God Has Not Called Us to Be Silent… or Vague

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“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.

There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.

Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”

We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.

But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.

Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.

May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.

 

 

The Truth of the Gospel: 1 Timothy 1:1-20

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We live in an age where the truth of the Gospel is constantly challenged. The exclusive nature of the Gospel and the righteous commands of God make our message unpalatable to most. As a result, a more agreeable alternative to biblical Christianity is often sought. This is nothing new. Paul constantly countered the arguments of false teachers during his ministry. Timothy was a young pastor who Paul had placed at Ephesus to lead the church and to deal with problems emerging there (vs. 3). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he charges him to teach the truth and prevent false teachings from invading the church.
Paul says many at Ephesus had turned from the truth to empty debates brought on by false teaching (vs. 5-7). These individuals wanted to become teachers of the law like Jewish rabbis, but didn’t even understand what they claim to believe. Their teaching consisted of myths and genealogies loosely based on elements of Judaism (vs. 3, 4). The end result was a legalistic heresy that offered salvation by works. While the law serves a legitimate purpose in the New Testament, it is not a means of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace, not our works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Paul tells Timothy to guard against this teaching because it is powerless to transform lives or produce genuine faith (vs. 4, 6).
Unlike the empty message of the false teachers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has life-changing power. Paul is an example of radical Christian conversion. He had been a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.” His life prior to Christ was committed to defending Judaism and destroying Christianity (Philippians 3:4-6), but God had chosen him to be a minister of the Gospel (Acts 9:15). Paul’s conversion perfectly demonstrates the authentic change that takes place through salvation, “he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus extends mercy to the worst of sinners and transforms them into trophies of God’s grace. In verse fifteen, Paul encapsulates the mission of Christ in a short statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The integrity of the Gospel is eternally important because it is only through Jesus that we can be saved and transformed (Acts 4:12).
Paul illustrates and explains the “shipwreck” of apostasy with the story of two Christian teachers who fell into heresy: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says the cause of their error was their abandonment of “faith and a good conscience” (vs. 19). They began as superficially convincing Christians, but ended up with a doubting heart and a dirty conscience. They failed to believe the Gospel and they failed to obey the Gospel. Rather than change their lives to align with the truth, they modified the message to fit their lives. The result was poisonous and they were excommunicated in order to preserve the unity and integrity of the church (vs. 20). Paul uses this tragic example to demonstrate that faith and a good conscience are indispensable traits for the Christian.
There are opponents to the Gospel who would do away with it entirely. Then, there are those who would like to take the more agreeable points of Christianity, but leave out the more controversial elements. The problem with that approach is that a partial Gospel is a powerless Gospel. From the garden of Eden to the garden tomb; from creation ex nihilo to the consummation of the age, there is not one element of the Gospel that is dispensable. This is why we must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and “fight the good fight” in the face of opposition and false teachers (vs. 18). We must disregard the sinister suggestions of the slithering serpent, and echo the words Jesus prayed only hours before his crucifixion, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 29, 2013.