Ask Steve: Financial Giving

June 9, 2015 12:03 am

Family Driven

 

Currently Reading:

Family Driven Faith: Doing What it Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters who Walk with God

by Voddie Baucham Jr.

Category: Parenting / Christian Living

2007, Crossway

 

 

Question: Steve, explain your understanding of financial giving. What principles of giving will you teach to other believers (must they “tithe”?), and what principles will you follow as pastor?

Answer: Financial giving is one of the most important and blessed aspects of Christian living. It is a practice that is seen in the lives of saints in both the Old and the New Testament. Financial giving is important because it demonstrates a heart of gratitude towards God. It is also crucial in the survival of local churches and Christian organizations that participate in the Great Commission. Lastly, it is an expression of God’s love that aids fellow brethren, especially those who are poor. Giving is essentially a selfless act of generosity and sacrifice, in which we give our money for the glory of God, the propagation of kingdom work, and the further advantaging of other people. The more we sacrifice, the more we impact those around us. The more we sacrifice for the church, the more heavenly dividends we can expect to accrue and be rewarded to us at the Bema Seat Judgment (2 Cor 5:10).

The first general principle to remember about financial giving is the motivation. Why is it that we give of our money – bountifully and sacrificially? It is because Christ first gave to us. He gave His life by dying as our penal substitution (on the cross) so we can be forgiven of our sins and made righteous by faith in Him (Mk 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6). By the sacrifice of His very life, Christ served believers by saving them, canceling the believer’s eternal debt to God and affording them the undeserved privilege of eternal life. Not only did Christ give us the greatest gift of salvation, but also provides daily for the needs of Christians. Those who seek after His kingdom and His righteousness have access to the Father’s guaranteed commitment of supplying the Christian’s needs in this life (Matt 6:11-12; 6:25-34). This includes housing, job, clothing, food, and other basic necessities.

This is why Christians should give. It is in the Christian’s newfound nature to be express charity, especially as it regards money. Giving not only demonstrates our thankfulness and dependence on God, but also opens up opportunities to be more blessed and used by God for the kingdom. God gives onto Christians, sometimes quite extravagantly, so that they can, in turn, give onto others. Luke 6:38 states, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” The church should not construe this to be a formula that supports the health-and-wealth gospel or prosperity theology, but it is a biblically based assertion by our Lord Jesus Himself as a general rule of life concerning the outcome of generous giving. This text teaches that believers who give abundantly for the cause of Christ will always be supplied by God so they will never lack in their outstanding work of giving. It does not necessarily teach that believers will be rich, but that they will be sufficiently supplied and blessed for their work (Matt 6:3-4; 2 Cor 5:10).

Giving must be rooted in a proper attitude and commitment, which is for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Although financial returns are not a perpetual guarantee in this world, other forms of blessings are (Proverbs 3:9, Malachi 3:10), most specifically the eternal blessings and honors. The Apostle Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 9:6 regarding the blessedness of financial giving: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” In other words, men reap what they sow, which is why abundant giving is extremely wise (Gal 6:7).

With these teachings in mind, the church should encourage congregants to give of their financial resources to the church every Lord’s Day, as well as any other time that might be pressing on their hearts. Believers should consider willfully supporting evangelism ministry, missionary fund, mercy ministry, building fund, and other church departments in need. Financial generosity can be directed toward online giving or in-person donations, which can be directed to a particular department or where most needed. The church’s guideline for giving, especially as it regards offerings in the local church, should be as follows:

  1. Give generously (Mark 14:9): Believers should have a desire to give abundantly of their resources and not be stingy towards the church.
  2. Give regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2): Believers should be committed to giving weekly as a continual act of not only support, but as an expression of worship onto God.
  3. Give voluntarily (Exodus 35:21, 2 Corinthians 8:4): Believers should give from their own desires, and not be forced and give out of compulsion.
  4. Give sacrificially (2 Samuel 24:24, 2 Corinthians 8:2-3): Believers should give in a manner that is challenging, and not constantly easy on their bank accounts.
  5. Give excellently (2 Corinthians 8:7): Believers should to foster Christian virtue, and not done in vice or shame.
  6. Give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7): Believers should give with a cheerful heart and not a heart full of resentment or guilt. God loves a cheerful, hilarious giver.
  7. Give worshipfully (Acts 10:1-4, Matthew 5:23-24): Believers should give as an act of worship to God, and not with selfish, self-glorifying, or impure motives.
  8. Give proportionally, not fixed (Acts 11:29, 1 Corinthians 16:2): Believers should give what is generously in proportion to their income, not in proportion to what society deems as impressive or lackluster.
  9. Give quietly (Matthew 6:1, 4): Believers should give in a manner that does not purposefully call attention to their act.
  10. Give deliberately, without hesitation (2 Corinthians 8:11): Believers should give intentionally, and not with any hesitation or resentment.

Concerning the debate about whether or not an offering should be at the Old Testament tithing rate of 10 percent, I believe the church should first and foremost teach congregants to go beyond this number and give wholeheartedly what they can sacrifice to God’s kingdom for the sake of their own blessings. However, there are no fixed percentages for a church gift. The 10 percent rate of giving in the Mosaic Covenant was a historically conditioned act that made up the government taxation system of Israel (Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21-26; Deut 14:22). It applied to national Israel. The New Testament does not explicitly teach any similar rate of giving, whether it involves the church or the secular government.

The one-tenth tithe principle can be suggested as a helpful tip for Sunday giving, but it should not be expressed as a set rule or demand. If Christians feel in their conscience that a 10 percent gift should be regularly honored, then the church must allow them to honor the voice of their conscience. The 10 percent rate is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 14:10, Leviticus 27:30-32); therefore this number is an indicator of what God feels is manageable for the average believer to contribute to His kingdom work while still sustaining his everyday life outside of church. However, my motto is: If Israel can give much under Law, how much more should the church give under grace?

This is the principle I teach to other believers and follow myself. As a pastor, I must give in a manner that will be reflective of my view of God, the Great Commission, and my brethren in Christ. I must also give because it is a testimony. My giving should be able to inspire other congregants to see the importance, joy, and blessing of financial giving.

Recommended Resource: Money Possessions & Eternity by Randy Alcorn

Ask Steve: The Call to Pastoral Ministry

June 2, 2015 6:54 pm

Preacher 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am debating whether or not to become a pastor. How do you define “the call” to pastoral ministry?

Answer: Entering the pastoral ministry, especially as a teaching pastor, is one of the greatest privileges that any Christian could undertake. At the same time, it is a calling to be taken seriously. As a pastor, you are essentially an overseer of the church who is directly responsible for the health of the church and the growth of believers. You are a shepherd who is tasked with the responsibility of feeding and guarding the sheep with your very life. Failure to do this adequately would not only damage the church, but would dishonor the Lord. In fact, Scripture gives a warning concerning those who enter the ministry lightly, because those who teach false doctrine and lead others astray spiritually will be judged greatly (Jas 3:1). This is why the Bible gives some helpful guidelines on what characterizes an overseer of God so that those who take it on vocationally will do so with soberness, confidence, and integrity.

Many times Christians struggle with whether they are suppose to be in pastoral ministry. They do not know what defines “the call.” Other than the brief imperatives presented in Scripture, the way to discover this truth is a mystery to some Christians. Some pray to God thinking that He will respond in an audible voice, affirming or denying their ministry interest so that the process would be easier. I would like to provide you with some helpful tips on how to discover whether or not you should enter ministry as a senior pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, or some form of missionary work.

The first key to consider is Scripture’s guideline on what characterizes a qualified pastor. The most well-known passage that highlights this principle is found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. It states, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity…and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” In short, those whom God has called into ministry excel in personal morality, which means that they are sexually pure, content, kind, loving, and are not given over to lust, hatred, greed, or drunkenness. They must also a good relationship with their family, with other believers, and even with unbelievers. They must possess a reasonable gift of teaching and of leadership, and should not be a recent convert – since new Christians generally lack the knowledge and maturity needed for vocational ministry.

Preacher 1If your life does not match this guideline (ex. you are living in sin, your ability to teach is mediocre, you are an incompetent leader), then you should consider holding off on your pursuit of pastoral ministry to see if your shortcomings can be improved or worked on. If you discover that it cannot, then you most likely are not called for ministry. If you can, then you should continue to discover the veracity of your calling by considering a couple other factors.

The second key is to consider the feedback from other believers. Many pastors and elders testify that one of the things that have helped guide their decision to enter into ministry is the affirmation from other Christians. They have received comments like “You have a great gift of preaching and evangelism. Have you considered ministry?” or “You possess a great deal of leadership and know your Scriptures well. Have you considered seminary?” This does not automatically prove that a Christian should be in ministry, but it is a noteworthy indicator, especially if these affirmations line up with other factors that affirm a Christian’s pastoral calling. There are many instances in which God moves in other believers to help Christians find answers to issues that are not clear in the Bible. And one of those issues is the personal call to pastorate ministry. That is why the Bible extols the act of seeking counsel from other godly men in making important decisions like these. Proverbs 15:22 declares, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” Proverbs 11:14 also says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” A Christian seeking to enter ministry should listen to the amount of feedback he is getting from others and to intentionally get counsel from elders regarding this blessed path.

The third key to consider is personal conviction regarding this matter. Once you have established the first two keys, then you should examine yourself to see what your convictions are in this matter. You must ask yourself, “Do I really want to become a pastor/minister? Can I do this for the rest of my life with endurance and joy? Do I feel that this is the only thing I can do well in my life? Will I regret this if I decide to enter into another vocation?” Christians constantly seek God in prayer for answers to which job they should take, where they should live in, what doctor they should go to, what car they should purchase, etc. Christians will not be able to discover God’s sovereign will (at least not in the short run), but they can first and foremost be obedient to God’s commanded will (what is revealed in Scripture). Once they honor this, then Christians have every right to pursue the endeavor that most pleases, intrigues, or convicts their heart (Ps 16:9; 20:4; 37:4). In other words, if Christians follow the Bible’s moral instruction to weed out undesirable vocations and are still left with two or more possible choices, then he is free to choose according to his heart’s conviction. Much of the time, those convictions are placed there by the Holy Spirit (Acts 17:16; Phil 2:13), especially if it has to do with a pastoral calling.

It must be said that a person entering ministry should be cautious regarding his heart motives. It is a great thing that a Christian be trained to become a minister. However, there are many instances in which pastors have destroyed their own reputation, those of other Christians, and the church because they entered into their vocation with evil intentions. You must ask yourself, “Am I doing this for the glory of God? Or am I doing this for my own glory?” Even if candidates do not have the motives of fame, riches, or glory, they can still weaken the reputation of the church because of other poor inclinations. Some believers enter ministry because they have nothing else to do in life. Some believers enter because of peer pressure from godly parents and/or the community. Some believers enter because of excitement from the heat of the moment.

Preacher 2Whatever the case, make sure your motives are good. Be committed to keeping your actions selfless, especially in your commitment to serve others in the church as Christ Himself served the church in humility (Matt 16:24; Mk 10:45). Be sure that you want to enter into the pastorate because you desire to teach others the word of God. You want to disciple weak brethren to grow in Christlikeness. You want to reach the lost with the gospel. You want the glory of God to spread through your local community in the Great Commission effort. If this is your burning passion and conviction, then you should seriously consider pastoral ministry.

The role of a pastor/shepherd is an important one that requires sound character and lasting commitment. That is why approaching this field requires careful self study, prayer to God, and counsel from others. However, this process should not be so mysterious or painstaking that a Christian labors for many years in trying to find the answer, or thinks that he should not become a pastor/elder because he is not perfect. If a Christian is at ease in his conscience regarding the principles I described, then he should by all means enter into ministry. There is a great need in the world for pastors and evangelists. Many will perish eternally for not hearing the gospel and many others will starve spiritually for lack of nourishment. That is why teams of pastors are needed throughout the world. That is why Christians should step up to the plate if they have the character and conviction for this task. It is hard work, but a blessed one that will surely pay off with spiritual blessings (2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:8).

Ask Steve: Suicide

May 31, 2015 11:30 pm

Suicide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, how are Christians to look on the act of suicide? Can truly regenerate believers commit suicide? How would you deal with a member of your church with suicidal thoughts? How do you counsel a family which has lost a member due to suicide?

Answer: Suicide is self-murder and is one of the most grievous of occurrences. It happens in a person’s life for various reasons, but regardless of those reasons, it is by no means a justifiable act. From the very beginning, God looks upon the taking of human life (murder) as sin (Gen 4:8-14), and reaffirms the gravity of this deed in the Sixth Commandment (Ex 20:13). It is not only wrong to murder others, but to murder oneself, which is essentially an act of self-hatred and an attack on the image of God in man. Christians should never encourage or tolerate any form of suicide, even if it can lead to the lessening of the person’s trials in life. Christians are to value life and preserve it to the best of their ability. The taking of one’s own life is not only a serious sin against the Lord, but a poor testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in the church and in the life of a sinner.

A popular question that often arises concerning suicide is whether or not Christians can commit suicide? If so, what becomes of their eternal destiny? Is it an unpardonable sin that undoes the justification and grace granted onto the believer at the time of his conversion?

I must begin by commenting that suicide is amongst many sins that characterize the condemned unbeliever, but one that can be forgiven by God. A person who has repented and trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are justified and have their sins washed away, whether it be suicide, adultery, blasphemy, abortion, cursing, idolatry, or sorcery. The Holy Spirit not only justifies the person and no longer holds the sins against them, but also regenerates the believer. Spiritual rebirth is responsible for the believer seeking after God and being able, and willing, to follow in on God’s commandments. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is not only about saving the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), but also from the power of sin (sanctification). He grants Christian’s a new heart with new desires (2 Cor 5:17) so that he will turn away from the life of sin and pursue righteousness. That is why believers will abound in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23), and not usually be given over to the destructive behavior that characterizes the unregenerate man.

Even though most Christians will end up never committing suicide or even entertaining the idea, there are some cases in which believers fall into this tragic sin, much like they commit blatant adultery or abortion. In other words, it is possible for real believers to commit suicide. It happens for various reasons, some which are not related to escaping the pains or tragedies of life. Whatever the motives, suicide is a tragic by-product of the flesh – one that seriously grieves the Holy Spirit.

The Roman Catholic tradition holds that suicide is a mortal sin that leads to forfeiture of one’s salvation. Some Protestants even believe something similar. However, there is no clear cut Scriptural reference that validates this view. It is true that suicide does often times lead a person to eternal damnation, but it is not solely because of the suicide issue. People are damned because of their unbelief (Rom 1:18-20; Heb 3:19), which manifests in their life of unrepentant sins against the Lord. And suicide is one of the observable symptoms of a spiritually dead, sinful person. It is just another expression of one’s pride and rebellion against the Lord, and another sin that the person will be held accountable to on the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Christians must be open to the possibility that believers who commit suicide – for whatever reason – end up with the Lord upon death. Once again, it is not a sin to be encouraged, and must strongly be exhorted against. Yet it is one of many sins that the Lord Jesus died for on the cross so believers will not have to be held judicially accountable for it. To say that suicide is an unpardonable sin or one that causes the reversal of one’s justification is to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not complete or satisfactory before the Father. If a person is truly regenerate and has been graced with the gift of salvation, he will experience salvation and glorification, even if he has fallen into the tragic sin of suicide.

People in church sometimes become troubled to the point of contemplating suicide, both teenagers and seniors. How do we handle such people? Once again, suicide is a sin that must be dissuaded at all costs. Christians must seek to protect and save the lives of others, whether they are Christian or not. A Christian in the church who is thinking about suicide must be handled with care and patience. But he must also be confronted with the truth of God’s word. The best approach in dealing with the matter is to obviously counsel the depressed Christian, first attempting to hear his story and his complete thought process on the matter. After the believer has expressed his pains and emotions, the Christian counselor should seek to find out whether this person is truly saved, since suicide is an action undertaken predominantly by unregenerate people. If the person is not a believer, then the counselor should teach and encourage the counselee with the gospel in the hopes that he will come to repentance and faith. Do not underestimate the power of this step, because a person’s experience of the gospel can really be the difference between life and death, motivation and depression in a person (Jn 10:10; Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 3:9). The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner and uses the word of God in the gospel to bring healing to the grieved person, which is why compassionate, but candid evangelism is crucial.

If the person is a true believer, then the counselor should likewise seek to understand the person’s story. After he has heard everything, the counselor should be quick to identity the main source of sin that is causing the troubled believer to be acting this way, which is self-pity, anxiety, or hopelessness that usually finds its source in selfishness and pride. The counselor should comfort the believer, but also seek to bring about spiritual healing by teaching him how the word of God addresses his particular troubles and teaches him to respond to it. Of course, all this must be anchored in the glorious gospel message that brings faith, hope, and love to all Christians. Towards the end of the discussion, the counselor should seek to get a commitment from the believer to take the practical steps to restoration. This includes immediate removal of all obstacles that would drive the believer back into suicidal tendencies.

Regrettably, these steps do not guarantee that a professing Christian will seek healing, and Christians will at times end up taking their own life. Then comes the inevitable stage of comforting grieved family members who are looking for answers. When counseling a family of such a tragedy, you should not try to spend all of your time giving a lecture on God’s sovereign purposes for this event or theorizing about whether the suicide victim is in heaven or in hell. The counselor should first and foremost seek to comfort the family and to pray with them. How one conducts such counseling will vary depending on the family’s questions, concerns, or emotional state. But the general idea is to listen to the family, comfort them, and exhort them with Scripture as it relates to the goodness of God, the grief of God over sin and fallen nature, and to tie that in with the hope of the gospel. In fact, this counseling session could be an ideal time to evangelize the family if they are unbelievers.

Ask Steve: Perfectionism

May 25, 2015 11:27 pm

Freedom

 

Currently Reading:

The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness

by John MacArthur

Category: Christian Living

1998, 2009 repr, Crossway

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is perfectionism and why is it unbiblical?

Answer: Perfectionism is the teaching that Christians can attain to sinless perfection in this life through self-effort and/or the aid of the Holy Spirit. In other words, perfectionism claims that Christians can reach the point in which they no longer sin, that they have successfully mastered the flesh in every single way. However desirable and good pefectionism might sound, it is an unbiblical teaching that has dangerous consequences. It is appropriate to look into Scripture to see if perfectionism is true, and if it is not, why we must have a right view concerning a believer’s moral abilities pre-glorification.

Perfectionism is an idea that is popular amongst certain groups of Weslyans and Charismatics. They believe that believers can, and should, reach a second stage of sanctification in which they can be filled with the Spirit in a manner that frees them from all sinful inclinations. Those who advocate this false teaching are either in delusion, or have lowered the standard of God’s Law so that they can fulfill them with relative ease.

Perfectionism begins with an informed understanding of God’s Law and humanity’s moral condition. Advocates of perfectionism claim that spiritual perfection is possible because the Bible commands us to be perfect and holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Pet 1:16). However, we must look at this verse in context. It is part of the Sermon on the Mount – a message in which Jesus expounds on the true meaning and depth of God’s moral law. Jesus was not teaching that people need to be perfectly holy in order to be saved or even that perfection was possible in this life. Rather, the Sermon on the Mount was meant to demonstrate the impeccably high order of God’s Law in order to reveal the absolute moral deficiency of every human being on earth, whether they are Jew or Gentile. These perfect kingdom ethics demonstrate that every man is depraved and needs to be justified, if not sanctified, by God’s grace. It is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that any man can be made righteous and saved.

Because the Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the righteousness of God, it is a standard that Christians are called to emulate – not for salvation, but for sanctification to God’s glory. We are called to live holy and righteously because such a commitment of lifestyle gives glory to God, is a brilliant testimony to others, and is in conjunction with our new identity as children of heaven. 1 Peter 1:13-16 teaches us the importance of Christian holiness when it says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Romans 12:1-2 also teaches the importance of living out a renewed mind when it states, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christians are not called to be complacent about their moral lives, but to strive for excellence, knowing that they are in a race for the top prize when God brings all Christians to account for their life’s work (1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7).

This begs the question: Does the Spirit of God grace us in such a manner that we can live out a perfect life? Although the Bible exhorts us to strive for perfection, it also tells us in multiple passages that perfection will not be possible in this life. Some Christians will do much better than others, but that does not mean that he can reach sinlessness in this life. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In fact, the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 anticipates that repentance will be a habitual part of the Christian life: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” If Christians can reach perfection, then there is no need to ask for such a divine provision, which goes against what this passage teaches.

Paul appropriately expresses the lifelong struggle between spirit and flesh using his own life example. Romans 7:18-20 states, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, even struggled with sin throughout his life and recognized himself as the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). If even an apostle recognized this, then it is undoubtedly a reality amongst all believers, regardless of time, race, or culture.

Regeneration of a believer by the Holy Spirit allows the believer to respond to the gospel in saving faith and to grow in Christlikeness, but it does not do completely away with the flesh before the time of glorification. The old nature has been crucified and buried, and the new nature of a man allows the believer to live a God-glorifying life. But the important thing to realize is that the believer is still in the flesh. He wears the sinful, fallen garments of his flesh, which at times hinders the Christian’s goal of moral perfection. However, when the Christian is glorified at the rapture of the church, the old body is shed away, and the new body will thereafter work in perfect conformity to the desires of the regenerated spirit (1 Cor 15:50-58). That is what all Christians long for, and are working towards in this life despite their imperfections.

Why is the doctrine of perfectionism dangerous? First, it causes Christians to believe that they can obey God’s Law perfectly in this life. Like I said, this is a noble pursuit, but one that can cause believers to puff up in pride and no longer depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Second, perfectionism lowers the standard of God’s Law so its advocates can live under a false standard and rely on that as their means of boast before the Lord and before others. Third, it takes away from the anticipation and meaning of glorification. Glorification is that time when Christians receive the same resurrected, glorified body that Jesus had at His resurrection. It is a body unsoiled by sin and its effects, which include physical weakness, ailments, and death. It is a body in which Christians can live out moral perfection on the same level as that of God. To tell Christians that they can achieve perfection in this life is to downplay the need for a glorified body, which underestimates the effect of sin on the human body. In summation, perfectionism is an attack on God’s grace and an undue elevation of man’s ability. This is why the gospel is necessary in a believer’s life, and God uses the gospel in stages to first deliver the sinner from the penalty of sin (salvation), then from the power of sin (sanctification), and finally from the presence of sin (glorification).

Ask Steve: Officiating a Wedding

May 18, 2015 2:46 am

Wedding 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what are your requirements for performing a marriage ceremony?

Answer: A marriage ceremony is a special time in which a man and a woman enter into a divine covenant that brings joy to both persons, yet marriage is governed by a set of God-ordained principles that should not be taken lightly. That is why every minister, including myself, should have a standard when it comes to performing marriage ceremonies. This standard should not be based on personal opinion, popular opinion, or rational opinion. Rather, it should be grounded in the word of God, which guides us in how we are to make our decisions, especially as it regards human covenants. That is why I have a few set requirements when it comes to performing a marriage ceremony.

The first requirement is that the marriage involves the proper participants. The Lord defines marriage from the beginning of creation in Genesis 2:24 as a lifelong covenant union between one man and one woman. Jesus even reaffirms this truth in Matthew 19:4 when he talks about the essence and sanctity of marriage. That means that such a human covenant cannot be between people of the same sex (homosexualism), people of the same family (incest), people who desire to take on multiple partners (polygamy), people who are legally underage (pedophilia), and people with that of other kinds (bestiality). Marriage is very particular because it is the way God has designed it from the start, and it is a symbolic representation of the future marriage and bond between Jesus Christ and His church when He returns (Eph 5:32; Rev 19:6-9). To do away with and redefine marriage is not only to attack the heart of the gospel, but to rebel against the role and function that each gender is to live up to, regardless of what they feel or desire. These roles and responsibilities are also seen in the parent/child, husband/wife, employer/employee, and government/subject relationships. The design of leading and submitting in relationships are inherent in all creation because they represent God’s nature within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and people generally know this fact in their conscience, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-20). Christian pastors, elders, and ministers cannot officiate or endorse marriages that are not between a man and a woman. They cannot pronounce blessings on gay marriage, incestial marriage, polygamous marriages, or any other sins that distort the definition of marriage. To do so would incur the wrath of God (Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 6:9; Heb 13:4; Jude 1:7) and distort the gospel picture, linking Christ with an idol (1 Cor 3:17).

Wedding 2The second requirement is that marriages are to be equally yoked. This means that marriages must be either be between two believers or two unbelievers. The Bible never endorses marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian (2 Cor 6:14). It is a sin to enter into such marriages because it goes against God’s design for a believer’s marriage. There can be no true compatibility between a man and a woman if one of the covenant partner’s spiritual condition is not right with God. If God tells us not to befriend unbelievers so intimately (Jas 4:4), then that principle certainly applies to an unbeliever in marriage – the most intimate of relationships. Moreover, an unequally yoked marriage is a false representation of the gospel. Instead of picturing Christ and the church, such marriages link Christ with an idol (v. 15). No marriages should ever be endorsed and officiated by pastors who are serious about the gospel and Christian living.

The third requirement is that the marriage ceremony be between those who are completely free to marry. I am not talking about people who are single and have never betrothed in their lives. I am speaking about Christians who have had previous marriages, but are no longer married and want to remarry. The Bible sets some specific guidelines on when Christians can remarry. God hates divorce (Mal 2:12), but permits it under limited circumstances. These circumstances are: 1). The marriage partner commits unrepentant adultery (Matt 5:32; 19:9) 2. The marriage partner is an unbeliever who deserts the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:15), 3. The marriage partner dies, leaving the Christian as a widow (Rom 7:2-3). Only under these terms can a Christian remarry a believer. If these conditions are not met, then a pastor must not marry a couple, or else his blessing on that union is sin before God. Pastors cannot marry a couple in which one or both of the partners unjustly divorced their spouse due to “irreconcilable differences.” To do so would be disgraceful to the institution of marriage. It would link a Christian to another spouse, and thereby causing both of them to commit adultery (Matt 5:32), since God has not endorsed the dissolution of the first marriage.

The fourth requirement is that the marriage ceremony be entered into with proper knowledge from both parties. This means that the couple should undergo some form of biblical counseling in which the potential husband and wife understand the significance of marriage. Marriage cannot be entered into simply because the man and the woman “love each other” or want to start practicing sexual intimacy according to biblical standards. Both the man and the woman must be going in the same direction spiritually. They must understand how marriage relates to the gospel – that it is a glorious picture of the gospel truth in which husband symbolizes Christ (the groom) and the wife symbolizes the church (the bride). Such knowledge should be the impetus for which they live out their calling to one another in order to glorify God, to be a fitting testimony to observers, and to simply make the marriage work.

Wedding 3The man and the woman must understand the significance of how Christ relates to the church in order that each person can relate to each other in the same spirit. This goes against the spirit of selfishness, self-entitlement, and pride that causes many of the petty arguments, serious fights, and marital unfaithfulness that tragically lead to divorce. Both the man and the woman need to understand how to love one another sacrificially, how to serve one another, how to properly use Christian liberty in order not to offend one another, and how to practice humility toward one another. Such commitment results in a lasting covenant relationship, which is why I would require that an engaged couple learn these important truths before I officiate their wedding ceremony. If the interested party was an unbelieving couple, then I or a Christian counselor would do the best possible to evangelize them so they can be saved. Only when a Christian is reborn and fill with the Holy Spirit can he/she be receptive and willing to grow in holiness, which includes practices in marriage.

With that said, marriage is a special institution that should not be entered into lightly. It is an institution created by God to reflect His eternal love relationship with the church. Because marriage derives its source from God’s nature, it is a truth that is seen all over the world, and experienced by even unbelievers as part of God’s common grace. Like all things created, marriage exemplifies the character of God and is rooted in timeless, unchangeable truth. This is why a marriage ceremony must be conducted based on God’s revealed word, and point as many people as possible to the gospel so they can learn the significance of the marriage institution.

Ask Steve: Alcohol

May 12, 2015 10:38 pm

Alcohol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, is it acceptable for a pastor to drink alcohol?

Answer: Drinking alcohol is a matter of liberty for Christians. It is not a sin to consume alcohol anymore than it is to consume food. However, there is a danger to drinking alcohol, because it can easily affect Christians if they are not careful to practice self-control. It is drunkenness, which the Bible clearly identifies as sin (Eph 5:18). Drunkenness is sin not only because you allow your body to be given over to abuse and cognitive impairment, but because you become mastered and enslaved by its damaging effects (1 Cor 6:12; 2 Pet 2:19). In other words, you are addicted to it, and it becomes your idol. That is why alcohol has an undeniable social stigma that causes Christians to be cautious about drinking it, both in front of other Christians or in private. How and when Christians decide to drink alcohol of any kind (ex. beer, wine) should be a matter of great discernment and caution so that it will not cause you or anyone else to be tempted or stumble into sin. That is the art of Christian liberty, whether it deals with drunkenness, gluttony, or addictions to smoking and drugs (1 Cor 8:9-13).

Now the question is: Should pastors drink alcohol? This is a question that stirs up different opinions and concerns. The answer to this question is simple: There is nothing in Scripture that forbids a pastor from consuming alcohol, but he must not be mastered by or entertain a particular thirst for it. Pastors and elders must be careful in drinking alcohol, more so than laypeople. Pastors are required to constantly be temperate in their work, but also be able to provide a type of example that will garner him a reputation of being respectable and above reproach. This principle is outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, which describes the qualifications of an elder: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Deacons, who serve in the church, are also held to similar standards: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

Pastors must not be addicted to alcohol, or be in the habit of drinking it habitually as a pastime. Such actions expose overseers as being given over, controlled, or dependent on alcohol, which goes against his call to be sober and prudent in all matters. Even if the pastor drinks but does not get drunk, he still must moderate his usage of alcohol so as not to further expose himself to addictive danger, or be a poor testimony to the congregation. Pastors are called to model the godly lifestyle, and one cannot model holiness if he is being given over to drunkenness, or at least imitating a habit that is characteristic of pagan unbelievers.

Alcohol 2Once again, this is not to say that pastors are forbidden to drink alcohol under any circumstances. There are occasions in both the Old and New Testament in which believers consume wine, but in a spirit of festivity and celebration onto the Lord. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Drink you wine with a merry heart.” Amos 9:14 also describes God’s blessing on the grape harvest of believers, in which men celebrate God’s goodness by their consumption of wine. Jesus was even depicted in the NT as drinking wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11) and will drink wine with the church in a celebratory sense when He returns and sets up His kingdom on earth (Matt 26:29).

The model of Jesus is an informative one, but as I said, pastors must always be cautious of drinking wine as it regards his conscience, his personal life, and the cultural context of his ministry. Even if the pastor has excellent self-control over addictions and has a clear conscience in drinking wine, he must do so wisely according to the occasions. There are certain countries in which it is more permissible and normative to consume wine because it has a therapeutic affect. It also sanitizes water that is contaminated. In fact, Paul instructs Timothy to drink wine as a medicine (instead of the polluted water) when he says in 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink any water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Therefore, wine would not only be for enjoyment, but for health.

However, there will be other times when pastors must be willing to abstain from alcohol, even for the duration of his life if necessary. In certain cultural contexts like the West, alcohol (especially hard alcohol and beer) is often times associated with sinful worldly practices like partying, orgies, and drunkenness. In societies like these, pastors who partake in alcohol could be viewed as one who is in the world. In this case, pastors must be cautious and abstain from alcohol (at least publicly) so that he can avoid the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22) and be a biblical testimony to both believers and unbelievers. He must not “conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of his mind,” as Romans 12:1-2 teaches. This means that pastors/elders should have a desire to abstain from alcohol if it can evidently bolster his testimony of being consecrated from the world onto the holiness that God has called him to. The principle behind these practices is laid out in many OT passages such as Leviticus 10:9, Deuteronomy 29:6, and Judges 13:4. Pastors are called to not to imitate the world, but to reflect Christlikeness, which means that he will not partake in or be wrongly associated with the ways of pagans. He must be salt and light and an evangelistic witness (Matt 5:13-16).

Alcohol 3There are also times that pastors must be willing to refrain from alcohol if it will cause Christians to stumble into sin. Earlier in the response, I said that drinking alcohol is a matter of Christian liberty. However, Christian liberty can be misused and abused if it is not done to the glory of God, but done for selfish purposes. For example, if there is a member of the church who has struggled with alcoholism in the past and still finds it to be a temptation, it would be unwise for a pastor to drink alcohol of any sorts in front of him, or even to drink it occasionally out of enjoyment. A pastor who abstains totally from alcohol to help a weaker brethren to be edified and built up in the faith is to demonstrate the type of self-sacrificial love that Scripture talks about, especially as it regards the use of Christian liberty (1 Cor 8:9-13; 13:1-2). Pastors must examine their conscience to see if choices like these are necessary, especially if they know that it will bring glory to God and will make his ministry more effective. This issue not only relates to a pastor’s use of alcohol in front of a sensitive church, but also his involvement with certain types of food, movies, music, and recreation.

It is not a sin for pastor’s to consume alcohol, but the best course of action is for the pastor to refrain from a habitual or recreational consumption of alcohol for the good of his spiritual health and his testimony in front of others. In fact, some of the most effective pastors in the world are those who choose not to drink alcohol. It is the safest option, and one that will not bring any negative impression by or temptations upon other Christians. If pastors choose to drink alcohol at times – at birthday meals where others are drinking it as well, for providing an opinion on a product, for medicinal purposes – they must exercise great discernment in every situation. That is what it means to be an effective overseer.

A Great Cover

May 5, 2015 12:08 am

“You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman is a popular contemporary worship song. Here is a nice rendition from actress AJ Michalka, who starred in quite an inspirational movie called Grace Unplugged. Let’s always be praying for celebrities, especially the Christian ones working in Hollywood:

YouTube Preview Image

Ask Steve: Children’s Ministry

May 4, 2015 2:20 am

Transforming

 

Currently Reading:

Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face

By Daniel Henderson

Category: Prayer / Christian Living

2011, Bethany House

 

 

Question: Steve, how will you view the place of children in the church? What is the church’s responsibility to children and children’s ministry? How will you respond to children (and their parents) who desire to be baptized and become members of the church?

Answer: Children of all ages should always be a subject of the church’s care. They should not be neglected or treated as merely a side-project in which the church is there to babysit them or entertain them with stories. Like all people, we must see children as part of our Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) efforts in which we are actively seeking to evangelize and disciple them. Since these children are the future generation who will lead, govern, and influence culture, we must see to it that they come to salvation in Christ and be instilled with a Christian worldview so they can honor the Lord with their lives in the future and be a light in society. This shows how important children are in our ministry work.

In fact, the New Testament depicts Jesus as having a particular fondness for children. Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus understood the importance of caring for and fostering the faith of the youth. Children are humble, dependent, teachable, and tender in their conscience, which is why the church must devote a good amount of time teaching them the fundamentals of the faith. Ecclesiastes 12:1 tells us to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, because as time goes by, people’s heart becomes hardened and they get desensitized to the sinful lifestyle. Deuteronomy 6:7 captures the important principle of parents passing down godly instruction to their children (as Israelites did in the days of Moses), when it says, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” This means that parents should make every effort to speak about and glorify God in conversation in front of the children, and teach them Scripture with the hopes that they will be godly people in the future.

CM 1The church has a major responsibility for both ministering to the children and teaching parents how to guide their children in the Christian faith. Like I have said, the church’s education or youth department does not exist to give children a pastime, a playground, or a social circle. These things are good, but they should be part of the larger agenda of seeking to instill the gospel within children so they can be saved and transformed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.    The children’s ministry must be faithful to preach the gospel to children. It must be able to evangelize the children, whether through the pulpit or through personal discipleship, in which children learn the truth of God as Creator, man as a lawbreaker, the eternal punishment of hell, the incarnation of Christ, His atonement, the resurrection, and repentance and faith. The ministry must also be committed to teaching children the whole counsel of God, or the contents of the entire Bible. It must do so in a manner that is understandable and relatable, since children do not have an attention span or comprehension level that is the same as adults. To teach the Word of God in a way that connects with children, but at the same time is confident, full, and truthful, is to practice what Paul did when he became “all things to all people so that by all means [he] might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).

The children’s ministry should help children not only see the truth of God, the gospel, and Christian living, but be able to understand and defend it. That is why apologetics is an ideal, if not significant, part of children’s discipleship, which must be presented through pulpit preaching, Bible camps, Bible studies, or personal teacher/student discipleships in class. As children slowly progress toward adolescence, they encounter struggles of finding specific questions to their faith, especially since they are bombarded with anti-biblical messages from the media, school, and friends. This is how many teenagers end up leaving the church and the faith once they graduate from high school. Although the Bible teaches that internalization of the gospel by faith is the means by which children remain in the faith, God still places importance in the church’s ability to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” That is why gospel ministry should always have a healthy dose of being able to shed light on the validity of Scripture through scientific, philosophical, prophetic, and archaeological discussions. It gives children more reason to come to faith, and others a tremendous encouragement to grow in their faith and defend it in public.

CM 3As much as the church is involved in the spiritual growth of children, parents must likewise be committed to this task. It is not enough for parents to simply drop kids off at church on Sundays and go on with the rest of secular life on weekdays. Parents must be committed as Christians, evangelists, and disciplemakers to disciple their children in the faith, starting from the time children are able to speak and learn. That is the whole principle of Deuteronomy 6:9. That is why the church should have regular meetings with parents to inform them of their children’s progress in the faith and what they can do to help in the church’s efforts. Parents must be taught the importance of having regular Bible devotions with the children, teaching them as much in the Bible as they can. They must also train their children in all righteousness, which includes instruction, reproof, rebuke, etc (Prov 22:6, 15, 2 Tim 3:16-17). Parents must also be taught the importance of living out a Christian worldview as a testimony to their children, in which all of their speech and action glorifies God in truth and grace. Parents must model such things as holy living, prayer, Scripture reading, evangelism, proper exercise of Christian liberty, godly discipline, and attitudes of thanksgiving, faith, love, and other practices that give credence to the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through the teaching and testimony of parents that many children come to saving faith, because they see their parents good works and glorify the Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).

CM 2If children make a profession of faith and desire to be baptized and serve in the church, the children’s ministry should follow several key steps. The church should make sure the child is baptized before taking communion and serving in any major department of the church, since baptism is the first major step of a Christian’s obedience to the Lord. The church should be eager and joyful to baptize the child/teenager. However, they should take precaution by ascertaining to the best of their ability the child/teenager’s salvation. This is done by asking the teenager his salvation testimony and observing fruits of saving faith for a short period of time. After the child is publicly baptized, he is fully entitled to become a member of the church and receive the benefits that it entails (ex. serving in church, deacon’s funds, accountability). The child/teenager should take a member’s class or at least be instructed by a brethren in Christ so he/she can understand the purpose of church membership and what commitments are involved. This model is very similar to the process with adult Christians who want to become church members.

Ministry to children is challenging at times, but significant and rewarding. They, like all unbelievers, need the gospel and need to be taught the truth of Scripture with power, love, and conviction. That is why the church should give a significant amount of their time, resource, and help to specifically evangelizing and discipling children in the faith, and teaching parents how to do likewise with specific strategies.

Ask Steve: Church Music

April 29, 2015 2:16 am

Music 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what are your views on styles of church music?

Answer: The type of music played in church services is an interesting topic, although one that can be somewhat divisive based on one’s nationality, upbringing, musical tastes, age, etc. The Bible does not explicitly state what kind of music is to be played in church in worshipping the Lord. For this reason, a Christian cannot be too dogmatic on insisting on a certain musical genre or type. However, there are still some good tips that I can propose in approaching this topic, which is my view on styles of church music.

First, the music should be based on truth. What I mean by this is that the lyrics of the song should exalt God with accurate theology. The song should always have biblical content that brilliantly extols the sovereignty, grace, love, justice, truth, power, and even triune nature of the Holy One. John 4:24 states that all worship of God is to be done in spirit and in truth, which is why it is important that the lyrics of the song accurately portray the God of the Bible. The lyrics should not be so vague or general that the songs could be speaking of the God of Islam, Catholicism, or Judaism, and so inaccurate that it portrays a complete idol. It must capture the nature and character of Yahweh, and also point people to reflect upon and worship Jesus Christ through the gospel. That is really the heart of all praise music in church, whether it is contemporary music or traditional hymns. The content of the music not only honors God, but instructs the saints who should be edified by it in all learning and meditation. Ephesians 5:19 instructs the church to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

Music 2Second, the music should properly capture what it means to worship in spirit. This means that the music should not only be theologically rich, but resonate with the human heart. This principle is also captured in Ephesians 5:19, as well as in many Old Testament passages. Psalm 86:12 states, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever.” A word of caution must be said regarding this idea. Sometimes people place too much emphasis on this principle that they get carried away in it, giving themselves over to emotional frenzy without regard to how others around them feel about it. Thus they cause anxiety in public worship and divisions in the church. Music should not do this, as 1 Corinthians 14:33 teaches that the Lord is not one who promotes disorder, but unity and peace within the church. All music should be emotionally resonant, but at the same time, be able to unite the congregation in worship.

Third, the music should be appropriate in the cultural context of the local church. I am now addressing the styles and/or genres of music that should be played in public worship, or even in Bible studies. Questions are asked regarding what style of music should be played. Contemporary worship songs? Christian pop songs? Ancient hymns? Modern hymns? What genre? Pop? Rock? R&B? Hip-hop?

As I have said, Scripture does not specifically forbid or endorse any particular music styles or instruments (except the timbre, lyres, and tambourines that were characteristic of the Old Testament people). If all things are truly done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), then all music styles are acceptable to God, given that it is God-exalting and does not contain profane, blasphemous, or questionable expressions (Eph 5:4).

Music 3Though acceptable songs of worship may take many sizes and shapes in the Christian music industry, the church must be cautious in what songs or styles of music to select for public worship. They must be songs that are theologically sound and that causes people to worship the Lord with the right attitude and spirit, and there are a few genres that do not accomplish this as well as certain other genres. For example, I prefer traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs which incorporate a mixture of guitar, drums, and keyboard, and other times organs, piano, and violins. I would find it a bit unsettling if the church made all the congregants sing to hip-hop or heavy metal rock, no matter how clean the lyrics are. It is not because hip-hop and heavy metal are in themselves wicked or tasteless, but that in the context of corporate praise, it might not be the most fitting and unanimously loved choice. This feeling has much to do with the social stigma or cultural affiliation of these music genres, which is often times associated with worldliness and sinful expressions in the secular music industry. That is why it is wise at times to consider whether music like these (or any other practices within Christian liberty for that matter) should be entertained in the church if they are so heavily attached to the unbelieving and/or pagan world. We should never seek to cause others to stumble into sin or be tempted if this is really the case (Rom 12:1-2; 14:13-23; 1 Cor 8:13). However, every situation differs based on cultural and historical context.

With that said, I believe that churches should incorporate music that can best fit the age or cultural demographics of the local church. If the church is composed of mainly old people who love organs and choir, then it is best to go with that particular flow. However, if the church is made up of mostly younger people who can relate better with guitars and drums, then that should the music style of the church. And if the church is made up of a combination of old and young people, then the church should be able to incorporate music that can accommodate both groups fairly well, especially in mixing contemporary songs and old hymns. In any case, music is an important element of church and public worship, but it should never split churches or be a Christian’s sole purpose in choosing which church to be a member of. Sometimes a Christian will have to give up some of his particular tastes in music for the greater benefit and unity of the church. However, my view on music style, again, is that it be done in spirit and in truth, and can accommodate the demographic as best as possible.

Recommended Resource: Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin

Ask Steve: The Rapture

April 14, 2015 9:59 pm

Rapture 3

 

Question: Steve, please defend the concept of the rapture biblically. When will it take place and why?

Answer: The rapture of the church is a subject of debate in evangelicalism. The three main views concerning the timing of the rapture are pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation. Scripture contains passages that speak clearly on the concept of the future rapture, although the timing of the event is not quite as explicit or developed as one would hope. Although I am not as dogmatic concerning the rapture timing as I am with other eschatological subjects such as the millennium, I still believe in the merit of uncovering the truth about this matter, as with many other Bible subjects. I believe, through piecing together all the pieces of the puzzle in the New Testament, that the Bible teaches a pre-tribulation rapture. This means that the rapture of the church – or Jesus descending on the clouds to take His saints away to glorification – occurs before the 7-Year Tribulation. Jesus takes the dead and living saints at that time away to heaven before He unleashes His wrath and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth for 7 years.

There a few good reasons to believe in the pre-tribulation rapture view. The first has to do with the purpose of the rapture. It is meant to reward the saints for their faith and give them rest from the labors. In contrast, the day of the Lord judgment that happens during the Tribulation period is meant to punish unbelievers on earth for their rejection of God in general and special revelation. We get a glimpse of this in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 when Paul describes the future event of the rapture in order to encourage and comfort the distraught saints. Paul begins by saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” From here, the Apostle explains the process of the rapture. Because they are “uninformed,”

Rapture 1Paul wants to enlighten them on an event that has never really been disclosed before. About 4 to 5 years later in A.D. 55, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:51 that this rapture event is a “mystery.” The Greek word for mystery (musterion) also appears in Ephesians 5:32 to describe the mystery of the church (which has never been disclosed in the OT) and of marriage (which has also never been explained in the OT). Likewise, the word musterion describes the mystery of the rapture. This implies that the concept of the rapture has never been revealed before, either in the OT or during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. If this is correct, then the rapture of the saints is not the same event described in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25) or in the book of Revelation (Rev 20:4). To link the two events (which is essentially post-tribulation rapture) is to equate the Christ’s coming in the rapture as one and the same as Christ’s second coming to judge the world and set up His kingdom.

At times, these two events have striking similarities, and equating them as the same happening makes for a much simpler understanding of eschatological events. However, there are some problems with this view. The purpose and nature of the rapture differs significantly from that of the second coming of Christ. At the rapture, the saints go to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:17), while saints return with the Lord at the second coming (Rev 19:4). The rapture is described as imminent (1 Thess 4:13-18: 1 Cor 15:50-58), while the second coming cannot happen until after the signs of the Great Tribulation take place (2 Thess 2:4; Matt 24:15-30). The rapture is associated with comfort and deliverance (1 Thess 4:13-18), while the second coming is associated with fear and judgment (Matt 24:40-41).

Some critics have contended that the word for meet (apantesin) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 supports the post-trib rapture view. The technical force of this word, as used in the secular Hellenistic vernacular, implies that an important visitor is formally met by a delegation of citizens and ceremonially escorted back into the city. On this basis, some scholars contend that Christians go out to meet Jesus and return with Him as he continues His descent to earth. However, the content does not indicate that Christians willingly advance on Christ to meet Him, but are snatched away by divine will, which removes this passage’s intention from its Hellenistic sense. Believers will meet the Lord in the air and continue onward to where He is (Jn 14:2-3), until the end of the Tribulation, when they will return with Christ.

The entire end-times presentation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 favors this case. The Thessalonian believers in A.D. 51 were in a state of fear, anxiety, and panic because they thought that they were in the Day of the Lord judgment because of the trials they were facing and persecution from enemies. The Thessalonians understood, most likely from both the OT and Jesus’ teachings, that the Day of the Lord is to be a specific time of intense persecution and horrific world events, which is what they thought was happening around them. This favors the futurist view of the book of Revelation. Paul’s point of revealing the rapture mystery in 4:13-18 was to show the Thessalonians (and the universal church) that believers will not be appointed to suffer the 7-Year Tribulation, but will be saved out of it. That is why Paul writes in 5:1-3, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”

Paul urges the believers in Thessalonica to ready themselves in salvation so they will not be left behind for the Day of the Lord judgment. Those who are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit will not have to worry about the Day of the Lord coming upon them suddenly. That is why Paul goes on to say, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief.” Because once the rapture happens, then the Day of the Lord starts immediately. The rapture is meant to comfort and give hope to the saints who feared for the fate of their deceased Christian relatives and the troubles that were coming upon them. Paul says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”

Rapture 2There are other clues in the Bible that teach us that the rapture occurs before the time of the 7-Year Tribulation. In Revelation 6-19, God describes the events that must “soon take place” (Rev 1:1; 22:6) in the world. Nowhere during John’s writings do we see any mention of the church on earth. However, we constantly see references to Israel, that is, ethnic Israel that is made up of the 12 tribes of Jacob, as the entity that is suffering on earth during the time, but also redeemed at the very end. This is obviously ethnic Israel (and not the current church), not only because of the text identifies it as such (Rev 12:1), but because other passages of the Bible speak about Israel’s ultimate redemption during the last days (Deut 30:1-10; Isaiah 59:20-21; Ezek 37:1-14; Zech 12:10; Rom 11:26). Since the book of Revelation does speak specifically about the end times, it makes perfect sense that this passage speaks about God’s sovereign plan of redeeming Israel, and judging its enemies, as ancient prophecy predicted.

The early portion of Revelation also speaks about the possible timing of the rapture. The book of Revelation addresses seven particular churches, yet these churches are representative of the type of churches that would exist throughout history until the time of Jesus’ second advent. The Philadelphian church is the exemplary type of church with minimal flaws. The reward for their saving faith, and the fruits of it, is that they will be delivered out of a particular time of “testing” that is coming upon the world. Revelation 3:10 states, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that house which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” Critics contend that this merely means that Jesus will preserve His church from major harm and distress on earth while the Tribulation is happening all around them. But if one examines the pattern of Jesus’ exhortation to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, the reward for those who “overcome” and remain faithful to the end always speaks of consummated salvation and the benefits that come along with it. Believers will eat of the tree of life (2:7), escape the second death (2:11), be given a white stone (2:17), and will be given authority over the nations (2:26). These rewards all speak of believers who have received their glorified bodies and have entered the eternal state. Likewise, the message to the Philadelphia church regarding being kept from “the hour of testing” most likely has salvific implications as well. This means that believers will be rescued out of the Tribulation and enter the eternal state via the rapture.

We know this period of testing to be 7 years most notably from Daniel 9:27. It says, “And he [Antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many [people of Israel] for one week [7 years], but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” This is a picture of an event that happens in the Great Tribulation (Matt 24:15; Rev 13:6, 15), once again a time devoid of any mention of the church, but a time in which God finishes His salvation plan with Israel.

The pre-trib rapture edifies us in many ways. It teaches us to be on guard with our holy living, defense of the gospel, and evangelism mission, because Christ’s return for the church could happen at any moment. Christians should take this seriously because they do not want to be ashamed at His coming, after which He will judge Christians in heaven at the Bema Seat for they did with their time and resources on earth (2 Cor 5:10). The pre-trib rapture also gives tremendous hope and relief to Christians. Although the final living generation will no doubt be the recipient of much oppression and persecution from the secular world, Christ promises that they will not endure the worst part of it (in the 7-Tribulation) but will be delivered out of it, since those who are saved have no reason to be destined for God’s wrath, but only His deliverance.

 

Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware