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Hebrew-BibleI am not at all naturally inclined to study languages myself so I’m not writing as a language buff. But I think “correctly handling the word of truth” means a certain level of knowledge about the way that word was written and how it can and cannot be handled.

What is the semantic range of this word? Do I realize how meaning can change depending on which prepositions are attached or what verb stem it’s in? Do I at least understand the arguments for why the New World Translation gets John 1:1 wrong? I think a pastor should have a handle on this kind of stuff – not that they can necessarily weigh in with great scholarship but that they at least know why the NIV says what it says and can justify it if they disagree.

And it can have revolutionary significance.  Think of Matthew 4:17 – the Vulgate says ‘Do penance’ but when Luther sees it’s actually “Repent” it becomes the very first of his 95 theses.

I’m not saying someone can’t have a hugely powerful ministry without knowing the original languages (who can deny that in places where the church is growing fastest, pastors very often don’t). And I’m not saying every pastor needs to get to the level where they do all their prep and quiet times in Hebrew. But if our pastors have been given significant formal preparation for word ministry then studying those words in the original languages should be a key component of that. It’s surely not right that pastors have a hundred opinions on the new perspective but don’t actually understand the linguistics behind “pistis Christou” for instance.

I think the tools of a pastor’s trade are words – the bible’s words more specifically. I wouldn’t have confidence in a car mechanic who said “We just need to twist the doo-hickey until the thingumy-jig pops out.”

I’m not suggesting that pastors need to be fluent or anything like it.  You don’t need to be able to speak these languages or hear them or even write them.  Just to read them, painstakingly slowly and usually with some bible software close to hand!

But it pays off. Very quickly you’re able to see a thousand links that are there to see in the original languages but (necessarily) obscured by translations.  Let me give some examples:

Last week I preached on Isaiah 2 and then 1 Corinthians 7:

Isaiah 2:

All translations conceal just how much ideas of highness, loftiness are repeated in verses 11-17. Reading this in the Hebrew definitely allowed the word to dwell in me more richly. I was more impacted by the word because of reading in the Hebrew.

Searching for a theology of trees and hills was easier to do with knowledge of the Hebrew. (Of course it’s not impossible to do without Hebrew but it takes longer and you end up relying on things like bible dictionaries – and I’m never sure if I’m always on the same page as the bible dictionary contributors (esp on OT)).

In v10, ‘The Rock’ vs ‘the rocks’ – I might decide to prefer ESV because of many factors, but surely the best factor is that the Hebrew says bazur not bazurim. This was a key point in my sermon – a big talking point afterwards. I’m glad I know something of Hebrew when those conversations come up. If you’re going to argue for Christ in OT (which I am), the majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but a lot of the contemporary stuff is just not that interested in christocentric detail. But, learn Hebrew yourself and you’ll see it on every page.

1 Corinthians 7:
There are so many minefields here – and so many ethical issues that depend on language debates. I’m nowhere near in a position to contribute to these debates, but it’s very helpful to be able to follow them especially when I’m telling certain people they can’t marry or can’t divorce and telling them on the basis of these ten Greek words which have multiple interpretations.

e.g. what’s the difference between ‘separating’ in v10 and ‘divorcing’ in v11-13? What does it mean for the woman not to be ‘bound’? in v15? Is that relevantly similar to the word for ‘bound’ in v39? Your stance on divorce and remarriage is fundamentally affected by that question.

Now the language alone is not going to decide it and not everyone needs to have language knowledge. But I’m recommending an investment of time in languages that better places you to think through all these issues.

On the one hand learning languages saves you time. It really does – searches are far faster, technical commentaries are much easier to read. If you’re at all interested in the detail of the text, knowing some Greek and Hebrew makes things faster not slower. On the other hand, it slows you down in the right way. Reading the passage in the original allows you to see details and emphases and repetitions that are necessarily filtered out in translations, to see things of Christ that aren’t usually picked up on. It comes home a bit stronger. Maybe none of that will translate to the pulpit, but it translates to my heart – and that’s good for my ministry.

So here’s what I’m saying: It is a tremendous help in correctly handling the word if you know enough about Greek and Hebrew to at least be able to read the technical commentaries and use the bible software. This will mean that, with help from commentaries and Bibleworks etc, you are preparing sermons from the Hebrew and Greek and not simply from the English translations. I really think this makes a significant difference to your word ministry. Enough difference that it is worth the expenditure of, say, 160 hours in training – i.e. 4 hours a week (2 in classroom, 2 in homework) for 40 weeks or something? To be honest you could probably get away with less. And you do NOT have to be a language buff to be able to get to this level. I am in no way naturally gifted for languages, but I found huge payoffs in forcing myself to do it.

Now put that 160 hours (or less) in context. I’ve spent many times over that amount in studying church history, many times over that amount simply reading theologians, simply reading systematics, simply reading Christian paperbacks. I’ve spent hugely more time blogging!

I’m not talking about secret knowledge that takes decades of training and special anointing. I’m talking about learning alphabets and a bit of vocab, learning some verb and noun tables and then figuring out how clauses and sentences fit together. Most of that is dead boring – but these are the nuts and bolts of God’s revelation to us. And pastors deal in God’s revelation. Yes we deal in people and that is crucial (Tit 1:6-8). But we also deal in the word (Tit 1:9). We find time for all sorts of other nonsense in preparation for word ministry (JEPD anyone?!) languages is a really good investment of time. If you have the chance to do it, do it.

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“Who here has never heard teaching on the Trinity before?”

My translator asked the question of our audience after my first session.  In a room of 60 Malawian overseers, about 50 hands went up.  Each of them had responsibility for between 6 and 30 churches but very few had learned even a basic doctrine of God.

In May I travelled with Ian Milmine, my boss, to Malawi and Kenya, preaching the gospel and training pastors.  It was a tremendous opportunity and I’d be keen to go back, especially for the chance to support African ministers.  As one professor of theology in Kenya told me, few of his students – most of which are ordained ministers – could actually articulate the gospel.  In a country where 80% claim to go to church, the preaching they hear is a steady diet of ‘holiness teaching’ with a heck of a lot of altar calls thrown in.

As an evangelist I must have prayed with hundreds of people to become Christians on our trip.  But at times it felt like Luther’s experience of climbing the “Scala Sancta” steps in Rome.  It was years before Luther’s conversion and as he said the Lord’s Prayer on each step, he thought he was earning time off purgatory for his relatives.  But when he got to the top he proclaimed “who knows whether it is so.”  I have to admit the same statement crossed my mind when scores of folk indicated “decisions for Christ” – Who knows whether it is so?

It worked like this: whenever I finished a talk, the host of the meeting would either invite a response himself or ask me to do so.  Hands were raised, people stood up or came forwards, dozens would repeat a ‘prayer of commitment’.  Yet it seemed obvious to me that they’d ‘given their lives to Jesus’ many times before.

One evening at a university I decided to preach very strongly that “the gospel is not our life given to Jesus but His life given to us.”  After hammering that point for 45 minutes the host of the meeting got up and – I kid you not – asked “If you want to give your life to Jesus now, please raise your hand.”  I found myself in the strange position of praying that no-one would.  And no-one did!  Never have I been so sure that the word was received as when no-one “made a response”!

While I was dubious about the constant push for “mass conversions”, seed was sown and people rejoiced to hear the good news.  There was often a response to the word of liberation and joy, very different from the forced response of ‘the altar call’.  Anyway… rant over.

In addition to our preaching, Ian and I had separate opportunities to lead hotel staff to Christ in the course of our trip.  These one-on-one opportunities were wonderful gifts from God.  There is undeniably a spiritual openness in Africa that reveals the darkness of the West all the more!

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This is an extract from my most recent prayer letter.  If you’d like to receive my prayer letter, please email me: glenscrivener at gmail dot com.

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We all affirm that God speaks in preaching.  For Steve Levy, it oozes out of every pore.  His opening prayer is a plea:  “Father, please talk to us!”  His introduction is a plea: “I want everyone to hear this… children at the back, look at me…”  His conclusion is a plea:  “You need to call on the Lord who is calling your name!”  Every illustration is employed to grip the congregation and say – You!  You!  I’m talking to You!  And throughout he is constantly anticipating objections from the congregation, voicing their thoughts and answering them.  As a passionate believer in church, Steve does not prepare abstract messages for abstract people.  He never, for a minute, forgets that, through his preaching, Jesus is addressing these particular people here and now.   

As a member of his church said to me yesterday, “He looks at who’s in front of him, gets their attention and grips them with the Word. No nonsense!”  (For an example, check out this sermon preached with 70 non-Christian guests for a child’s thanksgiving).

Steve’s obviously a big believer in Christ in all of Scripture (see his book with Paul), but for he and Paul this isn’t a hobby horse to be ridden – it’s a deep conviction about the nature of revelation.  God does not so much communicate plans and programmes and patterns.  He gives us His Son.  Jesus is not some unifying principle of Scripture – He is the Content of what God offers in His word.  Therefore preaching is the communication of Jesus Himself.  As Steve says, “You can sum up the Bible in a word: Jesus.”  Steve’s preaching is a relentless offering of Christ with the (very!) pointed aim that we receive Him / look to Him /believe only in Him.  “Christ alone” preaching is “grace alone, faith alone” preaching.

If you imagine that this concentration on Christ makes for boring preaching, you’d be wrong.  Partly this is because Steve believes that the original authors of the Scriptures themselves were proclaiming Christ.  Therefore he’s not trying to rip gospel illustrations out of the Law and the Prophets (which gets very same-y).  Instead he preaches Christ in the distinctive manner of Moses and the Prophets (e.g. recently they built a tabernacle, dressed people up as priests and walked everyone through the gospel in Leviticus!).  When you preach Christ as intended by the Law and the Prophets it’s always variegated and interesting.

The other reason his preaching is never dull is a foundational belief in law-gospel.  I don’t think I’ve heard him phrase it as “law-gospel”, instead he’s told me he preaches a “raw gospel.”  But it’s the same thing!  His sermons are full of the exposing, death-dealing condemnation of Scripture’s demands.  He is brutally honest about his and our total inability to be who we should be.  And this is where he really connects.  He preaches the law not to spur us to goodness but to expose our badness.  And as he does so, it’s utterly compelling.

For instance, in his Hebrews 4-5 sermon below, he speaks, obviously, of Christ our great High Priest.  But his preaching brings out the wonder of Christ’s mediation because, first, he speaks of the double-edged sword of the word which puts us to death.  He allows the law to drive us to Christ and it makes the comfort of the High Priest all the sweeter.

The conservative evangelicalism with which I’m familiar is a thoroughly middle-class affair.  And maybe “law-gospel” doesn’t really happen in our churches because no-one’s bold enough to preach “raw gospel”!  A drug addict would feel completely understood under Steve’s preaching.  I wonder if he’d feel understood under mine.

So put it all together and you’ve got a Christ-obsessed, church-loving, shouty, Lloyd-Jones loving Welshman who preaches the gospel Sunday-in, Sunday-out.  What’s not to like!

Recent Sermons:

John 6:1-15

John 6:28-40

John 6:40-60

Hebrews 4:12-5:4

Mission Strategy

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Classic Sermons:

Hell

Revelation 5

Isaiah 1

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Mike “Badda Bing” Reeves

Having appreciated Paul Blackham’s Christ-centredness we come to the Trinitarian riches of Mike Reeves.

Here’s a man obsessed with Christ who simply loves his Father in the infectious joy of the Spirit.  While other great minds are liable to dazzle you with technicalities and confuse you with the breadth of their knowledge, Mike uses his penetrating intellect to simplify.  He really only preaches the basics: God and Christ, grace and love.  Without doubt, they are profoundly set forth, but it’s the foundational truths which Mike proclaims.

And what’s terrifying is that, having heard the basics from Mike, we all realize “We didn’t know the basics!”  Not really.  We had assumed God, we had neglected the Trinity, we had missed our union with Christ… and the lack of grace and love in our lives was testimony.  We had thought that our foundations were fine.  We were messing around in the garden shed and Mike has called us back to the Centre.  Now that he’s drawn us back, nothing looks the same any more.  And we realize now the nature of the Christian life.  It’s looking again to Jesus.  Every day I forget.  Every day I seek life elsewhere.  And through the word proclaimed, I’m called back.  Mike concerns himself with the basics.  And in doing so, reminds us that the basics  are everything!

As a preacher Mike is the king of the “cheeky flick” – taking us to some obscure verse in Judges that ends up illuminating the whole passage.  With Mike, Scripture is a vast cathedral and he’s a very adept tour guide.  We don’t simply stare at the stained-glass window in the Lady Chapel, we get a sweep of the whole building.  But when we return to the window it’s all the clearer now.  This is such a healthy view of what “exposition” means and has certainly liberated me from a mechanical  practice of ‘verse-by-verse’.

Perhaps the element of Mike’s preaching most important to me is his obsession with the freeness of Jesus – given to sinners.  Given to me – even in all my wretchedness.  This is what’s so liberating about his preaching.  He is wonderfully trinitarian and has a thoroughly affective anthropology – seeing the centrality of the heart to our Christian lives.  But without our sure possession of Jesus by faith, these things would only end up condemning me.  What secures the Father’s love for me is my sure possession of Christ by faith – and Christ’s of me.  Our gracious union with Jesus is central to our enjoyment of all things in the Christian life.  And Mike preaches this to us relentlessly.  For that I am very grateful.

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Recent Sermons:

Philippians from CEC Leeds

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Classic Sermons:

Trinity part 12, 3,  4

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The Loving Father

The Beautiful Son

The Heart-Melting Spirit

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Mission from John’s Gospel

Why Go?

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Job 42

Psalm 1

Luke 4:1-13

Matthew 26:36-46


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I don’t think I’d ever heard preaching until I heard Paul Blackham.  I’d heard a thousand exhortations.  I’d heard hundreds of expositions.  I’d heard autobiographical apologies and inspirational tales and world-weary battle-plans and state-of-the-nation addresses but not preaching.  Not a heralding of the living Christ.

And then I saw Paul Blackham climb into the All Souls, Langham Place pulpit.  He was younger then than I am now, but he opened his mouth like a prophet of old and said “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”   Then something unprecedented happened.  He preached as if he actually believed his introduction.  He spoke as one speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).  He didn’t weary me with the debates of the commentators, he didn’t show off his knowledge of the original languages, he didn’t waste my time trying to appear culturally relevant, he just – amazing to say it – he just preached.

I’d never, ever, heard anything like it.  And I rarely hear the like of it today.

Paul’s preaching is declarative in tone, doctrinal in content, devotional in aim.  In Old Testament or New, he is crystal clear that Christ is the point.  His life, His work, His blood, His glory.  This is the fire in his bones which he cannot hold in (Jeremiah 20:9).

I know that none of us are going to match his gifting – but can we please aim for these characteristics. Otherwise, really, why bother.

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Recent Sermons:

Christ’s Sayings From the Cross (Seven 20 minute talks)

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Older Classics:

Why isn’t good, good enough (Philippians 3) – video  audio.

Jesus Christ: Hope of the Ages (Genesis 3) – video  audio.

What of those who have never heard?  (Colossians 1)  audio.

To A City That Repented (Jonah)  audio.

Romansfest – 15 talks on Romans with Tom Parsons

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So, as we’ve seen, God does not treat the world as a tool to be used.  He’s not in the whole creation-salvation thing for what He can get out of it.  He’s in it in order to pour Himself out.  This is His glory – it is His eternal nature to love the other.  That’s what it means to say He creates for His glory.  i.e. He creates that He might sacrifice and give of Himself (Revelation 13:8).  In other words God is for us.  Really and utterly and to the depths of His being, the living God is for us.  This isn’t just window-dressing for a more fundamental narcissism.  It is God’s uncreated and eternal glory to live for the other.

Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life.  Kant wasn’t so far off really.  Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good.  If even God does it, then it must be the good life.  But such living is the fruit of the gospel.  It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.

Yet it runs counter to all the ways we’re tempted to think and act in the world.  Here are some of my temptations to treat things as means rather than ends in themselves…

Salvation

Like a gold-digging wife, I eye  up Jesus in terms of the heavenly blessings He has to His name.  I conceive of salvation as “escape from hell, forgiveness of sins, feelings of love, assurance and purpose…” and I think of Christ crucified as the mechanism that secures these ultimate benefits.  I use Jesus to serve myself.  But I forget that He serves me.  And that He is salvation Himself!

“Godliness

I can use godliness as a means – and not just for “financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). I have all sorts of motivations for “being godly” – salvation, self-righteousness, status, self-protection.  And so, I don’t do good “for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10), I do it for my sake.  Yet in all this I forget that godliness with contentment is itself great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).  There’s much truth to the saying “a good deed is it’s own reward.”

Mission

I move out into the world to “gain converts”.  Every friend has a target on their back.  Every act and engagement is calculated according to its evangelistic potential.  I love unbelievers only to the degree that they are winnable to the gospel.  Essentially I conceive of mission as “gaining converts” rather than “offering Christ.”  Much of this stems from the delusion that I can “give the growth” when all I’m called to is “scattering the seed.”

Ministry

I enter into ministry for “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  Perhaps for money.  Perhaps to seem like a big-shot. Perhaps to exercise authority over others.  Perhaps to escape into a nice little ecclesiastical life.  But Paul had it right when he identified his flock as his crown (Phil 4:1; 2 Thes 2:19).  The people to whom he ministered were his joy.  They were the gain which he saw in all his ministry.

Pastoring

I preach the gospel in order to give people law.  I use the gospel as a spoonful of sugar.  It helps the medicine of arduous “discipleship” go down.  “We mustn’t forget grace…” I say at the start of the sermon.  And then lay down the law.  But in doing so I’m essentially saying that Jesus is a means towards something more vital – moral rectitude.  What would pastoring look like if my ultimate goal was to give away Christ for free?  (1 Corinthians 9:18)

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Can you think of other realms in which we live conditionally and suffer for it?  How does the self-giving life of the Trinity release us into living free?

 

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Dave Bish has five seminars I gave to some UCCFers on Monday and Tuesday.  I had no idea at the time, but apparently they add up to six and a half hours!

It was basically Three-fold Word stuff with some other teaching thrown in – Doctrine of God, Christ in Exodus, Trinity in Isaiah, David & Goliath, Christ in the NT, Luke 15, What is repentance?, etc.

It was a brilliantly enjoyable time – so thanks Bish for having me.  Good interaction with the guys and exciting to see how God’s word will continue to work in us (1 Thes 2:13).

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PREVIOUS SESSION

AUDIO

FULL TEXT


Christ must be proclaimed biblically.

John 5:37-47

My job is not to speak about the bible.
My job is to speak about what the bible speaks about.

We don’t minister the word in order to give a “take home point.”
We offer a take-home Christ!

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Christ must be proclaimed biblically

The Bible does not need experts, it creates Heralds.

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Christ must be proclaimed biblically.

The Bible is not given to individuals for their personal piety.
The Bible is given to the church to proclaim Christ to the world.

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A minister of the word is not capable of speaking of Jesus.
They are incapable of doing otherwise!

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Jeremiah 20:9; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 4:13; 5:14-21

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If this is true how will it affect the content
of our word ministry?

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AUDIO

FULL TEXT


HANDOUT PART ONE

When I say “The Word of God” what springs instantly to mind?

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Genesis 15:1-6

1 Samuel 3:1,7,19-21

Psalm 18:30

Psalm 33:4-6

Jeremiah 1:4-10

John 1:1-3

Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20

1 Thessalonians 2:8-13

Hebrews 4:12; 13:7

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How do we make sense of the various ways “God’s Word” is spoken of?

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The Three-Fold Word

 

  • Christ
  • Scripture
  • Proclamation

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Martin Luther: “Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”

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John Calvin: “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”

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The Second Helvetic Confession (Heinrich Bullinger): “The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.”

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Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16 – From Father to Son to Church to world with divine authority!

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When are my words God’s words?

When Christ is proclaimed biblically.

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If this is true, how will it affect the manner
in which we conduct our word ministry?

SEMINAR 2

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Here’s my Acts 6:1-7 sermon audio.

But this two and a half minute video from Walter Brueggemann says what my sermon says far better and more concisely.

My sermon text is below…

(more…)

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Moving away from morsels

Last night we had a home group bible study with the folk who have graduated from Christianity Explored.  Here’s what we’ve been studying:

Week 1: Galatians

Week 2: Ephesians

Week 3: Philippians

Week 4: Colossians

Last night was week 5:  Romans 1-4 (though we stopped at the end of 3 because everyone was blown away!)

When I tell them that the other home groups study half a chapter at a time they are amazed!   “But that’s like stopping after three paragraphs of a letter!” they exclaim.  That is precisely what it is!

Everyone prints off the chapters for that week and reads them with a pen to hand.  They circle things they don’t understand and underline things they love so they come to the evening quite well prepared.

In the studies we just read a big chunk and then discuss, read a big chunk then discuss.  We’ve been getting through 4-6 chapters in a night.

Some outside the group have been impressed by it, but also have raised valid concerns:

Question: How long can you keep this up?

Answer: The bible’s a big book.

Question: Not many people could lead a study of a whole book of the bible, doesn’t this concentrate leadership in the hands of the trained few?

Answer:  Actually it puts the bible in the hands of everyone.  People have really taken responsibility for trying to get a handle on the passage before the meeting and they’ve been great at answering each other’s questions.

Question: Not many people could field the range of questions that would be generated by study of a whole book.  Leaders might be caught out by the number of different topics that could arise in any given week.

Answer: Schedule in some weeks every now and again where you tackle the most recurring topics from the last couple of months.

Question: Won’t this mean you miss nuances and details?

Answer: Maybe.  But you’ll be revisiting the same material a lot more often too.

Anyway, I commend it to you.  Not least because last night was devastating.  We began in chapter 15 to get some context and then moved through Romans 1 to 3 the way it was intended.  It crushed us to dust and then lifted us up in Christ.  I can’t now imagine spacing that out over three weeks!

My advice: move away from the morsels.  Get stuck in!

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Original Languages

A couple of years ago I wrote about preachers disagreeing with the translation.  In comments I got asked about whether preachers should know (at least something of) the original languages of Hebrew and Greek.  Here’s what I said:

I am not at all naturally inclined to study languages myself so I’m not writing as a language buff. But I think “correctly handling the word of truth” means a certain level of knowledge about the way that word was written and how it can and cannot be handled.

What is the semantic range of this word? Do I realize how meaning can change depending on which prepositions are attached or what verb stem it’s in? Do I at least understand the arguments for why the New World Translation gets John 1:1 wrong? I think a pastor should have a handle on this kind of stuff – not that they can necessarily weigh in with great scholarship but that they at least know why the NIV says what it says and can justify it if they disagree.

And it can have revolutionary significance.  Think of Matthew 4:17 – the Vulgate says ‘Do penance’ but when Luther sees it’s actually “Repent” it becomes the very first of his 95 theses.

I’m not saying someone can’t have a hugely powerful ministry without knowing the original languages (who can deny that in places where the church is growing fastest, pastors very often don’t). And I’m not saying every pastor needs to get to the level where they do all their prep and quiet times in Hebrew. But if our pastors have been given significant formal preparation for word ministry then studying those words in the original languages should be a key component of that. It’s surely not right that pastors have a hundred opinions on the new perspective but don’t actually understand the linguistics behind “pistis Christou” for instance.

I think the tools of a pastor’s trade are words – the bible’s words more specifically. I wouldn’t have confidence in a car mechanic who said “We just need to twist the doo-hickey until the thingumy-jig pops out.”

I’m not suggesting that pastors need to be fluent or anything like it.  You don’t need to be able to speak these languages or hear them or even write them.  Just to read them, painstakingly slowly and usually with some bible software close to hand!

But it pays off. Very quickly you’re able to see a thousand links that are there to see in the original languages but (necessarily) obscured by translations.  Let me give some examples:

Last week I preached on Isaiah 2 and then 1 Corinthians 7:

Isaiah 2:

All translations conceal just how much ideas of high-ness, lofti-ness are repeated in verses 11-17. Reading this in the Hebrew definitely allowed the word to dwell in me more richly. I was more impacted by the word because of reading in the Hebrew.

Searching for a theology of trees and hills was easier to do with knowledge of the hebrew. (of course it’s not impossible to do without hebrew but it takes longer and you end up relying on things like bible dictionaries – and I’m never sure if I’m always on the same page as the bible dictionary contributors (esp on OT)). Btw this is an important point – it’s good not to have to rely on scholarship that’s not convinced of a christocentric hermeneutic (which is most OT scholarship!).

In v10, ‘The Rock’ vs ‘the rocks’ – I might decide to prefer ESV because of many factors, but surely the best factor is that the Hebrew says bazur not bazurim. This was a *key* point in my sermon – a big talking point afterwards. I’m glad I know something of Hebrew when those conversations come up. If you’re going to argue for Christ in OT (which I am), the vast majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but most of the contemporary stuff is just not going to pick of christocentric detail. But, learn Hebrew yourself and you’ll see it on every page.

1 Corinthians 7:
There are so many minefields here – and so many ethical issues that depend on language debates. I’m nowhere near in a position to contribute to these debates, but it’s very helpful to be able to follow them especially when I’m telling certain people they can’t marry or can’t divorce and telling them on the basis of these ten greek words which have multiple interpretations.

e.g. what’s the difference between ‘separating’ in v10 and ‘divorcing’ in v11-13? What does it mean for the woman not to be ‘bound’? in v15? Is that relevantly similar to the word for ‘bound’ in v39? Your stance on divorce and remarriage is fundamentaly affected by that question.

Now the language alone is not going to decide it and not everyone needs to have language knowledge. But I’m recommending an investment of time in languages that better places you to think through all these issues.

On the one hand learning languages saves you time. It really does – searches are far faster, technical commentaries are much easier to read. If you’re at all interested in the detail of the text, knowing some greek and hebrew makes things faster not slower. On the other hand, it slows you down in the right way. Reading the passage in the original allows you to see details and emphases and repetitions that are necessarily filtered out in translations, to see things of Christ that aren’t usually picked up on. It comes home a bit stronger. Maybe none of that will translate to the pulpit, but it translates to my heart – and that’s good for my ministry.

So here’s what I’m saying: It is a tremendous help in correctly handling the word if you know enough about Greek and Hebrew to at least be able to read the technical commentaries and use the bible software. This will mean that, with help from commentaries and Bibleworks etc, you are preparing sermons from the Hebrew and Greek and not simply from the English translations. I really think this makes a significant difference to your word ministry. Enough difference that it is worth the expenditure of, say, 160 hours in training – i.e. 4 hours a week (2 in classroom, 2 in homework) for 40 weeks or something? To be honest you could probably get away with less. And you do NOT have to be a language buff to be able to get to this level. I am in no way naturally gifted for languages (I’ve blogged on this before), but I found huge payoffs in forcing myself to do it.

Now put that 160 hours (or less) in context. I’ve spent many times over that amount in studying church history, many times over that amount simply reading Calvin, simply reading Barth, simply reading systematics, simply reading Christian paperbacks. I’ve spent hugely more time blogging!

I’m not talking about secret knowledge that takes decades of training and special anointing. I’m talking about learning alphabets and a bit of vocab, learning some verb and noun tables and then figuring out how clauses and sentences fit together. Most of that is dead boring – but these are the nuts and bolts of God’s revelation to us. And pastors deal in God’s revelation. Yes we deal in people and you rightly highlight how crucial that is (Tit 1:6-8). But we also deal in the word (Tit 1:9). We find time for all sorts of other nonsense in preparation for word ministry (JEPD anyone?!) languages is a *really* good investment of time. If you have the chance to do it, do it.

 

 


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Now that I have your attention…

I’m getting very wary of arguments that run like this:

“Hey man, we’re not medieval, we’re protestants, there’s no secular / sacred divide.  Therefore it’s not that everyone should join Navigators – they can join Goldman Sachs, it’s all equally cool.  Cos, hey, Genesis, the Lord is a worker and gets His hands dirty and Adam was made as a worker.  There’s a divine dignity to all work, don’t try to put full time gospel ministry on a pedestal.  Everything’s equal now.”

There are parts of that argument to which I want to give a hearty Amen.  But…

It’s interesting that Gen 2:15 might be more literally translated:

“The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH”  Or even you could say “to WORSHIP and KEEP.”

All this has heavy temple/priestly connotations – just as the temple has lots of Eden connotations.

And of course when the true Man stands on the earth He describes His work (and that of the Father) in priestly (ie evangelistic terms) – e.g. John 4:23,34-38; 5:21-29).  And the kind of ’till the earth’ stuff that Jesus does is, well, priestly (ie evangelistic) – e.g. Matt 9:35-38; Matt 13:1-53)

Now we together are a priesthood in Him declaring the praises of the Father that pagans may glorify God (1 Pet 2:9-12). That’s true priestliness – bringing people  to God in the Priest – the Lord Jesus.

And that’s the real redemption of our labours – whether labours for Navigators or Goldman Sachs (both need redeeming).  We are to sow gospel seeds on whatever soils we find ourselves as priests in The Priest.  Whatever else is involved in the redemption of our labours – that has to be a key part.

And absolutely you don’t have to be ordained or “a full time gospel worker” (whatever that phrase means) to do that.  You might very well be ordained etc and not doing that.

But I just don’t believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard “as unto the Lord”!  The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant.  And so not all jobs are on a level.

We’re used to saying “If you can’t be moral in your job, it’s not a job for Christians.”  But I think we should be equally ready to say “If you can’t be priestly in your job, it’s not a job for Christians.”

But demolishing the medieval divide is not accomplished by denying priestliness to people.  It happens by affirming the priestliness (i.e. the evangelistic character) of all activities.

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A Letter of John Newton On the Snares and Difficulties Attending the Ministry of the Gospel:

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more. To say the truth, I am in some pain for you. Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies; your zeal is warm and your spirit is lively. With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher. The more you are so, the greater will your field of usefulness be: but, alas! you cannot yet know to what it will expose you.

It is like walking on ice. When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words: when you shall hear the well-meant, but often injudicious commendations, of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful: when you shall find, upon an intimation of your preaching in a strange place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel? It is easy for me to advise you to be humble, and for you to acknowledge the propriety of the advice; but while human nature remains in its present state, there will be almost the same connexion between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp. So, unless the Lord is constantly moistening our hearts (If I may so speak) by the influence of his Spirit, popularity will soon set us in a blaze.

…Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.

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Today I heard one more story of a keen young gospel soldier recently married.  From what I can tell the wife is feeling abandoned, isolated and increasingly desperate.  And the husband is pressing on in his ministry service for the Lord!

If I had a minute with the young gun I’d ask him to read about John Wesley’s disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  (Read more here).  It should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier.

But the Wesley model is not dead.  I still remember the ringing endorsement our own marriage union gained from a leading UK evangelical while we were still engaged.  “You’re marrying well there Glen,” he said, “She’s a doubler.”  He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers.  Thus the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, “Is she a doubler?”

Now that might be a question you ask a prospective PA or church worker.  But if that’s the first question you want to ask your bride-to-be then, seriously, that’s the proof right there.  It’s not meant to be.  And you’re the problem!  If the prospect of being fruitful and multiplying with this woman inspires a ten year business plan, call it off now.  The kind of multiplication God has in mind is multiplication in which you commit to each other for their sakes.  And, fellas, the more you want to use her for other ends, the less multiplication’s gonna happen!

And I’m not just trying to make a cheap gag here.  The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union.  But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness.  I mean this physically but I mean it in every other way.  The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication which can only happen in and through the union and communion of husband and wife. That’s got to be the beating heart of it all.

Single people should definitely seek the Lord’s wisdom about who to marry.  Wesley should definitely not have married Molly.  If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that’s a real warning sign.  But what first needs to be sorted out in our thinking is the very nature of marriage itself.  It is not a ministry multiplication venture.  It is a covenant union, joined by God, reflecting Christ to the world.  And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and physical children.  Under God it cannot help but be fruitful and multiply.  But under God He will bring fruitfulness in very unexpected ways.  It will not be a multiplication one spouse’s prior ministry plans.  The old individual plans must die.  This will be a new union with a totally new kind of fruitfulness – much of which simply cannot be predicted.

But an understanding of marriage that is anything like a contractual business partnership will strike at the very heart of the covenant union.

I pray for this young couple, that there would be a death to the old individualist/contractual understanding.  And that out of that death would come new life in their union and communion.  And, yes, that out of that there may even come a wonderful fruitfulness.  But it will be His fruitfulness His way.

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Peter Mead and Ron Frost are thrilled to invite you to “Discover Cor Deo.”  (And Mike Reeves reckons you should go too!)

Among other things Cor Deo runs a training programme in which a small group of men join the mentors for an intensive full-time programme of study and ministry.

  • The first part of the programme is part-time, from September to January, involving assigned reading and three one-day conferences (attendance not required for participants coming from overseas).
  • The team then comes together for the full-time programme from February to July

On Saturday the 3rd of July there is a great opportunity to find out more about Cor Deo, the vision, the programme, the mentors, the details!  Get a taste of what makes Cor Deo distinct and discover if Cor Deo is for you.  You can even meet Peter and Ron in the flesh!

When? Saturday the 3rd of July, 10:30-3:30 (lunch included)

Cost? No charge, but it would be helpful if you let us know you are coming so we can reserve your place

Where? We are holding this meeting in The American Church / Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, central London

Please click here for the invitation with more complete information.  Go here to Cor Deo’s website.

For what it’s worth, I think this looks an incredible opportunity.  If you’re in a position to consider a year of ministry training, no matter where you are in the world, I can’t think of a better way of pursuing it.

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Isaiah61

Social engagement or evangelism-only? 

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What is the mission of the church?

 

Here are three factors that unnecessarily polarize the debate:

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1) We think in terms of church programmes.  We frame the whole debate in terms of how many of our 15 scheduled hours of church-run activity must be devoted to helping the needy each week. 

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2) We look for justification in the wrong theological doctrine.  One crowd stresses the doctrine of creation, the other the doctrine of salvation – and then we proceed as though these are separate agendas, separately addressed by the Lord.  We need to begin with a doctrine of God from which flows a single creation-salvation programme in the Gospel of the Son.  Here’s a paper where I attempt to do this

From this approach I think it becomes obvious that evangelism simply is the mission of the church.  But it also means that social engagement does get worked out on the basis of and from within that proclaimed gospel.

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3) Even though I’m a believer that “the mission of the church is evangelism” I submit that our side is probably most to blame for unnecessary polarization.  The sad fact is that many of the evangelism-only crowd are also middle-class-only.  We don’t really believe that the Good News is for the poor.  (Which is not really a methodological problem – it’s a spiritual and theological problem).

But the debate is not about who we should minister to!  We should all agree that we must minister to the poor.  And we can hardly deny that Jesus had a decided bias to the outsider!  The debate is about what form that ministry takes and what makes it Christian.  Well then let’s have this debate while we all move onto the housing estates and with the love of Christ compelling us, let us all minister to the poor. You can knock on doors and lead off by addressing practical needs.  I’ll knock on doors and lead off with Jesus.  I still think my way’s much more faithful and I’ll try to persuade you.  But I also reckon that you will end up gospelling some of your contacts.  And there’s no doubt that I’ll end up debt counselling many of mine. 

But let’s at least make sure we’ve got the same mission field in mind.  Let’s first be clear that we must reach the poor.  Then let’s discuss how.

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This video is very well worth the ten minutes plus.

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