You Might also like
By Greg Morse — 8 months ago
“Only remember me,” Joseph requested, “when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house” (Genesis 40:14). Though he sat in prison, Joseph had just interpreted the cupbearer’s dream favorably: he would be restored to his former height in three days. “Only remember me to Pharaoh,” Joseph asked.
In three days, the cupbearer was taken from the cell as foretold. It will only be a matter of time now, Joseph thought. Three more days passed. Five days. A week. “Two whole years” (Genesis 41:1). Nothing. Once ascended to his former place, “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
When you think of the ascended Christ, do you imagine someone like this cupbearer? Has he who once descended into our pit and suffered for our sins — only to rise to a better life three days later — forgotten us?
Perhaps you expect his attention when he returns, but until then, he basks in the angel’s praises, grips the scepter firmly in hand, and with our prison far behind him, you suspect that you remain little upon his heart.
Sympathy of the Prince
William Gurnall (1616–1679) gives a moving illustration in reply:
Suppose a king’s son should get out of a besieged city, where he had left his wife and children, whom he loves as his own soul, and these all ready to die by sword or famine; if supply come not the sooner, could this prince, when arrived at his father’s house, please himself with the delights of the court, and forget the distress of his family? (The Christian in Complete Armor, 31)
Right now, Jesus thinks of me, he thinks of you, as this prince who has left his bride and children behind. He has not forgotten us, coronated as he is in glory, just as any good man could not for a moment forget his family shackled in sorrows in an evil land. If we who are sinful are moved at the distress of our loved ones, how could Christ, whose name is love, disregard the sufferings of his family still on earth?
If you’re tempted to feel forgotten, be reminded that right now Christ loves his bride with a love surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). His heart toward us from heaven deserves more thought than many of us give it. Consider first how un-cupbearer-like our ascended Christ is, and then why Christ does “please himself with the delights of the court” while still not forgetting “the distress of his family” — and why that is such good news for us.
He Has Not Forgotten
Jesus, our King, has departed into glory, leaving us here on earth. And unlike the prince in Gurnall’s illustration, Jesus prays we remain temporarily apart, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). But in order that we might not draw false conclusions, on the eve of his death Jesus also says in several ways, “I will not forget you.”
He assures them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). He promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . . . Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18–19).
When sorrow fills their hearts at this news, he ensures that he means their good: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). He guarantees, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
On the darkest night in history, Christ carries his people upon his heart in prayer to his Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). And this he prays for you and me as well: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).
“Surely Jesus will not forget his bride, the reward of his suffering and anguish.”
These words do not pour forth from a heavenly cupbearer. We can be certain that he who said, “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9), and whose life was summarized in those expiring hours with the words, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1) — surely he will not forget his bride, the reward of his suffering and anguish. Nor in a real sense will he ever truly leave her (Matthew 28:20).
He Still Enjoys the Court
Suffice it to say that Jesus Christ will not, cannot, forget his beloved, even if his beloved is prone to forget that she is not forgotten. This is one problem.
But there is another: we can assume that Christ thinks only of us. The spirit of our age would have us picture a needy, codependent, lovesick Messiah. He is in heaven, not really paying attention to the glory there, doodling hearts on the margins of the cosmos with our name in the middle.
Such a spirit omits that Jesus also told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). We might be conditioned to believe that his world revolves around us, that he must be perpetually pained in heaven, unable to fully rejoice with his Father or receive praises or enjoy the delights of the court because we are not yet there.
When He Wrote to Her
Consider the love letter he sends from heaven to his hurting, left behind bride in Smyrna. She is a faithful local church (no censure or call to repentance appears in this letter). How does the compassionate Christ speak to his suffering church? To the angel of the church of Smyrna, he tells John, write,
The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:8–11)
What comfort does he offer? He says that he is the first and the last, the one who died and came back to life. He says he knows their tribulation and their poverty (though they are rich). He tells them that he hears the slander of their enemies who have become a “synagogue of Satan.”
But notice too how he instructs them in their persecution: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” — Satan’s throwing them into prison will test them, and end up serving greater purposes. Jesus tells them to be faithful unto death, and that he will be waiting on the other side with a crown of life. He tells them that they must conquer so as not to be hurt by the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
He gives to this church what appears to be a masculine comfort, that is, comfort that retains an exhortative tone given its vision of higher priorities (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12) — namely, the church’s eternal well-being.
Christ’s words here are not those of a nursing mother with her child (1 Thessalonians 2:7), though equally full of love. Jesus comforts this church, but not by telling her he cannot enjoy heaven and his Father while she remains oppressed and apart. He does not refuse to sit on the throne before she is seated safely in glory.
Moved, but Not Injured
Jesus cares deeply about us, but not too much — is that what I am trying to say? No. He cares more deeply about his bride than we know, and he is still our God who inhabits a heaven that is bigger than us. He loves us beyond knowledge, and he does not have absolute need of us. Part of the beauty of his love is how freely given, or unrequired, it is.
As our great high priest, Christ invites us to approach the throne of grace because he is able to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14–16). But he is not consumed by pity, nor does he feel with us so as to sustain injury. He owns our persecutions as the head of the body — “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:4) — yet not in such a way as to be freshly pierced.
Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) describes it this way in The Heart of Christ:
These affections of pity and sympathy so stirred up by himself, though they. . . affect his bodily heart as they did here, yet they do not afflict and perturb him in the least, nor become a burden in a load unto his Spirit, so as to make him sorrowful or heavy, as in this life here his pity unto Lazarus made him, and as his distresses at last, that made him sorrowful unto death. (47)
“Jesus is provoked to help us; he draws near, moved by our hurt, while not being hurt himself.”
Jesus Christ, once a man of sorrows, has risen and ascended; he is not in heaven sunken that his bride is not yet there. Goodwin claims that the glorified Christ has “no tang of disquietment” or “afflicting affections,” though his “perfection does not destroy his affections.” He is provoked to help us; he draws near, moved in measure by our hurt, while not being hurt himself.
He Sees the Day
This is good news for us, for Christ loves his people without unbraiding all reality by loving them above his Father and his glory. The Son invites us into his eternal, Trinitarian love, without making us the primary focus of that eternal love. He loves us without making us God.
Our final joy and eternal well-being are certain. Jesus has no guesswork as to our fate. While far from unfeeling, he is not tossed by the waves, as we are this side of heaven.
Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep, the Groom of his bride, guiding us home through a world of distress to springs of living water, promising to soon wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17; 21:4). While he tarries, he can and does enjoy “the delights of the court,” while not forgetting “the distress of his family.”
By Marshall Segal — 6 months ago
Your home may be someone’s hallway out of hell. There’s a spiritual power that pulses through the floors and walls and furniture of a Christian home — a strong, even overpowering aroma, a wild and compelling story unfolding for anyone who comes close enough to hear. Beneath the dirty clothes, behind the unwashed dishes, just below the dusty surfaces, a glory hums and unsettles and woos. A 1,500-square-foot sermon.
When God saves us, he takes our ordinary homes and renovates them with purpose, love, and power. The place may have lain spiritually dormant for years, even decades — utterly dark and cold — but then a voice suddenly calls, “Let there be light.” The walls, the appliances, the paint colors might all look the same, but the home soon becomes almost unrecognizable. A flag has been planted, an address transfigured. And within these four walls, eternities are altered.
This phenomenon is the call and wonder of Christian hospitality.
Humanity and Home
Home has always been a vital part of being human. When God made man, he “planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). In other words, he gave the man a home.
And at the end of time, how will humans cross over into a new and renewed history? “Behold, the dwelling place of God” — his home — “is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). The human story begins and ends in homes. We’re all born into a home, and we all live to find home. It’s no wonder, then, that so many find healing, forgiveness, redemption, and true life in a normal house filled with faith.
“Your home may become someone’s hallway out of hell.”
Rosaria Butterfield has captured such hospitality as well as anyone I know. “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 31). Have you ever thought about your home, your neighborhood, your schedule that way? Have you imagined your home as a hallway out of darkness and into Christ?
Hospitality to the Church
Effective hospitality to the lost, at least in Scripture, often begins with effective hospitality to the church. Much of what the New Testament has to say about hospitality is, first and foremost, about life together in the family of God — how well we welcome one another into our hearts and households (Romans 12:13). “Welcome one another,” the apostle Paul writes, “as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Those who have been invited into heaven become people who love to open their front doors, especially to others who have already been welcomed home by God.
That the apostle needs to give the command, though, suggests that our welcoming, even within the church, won’t always feel warm and cozy. There are obstacles to hospitality, lots of them. Those obstacles are the context of Paul’s command to “welcome one another”: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). Open homes invite the weak and often failing — the kinds of weaknesses that will inconvenience us, the kinds of failings that will disappoint and wound us. Faithful, consistent welcoming of one another will mean faithful, consistent bearing with one another.
“Those who have been invited into heaven become people who love to open their front doors.”
This patient and resilient love is actually the special ingredient in the recipe. It’s what makes ordinary Christian hospitality extraordinary — why the divine drama of the gospel seeps through everyday interactions and simple meals. Godless people don’t bear with one another, not for long. They get angry. They hold grudges. They grumble. Until God brings them home, and then makes their homes into a home for others.
In a world bereft of Christian hospitality and crowded with grumbling, Peter encourages the church, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Surprise your neighbors by regularly opening up your home, despite the costs that come with open doors. And then confound them by bearing those costs, again and again, without complaining. They’ve likely never met someone who rejoices to spend and be spent like this, who welcomes the discomforts of hospitality with a warm smile (and a fresh pot of coffee).
Front Door of Escape
This kind of hospitality within the church bears lots of good fruit, but one often overlooked is in the war against temptation. Butterfield presses on the sin-defying power of an open front door:
Consider with me the tension of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” This passage speaks to the intensity, the loneliness, and the danger of temptation. . . . Have you ever thought that you, your house, and your time are not your own but rather God’s ordained way of escape for someone? (109–10)
Ordinary hospitality undercuts Satan and his schemes in a hundred ways and more. Sin is horribly deceitful, and all the more so when we’re distant or disconnected from one another. A brief greeting in passing on Sunday probably isn’t penetrating through those lies. However, just an hour in your home might be enough to convince a brother or sister to say no (and keeping saying no) to sin.
Another conversation at your table or on your couch might be the spiritual escape route someone desperately needs.
Hospitality to the Dead
As we welcome one another within the church, the world will be drawn to this unworldly love. It’s happened since the first doors opened:
Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47)
The kind of community that practices hospitably is irresistible. Even just reading about the early church, and imagining what it was like, makes me want to join them — day-by-day friendship, familiar meals shared and enjoyed, prayers asked and answered, spontaneous singing, and sweetest of all, real people meeting and following Jesus for the first time. Strangers became neighbors, and neighbors became family, all because someone opened the front door.
As we begin to see our homes through God’s eyes and loosen our grips on our schedules, our budgets, and our possessions, we might begin to think of our homes as spiritual hallways — for fellow believers, out of sin and into deeper freedom and joy — and for not-yet believers, out of hell and into life.
Perhaps the word that finally draws someone out of sin, shame, and eternal destruction would simply be “Welcome.”
By David Mathis — 3 months ago
We are a generation crying wolf.
Jesus said to beware “ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned of “fierce wolves” (Acts 20:29). And for two millennia, one of our enemy’s best schemes has been to quietly infiltrate the flock with predators. There have always been wolves.
Yet our awareness of wolves, and access to their stories, is particularly acute in our times, and with it has come hair-trigger suspicion of even worthy leaders. In an effort to expose wolves in sheep’s clothing, some today imagine real shepherds to be wearing wolves’ underwear. The contagion is tragic. In the end, those who will be hurt most are the genuine victims, whose real cries for help will become harder to hear in the din of over-eager accusations.
In confused days like ours, as in every generation, we’re called afresh to take our cues from Scripture, rather than what’s trending in an unbelieving society. We need God’s word on how to watch for wolves, and we also need a positive vision of what to look for in our leaders. As the list grows longer of what to beware, do we have any corresponding clarity on what to pursue?
Three Big Categories
Into one of the great questions of our time, the risen Christ provides some bracing and clear answers. First comes his own words, while among us, in Mark 10:42–45: his leaders don’t “lord it over,” but serve. Then, we have Paul’s remarkable words to the Ephesian elders captured in Acts 20. Add Peter’s charge to “fellow elders” in 1 Peter 5. Hebrews also sounds a clarion call in its final chapter (Hebrews 13:7–8, 13). And most extensive of all, we have the letters of Paul. Especially the Pastoral Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. There, among other passages, we find the “elder qualifications” of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, where the apostle lays out a bounty of fifteen traits in each list, with the two lists largely overlapping.
We have not been left without direction.
However, sometimes we do get lost in plentiful data. In fact, we have so much guidance available for us on what makes for true, enduring, trustworthy leaders that it might help to have some simple, memorable categories to bring organizing clarity to the many details.
Consider one such effort to slice the pie into three pieces, based on the graces catalogued in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The three each start with an H (or H sound). And I’ll show the work on which specific traits go under each heading.
First and foremost comes the man before his God, that is, “in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). The man is his truest self alone before God, with no human eyes watching. This is the man that family, church, and world may not see directly, but they will most definitely see him indirectly by his fruit. Over time, this man, the real man, comes out. And perhaps the chief manifestation will be a genuine, compelling humility that cannot be faked. “He must not be arrogant” (Titus 1:7).
A pastor might pretend to have first steeped his soul in hearing God’s voice in Bible meditation and having God’s ear in prayer, but he can’t pretend it for weeks on end. His spiritual thinness will manifest. The sheep will know in time.
To be clear, the humility we’re looking for here is not a virtue that a man “grows from scratch,” as if he had been born without pride and just needed to develop the opposite. Rather, he was born a sinner, with deep native conceit — and apart from the grace of God, this original pride will deepen and calcify. And God does not typically purge a man of the main roots of his pride through quiet, painless processes alone. He usually roughs him up in painful moments. He humbles him. It can be ugly. And in time, a different kind of man, by grace, emerges on the other side.
Tim Keller tells of Martyn Lloyd-Jones sitting in a gathering of older pastors who were discussing some younger preacher with extraordinary gifts:
This man was being acclaimed, and there was real hope that God could use him to renew and revive his church. The ministers were hopeful. But then one of them said to the others: “Well, all well and good, but you know, I don’t think he’s been humbled yet.” And the other ministers looked very grave.
Lloyd-Jones, says Keller, was hit hard that “unless something comes into your life that breaks you of your self-righteousness and pride, you may say you believe the gospel of grace but . . . the penny hasn’t dropped” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 119).
Humbled to Lead and Feed
We need humbled pastors. And for most, if not all, God designs the calling process to the pastorate to be part of this humbling. Aspiring to the office is critical, as 1 Timothy 3:1 notes — because in this line of work it is vital to labor “not under compulsion” or “for shameful gain” but willingly and eagerly (1 Peter 5:2). Yet aspiration alone does not make a pastor. He also needs the affirmation over time of fellows in his local church, and then, and often most humbling, the specific real-life appointment of some local church to the office. He may aspire to pastor, but he is not yet called to pastor until some real church appoints him.
“We pray for humbled, whole, and honorable pastors who together will face the challenges that come at each local church.”
So too, under this banner of the humbled man before his Lord, comes the requirement that pastor-elders be (1) “able to teach” and (2) “sober-minded.” Christ calls his undershepherds to lead and feed the flock — that is, to govern and to teach. Which relates to the particular call of church leaders to the word of God and prayer (Acts 6:4). Faithful pastors teach God’s word, not their own preferences, and they lead prayerfully, with God-given sober-mindedness, not natural human wisdom.
Such humbled men “keep their heads” (sober-minded) in conflicted and trying times. They’re calm, settled, secure, and wise — and wise enough not to go off on their own but contribute to and receive wisdom in the context of team leadership, that is, a plurality of local pastors. And such humbled men, when matched with teaching ability (able to teach), are a powerful combination in the leading and feeding of the flock, where genuine skill and ability in teaching is required and where we do not “teach ourselves” as our subject but the stewardship of Scripture we have from Christ.
Second, then, growing out from a man’s devotional life, and life of humility before his God, is the man before those who know him best. We might say “in private.” Does he have integrity? Is he whole, the same in public and private?
One aspect of his wholeness is the broad (and beautiful) banner of self-control (prominent in 1 Timothy 3 and mentioned twice in Titus 1). Has he gained a relative, settled, and holy mastery of his own appetites and bodily passions? Does he seem, by the Spirit, to control his own gut, or is he controlled by it? Related are the two disqualifiers “not a drunkard” and “not a lover of money.”
Intimately connected with “self-control” biblically is sexual holiness and being (literally) a “one-woman man,” which is not simply a box to check (“husband of one wife”) that he’s married and not divorced. Rather, “one-woman man” presses deeper to the fidelity of the man’s soul. Is he faithful to his wife in body, mind, heart, and words? Does he care for her as Christ does for his church? As one of the pastors, he will be part of the team of leaders caring for a particular local church.
Such wholeness, then, also relates to his own household management: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4–5). Distraction and abdication at home make him unfit for the leadership the church needs.
Finally, we have the inevitable public dimension: the man before the watching church and world. At first blush, we might find it strange that spiritual leadership relates so much to public perception and reputation, but we should keep in mind the public nature of church office. It is vital that our pastors be honorable.
The express trait that gets at this most clearly is “respectable,” that is, the man’s life and words make it easier (rather than harder) to respect him, both within the church and in the broader community. So, leading the lists in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is “above reproach.” This likely begins with Christian eyes, though it’s complemented with “outsiders” in 1 Timothy 3:7: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
One aspect of this honorable public life is hospitality, which is literally “love of strangers.” Rather than defaulting to fear or dislike of unknown persons, he extends welcome in Christ, whether to the church or into his own home or into conversation.
One final piece of honorable public bearing is how the man carries himself in conflict and when upset. Paul says “not violent but gentle.” Gentleness is not the absence of strength, but the addition of virtue to strength. It applies strength in life-giving, rather than life-harming, ways. One last disqualifier is “not quarrelsome.” Mature Christian leaders aren’t afraid to engage when they must, but they don’t go around picking fights for sport (2 Timothy 2:24–26).
Resilient in Conflict
The nature of the Christian faith is such that good leaders are perennially important. Yet, as many of us have learned in tough times, good leaders prove even more precious in conflict. That’s the setting in both Ephesus and Crete, as Paul writes to Timothy and Titus, and it’s foregrounded in 2 Timothy 2:24–26 and in 1 Peter 5:1–5.
“Good pastors, as a local team of sober-minded teachers, shine all the brighter in tough times.”
Good pastors, as a local team of sober-minded teachers, shine all the brighter in tough times, in the times of difficulty and suffering that already were in the first century, that many face today, and that are coming in the days ahead. And so, we pray for humbled, whole, and honorable pastors who together will meet the challenges that come to each local church.
Even as our generation cries wolf, we pray and look expectantly, knowing that such worthy leaders do not emerge by accident, nor are they as rare as some may suspect. Rather, they are divine gifts, sovereignly appointed and provided, supplied by the risen Christ, for the joy and health of his church.