying it. Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16). Study the passages of Scripture that you are to teach (should be outlined in your leader material). Teaching the Bible is a great privilege, but it does take a lot of preparation and time.

5. Review your leader book. Your leader book will tell you just about everything you need to know. It will show you how to teach the children and some helpful tips on what to say and do. Remember, you don’t have to follow the strict schedule listed in your leader book. You don’t have to do or say everything that is included in it, but only use what is best fitting for the time and atmosphere. Another thing too is the crafts. There are many crafts incorporated into the leader book that it asks you to do. If you have a craft department, as we do this year, you don’t have to do the craft in the booklet unless you feel like it would be helpful to illustrate the lesson. Use your time wisely. Review your leader book as often as you can.

6. Pray for your children. In your prayer time alone with God, pray for your children. Pray for their salvation and that they would grow in their relationship with God. Pray for them by name. If the child mentions a need to you personally, pray for that need. Pray with your children during appropriate class times as well.

7. Get to know your children. Don’t distance yourself from your children. You need to get to know them. The best thing you can learn about them is their name. But also, learn what they enjoy doing. Learn who their parents are. Learn what grade they’re in or what sport they play. Eat with them during our meal times. Play outside with them during recreation times and get involved with them during craft time. Now, it takes time for some children to warm up to you, so expect this sometimes. Even some children will not warm up to you at all. Many of them come from backgrounds where they cannot trust an adult figure. But it shows a sincere concern for the child when you speak to them on their level and attempt to get to know them. Be intentionally friendly with them, but don’t overdo it to the point where they feel awkward.

8. Use classroom discipline when necessary. There is a need in every classroom for discipline. Maybe the children are too loud and your teaching can’t be heard. Maybe one child is acting up, or maybe there is another problem. Use patience with this, for there will always be some noise—you just have to deal with it. At other times when it is inappropriate, get your other teacher to help.

9. Keep a check on registration. All churches want to follow up with the kids they have at VBS. There should be an easy-to-find registration place for the kids that attend your VBS. At registration, we learn their emergency contact info, who brought them, who their parents are, and other important information. Take note of every new child you have each day, and get them registered as well.

Books I’m Reading This Summer

Books function in a very interesting way. The author portrays images, settings, and plots that we can visualize as we read their words. Most of us will probably never have the privilege of talking with John Bunyan or John Piper, but we can sit down with them by reading their books. Their message can be engraved in our hearts by spending time with the books that they poured their energies into.

I think it is spiritually beneficial to read many, many books. And for those of us who love to read, we typically spend our free time in the Summer months reading. Of course, I play tennis, sweat doing yard work, plan ministry events, and other things that ministers do during the Summer. But I make it a priority to prevent myself from being so busy during the Summer that I neglect reading books. If I’m too busy to spend some time with some of the greatest authors in the literary universe, then I’m too busy. So I have a list of books I’m reading this Summer I wanted to share, and encourage you to add them to your list if you haven’t compiled a list already. Many of them I have already begun reading. So here they are:

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007).

I have heard this book referenced from pastors in sermons to scholars in commentaries, but I never read it. I started reading a few weeks ago, and this is a must read book for any Christian seeking to see his Christian pilgrimage in a different light. The author, John Bunyan, tells of a pilgrim named Christian on a journey to the Celestial City and all of the obstacles that he meets on the way. The theology of this book is deep. Written in 1661, Bunyan allegorically teaches the basic tenets of the Christian life by way of a pilgrim on his way to a great city, with the Lord as King. It’s a good book for college students like myself who are used to reading systematic theologies and textbooks, because it is a fiction book. It’s just a story, but it is the story of our lives as Christians, and this is easily seen from the first few sentences.

Mueller, George. Answers to Prayer (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007).

The editor writes on the back cover, “When George Mueller could not get it out of his mind to open a house for orphans in late 1835, he purposed to do so “that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith.” George Mueller was a man of prayer and great faith.  Recorded in this book are thousands of answers to his prayers. When Mueller endeavored to open these orphan houses, he was only provided for by God and by the prayers he prayed. This book is a great encouragement to unceasing prayer.

Hamilton, James M. What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

The Bible tells one big story: God’s redemption for His people. That’s what Hamilton’s book is all about (from what I’ve read so far). In it, he provides a guide to interpreting the Bible’s clearly recognizable patterns and symbols that tells us about the big story of the Bible. There is a way that God intends for us to read the Bible, that is, in light of its big story. That’s what this book is all about: how we can read the Bible the way God intended. This book is endorsed by some of the greatest Bible teachers in our day.

Sproul, R. C. What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997).

I’ve never read a book by Dr. Sproul that didn’t help me grow in my faith. I won’t write here about my struggle in my beliefs about the sovereignty of God (it’s a long story), but I have found Dr. R. C.’s teaching the most helpful on the subject. Long ago, when I fought against Calvinism and all tenets of reformed theology, I would never read anything by Sproul or any other author I suspected was reformed. But through the years, and through countless reading and study, I have come to accept reformed theology as entirely biblical. One of the books that helped me realize the truthfulness of reformed theology was Dr. Sproul’s book, Chosen by GodHe explained the grandest truths of Scripture like election, and man’s responsibility in easy-to-understand terms. Reading this book led me to desire a wider reading on the subject, so I picked up this book to read on the subject further. Now, I have tons of books on reformed theology ranging from Calvin to Horton, but I felt like Dr. Sproul is very gifted in explaining its deep content in a way where lay-readers and students can understand clearly.

Lee, Trip (William Lee Barefield, III). Rise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015).

Trip Lee is a Christian rapper and committed follower of Jesus who has greatly impacted the lives of thousands of people. One of things you immediately recognize about him is his fervor against cultural identification and the need for standing out as a Christian. His latest album, Rise clearly reveals this. This book is the companion to that album. And the foreword is by John Piper, so you know it has to be good. It is also endorsed by a few of the greatest NFL players today.

Murray, David Philip. Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013).

I’ll be honest: I struggle when I try to preach from the Old Testament. I simply don’t have the experience preaching in the Old Testament like I do in the New Testament. But it is my conviction that the Old Testament is just as much the Bible as the New Testament is. Paul says that “All Scripture is inspired by God,” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that includes the largest portion of the Bible: the Old Testament. The area I struggle with the most is finding out how an Old Testament narrative or prophecy relates directly to Jesus. I know that it does, for all of the Bible is Christ-centered. I just want to know how. That is why I picked up this book. From the reviews I have read, it looks like it will do the trick.

Mohler Jr., R. Albert. He is Not Silent (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008).

Dr. Mohler has impacted my life in more ways than I can count, and especially in the area of preaching. He is one of the leading voices in the evangelical world today for the need of expository preaching in our churches. Expository preaching is proclaiming the Bible the way the authors intended for us to proclaim it. It is preaching the true meaning of biblical texts that is relevant to everyday life. From reading Mohler often, I felt I needed this book. It seems that in it, Mohler provides a theology of preaching and presents the real necessity for expository preaching in our day.

What are you reading this Summer?