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Why I Love Expository Preaching (Pt. 2)

The Meaning of the Law

Rightly interpreting the law is the chief responsibility of those who serve as judges in our district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court. Every judge in every court evaluates evidence presented, they control how the hearings and trials unravel in their courtrooms, and most of all they are the “impartial decision-makers” who pursue justice according to the law. This means that their fundamental obligation is to rightly interpret and apply the law to every particular case. Judges of any kind are not above the law, but instead, the law stands above them as the authority in all cases. The job of the judge is crucial – they are to correctly interpret what the law means and so they can also correctly apply it to the particular case they are dealing with. On the other hand, misinterpretation of the law will always lead to a misapplication of the law. Any judge would tell you, understanding the meaning of a law is imperative for making judgments to ensure justice is served in every case. It’s what they have to know in order to make right judgments about cases today and tomorrow.

On a much higher level than state, federal, and constitutional laws, there is a supreme Law that deserves and demands the same treatment. I’m referring of course to the Book of the Law (Josh. 1:8), the guarding commandments (Psalm 119:9-10), the sacred writings (2 Tim. 3:15), the word of God (2 Thess. 2:13). The word of God is the “Scripture [that is] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). And in order to live a godly life informed and instructed by the word of God, it is necessary to understand its meaning in order to correctly apply it to our daily lives.

It is this exigent task that the expository sermon seeks to accomplish. Expository preaching is preaching expositionally (as we’ve seen already), and this means that the expository preacher wants to explain the meaning of a text verse by verse, and then apply its meaning to the 21st century. What did Paul mean when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3)? What did Jesus mean when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3)? What did David mean when he said that the “Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1)? The expository preacher seeks to travel to the churches of Ephesus, the disciples of Jesus, and the Israelites under David’s rule and discover the original intended meaning of an author and bring it back with him to today’s contemporary world. And this is another reason why I love it.

Reason #2: I Love Expository Preaching Because It Properly Interprets and Applies Scripture

The goal of the expository sermon is to preach the original meaning of a passage. If that’s the case, it follows that the expository sermon would also properly interpret and apply that passage of Scripture under consideration. The expository sermon is seeking to find out what the author meant by what he has written and then apply it to the 21st century world. This is discovered through careful exegesis of every word, every sentence, every chapter, and every book of the Bible.

The topical approach to preaching is different than this, rendering it ineffective at communicating the author’s original intended meaning in a text. Topical preaching begins with a topic, not with the Scripture. If the topic is the starting place, it will also be the finish line in a sermon. The topical preacher will likely only consider the topic that he wants to preach on, and there is the automatic tendency to disregard the author’s meaning by what he has written in a text. This tendency is already present from the outset – because the structure, form, and shape of the sermon has already been determined by the chosen topic. If the frame of the sermon and its goals are determined by the topic, then what is really being preached? The topic is what is being preached instead of the Bible.

In the expository sermon, the text of Scripture determines the structure, form, and shape of the sermon. And because the expository sermon does this, it is the only approach to preaching that ensures that the Bible will be preached as it is. This will lead to a proper interpretation and application of the original meaning of a text because the sermon is derived completely from Scripture.

Additionally, the topical preacher may want to preach on a certain topic and choose a passage of Scripture that doesn’t even speak to that topic—or he may simply focus on the “felt needs” of the congregation or current issues of the day. That said, there are times when this is appropriate—when tragedy strikes or maybe when there is a special holiday—but even then we must be extremely careful to draw the meaning out from a text through careful exegesis and then preach it expositionally.

Two Pastors: Joshua and William

Joshua and William are both pastors in a rural community. Both of them believe the Bible is inerrant and they both agree that God’s word is what God’s people truly need. They meet for lunch every Tuesday and discuss how things are going in their churches. One day they discuss what they preached on last Sunday:

Joshua says, “I’ve been preaching expositionally through Titus. We started Sunday looking at the first four verses, and discussed Paul’s principles for ministry.”

William looks up at Joshua with one eyebrow raised and says, “You know, that’s funny – I’ve never noticed that in the text before. I’ve been preaching topically on the attributes of God, and last Sunday we looked at Titus 1:2 where it states that God never lies.”

Joshua replies, “Well Titus 1:2 does say that – it’s definitely true that God never lies. But what about the entire passage? What do you think it’s about?”

“Well, I haven’t looked at it in depth. We just used that one verse to support the fact that God is perfect and sinless,” says William.

Now, let’s evaluate their different approaches to preaching. What’s the starting point for the expository sermon preached by Joshua? The text of Titus 1:1-4. What’s the starting point for the topical sermon preached by William? The topic of God’s attributes. What was the content of their sermons? For Joshua, it was the principles for ministry as explained by Paul in each of the four verses of Titus 1. For William, it was one of God’s many attributes – perfection, and he sought support for this topic from v. 2 of Titus 1. Now, which sermon was more faithful to what Paul was saying in the text of Titus 1? Perhaps a look at the text itself may answer that question:

“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” (Titus 1:1-4, ESV).

It seems that this entire passage is about much more than simply God’s attributes. Verse 2 does mention that God never lies, and we would imply from this that God is perfect if He cannot lie. But notice that there are about 86 other words in this passage – and Paul isn’t describing God’s character in whole of this passage. Now, we also do not want to say that William’s sermon was heretical. Of course it wasn’t – it is biblical and true that God is perfect and cannot lie. But in preaching, we’re not just trying to avoid being heretical, we want to be faithful. And which sermon do you think was more faithful to the biblical text? And which congregation was exposed to the full meaning of the text?

They used the same Bible, believed the same things, but had different approaches to preaching. And the failure of William’s sermon is that he missed the main point of the text, because he failed to allow the text to form and shape his sermon. He already knew he was going to preach on God’s attributes – consequently, because he didn’t discover the meaning of the text, it was impossible to rightly interpret and apply the entire passage.

Clearly, Paul is describing principles in his own ministry in this passage. By simply preaching on one part of one verse in support of a predetermined topic, the main overall point is missed. And if the main point of the text is missed, then you’re not doing justice to the text or the God who inspired the text. When the meaning is ignored, you cannot faithfully interpret and apply the passage.

Expository preachers want to know what the biblical authors meant by what they said and then preach it to their hungry congregations today. The expository sermon does this most faithfully – and this is another reason why I love it.

 

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.

Missions Emphasis Message by Bro. Nicholas J. Rafael

“As His followers, we are His hands, we are His feet, we are His mouthpiece. And it is our duty to make His word known.”

Recently at our church, we had a missions emphasis night with our students. We focused on unreached peoples, we prayed, and we heard a great message from Bro. Nicholas J. Rafael from Murphysboro, IL. This was a great message on missions, and I invite you to take a few minutes out of your day to listen/download his message below:

Be sure to check him out on Facebook, and to listen to our panel discussion that also took place that night by clicking here.

WATCH THE MESSAGE BELOW:

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.

Malachi: An Introduction

Have you ever questioned God before? Perhaps you were in a trying situation and you wondered if God still loved you or kept His promises. Have you ever argued with God? Maybe you didn’t agree with His ways, or something didn’t go as you had originally planned. Last question: Have you ever become careless in your worship? We all have. As important as our worship life is, and I wouldn’t say that we don’t view it as insignificant, we typically read our Bibles, say a 5 minute prayer and attend a local church on Sundays (and possibly during mid-week). If we lose our focus on what worship is really all about, we will begin to question God, and we will find ourselves disagreeing with Him – sometimes leading to arguing with Him. We must not lose focus in our worship life and consider it as mundane. That’s what the book of Malachi is all about. The Jews have become careless in their attitude and worship toward God. God graciously and fatherly confronts them on this; He doesn’t leave them in their apathetic state.

Historical Background¹

Malachi’s ministry took place nearly a hundred years after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. (2 Chron. 36:23), which ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (on the Babylonian Captivity, see 2 Chronicles 36:18-21 for a summary). After the return from exile, Judah remained an almost insignificant territory of about 20 by 30 miles, inhabited by a population of perhaps 150,000. The Jews acutely felt their subjugation to a foreign power (Neh. 1:3), and they suffered persistent opposition from their neighbors (Ezra 4:23). They were no longer an independent nation and were no longer ruled by a Davidic king.

Book Outline

I. The Priests Are Exhorted to Honor the Lord (1:2-2:9)

They failed to take their responsibilities to the Lord seriously.

II. Judah Exhorted to Faithfulness (2:10-3:6)

The people blamed their economic and social troubles on the Lord. God exhorts them to faithfulness by reminding them of His covenant with them, but warned of the coming judgment.

III. Judah Exhorted to Return and Remember (3:7-4:6)

God commands the people to remember His laws, and stop being disobedient and start being obedient. There are great blessings for being obedient.

Major Themes²

I. God’s Love

God loves His people even when they ignore or disobey Him. Because God loves so much, He hates hypocrisy and careless living. What we give and how we live reflects the sincerity of our love for God (See 1:2; 2:4; 3:6).

II. The Sin of the Priests

The priests were God’s representatives, they knew what God required, but their sacrifices were casual. If leaders go wrong, how will the people be led? We are all leaders in some way—God wants leaders who are faithful and sincere (See 1:6; 2:7-8).

III. The Sin of the People

The people had not learned the lesson of the exile, they had disobeyed God’s commands. God deserves our very best honor and faithfulness—in every area of our lives: devotion/church life, money, relationships, and family (See 2:10-11).

IV. The Lord’s Coming

God’s love for His people is demonstrated by the promise of the Messiah, Jesus. The day of His coming would be of comfort and healing for the faithful, but of judgment and fear for those who reject Him. Jesus came to the earth once, but upon His return, He will expose and condemn those who are unprepared. But right now, forgiveness is available to all who come to Him (See 3:17-18; 4:1).

Structure

This book is structured in a very interesting way. It is written in the form of a debate between God and the Jews. Typically in this book, you see first that 1) God voices an indictment of His people for their behavior, 2) then the people are pictured as asking God how this charge is true, 3) finally God replies to their objection(s), and expands the charge against them. So if you’ve ever found yourself apathetic about serving God, this study is for you. Stay tuned for more each week as we study this fantastic book verse by verse.


1. Adapted from The ESV Study Bible(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1171-1773.
2. Adapted from the Life Application Study Bible(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), 1317.

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.