Spiritual Wisdom – 33 Quotes From Great Christians to Help Every Pastor

By Ray Hollenbach -March 18, 2021

spiritual wisdom

Quoting Isaiah 29, the Apostle Paul warned us against the wrong kind of wisdom: For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:19) But that didn’t mean Paul was anti-wisdom. Instead, the great apostle points us all (especially pastors) toward true spiritual wisdom.

Of course, we know that the Bible is chock full of spiritual wisdom, but the Holy Spirit has also spoken to Christian men and women throughout history. I’ve kept a notebook of the wisest quotes I’ve ever heard from my most trusted teachers. Good pastoring and great preaching comes from collecting — and using — the spiritual wisdom of those who have gone before us. Why would you want to go it alone when there’s a great cloud of witnesses for you to draw upon?

Spiritual Wisdom – 33 Quotes from great Christians:

1. “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” ~ C.S. Lewis

2. “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
~ C.S. Lewis

3. “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” ~ C.S. Lewis

4. “The provision is in the promises.” ~ Derek Prince

5. “I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” ~ Annie Dillard

6. “Above all the grace and gifts that Christ gives to His beloved is that of overcoming ourselves.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

7. “Our old history ends with the Cross; our new history begins with the Resurrection.” ~ Watchman Nee

8. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

9. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

10. “There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” ~ J.S. Bach

These are my top 10 quotes of spiritual wisdom, but there’s even more!

11. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.” ~ Dallas Willard

12. “A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying ‘Why?’ ” ~ Dallas Willard

13. “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.” ~ Dallas Willard

14. “Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it.” ~ Dallas Willard

15. “When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight.” ~ Richard Foster

16. “The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

17. “The preaching of grace can only be protected by the preaching of repentance.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

18. “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

19. “Peace is first of all the art of being.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

20. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner

21. “Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ Frederick Buechner

22. “Only miracle is plain; it is in the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.” ~ Robert Farrar Capon

23. “The Christian religion is not about the soul; it is about man, body and all, and about the world of things -with- which he was created, and -in- which he is redeemed. Don’t knock materiality. God invented it.” ~ Robert Farrar Capon

There’s an ocean of spiritual wisdom available. Keep reading for the final 10 on my list.

24. “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” ~ John Mark McMillan

25. “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” ~ Simone Weil

26. “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” ~ Simone Weil

27. “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers

28. “To complain that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has no other yardstick.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers

29. “Educated Christians like myself expect God’s grace to prefer people of greater natural ability, higher standards of behaviour, and superior education in the liberal arts. In fact God mocks my expectations.” ~ Augustine of Hippo

30. “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world” ~ N.T. Wright

31. “You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.” ~ N.T. Wright

32. “If you’re a Christian you’re just a shadow of your future self.” ~ N.T. Wright

33. “I feel about John’s gospel like I feel about my wife; I love her very much, but I wouldn’t claim to understand her.” ~ N.T. Wright

What awesome spiritual wisdom quotes would make it into your notebook?

‘I Worked Harder’


Article by Robert Yarbrough Professor, Covenant Theological Seminary

ABSTRACT: “I worked harder than any of them.” Few figures in Scripture labor with the manifest industry of the apostle Paul. Where did such a prodigious work ethic come from? As one steeped in the Old Testament, Paul would have known and loved the many passages in Proverbs commending diligent, skillful labor and warning of idleness. The teaching of Proverbs, together with the mighty working of God’s grace, produced an energy and effort that challenges the trend toward leisure in society today.

For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Robert Yarbrough, professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, to profile the work ethic of the apostle Paul.

We all know about COVID and its worldwide spread. Much attention focuses on the number of deaths, and not without justification. But the numbers do grow wearisome — numbers deceased, numbers testing positive, numbers in ICUs, numbers on ventilators, and now numbers vaccinated (or not). Such numbers are a sign of fundamental matters (like human health) amiss.

There is, though, another set of numbers that had become commonplace long before COVID in most locations in the United States, and to an extent worldwide. They too point to something amiss. I’m talking about lottery numbers, featured on various media outlets in most locales. The money squandered on these games of chance is staggering. While this is not the place to debate the wisdom, morality, or possible pros and cons of this form of gambling, I do believe that the popularity of lotteries alerts us to an emerging idol that Christians need to nip in the bud, if they have not already fallen to its worship.

That idol is the love of being idle when it comes to gainful employment, like a job. (You play the lottery so you’ll never have to work again, right?) Or when it comes to labor for the good of others, like being a parent who tends a household and rears children. Or like pastoral ministry, which is typically heavy on self-sacrificial labor for the sake of others.

The idol I am envisioning is the love of leisure when the kingdom of God calls for engaged subjects: douloi (servants, slaves) joyfully (at least much of the time) doing the King’s bidding. It is the love of money for the sake of making habitual downtime and idle enjoyment possible. It is the love of self-indulgence and the exploitation of creation’s goods for personal pleasure rather than for the fulfillment of God’s creation mandate and Christ’s call to discipleship. It is the love of being served rather than of serving. Think cruise-ship getaway.

In remarks below, I want to remind us of key insights from contemporary discussion, from Scripture, and especially from the apostle Paul that will help us maintain a healthy relationship to our work in life rather than skepticism or antagonism toward that work that leads to a harmful gravitation toward idle pursuits that God is unlikely to deem productive or redemptive.

The Worth of Work, with a Warning

Work in the sense of human toil to earn a living has received abundant attention from Christian writers in recent years. A book by my colleague Daniel M. Doriani serves as an example: Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation.1 On the back cover, D.A. Carson comments, “The last few years have witnessed a flurry of books that treat a Christian view of work. This is the best of them.” A few years back, Christianity Today carried a story on “reclaiming the honor of manual labor.”2 The article argued for the virtue and indeed necessity of more people learning trades rather than eschewing manual labor and avoiding jobs that demand arduous physical exertion.

Of course, there is barren overwork, a bane to be avoided. Kevin DeYoung has written about it in Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem.3 If you’re too busy to get hold of the book(!), some main points were recently summarized online.4 DeYoung notes that busyness can empty life of joy, impoverish our hearts, and conceal and contribute to a bankrupt soul. When hard work (along with all of life’s other demands) shades over into obsessive hyperactivity, when we pour all our energy and devotion into gainful labor with no time or energy for anything else, we have idolized work, the benefits we plan to receive from it, or both. We need the psalmist’s reminder:

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)5

Yet while Scripture warns against work overload, it also models an appeal for God to bless our daily labors, not to rescue us from the need to perform them. The wonderful conclusion to Moses’s sole contribution to the Psalter runs,

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
     and establish the work of our hands upon us;
     yes, establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:17)

Duly warned of vesting work with devotion that belongs to God alone, we can still call on him to bless our licit labors. And we are wise to ask, What is work’s value, in God’s eyes?

“Warned of vesting work with devotion that belongs to God alone, we can still call on him to bless our licit labors.”

A considerable literature addresses this from various points of the world-Christian perspective. Esther O. Ayandokun draws on the Bible (along with other resources, both academic and religious) to argue for a work ethic without which the acute problem of poverty will only worsen in her location (Nigeria), where it is already severe.6 She argues that “when working hard is embraced by members of the society, the society will be free of corruption, thuggery, armed robbery, cultism, and other social vices.”7 More broadly, she concludes her survey of what Scripture says on the subject with this observation:

[The] human race can fight poverty as they engage meaningfully in one job, or the other, depending on age, gender, skills, knowledge, and exposure. What is important is that no one should be idle, to the extent that such will only depend on the sweat of others perpetually. Everyone, who is old enough to work, must be employed gainfully. Efficient labour as established in the Scriptures, is a panacea for poverty alleviation; where each person (at work) does his/her best, to enhance production of quality goods, and services rendered.8

While panacea might not be quite the right word, that quotation lines up well with the wisdom on work that Proverbs offers, a wisdom that echoes in Paul’s life and letters.

Work in Paul from Proverbs’ Perspective

The apostle Paul, like other New Testament authors and Jesus himself, affirmed what we call the Old Testament as inspired by God and authoritative. While it is worthwhile to keep in mind views of work prevalent in Greco-Roman spheres or Judaism in the New Testament era,9 the New Testament often draws on the Old Testament to lay a foundation and to push back against the deficient understandings and practices of its day. The grass and flowers of the times wither and fade away, but God’s word endures (1 Peter 1:24–25Isaiah 40:68).

A survey of references to work or labor in Proverbs (using the ESV) reveals principles that play out in Paul’s view of his own apostolic, missionary, and pastoral activities. They are surely worth pondering for our own outlook and practice.

1. God is a worker, and his people labor with and for him.

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
     the first of his acts of old. (Proverbs 8:22)

Here divine wisdom is personified, depicting the Lord as the Creator who works. That God is a worker, and that people made in his image are designed to work too, is widely accepted in the literature. This statement is typical: “Paul would have had a full understanding of God as worker, humankind as created for work, work properly done as glorifying God, but work also corruptible by the fall.”10

Accordingly, Paul viewed himself and others as coworkers (ESV “fellow workers,” synergos) with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). Nearly a dozen times, Paul mentions fellow workers; he views this fraternity of work as not merely human-with-human but also people laboring with God alongside, as when he calls Timothy “our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Paul viewed himself and his wide circle of accomplices as “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Colossians 4:11).

2. Hard work is virtuous, and slothfulness is a vice.

From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
     and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him. (Proverbs 12:14)

The hand of the diligent will rule,
     while the slothful will be put to forced labor. (Proverbs 12:24)

Both of the passages above commend work by using hand to signify hard, competent, and gainful effort. “The work of a man’s hand” is how Paul described his ministry: “We labor, working with our own hands” (1 Corinthians 4:12). He counseled new converts at Thessalonica “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). For someone in the church wrestling with the temptation to steal, Paul commanded, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

“The epitaph of many a failed ministry and minister could be summed up with Proverbs’ words: ‘His hands refused to labor.’”

The point is not that only manual or trade work is of value. It is rather that every believer’s life should be centered on God’s service for the promotion of God’s glory. Since in Paul’s day (as when Proverbs was written centuries earlier) most livelihoods required what we would consider hard physical work, Paul’s word to all believers in all situations was, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23; see also 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Even allowing for changes over the ages, that is still perfectly understandable and highly applicable whatever our station in life today.

“The slothful will be put to forced labor” expresses the conviction that the lazy run the risk of being commandeered by forces they could have escaped if they had gone to work for God and the good on their own. In Pauline terms, one thinks of his warning that we become slaves to sin if we reject faith in and service for Christ (Romans 6:16).

3. God guides the life direction and outcome of the person who works to honor God.

Commit your work to the Lord,
     and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)

This statement taps into the common canonical conviction of God’s benevolent and personally attuned sovereignty. Those who trust in him will find that he has gone before them; their efforts and labors will prove to have purpose, meaning, and value, because God has overseen and directed their way.

A related conviction is stated a few verses later: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Those who labor in fellowship with the Lord and in accordance with his purposes can be assured of God’s support, assistance, and ultimate vindication, even if one’s assignment ends in seeming disaster (like John the Baptist’s beheading, or Christ’s cross).

Paul’s work was certainly committed “to the Lord.” This is epitomized in the statement “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul can exhort the Philippians to practice what Paul taught and modeled, assuring them that “the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).11 Their lives, the plans by which they live them, and the ends to which they strive “will be established,” as Proverbs 16:3 puts it.

When Paul labored in Ephesus, he frankly acknowledged, “There are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9). But he purposes in the very same verse not to flee but to exploit “a wide door for effective work,” as “the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7). Ministry often proceeds under ominous auspices. But that may be precisely when God’s upholding hand is most vigorously at work.

Sometimes fears are realized and calamity occurs — as Paul and Silas experienced in founding the Philippian congregation: “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison” (Acts 16:22–23).

This doesn’t sound like a successful church-planting event. But Paul and Silas stood firm in trusting the God they served in Christ’s name. God used their poise and praise (Acts 16:25) to convert the jailer and his household and to establish a congregation. Paul’s unswerving resolve illustrates what it means to minister under the conviction that “your plans will be established.”

4. Idleness is destructive of those who languish in it.

Whoever is slack in his work
     is a brother to him who destroys. (Proverbs 18:9)

The desire of the sluggard kills him,
     for his hands refuse to labor. (Proverbs 21:25)

From different angles, both of these verses warn of the destructive effect of idleness. The person “slack in his work” can probably rationalize it a dozen ways: “It’s Monday; I’m worn out from the weekend” (often a true statement for pastors!). “It’s Friday; I’m gearing up for the weekend” (maybe a prelude to skipping out of work for the golf course, or laying weekend plans to skip church . . . again).

“Half-hearted effort, or doing much less than is possible, is the norm for many, whatever their occupation.”

Half-hearted effort, or doing much less than is possible, is the norm for many, whatever their occupation. I think I see this attitude often in big-box home improvement stores when I need help in hardware or plumbing. It can be impossible to catch the eye of the attendant who is paid to help you. You might have to sprint to catch those who sense you want their help, as they suddenly feel the urge to flee to a distant aisle.

Paul urged churches to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The examples of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy served as a public demonstration of how Christians should comport themselves: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7).

“Slack in his work” and “the sluggard” describe an “idleness” Paul decried:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. (2 Thessalonians 3:11)

The epitaph of many a failed ministry and minister could be summed up with Proverbs’ words above: “His hands refused to labor.” Failure to expend full effort can be justified in all kinds of ways, from self-care to self-love to a demonstration of the conviction that we’re not saved by works — so we’ll perform works sparingly and sporadically, since they aren’t really required for salvation.

Paul’s example runs the opposite direction. Comparing himself with the other apostles, he speaks of God’s grace toward him, the former persecutor, and avers that this grace “was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10). What proof does he point to? “I worked harder than any of” the other apostles, though Paul knows “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Because of that very grace, Paul toiled prodigiously, and not for a season or a year but over decades.

5. God is pleased by those who develop and apply the ability to work hard and skillfully.

Do you see a man skillful in his work?
     He will stand before kings;
     he will not stand before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)

This is one of my favorite verses in Proverbs. I grew up under a grandfather and father who did tree work — for Davey Tree Expert Company — and as a young man I devoted over six years to full-time tree climbing and timber felling, first for Davey, and then for lumber mills in western Montana and Idaho. For the first quarter-century of my life, I watched workmen come and go — attrition in this trade is high for understandable reasons. Men (at that time I knew of no women who climbed trees or felled timber) who had high standards for their work were rare. Theft of company equipment was common. Avoiding the hard or dangerous roles was the norm. Bosses knew they had to keep a sharp eye out for workers cutting corners or turning in work they did not perform.

In those same years, I observed certain older men who stood out. They were kept on the payroll when others were laid off. The quality of their work set them apart. They were “skillful” (see the Proverbs verse above) in their attitude and execution. Years later, some owned their own companies or had moved to positions of oversight.

Jesus taught, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). In line with this, Paul taught Timothy and Titus to pay close attention to those whom their social settings regarded as less important people, like women and children and slaves. Paul spends more verses instructing Timothy on widows (1 Timothy 5:3–16) than on any other people group — including overseers! It was vital that Timothy’s care for the flock extend to what Jesus called “the least of these,” rather than majoring on the mighty and the wealthy, who easily attract church leaders’ fullest attention.

Paul knew that church leaders who failed in the pastoral care of the seemingly less significant were unlikely to withstand the pressures and blandishments that come with duties that attract higher public visibility.

In college, a young man training for the ministry was the envy of his classmates. He seemed to have a photographic memory. While others were beating Greek into their heads, not always with success, he would glance at the textbook right before quizzes and ace them all. But after graduation, despite his ability and intelligence, his level of ministry effectiveness fell below potential. Did this go back to being clever and gifted but not “skillful in his work”? Had he perhaps not really learned to work?

In contrast, in that same college there was a fellow student who proved “skillful in his work.” He applied himself with the humor and energetic daily output that he had brought with him from his rural upbringing. He went on to be a highly published Old Testament scholar, professor, and speaker who has built up thousands of students, readers, and pastors in the faith over many decades.

“He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” was actually fulfilled in the apostle Paul’s life, as God transformed a man zealous to oppress into a man eager “to carry [Christ’s] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul’s consistent, all-out attention to more modest tasks the Lord set before him from the start — like in Damascus immediately proclaiming “Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20) at great peril to himself — led to a witness that spoke all the way up to kings (Acts 26:2–29).

Paul’s message has continued to challenge people and peoples everywhere, from common folk to global elites, down to this hour. But what about his ethos of unstinting hard work to get that message out?12

Recovering the Pauline Work Ethic

An old saying from previous generations was “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Today there are desires for leisure like never before and often the technological means to indulge those desires. COVID lockdowns and confinements have likely exacerbated temptations to idleness. It is not easy to find either the will or the means to busy ourselves in ways that sanctify and harness our inner restiveness so that the main thrust of our lives furthers divine ends rather than worldly trivialities.

How many hours weekly do many in the church, including ministers, squander in online activities that are excessive or even illicit? Then there are, for some, still more hours of TV or movies or sports — all justifiable in theory, but in many lives amounting to a replacement of what should consume us: God, the furtherance of his kingdom, and labors that promote his holy and redemptive aims for us. Yes, God grants rest and leisure and recreation in their appropriate place. But many believers at some point wake up to how worthy Christ is of their devotion, not merely sentimentally or “spiritually” but in the expenditure of time and physical energy in ways that social media, ESPN, CNN, FOX, Internet browsing, and other black holes for time wastage cannot monetize. In many cases, we are not only idolizing indolence but paying for the privilege.

“In many cases, we are not only idolizing indolence but paying for the privilege.”

And the higher household income becomes, the more temptation there is for extravagant pursuits to dominate our horizon and make us forget that we are supposed to be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). As church members, we are under the oversight of those charged with equipping us “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). The percentage of church members, in most cases, whose notion of equipping goes beyond reasonably regular church attendance is probably impressive — mainly in the sense of appalling.

So what are most Christians doing with most of their discretionary time? And what motivates them as they perform their daily labors? Are we mainly working for the weekend? Do we disappear for hours daily into cyberspace or other fantasy worlds in which we are serving, God knows, neither him nor people?

To put it in a flurry of Pauline declarations and commendations that point to the all-out effort that the gospel spawned in the early church:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:10–11)

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. (Romans 16:6)

Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. (Romans 16:12)

We labor, working with our own hands. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

Always [abound] in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. (1 Corinthians 16:16)

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (Philippians 1:22)

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:29)

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)13

Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:14)

Such references are the tip of an iceberg of the industriousness that characterized those first mobilized by Christ and his gospel. Is this not a dynamic worth upholding now against all countervailing forces? Precisely in our time of unprecedented challenge and peril for Christians worldwide, there is need to reaffirm the conclusion reached in a recent study of Paul’s (high) regard for work:

Failure to work — sloth — represents faithlessness toward God and our neighbor. There is no rank among Christians in the work place, as there is dignity and equality between all who labor and no task for the kingdom that is of lesser importance than any other. As Christians, our work is to sustain and support others and to relieve their burdens, as Paul’s work did, as we work for Christ’s kingdom. Hard work is the norm for the Christian, as it was for Paul, whether manual labor or otherwise, as it is a witness to others of our faith. To be that witness our work should follow the self-giving example of Christ, focused on Him and on others and not ourselves, marked by agape love.14

May God’s gospel grace move many more of us in this direction, smashing all idols of opposition to God’s work through our hands.

  1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019. 
  2. Jeff Haanen and Chris Horst, “The Handcrafted Gospel,” Christianity Today, July/August 2014, 66–71. 
  3. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 
  4. Kevin DeYoung, “3 Dangers of Busyness,” Crossway (blog), December 9, 2020, https://www.crossway.org/articles/3-dangers-of-busyness/. 
  5. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references are from the ESV. 
  6. “The imperative of dignity of labour as a panacea for poverty alleviation in Nigeria,” Practical Theology (Baptist College of Theology, Lagos) 7 (2014): 84–110. See also Jude Lulenga Chisanga, “Christian Spirituality of Work: A Survey of Workers in Ndola City, Zambia,” African Ecclesial Review 60, nos. 1/2 (2018): 10–24. 
  7. Ayandokun, “The imperative of dignity of labour,” 100. 
  8. Ayandokun, “The imperative of dignity of labour,” 88–89. 
  9. For this background, see, e.g., Christoph vom Brocke, “Work in the New Testament and in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” in Dignity of Work — Theological and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Kenneth Mtata, Documentation 56 (Minneapolis, MN: Lutheran University Press, 2011), 25–28. Accessible at https://www.lutheranworld.org/sites/default/files/Doc-56-Dignity_of_Work-EN-low.pdf. 
  10. Alexander Whitaker, “Paul’s Theology of Work,” Puritan Reformed Journal 12, no. 2 (July 2020): 32. 
  11. Annang Asumang, “Perfection of God’s Good Work: The Literary and Pastoral Function of the Theme of ‘Work’ in Philippians,” Conspectus 23, no. 1 (January 2017): 1–55, helpfully unpacks the theme of God’s work in that epistle, along with “not just the inward spiritual transformation of the Philippians, but also its social consequence and the Philippians’ synergistic active participation in” God’s work (42). But stress is laid on God’s provision and enabling, not the work ethic from the human side needed to embody God’s outpoured energies. 
  12. See Akinyemi O. Alawode, “Paul’s biblical patterns of church planting: An effective method to achieve the Great Commission,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 76, no. 1 (2020): a5579, https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.5579. This study describes concepts, patterns, models, and strategies. But there is no direct mention of the hard effort required for any of this to have worked for Paul or to work today. 
  13. Those who obey this command assiduously know that while it has its joyful aspects, it is nevertheless work. 
  14. Whitaker, “Paul’s Theology of Work,” 41. 

Robert Yarbrough is professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Author, co-author, or translator of numerous books and articles, he preaches regularly and has also taught extensively on four other continents.


VIDEO The Epistle of Joy

 Nathan W. Bingham Feb 13, 2021

In every situation, even the most difficult trial in life’s darkest hour, Christians have a reason to rejoice. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul encourages us to look to the future with genuine optimism, trusting that God and His promises will prevail.


Philippians is one of my favorite epistles of the Apostle Paul, and it is called in church history “the epistle of joy.” Because again and again in this letter, Paul speaks of his own joy, which is infectious, and he then encourages the people at Philippi to participate in the joy that Paul is experiencing—and that while he is writing to them from imprisonment! And he said, “I rejoice; therefore, you rejoice as well.” And Paul, at that time, is anticipating the possibility of his own imminent demise, but he looks forward to the future with joyous anticipation.

This is a theme, of course, that’s not found merely in the Philippian correspondence, but it’s found throughout the writings of the Apostle. And so frequent is this motif of joy that I think it is safe to say that this fruit of the Holy Spirit is something that should be evidenced and manifest to some significant degree in every true Christian’s life. Yes, we are to participate in the mourning and the sorrows of this world and be willing to go through the valley of the shadow of death for the sake of Christ.

Yes, there are times when we are cast down but not destroyed and we sorrow. But the basic posture of the Christian should be one of joyous optimism, because we know in whom we have believed, and our trust is in Him, and we know that God certainly will prevail. So, there is a reason for our joy.


There’s More to Romans Than Personal Salvation

How Western readers miss the meaning of Paul’s letter—and how an Eastern perspective can correct the imbalance.


There’s More to Romans Than Personal Salvation

For much of church history, Christians have brought Western cultural assumptions to their reading of Scripture. But as the church’s geographic center of gravity has shifted from the West to the Majority World, believers across the globe have come forward to offer fresh insights on God’s Word. Jackson W. (a pseudonym), an American-born theologian teaching at an Asian seminary, builds on that work in his latest book, Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission, which reexamines the apostle’s famous letter. Missiologist Jayson Georges, coauthor of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials, spoke with Jackson about the value of bringing East Asian perspectives to bear on the message of Romans.

The ideas in Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes emerged from both your research and overseas ministry experience. Can you share some of the story behind the book?

For some time, I’ve noticed confusion stemming from the way Western Christians evangelize and explain Christianity to people in China. Whether you talk about certain terms, concepts, or emphases, there is a basic disconnect. However, the Bible has several themes that make more sense to a typical person in East Asia: specifically, issues related to honor, shame, and group identity.

At the same time, many Westerners overlook the significance of honor and shame in the Bible and the Christian life. Their reading of Romans minimizes the importance of honor and shame. For them, Romans is definitive proof that legal categories trump all other metaphors and concepts in Scripture. So I figured I would make my case from perhaps the most so-called “legal” book in the New Testament. If we can see the pervasive influence of honor-shame dynamics in Romans, then clearly these are critical categories of thought that should shape how we read the entire Bible.

How does reading Paul’s letter through an “honor-shame lens” help us understand his argument?

One major theme is collective identity. For most readers, Paul is speaking to individuals about being saved from sin and then sanctified as they walk in the Spirit. But that oversimplification misses a more fundamental concern that underlies Paul’s letter—who is God’s family?

The Jew-Gentile divide is central to Paul. God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations is at the crux of Paul’s theology. God’s honor is at stake. Will he keep his promises? If Paul’s Jewish opponents are correct to say that people must become Jews as a prerequisite to becoming God’s people, then God cannot keep his promise from Genesis 12:3, which Paul explicitly calls “the gospel” in Galatians 3:8.

What’s more, reading Romans with an honor-shame lens helps us see more subtle dynamics at play. For instance, when Paul recounts Israel’s story and her presumption of divine favor, he makes a subtle yet superb argument against the mindset held by certain readers. Many Romans saw themselves as “Greek,” which implied that they were full of wisdom and the cultural envy of the world. They looked down on non-Greeks, who were derided as “barbarians.” However, it is this “backward” group of people in Spain to whom Paul professes a desire to preach the gospel (Rom. 15:24). He wants assistance from the Roman church but worries that the cultural pride of its members might discourage them from supporting his mission. So Paul recasts the Romans in the role of ancient Jews and the barbarians in the place of Gentiles.

Can you point to particular passages in Romans that an honor-shame lens helps us better interpret?

In Romans 9–11, Paul draws from multiple Old Testament passages that are heavily shaped by honor and shame. Many people are familiar with Romans 10:13, which quotes Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But ask yourself, “Saved from what?” If you look closer at Joel 2, the prophet answers the question two times, saying, “never again will my people be shamed” (v. 26–27).

Also, Romans 9:33 and 10:11 are especially interesting. In a span of 12 verses, Paul twice draws from the same passage, Isaiah 28:16. In Romans 9, he renders it like this: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Paul’s letters weave together logically tight arguments. He tends to be rather economical with his words. It raises the question: Why does Paul repeat himself? Why does the language of “put to shame” appear in the context of so many passages he quotes in Romans? When we explore these observations, we find that honor and shame link several critical themes within Romans.

In recent decades, New Testament scholars have debated the purpose and theology of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Some align with the “New Perspective” on Paul, which emphasizes the corporate dimensions of salvation, while others prefer an older understanding that stresses individual guilt and atonement. How does your interpretation relate to these conversations?

I agree with several scholars who argue that both “perspectives” are right but in different ways. It’s not necessary for us to pick one over the other.

I believe Romans has a strong collectivist bent. Group identity is a fundamental theme throughout the letter. This point is consistent with the so-called “New Perspective.” However, there is much to affirm with respect to the “Old” or “Traditional” perspective. Paul’s message very much concerns individual salvation. While Romans certainly deals with the matter of church unity, that concern does not set aside questions about what it means to be justified through faith in Christ.

Reading Romans with an Eastern lens helps bring the two perspectives into balance. The two views complement one another, akin to a “yin-yang” relationship. Paul rebuts the notion that salvation is limited to a particular socio-ethnic identity. With the coming of Christ, belonging to one particular nation, like Israel, does not confer saving benefits that are denied to outsiders. Wedding the two “perspectives” in this way yields many other helpful insights.

People sometimes observe how honor and shame are becoming more prevalent in American culture, particularly among millennials. How might Western believers benefit from an Eastern perspective on Romans?

All cultures are infused with honor-shame dynamics, not merely East Asian cultures. However, it’s sometimes hard to see the cultural subtleties of our own context. By intentionally taking on an “Eastern” perspective, we become more attuned to similar aspects of honor-shame within an American setting.

Within an American context, several applications come to mind. For instance, we can express the meaning of faith in ways that reflect the ideas in Romans. We have faith in the One whom we want to honor and whose praise we seek. To have faith in Christ entails pursuing his glory and praise. Furthermore, the gospel transforms our perspective about what is worthy of praise or shame. Like Christ, we seek God’s glory in ways that redefine social honor or status.

Also, reading Romans from an Eastern perspective alerts us to the central importance of the church, our fundamental group identity as followers of Christ. In fact, we regain a long-forgotten truth among Christians, that salvation entails a change in collective identity. The gospel transforms how we distinguish insiders and outsiders. What’s more, if we really want to love others, we need a proper sense of shame and must grasp the importance of honoring others, as Paul explains throughout Romans.


“Motives for Steadfastness”

By Phillip Ort Aug 13, 2019





For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was the “great master of doctrine.” Spurgeon said that “if you want the Christian creed elaborated, and its details laid out in order, you must turn to the epistles of Paul.” But at the same time, Spurgeon also believed that Paul was “always a practical teacher.”

In Spurgeon’s view, Paul as not “like those who hew down trees and square them by rule and system, but forget to build the house therewith.” Rather, Paul possessed the “habitual custom of making practical use” of the doctrines he established. Thus, when Paul used his famous “therefore” in his letters, this was to be understood as “an inference of godliness.”

Spurgeon took Paul’s example as a lesson, and urged his congregation to “never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives.” Indeed, “Whatever we discover in God’s word,” the believer was to pray that “the Holy Spirit to make us feel the sanctifying influence of it.” In short, Biblical doctrine is good, but doctrine applied is better.

In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon examined at length “The two great points of Christian character.” In his first “great point” Spurgeon focused on the phrase “‘be ye stedfastunmoveable.’” Here he noted that “two things are wanted in a good soldier, steadiness under fire, and enthusiasm during a charge.”

Spurgeon affirmed that “we want the dashing courage which can carry a position by storm” but emphasized that “the most essential virtue for victory is for a soldier to know how to keep his place, and ‘having done all to stand.’”

Spurgeon wanted his congregation to remain “stedfast” and urged them on in a number of ways. First, he charged them “be ye stedfast in the doctrines of the gospel.” He told them plainly to “know what you know, and knowing it cling to it.” While some in the culture thought it the “highest wisdom to suspect the truth of everything” the Christian was to “buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price,” and to avoid the seduction of doubt.

Second, Spurgeon urged his congregation to be “stedfast in character.” He noted that “right in the middle of the chapter upon the resurrection [Paul] speaks about character.” The inference was that the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection would affect the way that Christians lived. Here Spurgeon lamented, “How many professors were once [exceedingly] zealous, but now are careless! the fire of their love burns dimly, its coal all but quenched.” Indeed, Christians could not let their character be stained or their love for Christ be quenched.

In his second “great point,” Spurgeon described Christians as “‘always abounding in the work of the Lord.’” Here he asserted that “We should all have work to do for our divine Master.” In fact, he insisted that “every Christian should be labouring in the Lord in some sphere of holy service.” Whether at home, at work, or in any occupation Spurgeon would ask “What are you doing for Jesus?”

Furthermore, Spurgeon wanted believers to “abound” in serving the Lord. He urged all who could hear him to “do much, very much, all you can do, and a little more.” Since he believed that “our vessels are never full till they run over” Spurgeon wanted to fill his life with service for Christ in every possible capacity. He wanted his whole life to be dedicated to serving Jesus Christ.

In the second, and final, section of his sermon, Spurgeon examined “The motive which urges us to these two duties.” Here Spurgeon offered a word of warning to his hearers. He said that “if we derive our motives for Christian labour or stedfastness from the things which we see, our spirit will oscillate from ardour to coldness, it will rise and fall with the circumstances around us.”

Rather, Spurgeon believed that to “get such a faithfulness” as seen in his text, “we must disentangle ourselves from the idea of being rewarded here.” Since “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead” the believer was not “fighting for a dead man’s cause” or for rewards limited to this life. Indeed, Spurgeon knew that “our work of faith is not in vain, because we shall rise again.” And so, to persevere in Christian stedfastness, the believer must look to the risen Christ and the promised consummation of his coming kingdom.

Why you should take up and read:

For Charles Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was the “great master of doctrine.” In light of Paul’s example, Spurgeon believed that we must “never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives.” In this sermon, Spurgeon laboured to help his congregation understand the implications of the promised resurrection and how that should urge them to stedfastness. For those desiring likewise please take up and read.


Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.


Devil’s Lane

June 28, 2019 by jccast

The east boundary of the place where we live has two fences side-by-side about twenty feet apart, running the length of the property. When I asked about it, I found there was an error in the original survey that was corrected when the place was bought. This is quite common since a more accurate way of surveying is now used, but the appearance of a narrow strip of land between neighbor’s fences has been a historical evidence of a problem, called in some areas, the Devil’s Lane.

My dad, just in recent years, told me of such a lane he knew about in his community when he was a boy. The neighbors could not agree on the line for their fence, so each man stepped back and built his own fence. This Devil’s Lane was a testimony to everyone that they couldn’t agree and public knowledge of this gave credit to the origin of the conflict to the devil. Each man refusing to give an inch for a life time made a sad commentary of disagreement, discord, and division.

We would like to say that we do not have this fault today, where a relationship problem has become public, but it has been a human problem from the beginning, and still is. Paul addressed the issue in letters to Corinth, Rome, and Galatia. In the letter to the Philippians he pleaded with two women by name to deal with the problem of disharmony. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1-2). He told them to “stand firm in the Lord.” They were to put aside their personal position and determine where the Lord stood. “Now stand firm.” We need to apply this, not stand firm on Baptist tradition, or stand firm with my group, or stand firm for what I want. It’s amazing how the Lord’s name tends to bring a different way of looking at things when He is the main subject of the issue. Then Paul addressed them separately, “I urge Euodia, and I urge Syntyche.” He was probably saying that there was fault on both sides and that they were to find common ground and learn to live in harmony. To harmonize means two people singing different notes, but the notes must be agreeably related. Each person is to consider his own position in relation to the Lord and in relation to each other. In our study of Experiencing God, Blackaby states, “You cannot be in fellowship with God and His Son, Jesus, and not walk in godly fellowship with one another.” There is no doubt about this being the teaching of the Scripture. Even though we believe this, it sometimes becomes necessary to get a mediator to see how it could possibly work for us. Paul called on a brother in the church, “a loyal yoke fellow” to “help these women.”

These women were important to the church and had shared in the gospel with Paul. They were important as testimonies of God’s grace, but now their conflict was hurting the testimony of the church. It needed resolution. Their dispute was public knowledge.

Something must be done for everyone could see that they had each staked their fence line and had built a Devil’s Lane.


[Retired pastor, Allen Elston, has graciously given me permission to reprint a collection of inspiring newsletter articles he authored from 1994-1996 (like this one). I thank him for his generosity.]


Original here

The Christian in Secular Society


by John MacArthur, June 5, 2019

By most modern metrics of church growth, Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill could easily be deemed ineffective and unfruitful. Acts 17:34 names only two converts from the gathering he drew in Athens—Dionysius and a woman named Damaris. That small harvest somehow looks less spectacular than the revivals Paul saw in Antioch or Thessalonica.

But Paul had a dramatic effect on the city at the top level. He exposed its highest court to the knowledge of the true God. This event planted a church in Athens and launched Paul’s ministry in nearby Corinth. Paul also opened up more opportunities to preach (“We shall hear you again concerning this”). Although the response of the Areopagus court may not have been as sensational as Paul’s preaching had provoked elsewhere, we can be certain that God’s purposes were accomplished and the Word did not return void. The threefold response of that day—contempt, curiosity, and conversion—is typical whenever and wherever the gospel is faithfully preached.

It was immediately after the Areopagus incident that Paul went to Corinth. Years later, he wrote, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1–2). Some interpreters believe Paul was renouncing the approach he had employed at the Areopagus. That view undoubtedly reads too much into 1 Corinthians 2. Paul nowhere indicates that he viewed his Athens ministry as a failure. I reject the notion that his sermon at the Areopagus miscarried. From all we are told in Scripture, it was totally consistent with Paul’s approach to ministry everywhere else. Nevertheless, this much is clear from 1 Corinthians 2, as well as the rest of Paul’s pastoral epistles: Paul did not believe the secret to his powerful ministry lay in his ability to quote Greek poets. You don’t see him counseling Timothy or Titus to bone up on secular culture, learn to quote the classics, or study philosophy so they could engage in debates with the intellectual elite. He simply commanded them to preach the Word, in season and out of season—and to be prepared to face the world’s hostility if they were faithful in that task.

Acts chapter 17 proves that while Paul adjusted his style in speaking, he never adapted his message. Most significantly, he never adopted the spirit of his age. In 1984, near the end of his life, Francis Schaeffer observed: “To accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is the most gross form of worldliness in the proper definition of the world.” [1] Schaeffer added:

Unhappily, today we must say that in general the evangelical establishment has been accommodating to the forms of the world spirit as it finds expression in our day. I would say this with tears—and we must not in any way give up hoping and praying. We must with regret remember that many of those with whom we have a basic disagreement over these issues of accommodation are brothers and sisters in Christ. But in the most basic sense, the evangelical establishment has become deeply worldly. [2]

That is precisely what many today are doing—but what Paul would not do. He never conformed himself—and more importantly he never tried to conform the God he declared—to the tastes and expectations of his audience. He was content—as we must be—to allow the power of the gospel to speak for itself.

(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel)


The Church is on the Move

Christianity is and always will be a mobile faith.

The Church is on the Move

Often, we forget to consider the spread of Christianity across the globe from a geographical perspective. We read the New Testament with eyes and ears that are largely ignorant to the places Luke mentions in Acts or Paul writes about in the prison epistles.

Most Christians have heard of Jerusalem—the place where Jesus was crucified and risen. The geographical center of the Christian faith was clearly, early on, in and around Israel.

But while the Ancient Near East was the birthplace of our faith, it didn’t just stay there. By God’s grace, the gospel began to spread all around the world. We read about the Ethiopian eunuch who first heard the gospel message from Philip. Some disciples went to Asia Minor, Thomas goes as far as India, Paul tries to get to Spain, etc. Places like Cyprus, Caesarea, Damascus, Greece, Rome, and Carthage are mentioned throughout the book of Acts as Paul and his followers embark on four long missionary journeys.

All that to say, the gospel has been moving and spreading for centuries. The Holy Spirit has compelled believers everywhere to share the message of Christ crucified and risen in places both near and far. As demonstrated by Paul and Christ’s own disciples, this was to include continents and people groups far from the place where the Christian faith was first founded.

Despite this, Christianity has for centuries been associated with the West. Going back just a century ago, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe.” This, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, is “where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium.”

But today, these numbers have changed considerably. In 2010, almost a decade ago now, Pew Research found that only a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (roughly 26 percent).

Thankfully, what we’re seeing is not that Christianity is disappearing—instead, it’s spreading and shifting its geographical center.

In 1910, Europe and North America (the West) contained 80 percent of the world’s self-identified Christians. Today, it’s 40 percent and declining. Meanwhile in the 21st century, almost 24 percent of the world’s Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to less than 2 percent a hundred years earlier.

These changes shouldn’t surprise or alarm us for many reasons. The first of which is this: Christianity is and always will be a message on the move.

This isn’t the first time in the history of the faith that its geographical center has shifted and it likely will not be the last. For centuries, Europe was the center, but after the reformation and the spread of European missionaries and immigrants to the Americas, many would say that the center of density moved to North America.

Now we’re seeing a reengagement of the Southern Hemisphere in the practicing of the Christian faith. At this point, there will likely be more evangelicals in Brazil by 2040 than there are in the United States. I’ve stood on the beach at João Pessoa with 10,000 Brazilians who put their hands out and prayed that they would be a part of a mission for the faith to reach the rest of the world—Africa, Asia, and beyond.

Of course, North America was uniquely impactful on the condition of global Christianity as it currently stands today—few would dispute that. But, the presence of believers and vitality of churches in North America and Europe nonetheless continue to decline in comparison to their respective growth in the Southern Hemisphere.

For those of us living in the West, we must remember never to despair. What we observe happening in our culture and to the life of the church isn’t a done deal—these things are always changing and shifting. The gospel is continuing to spread and people are accepting the message even if it’s becoming harder and harder to see God at work in our own communities.

For our brothers and sisters in the Global South, we pray for God’s continued blessing on the growth of the church. When appropriate, we might even find ways to use our time and resources to contribute to the work that God is already doing in these places.

Believers—wherever they live—should ultimately concern themselves not only with the health and well-being of their place of worship down the street, but with that of the global church all across the world.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.


Original here

VIDEO One Man Against a City, Astounding Conversion

May 15, 2019 by John MacArthur

In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord revealed the futility of human appraisal when compared to His divine insight. He exhorted His prophet Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

By God’s grace, He has granted His people a similar spiritual insight. While we cannot see into the hearts of men, we are able to look at the world through the lens of God’s Word, seeing past mere externals to the spiritual realities disguised beneath. Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to be enticed by glitz, glamour, and outward appearance—we can see through those feeble façades. The apostle Paul’s time in Athens is a good example of how believers should not be swayed by those things the world finds important or impressive.

Paul (formerly Saul) was brought up under the strictest Pharisaical discipline. “A Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God” (Acts 22:3); “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee . . . as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5–6). He was also a Roman citizen, with knowledge of military and political matters. Tarsus, where Paul grew up and was trained, was very cosmopolitan, so Paul’s rich education equipped and acclimated him for almost any culture in the Roman Empire. Even Athens, for several centuries the very heart of the intellectual and art world, was no exception. Paul was thoroughly familiar with Greek culture, manners, religion, art, and philosophy. He was a scholar, well-read and well-traveled. By God’s design Paul’s entire life had equipped him for situations like the one he encountered on Mars’ Hill (cf. Acts 17:16–34).

In the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Athens was considered by many the greatest city in the world. Some aspects of Athenian culture have never been equaled. Athens reached the pinnacle in art, literature, architecture, and philosophy. Never in history has any one city achieved the height of glory in those fields that was seen in Athens during the golden age of the Greek Empire. Athens was in the province of Achaia, where Corinth, not far away, was the capital city. But Athens was still the center of the cultural and intellectual world, just as Rome was the political center. Athens was sometimes referred to as the university of the world—all the great minds of the world congregated there.

Athens also offered a home to the pantheon of gods in Greek mythology. Every civic building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The place where public records were kept, for example, was dedicated to the Mother of the Gods. The centerpiece of the city council building was an idol of Apollo. A popular saying was, “It is easier to find a god in Athens than a man.” The city was pagan to the core; although they had gods for everything, they did not know the one true God.

It is interesting to note how Athens affected Paul. You might think that with his cultural and educational background, Paul would have been fascinated to see Athens. The city was filled with magnificent temples, glorious artwork, majestic buildings, engaging orators, ingenious philosophers, and spectacular sights to interest a scholar like Paul. And in Paul’s day the marble and gold still glittered.

What was Paul’s response to Athens? “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Instead of being awed by all the marvelous sights, Paul saw foremost a city full of idols, and it grieved him greatly.

A nineteenth-century Bible dictionary says,

Paul had at his feet the Theseion [a spectacular marble temple near the marketplace], and on his right hand the Akropolis, with its splendid temples intact. Such surroundings would fill with enthusiasm every cultured Christian of to-day. Wherever St. Paul turned, his glance must have fallen on the severe and lovely works of art which still adorned the decadent city. Thus a table was spread before him of which nineteenth century humanists are laboriously but thankfully gathering up the scattered crumbs. To St. Paul’s Semitic imagination nothing of all this appealed. It was to him just gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man’s device, the work of a period of ignorance at which God had mercifully winked. [1]

One writer who lived in Paul’s time visited Athens and wrote six volumes describing the glories of the city. If Paul had been writing a travelogue, he would have said simply, “It’s full of idols.” Period. Obviously Paul was not obtuse or insensible. It wasn’t that he lacked the knowledge to appreciate Athenian culture; on the contrary, here was a man who was ideally suited for such a city. But he had a higher calling and more serious business than tourism, or curiosity, or even academic research. He saw deeper than the city’s glittering façade or the well-dressed, well-bred Athenian intellectuals. And what he saw were people on the precipice of hell.

Athens stirred Paul’s emotions. The phrase “his spirit was being provoked within him” employs a Greek word, paroxunō (“provoked”), which speaks of intense agitation. Our word paroxysm comes from this root. Paul was saddened, grieved, indignant, and outraged at the widespread idolatry he saw. He knew these people were giving stone idols glory, which rightfully belongs to God alone.

Paul could not maintain his silence in the face of such an affront to the one true God. Provoked to his godly core, he was about to unleash an amazing evangelistic sermon to his unbelieving audience.

(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel)


Original here

The Astounding Conversion of Paul

Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

There needs to be a shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach.

by Matt Rogers

Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

Last week we discussed the necessity of certain missionary fundamentals for kingdom disciples. Much like the basic skills of any sport, those committed to living and loving like Jesus must return to the fundamentals of faith-fueled prayer, intentional relationships, and Jesus centrality. Repeated daily, these habits are the baseline for the work of church planters, missionaries, pastors, and everyday disciple-makers. Any hope of sustained movement in North America depends on the cultivation of these fundamentals among all of God’s people.

Much has been written about the role of pastors and church leaders in propelling the church outward into God’s great mission. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church help clarify a central leadership fundamental for pastors that must coincide with the missionary fundamentals of the church that we mentioned last week. Paul provides a job description of sorts when he says that these leaders exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

This equipping function is disorienting for many leaders who’ve been trained, or simply assumed, that the role of pastor amounted to being the resident expert on all things spiritual. In many cases these leaders have spent years thinking about refined theological ideas and engaging in intramural banter around these themes. Also, assuming the best about these leaders, many of them were elevated to a position of leadership because of deep convictions about God and His Word and consistent character derived from a vibrant intimacy with the Father.

There are expectations to this type of leader, of course. Some are unqualified, unprepared, or ungodly. Let’s leave this group to the side for the time being. The remaining leaders are the kind of people we want leading the church. They are zealous for God. They’ve thought deeply about the things of God. And their lives demonstrate a love for God and His people. Praise God for such leaders.

But there’s often still a problem. Even good leaders struggle to integrate their passionate pursuit of God with their calling to equip God’s people for ministry and mission. The parallel to sports is once again helpful: It’s one thing to know how to play the game yourself, it’s a vastly different thing to effectively coach others to do what you naturally do.

The model of a player-coach is what we’re after. We don’t simply want a coach who’s yelling at the players from the sidelines to do things that the coach isn’t also doing. No one wants to be exhorted to share the gospel by someone who clearly isn’t pursuing such a lifestyle personally. We want coaches in the church who are in the game alongside of their team—teaching and modeling for others the type of life patterns essential for kingdom-living. The shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach will require a number of competencies from current or future leaders.

Strive to Articulate Unconscious Competencies

Effective leaders have developed missional habits that come natural to them. They know how to develop a relationship with a non-believer. They understand how to turn a conversation to spiritual matters. They’ve organized their home to promote strategic hospitality. These practices are unconscious because of consistent use but they are not equally habitual for the average person sitting in church buildings each Sunday.

No number of compelling sermons is going to help the average church member move from their current reality to God’s preferred future unless they have a loving coach come alongside of them and help them take the tedious steps necessary to move in the right direction. Leaders must learn to take unconscious habits of kingdom-living and coach others to follow their pattern.

Fight for Simplicity

There’s a certain kind of simplicity that’s actually indicative of laziness, but there’s another that’s actually the mark of great wisdom and maturity. The latter group are able to scale the mountain of complexity that is theology, missiology, and ecclesiology and come down on the other side and make those great truths understandable and approachable to the broader church.

This act need not mean watered-down theological drivel. Leaders can, and must, fight to equip the saints in the great truths of Scripture in a way that their unique church context can grasp what God is saying and what they are to do with that truth. Supposedly “deep” teaching that leaves the hearer more confused than equipped might do more harm than good because it further entrenches the clergy-laity divide that posits the pastor as the necessary mediator between God and man. Simplicity counters this trend and helps the church see the commonality we all share in the work of kingdom living.

Discover or Develop Fundamental Tools

Leaders have a basis understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We all need to know how to steward our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. We need help in pursuing unity with God’s people and working through conflict. We need tools to live on mission and share the gospel effectively. Yes, we can teach to these themes, but such work should be supplemented with the development of strategic tools that help God’s people establish the foundational marks of a disciple.

One such example in the Seven Arrows method for Bible reading that I’ve developed to equip the church. This approach provides the church with a simple, sticky, reproducible model for Bible reading and is a perfect supplement for a vibrant preaching ministry in the church. Leaders should either grab tools like this that already exist or work to develop their own simple and scalable methods of disciple-formation.

Teach in Action

Finally, pastors as player-coaches strive to teach in action whenever possible. They follow the pattern of Jesus who infused his daily missionary practices with sidebar conversations with his disciples. In these moments he was able to speak to critical theological matters and do so using real-life examples of success or failure. Pastors intent on equipping will strategically press themselves out of the study and take their teaching ministry on the road, inviting various members of the church into the rhythms of their missionary practices.

The return on investment of such teaching in action will likely far exceed that found in the average Sunday sermon. Even better, leaders can model the themes of their weekly teaching in the week’s that follow and practically say to the church, “Come with me and watch what it looks like to apply the ideas we considered on Sunday.” Not only would such practice hold the pastor accountable and combat hypocrisy, but it would also further instill truth in those leaders entrusted to equip.

The work of equipping is difficult, make no mistake. It’s far easier to lob truth from a distance rather than get embroiled in the messy lives of others. But such player-coaches are the types of leaders who will lead the future church in North America in whatever form that church might take.

Matt Rogers is a father of five living in Greenville, South Carolina. He pastors The Church at Cherrydale and serves as an assistant professor of Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks throughout the United States on issues ranging from discipleship, church leadership, and missions.