J. V. Fesko

Do You Forget to Thank God When You Pray?

Written by J.V. Fesko |
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
If we find ourselves at a loss for words unable to think of things for which to be thankful, we should turn to the Psalms. The psalmist knew how to thank the Lord for many different things, whether in times of joy or sorrow.

One of the common characteristics we find in the apostle Paul’s letters is the number of times he gives thanks to God in prayer. The opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an example of this:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Eph. 1:16)

Paul was a man forgiven of much and so his prayers were punctuated with thanksgiving for all of the blessings he received from God. Paul’s thankfulness finds precedent especially in the Psalms, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the prayer book of the Bible. In this regard, Psalm 136 stands out as it repeats a continual refrain, “Give thanks to the Lord,” and then lists many different things for which the psalmist was thankful. Can we say the same about our own prayers?
It’s easy to forget to thank God for his blessings in our lives.
To be honest, this is sometimes a shortcoming in my own prayers. I’m quick to take my needs to Christ in prayer but almost as equally quick to forget to thank him for the blessings in my life. Perhaps part of my own forgetfulness on this account is due to the fact that I don’t regularly take brief inventory of God’s blessings in my life.
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Caring for Widows and Widowers in the Church

Written by J. V. Fesko |
Friday, October 15, 2021
Yes, in the present day widows often have greater financial resources at hand—they have insurance policies, retirement savings, and the like. Many don’t need the financial support of the church. But caring for widows is not merely about financial support. Think about it: if you have a woman who was married for forty or fifty years and then her husband dies, her life has taken a dramatic turn. There are so many little things in life that she now has to do herself—take care of her home, car, or handle household administrative affairs, for example. She may, or may not, be able to handle these things on her own.

Within any decent-sized congregation there are bound to be some who are widows, usually those that are older, but in some cases there might be younger widows as well. In the world outside the church, many might look upon widows as a regular part of life. Death is common, and thus widows don’t necessarily merit any undue attention. But such should never be the case within the church.
The Bible has a number of things to say about widows. God instructed Israel not to mistreat widows (Exod. 22:22). The book of Ruth showcases the undying love of a woman for her widowed mother-in-law and God’s greater love through his providential care for both widows, Ruth and Naomi.
The Psalmist tells us that God is a “father to the fatherless and protector of widows” (Ps. 68:5). And the New Testament has a number of passages dedicated to the instruction and care for widows, but James’s words stand out most prominently to me:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (1:27; cf. Acts 6:1ff; 1 Cor. 7:8; 1 Tim. 5:3ff)

If you want to see pure Christianity in action, you can witness it in the care for widows and orphans.
For churches, therefore, caring for widows and widowers is of vital importance.
I dare say that the quality of care for its widows and widowers is a barometer of the spiritual health and maturity of a church. If a church neglects its widows, then something is definitely amiss.
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The Christian and Philosophy

Written by J. V. Fesko |
Thursday, September 16, 2021

For those who believe that we should excise all philosophy from theology do not realize that all of us use philosophical concepts and terms whether we realize it or not. He who believes he is free from philosophy is the likely unwitting adherent to the philosophical teaching of a defunct philosopher or theologian. Rather than run from natural knowledge, or philosophy, we should seek God’s wisdom wherever we find it. Subject to the magisterial authority of Scripture, true philosophy never conflicts with sacred theology.

What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens? This was the famous statement made by Tertullian when he challenged the supposed connections between theology and philosophy, the naturally obtained wisdom of humans. From one vantage point, Tertullian echoes the teaching of Scripture. Recall the words of the Apostle Paul: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Philosophical knowledge can never serve as a ladder to heaven. For all of their learning, philosophers have never been able to glean the message of the gospel through the power of their own thought or from reflecting on the creation. The saving knowledge of Christ and his gospel is solely the provenance of special revelation and the sovereign regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. To the natural person, the gospel is a stumbling block and folly (1 Cor. 1:23).
The Queen and the Handmaid

But does the antithesis between earthly philosophy and the heavenly knowledge of salvation completely define the relationship between the two disciplines? Is there no function whatsoever for philosophy in theology? While some may latch on to Tertullian’s statement and try to excise all philosophy from theology, historically, the church has admitted a carefully defined role for philosophy in relation to theology. Protestant theologians have acknowledged that theology is the queen of the sciences. That is, theology has a regulative function among the various disciplines of knowledge because of its supernatural source. This is not to say that theology speaks exhaustively to every single conceivable discipline but that it nevertheless serves as a referee to ensure that other disciplines do not cross divinely given moral and ethical boundaries. The Westminster Confession (1647) captures the magisterial role of theology when it states: “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined . . . can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture” (I.x). Good theology has its roots in the rich soil of Scripture and thus serves as the queen of the sciences. But theology’s magisterial role does not therefore preclude the responsible use of philosophy. Protestant theologians recognize that theology is queen of the disciplines and that philosophy is a handmaiden, an ancillary tool that the church may use in the task of doing theology. Or in other words, there is a role for a scripturally subordinated use of natural revelation in concert with special revelation. In the words of the Belgic Confession (art. II), we can use God’s two books, the books of Scripture and nature as we formulate our biblical doctrines.

How have theologians used philosophy in theology? Two examples illustrate the role of philosophy in theology. Despite the fact that Tertullian wanted to distance Jerusalem from Athens, he nevertheless employed philosophical categories such as substance to distinguish the three persons of the godhead from their commonly shared essence. 

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