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VIDEO The True Measure of an Authentic Church

John MacArthur Feb 13, 2022

We come again to the Word of God and to Ephesians chapter 4. Ephesians has been a foundational letter for the church in every age since the New Testament time in which it was written, and so we have spent a number of months going through this very, very important letter from the apostle Paul, not only to the church at Ephesus but to every church throughout the history of the church in the world. So much here is vital for us to understand. And we come now to verses 7 to 16, verses 7 to 16 in the fourth chapter.

My curiosity drove me to do a little bit of study to try to find out what the contemporary evangelical church says are the measures of a church’s success. And so I read through a lot of material, and I basically came up with the following lists that are offered as measures of a church’s success. Things like this: the ability to grab attention; provision of entertaining experiences; money to fund projects and events; large, well-equipped facilities; creative, innovative programs; attractive media; cultural influence; large crowds. By then I was crying for mercy. Those have nothing to do with the measure of a church, and yet they are offered to this generation.

I want to show you what the measure of a church is, how you evaluate a church’s authenticity, by having you follow as I read Ephesians 4, starting in verse 7, and I’ll read down to verse 16.

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’ “(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

Now, clearly the highpoint of that text is in verse 13, and there it says that the measure of the church is the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. There’s only one way to measure a church, and that is its Christlikeness. Again, that makes the duty of the church, verse 15, “to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” The measure of a church is its Christlikeness.

Now we’ve been talking a lot about unity since the beginning of chapter 2, really. We’ve been talking about how important the unity of the faith is, and we see it again in verse 13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” And how is the unity of the faith there described? As “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” So the unity of our faith is a common Christlikeness.

Remember, the theme here is unity. There are virtues that work toward unity; we saw them in verses 2 and 3: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Those are the kinds of attitudes that it takes to produce the unity of the church. And unity is the way the church was designed from the beginning because, verses 4, 5, and 6 says, “There’s one body”—or one church—“one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” Theological unity is the foundation of the church. The church is based on divine truth—common divine truth, the-once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith. That is the foundation of unity. The goal of unity is the measure of the stature of Christ.

So how does this work? How can we attain this kind of unity of Christlikeness? What’s the pathway to that? It may at first seem a little bit contradictory. We’re supposed to be united, we’re supposed to be one, everything about us is one—so how do we express that oneness with so many different people? And the answer is that our unity is found in our diversity. That may seem counterintuitive, but it is precisely the truth, and the illustration for it is down in verse 13. Again, it is “the unity of the faith,” the unity of maturity, and “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

We’re all headed toward Christlikeness, and it works like a body. Verse 12 ends with the body of Christ. Verse 16 talks about the whole body, the building up of the body, the growth of the body. So Paul’s image here is of a body. Down in verse 16 he even talks about each and every joint and the proper working of each individual part, which causes the growth of the body. So we have a very simple illustration: Body—the body of a human being functions well when all the individual components that make up that body function well. If something’s wrong with a functioning organ on the inside or a functioning limb on the outside or something in the brain, whatever it might be, the body is in a sense of dysfunction.

So we understand the illustration: Like a body, we have to have all the component parts to have one, whole, healthy body. And that’s how the church works. Our unity is found in our diversity. Our unity is found in our diversity. All the various people, with all their uniqueness functioning in diverse ways, contribute to the unity of the church like all the features of a human body contribute to the united functioning of a human being.

So the key to unity is diversity—that’s a popular word these days. And I read an article this week that was very interesting. This from a pastor of a large Southern Baptist church in Orlando, Florida, who was trying to describe the diversity of the church, and I’m quoting: “We [have] a diverse, welcoming, multicultural gathering of people. We have transgender, LGBTQ, straight, single, married, divorced, and cohabitating people. [They’re all attending together. They] attend, [they] listen, [they] serve, [they] grow, and [they] give. We have Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and non-registered people. We have documented and undocumented people. . . . We have pro-life and pro-choice [people] . . . . We . . . support the Blue and Black Lives Matter sitting together and serving together. We have Trumpers and Never Trumpers. We have Biden . . . and Harris supporters.” And I was out of breath at that point. That is the most absurd understanding of the diversity of the church that I have ever seen in my entire life.

The diversity of the church doesn’t come from collection of sins, personal experiences, and political viewpoints. What is the source of the diversity of the church? Let’s look at verse 7, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” To each one of us, as individual believers, grace was given in the form of a gift from Christ.

Now if you understand anything about grace, you know that grace gives, right? God gives by grace. You can’t talk about grace without talking about giving. God’s grace always gives; it is the nature of divine grace to give. Grace gives what is necessary—what is needed, but what is undeserved.

If you go back to chapter 1 and verse 3, we all understand that grace and peace—in verse 2—have been granted us “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And what does that grace do? It “[blesses] us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” He graces us so that we will praise His grace and give Him glory. At the end of verse 7, it says that His grace is rich. And verse 8, He lavishes it on us.

Now we understand that at salvation we receive saving grace; this is far more than that. This is the grace of all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. Chapter 2 and verse 5 speaks about us being saved by grace—chapter 2, at the end of verse 5, “By grace you have been saved.” And then it’s repeated again in verse 8, “By grace you have been saved.” That’s saving grace.

But go over to chapter 3 and verses 7 and 8. Paul, talking about his call to ministry, said he “was made a minister,” in verse 7, “according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” So he receives saving grace—we understand that; but he also received the gift of grace that defined his ministry. He says, “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace.” And what we just read in the fourth chapter in verse 7 is that God’s grace gives every one of us a gift for the sake of the building of the body of Christ. Paul’s ministry was a gift of grace.

Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 15:10, “I am what I am by the grace of God. I am what I am by the grace of God—not only what I am as a believer, but what I am as a minister. I was given saving grace, and then on top of that, that saving grace lavished me with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, and on top of that, that grace gave me a gift to function within the church so that I would be part of the necessary operation of the Spirit through the multiple gifts to build the church into Christlikeness.” This grace really is God giving Himself. This grace doesn’t come to us apart from God; this grace comes to us because God comes to us. And Paul has made that absolutely clear.

Go back to chapter 1 again, at the end of the chapter. We’re talking here about Christ, and it says concerning Him, verse 22, “[He’s the] head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” So the grace comes because the Lord comes. He fills His church. In chapter 2, at the end of that chapter, verses 21 and 22, it says, “[We are] a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

So in chapter 1 at the end Christ is in us, the fullness of Him. In chapter 2 at the end the Spirit is in us. Look at the end of chapter 3. And here we find, verses 20 and 21, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we [can] ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” And again, this encompasses the whole Trinity. Christ is in us, the Spirit is in us, and God Himself is in us, to whom that very prayer is directed.

Grace is God giving Himself. That’s the idea: You are the temple of the Spirit of God; Christ dwells in you; God has set up His abode in you. And with His coming is not only the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control), the virtues that are a part of the inheritance of the believer by the power of the Spirit, but what comes is illumination to understand the Word of God. But on top of that comes this special grace, mentioned in verse 7 of chapter 4, which grants us a gift, a gift. A gift is literally measured out to us for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.

As part of His self-giving, the Lord gives two kinds of gifts. The first one we’re going to look at this morning is the gifts that He gives each Christian, each individual Christian. Then next week, we’ll come down to verse 11 and look at the gifts He gives the whole church. First, the gifts He gives to every believer, then the gifts He gives to the whole church.

But let’s look at the individual believer in verses 7 to 10. And here we see the divine diversity necessary for unity. Now remember what I’ve said. The subject here is unity. That has been Paul’s theme since chapter 2, and he wraps it up, in a sense, with the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. Then verse 7 begins with, “But”—that’s used in an adversative way. In spite of everything that’s been said about unity, on the other hand—on the other hand we have been given grace, each one of us, in a unique way, so that we function in diversity that produces this unity.

Notice the word “measure” there, “the measure of Christ’s gift.” That’s metron in the Greek—metrics. The idea is the Lord gives every believer a specific portion, a specific unit of gifting so that he can contribute to the building of the body of Christ to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If you look at it down in verse 16, it’s broken down into “every joint” and “each individual part.” The key to unity in the church is diversity—not political diversity, not sinful diversity, not ethnic diversity, not any of that; it’s all irrelevant. The diversity we’re talking about here is the diversity of gifts according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Now there’s some comparative passages that will help illuminate this for us. Go to Romans 12. And I don’t intend to discuss all of the different kinds of gifts, but rather to give you the big picture. So in Romans chapter 12 we probably ought to start at verse 3, and you’ll see the relationship again with grace and gifting.

Verse 3 of Romans 12, “For through the grace”—there it is, grace again—“given to me”—again, this is the gifting by grace—“I say to everyone . . . not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Now we had a measure of grace in Ephesians; now we have a measure of faith. God sort of metrically gives us, by grace, a gift, and then He measures out an equal amount of faith to operate that gift. And that’s how you ought to view yourself. You ought not to think more highly of yourself than is consistent with your gifts; you ought to rightly assess your gifts. You need to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to you a gift by grace that can function in the body of Christ to build the church into Christlikeness by a measure of faith that He also provides.

He talks further in verse 4, “Just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function”—it’s the same analogy, same picture—“so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us.”

Again, folks, this comes every time we talk about gifts: We’re talking about grace. You don’t earn them; they’re not built into you; they’re not hardwired in your human disposition. I’m not talking about talents, not talking about some kind of manual skill or the ability to do math or something like that. This is a grace gift. This transcends what you got when you arrived into this world, hardwired into the way you were made. This is something supernatural, something that comes only at the point of salvation.

A measured gift and a measure of faith, and we are to exercise that gift according to that faith. So he gets very specific in verse 6, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace give us”—there’s that grace—“each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” So if you have been given a measure of the grace to preach or prophesy, speak forth, then do it according to the proportion of your faith. Do it to the degree that the Lord gives you the faith to do it.

If you wonder whether you have the ability to stand up in front of a large crowd and preach, but you know you can’t stand in front of three people without becoming a nervous wreck, that’s probably not the proportion of faith you need to operate that gift. So the Lord matches up the power with the gift. So whatever your gift is, you do that. If it’s preaching or proclaiming truth, do it. If it’s serving, then serve. If it’s teaching, then teach. In verse 8, if it’s exhortation, then exhort. If it’s giving, then give with liberality. If it’s leading, then lead with diligence. If it’s showing mercy, then do it with cheerfulness.

So these are not absolute categories of giftedness that could be sort of narrowed down and defined, this is just very, very general: preaching, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, showing mercy, compassion. Those are just broad categories in which everybody is unique. Everybody is like a spiritual snowflake because you’re all different. But those would be categories in which the gifts operate.

Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 12. This also is a helpful portion of Scripture. Verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 12, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Again, this is the same exact teaching that we saw in Romans and Ephesians. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God.” Do you see the Trinity there?—the Spirit in verse 4, the Lord in verse 5, and God in verse 6. They’re all resident in the believer, and they’re all operating in the believer to make that believer effective in contributing to the growth of the church. And the ministries are many, and the varieties are many, and the effects are many.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. And this is how you have to see your gift: It’s for the common good. Your gift is not for you—it’s not for you, it’s for all of us. My gift is not for me, my gift is for you; this is how I serve you. Your gift is how you serve others. It’s for the common good. That’s where you have to understand that your service is vital.

You hear people say, “Well, I love Jesus, but I don’t like the church.” So you think that you possess, all on your own, everything necessary for you to become like Christ—by yourself? That is a sad delusion. You don’t know how much you need one another; that’s why we don’t forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We gather, and we stimulate one another to love and good works. We need each other the same way a body needs all its component parts.

The church is not just to be a spectator event. For many churches it is that: It’s just a show, and nobody has to do anything but show up, give your money, join the party. True believers in an environment like that languish terribly because there’s not an understanding of the vitality and critical nature of people using their gifts.

Verse 8 gives us some suggested categories of gifts: “the word of wisdom,” some providing “wisdom through the Spirit.” Knowledge, also through the Spirit. Faith, people who just operate with a higher level of faith and trust—usually shows up in intense commitment to prayer; that also “by the same Spirit.” And then in the apostolic era there were “gifts of healing by the . . . Spirit,” there were miracles by the Spirit, there was prophecy by the Spirit, there was discernment by the Spirit, there were “various kinds of languages,” and interpretation; but it was “one and the same Spirit [working] all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” So this is how the body works, OK? You come into the body of Christ; the Spirit takes up residence in your life and grants you from heaven, from heaven itself as a grace gift, a place and a way to function effectively in the body of Christ, so that you make a contribution to everyone else so that the body grows into Christlikeness.

We know what the Spirit does. What did Jesus say? “When the Spirit comes, He will point to Me.” And that’s the work of the Spirit in your heart, 2 Corinthians 3:18, as you gaze at the glory of the Lord, you’re changed into His image from one level of glory to the next by the Holy Spirit. So the church collectively is not going to be Christlike unless the individuals in it are Christlike—and that is the work of the Spirit.

Now again, the listing here is not airtight categories, it’s just a general reflection of the fact that there are varieties and varieties and varieties, and here are some samples. There are as many varieties as there are people. You say, “Well, how do I know what my gift is?” It may be the combination of a lot of these various categories. How do you know what your gift is? What do you love to do when you’re walking in the Spirit, and what do you do that gives you joy and blesses other people? And you can follow the prompting of the Spirit in your heart. If you keep saying to yourself, “I think I’m supposed to be a preacher,” and everybody who’s heard you says, “No, you’re not,” you probably ought to go down the box to the next opportunity. But there will be both a confirmation in your own heart, an affirmation in your own heart and in the hearts of all those people who know you and see how you serve.

Again, you lose your life in serving others when this gift operates. That’s how the body works; that’s down in verse 12, “The body is one yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ”—there we are again. The whole idea of this is when the church functions as the church, when it functions in the measure of its gifts with the measure of faith under the power of the Holy Spirit, it becomes like Christ, and that’s the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And that’s the only way to judge a church: special gifts measured out to us by grace, in addition to our human talents and intersecting with them, for sure, but employed by the power of the Spirit and the measure of faith.

An illustration of the reality of this, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1—I think it’s important because I believe that the Lord gifts people, not just in the body of Christ universally but in local churches. I believe Grace Community Church, the Spirit of God has dispersed grace gifts through this church to every one of you to bring this church to Christlikeness, and I say that because of 1 Corinthians 1. You might have assumed that somehow the Corinthian church got missed, they were so filled with problems. But even with all their problems—and Paul wrote four letters to them; two of them are in the New Testament—he says this in chapter 1, verse 4, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus”—there we are with that grace again, not just the grace of salvation but the grace, verse 5—“that in everything you were enriched in Him”—and that would be all the riches of grace from Ephesians 1—“in all speech and all knowledge”—oh, now we’re talking about gifts; you’ve been enriched even to the degree of knowledge and to be able to communicate that knowledge—“even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you”—and then this amazing statement: “so that you are not lacking in any gift.” The Lord is saying that to this very troubled church. “The Spirit of God has dispensed among you, with a measure of grace, a gift to everyone and a measure of faith for everyone to operate in that gift, so that the church would become like Christ; you lack no gift.” And it’ll be that way until the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think the way you evaluate a church is whether that church is Christlike because the people in that church, with a measure of grace and a measure of faith, are faithfully serving one another. This is not about a spectator event; this is the divinely designed diversity that produces unity. John Calvin said, “No member of the body of Christ is endowed with such perfections as to be able without the assistance of others to supply his own necessities.” You can’t do it on your own.

If you’re struggling as a Christian the tendency is to stay away from the church, when the reality is you’re probably struggling because you’re not there, and there are huge areas of your life where people need to minister their gifts to strengthen you—when you’re not around. That is one of the most absurd things that I hear: “I love Jesus; I don’t like the church.” You can’t love Christ and not love the church He loved and died to save, and you can’t be a Christian who is effective unless you are being ministered to effectively by all the gifts poured out in the church. And again, if a church is nothing but a smoke and light show and a concert, and you attend the event and that’s it, that’s really never going to produce spiritual growth, and that’s not going to be a church that manifests Christ. So these gifts are inseparable, then, from the presence of the Trinity in us. And when we use these gifts, the sum of them is the church begins to look like Christ.

Now Paul does something very, very special here—back to Ephesians 4. Having said what he did in verse 7, he then uses an Old Testament passage to make his point—and I’ll pick it up in verse 8, “Therefore”—“therefore,” in other words, “connected to the point I’ve just made, I want you to understand that every believer by grace was given a gift from Christ measured out for that individual to build the body of Christ.” “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)”

And I know you’re saying to yourself, “What does that have to do with whatever he’s talking about?” I’ll tell you what it has to do with: everything. This shows us the cost—mark it—the cost for Christ to give you the gift. You can’t take it lightly; that’s what Paul’s going to show us. You may, at this particular point, not have any functioning role in the church. This will come to you as a shock, no doubt, but the Lord paid an astonishing price to be able to gift you so that you, for the common good, could help build the church into Christlikeness for the glory of the One who paid the price.

So let’s go back to verse 8. You’ll notice, if you have a Bible that identifies an Old Testament quote, that this is taken from Psalm 68. So Paul is quoting Psalm 68. Now Psalm 68—this is verse 18 in Psalm 68. In Psalm 68 you have what I guess you could call a sort of a triumphant, victorious psalm, the triumphant, victorious psalm—a victory hymn may be a better way to say it—composed by David to celebrate God conquering the Jebusite city and establishing the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Zion. The historical discussion of that is in 2 Samuel 6 and 7 and 1 Chronicles 13.

So when the people of God came into the land, Jerusalem was a Jebusite city, a pagan city. God conquered the Jebusite city; symbolically the Ark of the Covenant was taken to the pinnacle of that city, Mount Zion, and God was the conqueror of that city, and it became Jerusalem. This is what kings did in ancient times: When they conquered, they went to a high point and declared their triumph. And this sixty-eighth Psalm is a triumphal hymn to honor God who conquered the city and ascended to reign over it.

This was pretty common in ancient history. There would be generals who would go out and win a war, and they would come back; and the Romans used to call it a triumph, a triumph parade. The general would come back, and he would bring with him the spoils of victory. There would be whatever they gained of the valuable things in that country, represented by symbols of that value; there would be prisoners that they would bring back from the captive country; they would bring back their own soldiers who had been imprisoned by the enemy and were set free. And they would all parade through the streets of the city to the highest point of the city. That’s what they did—that’s what the Roman generals did.

It wouldn’t be much different for any other nation in ancient times. An Israelite king would parade into Jerusalem in a victory parade, bringing some of the captives with him and some of the spoils, and he would go to Mount Zion, which was the pinnacle. There would be victorious soldiers, and there would be the soldiers that the enemy had taken prisoner that then were recaptured by the king that owned them and had a right to them, and all of this would be a parade of triumph through the city.

That’s the picture here. Christ is pictured: “He”—verse 9—“He ascended.” “He ascended.” “He ascended on high,” according to Psalm 68; He went to the high place. Christ did this as a triumphant general. “He ascended on high”—this depicts the triumphant Christ returning from the battle on earth. And what does He do? He brings with Him essentially the trophies of His conquest. It’s a picture of the Son of God ascending triumphant to His throne.

But verse 9 says, “This expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?” He can’t ascend unless He’s descended. And that’s exactly what this is saying to us. It’s very powerful.

I want you to notice one phrase: “the lower parts of the earth.” Before He went “far above all the heavens,” in verse 10, He went “into the lower parts of the earth.” What does that mean? Well essentially it’s a dramatic, dramatic statement. It’s used four other places in Scripture, very instructively. It’s used in Psalm 63:9, and there, ascending to the lower parts of the earth had to do with death by murder, death by execution. It’s also used—similar phrase—in Matthew 12:40, “the heart of the earth”; and it refers to the story of Jonah, and it refers to Jonah being in the belly of the fish. It’s used in Isaiah 44:23 to refer to the created earth. And it’s used one more place, Psalm 139:15, to speak about a womb, a child in the womb.

Interestingly enough, those are the only other four uses of it, and they all have a connection to Christ. It’s really amazing: He descended into the lower parts of the earth. He was formed in the womb, Psalm 139. He lived on the earth, Isaiah 44. He was buried in a grave, parallel to Jonah in the belly of the fish. And His death was an execution. That very phrase points directly to Christ.

Now why all this? Because Paul wants us to understand the price He paid to be able to gift you. He had to be formed in the womb, live on earth, suffer all that He did, be executed, and be buried in order that He might ascend triumphantly to heaven. And only when He went back to heaven in triumph could He give gifts to men.

He went back—verse 8, borrowing again from Psalm 68—“He led captive a host of captives.” In His descent into the earth, in His life and death and burial and resurrection, He took captive, you could say, the elect of God, and took them, or their right, to heaven. He captured all who would ever live who were part of the elect. He won their right to be brought to God and to His kingdom because they belong to Him.

And then “He gave gifts to men.” He couldn’t pass out the spiritual gifts until He entered into heaven at His ascension. Like a triumphant, conquering hero, He goes back with all the spoils. He arrives, and He’s honored as the triumphant King, and then He begins to disperse the treasures. The point is this: Your gifts didn’t come easy, did they? The spoils that turn into the gifts of grace to each of us were won with a massive battle against Satan and a willingness to bear divine wrath. He ascended and He gave the gifts because He had descended and won the right to be called Lord.

So when you think about the gift that you have, you should treasure that gift. He purchased that gift with His own life, end of verse 10, when He “ascended far above all heavens, so that He might fill all things.” He went back triumphant. His glorious presence and power is expressed in universal sovereignty. But I don’t think that’s the main idea; I think this is just a repeat of chapter 1, verse 23: “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” He went back to disperse the gifts that allowed Him to fill all things—yes, of course, in sovereign omnipresence, but more significantly—He fills His body the church with His presence and power and gifts, to manifest His glory in the church. So consider the grace of Christ in giving you salvation and giving you a gift to serve in His glorious church for His honor.

A closing word from Peter, 1 Peter 4, verses 10 and 11. Here’s the application: “As each one has received a . . . gift”— “each one”—“employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” There’s grace again: manifold grace, varieties of grace, have bestowed on every one of us a gift. “Employ it in serving one another”—it’s not for you, it’s for them; that’s your stewardship. The cost was immense to provide that for you.

And then Peter breaks the gifts into two simple categories: some speaking gifts and some serving gifts. “Whoever speaks, [do it] as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves, [do it] as one . . . serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things”—what is the end of this in the church?—“God may be glorified through”—whom?—“Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Again, Peter understands that the gifts, when they’re used in the church in the strength which God supplies, bring glory to Jesus Christ, which glory will redound forever and ever. And he says, “Amen.” That’s the measure of the church, and that’s what we strive for.

Father, we thank You for the clarity of Your revelation to us. So much more to say about this, but this is the starting point for us to recognize that You have given us a gift, and it was a costly one. You have brought us to Yourself, You have granted us eternal salvation, and then You have gifted us for the time that we’re here on earth, to build up Your church to be like Christ. That is the measure of a church, so that by that testimony of a Christlike church, You can continue to gather in the elect who belong to You. We are so privileged, privileged to receive and privileged to give—privileged to receive salvation with no effort of our own; privileged to serve, making every effort to use the Spirit-empowered gift You’ve given to us. All of it for Your glory alone. Amen.

VIDEO What Is Church Safety and Security? – Spiritual Preparation

two bodyguards on the job securing the perimeter

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security training module Safety Team Fundamentals [1]

From the Bible

  • This is Wisdom speaking:

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil (Proverbs 1:33).

  • God’s flock is His people:

Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle (Ezekiel 34:22).

  • David protected his father’s flock from predators:

And David said unto Saul, “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, [or] a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him” (1Samuel 17:34-35).


What are “fundamentals”? A fundamental is (1) that which is foundational (fundamental) to the subject, that which it is based upon, and/or (2) that which is essential (necessary) to the subject, without which the subject could not exist or function.[2]

So the fundamentals of Church Security are the principles on which it is based, and the organization and practices needed for it to work – in other words, the basics.

And what is Church Safety and Security? It is protecting the congregation, both members and visitors, from various threats (see Protecting the Flock below).

In the News

Winchester, Kentucky, May 18, 2019 – Security training for churches in the Winchester area were held at Central Baptist Church. Among the sessions were “Active Shooter Preparedness” and “Legal Matters to Consider.” Topics covered also included how to start a safety ministry, firearms safety, and children’s safety.[3]

Upstate New York State, June 2011 – The Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church adopted a resolution which directed each local church or charge (churches under one pastor or governing board) to have a Safe Sanctuaries ministry.[4]

Nashville, Tennessee, November 11, 2015 – Agape Tactical has been conducting live-action active killer response training in actual church buildings. More churches saw the need for safety teams – especially for defending against active killers – after the massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.[5]

Birmingham, Alabama, November 8, 2018 – Religious Product News republished an article from January 2015, “7 Critical Essentials for Church Security.” The information was from ACTIVE Network, a church software company. According to them, the seven essentials are (quoting the headings):

  • Background Checks
  • Check-in System
  • Aggressive Friendliness
  • Emergency Action Plan
  • Triage Teams
  • Emergency Response Team (ERT) Kits
  • Communications
  • Church Policies & Procedures[6]

For December, the featured resources are the training module Security Team Fundamentals (the first module in the Complete Training System) and the free download Reports and Forms Bundle.

Security Team Fundamentals

This is the first module in the Complete Training System, the key part of Safety Member Team Certification. It is the first, because it covers the basics of Church Safety & Security. The other courses are Active Shooter Response, Deescalating Disruptive Persons, Protecting Children from Abuse, Basic Use of Force Laws, Arson and Fire Safety, and Storms and Disasters.

The training is also available in live online Zoom classes, one every two or three weeks. The current semester ends on December 9, and the next begins in 2022 with Safety Team Fundamentals on February 6.[7] The training program is available both for classes and for individuals.[8]

Reports and Forms Bundle

A fundamental principle of a Church Safety Team is accountability, and accurate record keeping is key to that. The team members are accountable to the team; the team to the Safety Director, the Safety Director to the Safety Committee, the Safety Committee to the church, and the church to the public. By using forms and reports, set policies and procedures mean something because they can be enforced.

The Reports and Forms Bundle has three reports and two logs: Incident Report, Follow-Up Report, Suspected Child Maltreatment Report, Patrol Log, and Safe Access Log. Each form except Safe Access Log has this notation at the top: “Release of Information on Juveniles is Restricted.”

By clicking *HERE* you can get this bundle now. It is also one of the free Bonus Resources that come with Safety Member Team Certification.[9]

Protecting the Flock

The mission of a Church Safety Ministry and its Church Safety Team is to protect the flock. A few of the threat areas are:

  • Theft and fraud
  • Abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults
  • Kidnapping
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Active killer attack
  • Bomb threats
  • Vandalism and arson
  • Fire
  • Severe weather and natural disasters
  • Human-caused disasters
  • Technological disasters
  • Injuries and medical emergencies

Admittedly, in most churches (30 or more members) one person cannot protect the flock alone. A team is much better, and the larger the congregation and the more services, classes, and activities it has, the more team members it needs. Teamwork means coordination. A large Church Safety Ministry can be divided into safety/security and medical response teams with professionals (law enforcement/military or EMT/healthcare) in each.

Safety Ministry Organization

The most-used overall organization of a Church Safety Ministry (and the one recommended by Sheepdog Church Security) has a Safety Committee, a Safety Director, and a Safety Team (or Safety and Medical Response teams). This is the pattern which has proven to work best in most churches.

Safety Committee

Members of the Safety Committee are church leaders and relevant professionals. Ideally, these would include members of various ministries of the church (such as Children’s Department and Youth Ministry), a medical professional, and someone in law and/or insurance.

The Safety Committee sets policies, adopts a budget, interacts with the congregation’s governing board, and appoints the Safety Director.

Safety Director

The Safety Director is usually someone with law enforcement and/or military experience. He or she establishes procedures for carrying out the Church Safety Ministry’s policies, procures supplies covered by the budget, maintains records, recruits and selects Safety Team members, and supervises the Safety Team.

The Safety Director also facilitates training of the Safety Team and schedules fire, severe weather, and active shooter drills for the congregation.

Safety Team

To most members and guests of the congregation, the Safety Team is the face of the Safety Ministry. These are the ones they see and the ones who respond when needed.

The Safety Team may include not only full members, but also ushers and greeters who have been trained in the safety aspects of their duties. This is important, since they encounter almost all who come through the doors of the church.

Duties of Safety Team members include watching and being a presence in the foyer, corridors, sanctuary, and parking lot. They also conduct patrols, assist those who need help, watch for safety hazards, and intervene when needed (such as through verbal de-escalation). If there is an evacuation (such as with a fire) or a move to shelter (such as with a tornado), Safety Team members will guide the congregants and aide those who cannot make it on their own.

Qualifications and Expectations

As with any job or position of trust, there are qualifications and expectations for members of a Church Safety Team. Since Church Safety Team members are really deacons, they must fulfill the qualifications for deacons, as Paul laid out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:

  • Serious
  • Truthful
  • Sober
  • Not greedy
  • Blameless
  • Faithful
  • True to spouse
  • Good parents and home managers
  • Above all, faithful believers.

Other qualifications will be covered more fully in another article.


Our mission as Sheepdogs is to protect the flock. This work is based on the fundamentals of a Church Safety Ministry.

There Is More

There are four articles in December. The other three are “Know What You Face” (Assessing Risk), “Building on a Foundation” (The Basics of a Church Safety Team), and “The 2009 First Baptist Church of Maryville Shooting” (Lesson Learned).


  1. Kris Moloney, “Complete Training Program v4,” Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. “Fundamental.” DictionaryMerriam-Webster, Accessed November 7, 2021 [].
  3. Winchester Sun staff and Central Baptist Church staff, “Central Baptist to host security training for area churches,” The Winchester Sun, April 29, 2019 [].
  4. June 2011 Session of the Upper New York Annual Conference, “Charge Conference Info RE: Safe Sanctuaries Teams -BGF: Local Church Safe Sanctuaries Team/Committee,” Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church, August 2011 [].
  5. Rhori Johnston, “Church Trains For Active Shooter Scenario,” NewsChannel 5 WTVF, November 11, 2015 [].
  6. ACTIVE Network (, “7 Critical Essentials for Church Security,” Religious Product News, January 2015, republished November 8, 2018 [].
  7. The Zoom Class training schedule for the First Semester 2022 is
    1. Feb. 6 Safety Team Fundamentals
    2. Feb. 20 Active Shooter Response
    3. Mar. 6 Deescalating Disruptive Persons
    4. Mar. 20 Protecting Children from Abuse
    5. Apr. 3 Basic Use of Force Laws
    6. Apr. 25 Arson and Fire Safety
    7. May 15 Storms and Disasters
  8. Kris Moloney, “Complete Training System and Safety Member Team Certification,” Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020: Team Training []; Individual Training [].
  9. Kris Moloney, “Reports and Forms Bundle,” Sheepdog Church Security, © 2015 [].

Security at Church – Action Plans


Your Church Doesn’t Need More Fans

Davis Wetherell NOVEMBER 30, 2021

We’re all prone to “fan mentality.” It’s when you think or do something because of your attraction to an individual, brand, or style. For example, as a Cubs fan, I started watching Yankees games when Anthony Rizzo was traded there last July.

This fan mentality affects our interests in books, sports, merchandise, and more. But when applied to church, fan mentality undermines true Christian community. 

There are many ways fan mentality conflicts with biblical ideas that belong to what we might call “flock mentality.” Here are three.

Choice vs. Call

With a fan mentality, one’s church involvement is often driven by an attraction to the pastor’s giftedness, the worship team’s vibe, or even the church’s theological distinctives. More often than not, if you join a church based on fan mentality, you’ll leave quickly when your favorite pastor retires or when you bore of the worship style.

Two important clarifications:

  1. The problem is not gifted pastors, theological distinctives, or good worship vibes. The problem is a Christian’s tying church attendance to personal preferences.
  2. The problem is not liking your pastor—he is, after all, God’s gift to your church (Eph. 4:11)—but placing yourself, and your “ideal pastor” preferences, as the central concern.

Fan mentality frames church in terms of personal choice. Flock mentality frames it in terms of calling. Fan mentality says choose the church with the most attractive person, style, or brand to you. Flock mentality says submit to God’s leading to the church you need. Church is about choice, but it’s about God’s choice to call you into his church—not your choice to pick a church that suits you.

Celebrity vs. Shepherd

The role of a pastor/shepherd is not to draw Christians to himself, but to point Christians to the true Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25) and help build up the body so it may “grow in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Ultimately, church is not about how great your pastor is, but how great God is.

Yet fan mentality is all too eager to cherish the greatness of individual men. It can make a near-divine image, a holy caricature, of a pastor. Viral YouTube sermons and bestselling book series can become idolatrous treasures for the fan who has staked a church choice on one man’s giftedness.

Flock-mentality members, in contrast, love their pastor not as a celebrity, but as someone who is one of them. They’re close enough to see his mistakes and hold him accountable; close enough to see his growth, and him theirs.

For this reason, the famous man preaching on your computer screen cannot be your main spiritual leader. The flock needs a physically present spiritual leader. Therefore, embrace a more incarnational form of spiritual leadership.

Spectating vs. Responsibility

You may consider me a bad sports fan, but I don’t enjoy Cubs baseball now that my favorite player is gone.

My relationship with the Cubs was based primarily on my fandom of Anthony Rizzo. When I attended games, I had no interest in hot dogs or the other fans around me. It was all about me watching Rizzo. This may be fine for a baseball game, but it does not work for the church.

In Ephesians 4:16, Paul explains that the growth of the church depends not only on the gifted leaders, but also on the gifts of the individual members of the body. The body of Christ is “held together by every joint with which it is equipped,” and it grows “when each part is working properly.”

Fan mentality deceives us into thinking we’re individual spectators in church. But the biblical ideal is different. Christ has given gifts “to each one of us” (Eph. 4:7), and the good works you can offer are not only wanted and needed for the growth of your church, but also prepared beforehand by God himself (Eph. 2:10).

Don’t let church become all about you watching the pastor. Embrace flock mentality and walk in your responsibilities of building up other members of the body, including both the sheep and the shepherd.

Be the Flock

The church is not a place we choose; it’s a place to which we’ve been called. We are called there not to cherish human fame, but to cherish Christ. And we’re called not to an individualized entertainment experience, but to use our gifts to build up the whole community.

Fan mentality is a widespread temptation—especially in a culture of consumerism and celebrity. But it’s deadly when we bring it to church. Instead of fans, let’s be the flock—gathering together out of reverence to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.

This article was originally shared on The Gospel Coalition and is shared with the author’s permission.

Prophetic Warning and Encouragement

Hoping to write blogs on regular things like “Daily Time in the Word” or “Beauty of Fellowship”. But I feel the Holy Spirit leading to release another dream. Believing this is for His Church..

Dream 1/19/21 : Just a still vision.. Two huge crystals. One was a bowl. I was told it was an amulet. Another was like an earth and I was told it was an omni amulet.

Upon awakening, I wasn’t sure what an amulet was.  I googled it and learned that it is a form of magic to protect against danger and evil.. Onni means in all places and ways.

The omni amulet represents how the enemy is trying to cover all the earth in a spirit of witchcraft.. False truth.. An antichrist culture.. The bowl represents people.. Bowls are to be filled, so we can put things inside.. To eat and drink to live.. Many bowls are covered in spirits not of God.. Being filled with deceit, manipulation and idolatry.. 

We must be putting on the full armor of God.. Meditating on His Word day and night.. Overflowing with the Holy Spirit.. Authoritatively praying against the spirit of evil trying to cover all of the earth.. Pray that the spirit of God will cover all of the earth in His love, light and glory, in Jesus Name.. What life food are we filling our bowls with? May it be Jesus and Jesus alone.

I understand a lot of prophets didn’t get things as thought. May we not judge in unbiblical ways.  People have lost faith because their words did not come to pass.  This shows how much is looked to man and not God.. How much hearts need to be more devoted, learning in the Bible.. Hearing from the Holy Spirit ourselves. We are not to despise prophecies.

May prophetic messages be served and received in love and honor of Yahweh.. To build us up as His Bride.. To help keep our oil full and our lives on His narrow path.. Remaining faithful to Jesus. All is for His glory.

The Lord in His perfect love encourages and warns us.. This is an exciting time.. Do not fear man.. Beautifully fear God in reverence and awestruck wonder.. Our Father cares. He is working all things out in his ultimate kindness and goodness.. To reveal and bring breakthrough.. But it’ll be a ride.. 

We have entered a time where evil has been tolerated for so long.. that it’s become normal for others.. And even celebrated.. Brothers and sisters ~ People must see Jesus living within us.. Hope of glory.. Dwelling in us as His believers.. Church, lets pray without ceasing and discern with wisdom from above.. Walk in the Holy Spirit.. Abide deeply in His Word.. Keep your hearts pure.. Make your entire life a sacrifice of praise to Him.. 

Our Abba didn’t create us to just sit back and watch the movie.. We are citizens of heaven, His babies. He is empowering us to partner with Him for such a time as this.. Seek His face with all your heart.. Worship and proclaim our Lord is Jesus.. Rise and thrive in our Saviors love..

The Work of Satan in the Church

By Nicholas Batzig -August 26, 2021


I sometimes fear that there is a willful naïveté in the church with regard to the presence and work of Satan. One doesn’t have to look far into the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or the New Testament Epistles to discover the reality of the spiritual forces of darkness and to develop a theology of the assault tactics of the evil one. But it might surprise some to see what exactly these tactics are in their more subtle forms. There is one fact, in particular, about which we must be convinced––namely, the Gospel is always the central object of Satanic assault.

Stopping the advance of the Gospel is the singular goal of Satan and demons. It does not come, first and foremost, in the form of demonic possession––though that was certainly a primary manifestation of Satan’s counterfeiting work in the days of incarnation of Christ (Demon possession was a counterfeiting incarnational power at the fullness of time). But it principally manifests itself in 1) false religions, 2) political oppositions and persecution aimed at the church, 3) false doctrine, 4) hypocrisy, and 5) unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners.

These schemes are the common tactics employed by Satan to stop the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. The first two––false religions and political opposition aimed at the church––are brought against the church from without. The latter three––false doctrine, hypocrisy, and unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners––come from within. An appraisal of the church in our day will reveal that the majority of Christians readily focus on the former, almost without regard to the latter. The latter are the more subtle, making them more dangerous in some respects.

The Work of Satan in the Church

A professor in seminary challenged us to read the New Testament in a redemptive-historical manner with regard to the work of Satan. When we do so we discover that demon possession is mentioned less and less after the Gospels, and false doctrine is mentioned more and more. It is, as Paul told Timothy, “doctrines of demons” that come to the forefront of spiritual warfare. Additionally, Paul explained this satanic tactic to the Corinthians when he wrote:

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:3,4)

False doctrine is the principle way in which Satan seeks to gain a foothold in the church. It is not, as so many suggest, false religions existing without that threaten the life of the church–it is false doctrine within (Acts 20). The apostle Paul–who many would probably classify as one of those “paranoid reformed folks”–were he alive today–wept over the prospect of false teachers rising up from among the Ephesian elders after he would depart. As John Gerstner once put it, “The Ephesian elders were weeping because they would see Paul no more. Paul was weeping because false teachers would rise up from among the elders.” False teaching is a real and powerful reality in the church of Jesus Christ. However, false teaching is not the only tactic Satan employs within the church–false living is of great use to him as well.

In the book of Acts, the first instance of Satan’s assaults comes in the form of external opposition to the spread of the Gospel. It is the political forces of darkness rising up against the apostles, threatening them to speak no more in the name of Jesus. But, no sooner had they been delivered from this assault, there was another Satanic blow in the form of hypocrisy within the church. Ananias and Sapphira, we are told, allowed “Satan to fill” their hearts so that they might lie to the Holy Spirit. Concerning Satan’s working in this case, John Calvin wrote:

“Satan invented a plot to get into that holy company…under color of such excellent virtue; for he has wonderful wiles of hypocrisy to insinuate himself. Satan assaults the Church in this way, when he cannot prevail by open war.”

This is a trumpet call for us to watch over our own hearts against the hypocrisy that Satan wishes to employ in order to pervert the church. Pervert the church, lose the Gospel. There is an undeniable relationship between the truth of the Gospel and the truthfulness of the people of God. The truthfulness of the people of God is not the Gospel, but the Gospel is denied where there is hypocrisy and deceit. If we walk deceitfully we are giving the evil one entrance into our assemblies. Eric Alexander makes the observation that Ananias and Sapphira’s sin “was in pretending to a godliness to which they were strangers. Their sin was in being more interested in reputation than in reality. And that was like a dreadful blight which could have killed the early church. So God rooted it out vigorously.” Ananias and Sapphira––as well as Simon the Sorcerer––are examples of those who needed to be taken away from the church. And, it is important to note that in the case of Ananias and Sapphira it was God who took them out of the church. Satan had filled their hearts to corrupt the church, so God took their breath to purify it.

There are two small but important lessons that need to be learned with regard to the account of  Ananias and Sapphira. The first has to  do with the fact that Satan tried to get his way through the use of one couple, William Still observed:

“Satan only needs one individual in a fellowship to give him an opening, to let him in to wreak his havoc on the work of God.”

It doesn’t take a coup to destroy the church’s mission–it takes only one couple. There is an Old Testament parallel in the record of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7). Achan took and hid some of the gold from Jericho when the the LORD had told Israel not to keep any of the accursed things Because of Achan’s theft and deceit, the children of Israel were not able to defeat Ai. There is a warning here for us to keep our heart free from greed and deceit. But there is also the lesson that Satan uses the sin of one to bring devastating consequences upon the church.

Another lesson to learn from the example of Ananias and Sapphira is that Satan loves to work through marriages. This was the case with our first parents. Satan immediately sought to work through the marriage in order to bring sin into the world. This may be why the apostle Paul couches his teaching on marriage in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:20-22) in the context of the spiritual realities in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3 and 6:1-14). It is in the context of spiritual warfare that marriage is brought into focus. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and Ananias and Sapphira are all examples of the way in which the evil one seeks to gain an inlet into the church through marriages. Those who are married must especially be on guard against his assaults in this regard. Eric Alexander again observes:

The first warning note of danger in the church is seen in Ananias and Sapphira’s marriage. It is essentially a warning about marriage (even Christian marriage) where something is kept back from God. (Cf. 5:2, “with his wife’s full knowledge” and 5:9, “how could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?”) It seems, then, as if Ananias and Sapphira had sat down together and discussed the whole issue. They were really discussing the level at which they proposed to live before God and the extent of their consecration together to him and to the cause of the gospel. And in the process, they made a travesty of the marriage bond, which in the providence of God was intended to enable a man and woman to be helpers to each other, that they might live for his glory. But Ananias and Sapphira made it a concordat for abetting one another in robbing God of his glory, lying to the Holy Spirit and putting the whole church in jeopardy. Will you allow me to say to those of you who are married or contemplating it that here is a whole area which you need to bring before God, and the earlier the better.

There is still another way in which Satan comes into the church, with his schemes and attacks; it is by means of moving the hearts of Christians to be unwilling to receive repentant sinners. The apostle Paul charged the Corinthians to put the man living in unrepentant adultery out of the church. That man was handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (which is incidentally what it means to be excommunicated), he at some point had become the recipient of the grace of repentance and came back into the fellowship of believers. One might be tempted to think that all was well. The man had been taken captive to Satan’s wiles by lusting after another man’s wife, then he had been delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. He had returned to the house of God, and it would seem that Satan’s work was finished. But the apostle Paul warns the church that they must receive this brother, so that Satan would not get a foothold. The rationale for such admonition is found in Paul’s exhortation concerning the man who had repented:

I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Whatever else may be said about the ways in which Satan works in the church, of this much we can rest assured, the Gospel is the object of satanic assault. Satan loves to work through the hypocritical lives and censorious spirits of members of the church to pervert the grace of God in Christ in the message of the gospel. May we not be found ignorant of the devil’s devices. God has revealed them to us in the warnings, expositions, and examples of Scripture. We must give ourselves wholly to a consideration of what we find there and to our own hearts as we seek to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and live lives worthy of it.

Can A Born Again Christian Fall Away and Be Lost?


Christians have debated for centuries over whether a truly saved person can lose their salvation. Probably the strongest Biblical passage for that position is Hebrews 6:4-6. This is what the text says,

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

 Now, exactly what does this passage mean? It seems to indicate that a saved person who has experienced all the blessings in vs.4-5 can in the end fall away and be lost. In this blog I want to refer you to two principles of Biblical interpretation:

1) Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture; and

2) Remember that context rules

Scripture Will Never Contradict Scripture:

That first rule of interpretation about Scripture not contradicting Scripture comes into play because there are other passages in Hebrews which seem to teach the opposite position. Let’s take a look at a few other passages which seem to teach that a born again Christian can’t lose their salvation, because they will persevere in faith to the end.

 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:14)

This text speaks about something that has already taken place (have become partakers of Christ) if the following condition is met (we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end). The text is not saying that we will become a partaker of Christ if we go on to hold fast the assurance of our faith until the end. Rather, we have already become partakers of Christ if we go on to persevere in faith. Thus, a person who does not hold fast their assurance firm until the end never became a partaker of Christ. Thus Hebrews 3:14 seems to be saying the exact opposite of Hebrews 6:4-6. Now, two mutually exclusive positions can not both be true. Either one of them is wrong, or both are wrong, but both can’t be true. Either it is possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, or it is not possible for a true believer to fall away and lose their salvation, but it is one or the other.

Furthermore, Hebrews 10:14 says, For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (ESV).

If it is true that Jesus’ offering up of Himself on the cross has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified, then it is not possible for those same persons to fall away and lose their salvation. For those who are indwelt, regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit, they possess a perfect standing before God based on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it is “for all time”! They were not perfected until they fall away, but for all time.

Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us,

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen

This text mentions the “eternal covenant.” Well, in Jeremiah 32:40 we also read of the “everlasting covenant”, which I would presume refers to the same thing. What is the nature of the everlasting covenant?

I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.

This covenant includes two things:

1) God will not turn away from them to do them good; and

2) Those with whom this everlasting covenant is made will not turn away from God because God will put the fear of Him in their hearts.

Now, if God promises that He will never turn away from them, and that they will never turn away from Him, what is our only conclusion? That these people will never fall away and be lost.

I’ve said all of this to highlight our first principle of Biblical interpretation – “remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.” It appears that Scripture is contradicting Scripture. But that’s just it. It must be only an appearance of a contradiction. Our understanding of one or more of these texts must be wrong, because God who inspired all of these texts is a God of truth, and doesn’t contradict Himself. So what are we to do? We need to go back to the drawing room, and decide if we have understood Hebrews 6:4-6 correctly.

Context Rules:

In order to do that, let’s utilize our second rule of Biblical interpretation – “remember that context rules.” So, let’s go back and look at the context of this passage to see if we can uncover any clues as to its proper interpretation.

Hebrews 5:11-14 – in this section we discover several things about the recipients of this letter.

1) they were dull of hearing

2) they should have advanced to teachers by then

3) instead they needed someone to teach them the elementary principles of the Word of God

4) they were spiritual infants and unable to consume anything except for milk

5) they were spiritually immature.

Now, remember the whole situation in which this letter was written. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were being tempted to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism. That’s why all the way through the author keeps emphasizing the word “better.” Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than the Aaronic priesthood, He brings in a better covenant, a better hope, better promises, and is a better sacrifice. The author of this letter is urging these new Jewish believers not to forsake Christ and go back to Judaism, for that would mean their spiritual destruction.

Hebrews 6:1-3 – Here the author exhorts his readers to press on to maturity (vs. 1). In other words, they must make progress in their faith. They should have been at the point where they could be teaching others, but were still spiritual babies. They needed to mature.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – Notice that vs. 4 begins with the word “for”, which tells us that the author is giving us a reason why the readers must press on to maturity. It is because if they have received great and precious privileges and blessings, and then have fallen away, they are lost forever. This is a very serious and solemn passage. The author of Hebrews is urgently exhorting his readers to mature in their faith and bear fruit of their salvation, because it is possible that some of them who do not do this may “fall away” and prove that they were never truly saved to begin with.

But you might be thinking, “Brian, how in the world can verses 4-5 be speaking of a person who is not truly saved? Well, let’s look at them. What are these great blessings they had experienced?

1) Enlightenment

2) Tasted of the heavenly gift (probably the gift of the Holy Spirit- Acts 2:38)

3) Partakers of the Holy Spirit

4) Tasted the good word of God

5) Tasted the powers of the age to come

Notice that these readers had “tasted” several of these blessings. Is it possible for someone to taste something, swish it around in their mouth for a while, and then spit it out? Of course it is. No doubt these readers were participating in a Christian church in which the gospel was preached (enlightened, tasted the good word of God), and the power of the Holy Spirit was manifest (tasted the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the powers of the age to come). So, if we were to boil down these blessings we could reduce them to two – the gospel was proclaimed and the Spirit was working. And these professing Christians had continually heard the Word and seen the Spirit work. Yet, there was still the possibility that they could “fall away” and find it impossible to be renewed again to repentance.

Many find the expression “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” to be ironclad proof that these people were truly saved. After all, they had already repented. However, in 2 Cor. 7:10 Paul says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Evidently there are two kinds of sorrow – one leading to salvation and the other leading to death. Just as there is a saving faith which ushers in a life of good works, and a non-saving faith which does not usher in good works, so there is a true repentance which leads to salvation and a worldly repentance which is merely regret for the misery their sin has caused them.

The author goes on to say, “since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” Note the little word “and.” These people had once put the Son of God to open shame by valuing other things of the world more than Him. Then they professed faith in Christ and conversion. If they fell away after that, they would be doing the same thing they had done originally, by showing that they valued the rituals and laws of Judaism more than Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 6:7-8 – Notice again that vs. 7 begins with the word “for.” That tells us that he is going to explain what he meant in verses 4-6. Here he gives a little parable of two different kinds of fields. Both of these fields received abundant rains. However, only one field brought forth useful vegetation, while the other brought forth only worthless thorns and thistles. The first kind of field receives a blessing from God, while the latter is close to being cursed and ends up being burned. The author is explaining the person in vs. 4-6 who received the abundant rains of hearing the Word of God, and seeing the works of the Spirit. However, if he did not produce fruit in his life his end would be that of being “cursed” and “burned” (Mt.25:41). This brings us to the final piece of context which we need to examine.

Hebrews 6:9-12 – The author says in vs. 9, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” The author believed that his readers were the fruitful and blessed field, not the barren and cursed field. Notice how he puts it – “we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” Now, what are the “better things” he’s referring to? Fruitfulness and persevering faith! And, notice that these are the things that “accompany salvation.” When an individual receives salvation, he will produce fruit, and he will persevere to the end, which is exactly what Hebrews 3:14; 10:14; 13:20-21 and Jer. 32:40 all teach.

So, to sum up, I believe that Hebrews 6:4-6 is a strong, sobering, warning for any professing Christian who seems to remain in a spiritually immature condition, rather than pressing on to maturity, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and persevering in faith to the end. To any professing Christian who has heard the Word of God continually, and seen the powers of the Holy Spirit, and then falls away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Why? Because they have already received all the light they can receive, and then they have turned their backs on it, and deserted Christ to go back from where they came. They have proven that the things of the world are more valuable to them than Jesus. Thus, repentance becomes impossible for them. [ The author seems to outline an unpardonable sin of falling away which seems to contradict the teaching of the Prodigal Son  Luke 15:11-31 ]

I hope this blog is more than an exercise in Biblical Hermeneutics for you. I hope it gives us all a needed and sobering reminder that true saving faith always results in a transformed life, and that we “must show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb.6:11).” None of us want to hear those terrifying words out of the mouth of our Lord, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”!

Original here

VIDEO Supreme Court Lands Major First Amendment Case – Fired High School Coach Isn’t Giving Up After Prayer Termination – The Myth of Separation of Church and State

By Ben Dutka| July 21, 2021

The Constitution has never been a hotter topic in America. And as battles continue to rage over the rights of citizens, the highest court in the land might end up getting another historic case.

This one involves the all-important First Amendment as well as freedom of religion, and a high school football coach who isn’t about to stop fighting for his rights.

That’s why he’s pledged to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

It’s not uncommon to see coaches and players praying. They’ll often pray before games, for example, and players frequently praise God after good performances.

However, Coach Joe Kennedy found that he wasn’t allowed to conduct prayer sessions on the field with his players.

Back in 2015, the Bremerton School District told him he had to stop and when he didn’t, they suspended him. But even when Kennedy returned, he continued the practice — then he was fired.

School authorities claimed he was violating the religious freedom of students. And even though Kennedy tried to fight the case in the U.S. Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, it was dismissed.

So now, he’s taking the next step. From Fox News:

A former high school football coach challenging a ban on post-game prayers vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court after losing his latest court appeal Monday.

Joe Kennedy and his legal team have alleged the former coach’s first amendment rights were violated by the Bremerton School District in Washington state after he was issued an order to end his prayer sessions while on the field with players.

First Liberty Institute Chief Legal Officer Jeff Mateer said they “are confident the Supreme Court of the United States will right this wrong.”

The situation started with Coach Kennedy offering up silent prayers on the field, and the school argues he was never reprimanded for this.

But when other students started praying with the coach, the school had a problem. They argue that it was a violation of religious freedom, as they said in a statement:

The Ninth Circuit made the right call: The Bremerton School District was correct to protect the religious freedom of its students and their families.

The Constitution requires public schools to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students…that includes ensuring that student-athletes don’t feel compelled to pray or participate in religious activities to secure their place on a team.

The problem is, The Ninth Circuit ruled that as a “public employee,” he isn’t allowed to engage in religious activity.

That’s a big ruling, though, because it would apply to all sports coaches around the country who pray with their students. It would stop them all from praying on the field in front of fans.

The appeals court did say the school offered Kennedy “a private location within the school building, athletic facility, or press box” before or after the game.

But saying they’re not allowed to pray on the field as public employees is a big deal. It could change how school coaches around the country operate on a daily basis.

On top of that, it’s a critical rights issue — and the Supreme Court actually heard it before. But they previously returned it to lower courts because they required more facts in the case.

Well, whether or not they have more facts now, Kennedy and his team are going back to the High Court. Said Mateer:

Coach Kennedy has been denied the freedom to coach for over five years, but he’s never been a quitter. We will fight on.

Key Takeaways:

  • A high school football coach is taking his case to the Supreme Court.
  • He was fired for saying prayers on the field with players. The school argued that this violated the religious freedom of the students.
  • But Kennedy claims it’s a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The Myth of Separation of Church and State – Dr. Andy Woods

The beginning of the video does not have any sound.

VIDEO Has The Church Lost The Fear Of The Lord

 June 17, 2014  by Shane Idleman

(When the word “church” is used, I’m referring to the church collectively, as a whole, rather than “all” churches.)

​As war rages in the Middle East, and the potential for nuclear war intensifies, the church is asleep at the wheel. Many Christians mock difficult messages ​from the pulpit and the pen. They despise the heat of conviction and scoff at those who seek God unconditionally.​

The present condition of the church leaves one to wonder if the lack of the fear of the Lord is contributing to her spiritually dead condition: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). A healthy respect of God (fear) is what our culture, and the church, desperately need.

​We must turn to God’s truth and away from the broad road that leads to destruction. We must repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek restoration. We should not apologize for promoting the fear of the Lord​.

​The fear of the Lord is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Sadly, I’ve had similar conversation with emergent, post-modern, and liberal pastors. My concern is that this view is coming from leadership. They feel that we should avoid mentioning the fear of the Lord because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Just writing that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him…” (Psalm 147:11). Joshua encouraged the people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (24:14).

It’s clear from Genesis to Revelation that we are to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus spoke more on the fear of hell than on the glory of heaven. He thought it to be timely and urgent. “That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Savior, and I fear Him because He is my Judge” (A.W. Tozer).

The overall direction of the church away from the fear of the Lord is a sad reality. It is an indication that we may fear men more than God. Those who avoid teaching the fear of the Lord to soften the message are missing the balance. We are running from the very thing we need: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). Acts 9:31 says that the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that: the church was powerful and multiplied because they walked in the fear of God (not man), and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Anointing and fear go hand-in-hand. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out (not work for) our own salvation with “fear and trembling.”

We must lovingly proclaim the fear of the Lord again in our pulpits if we are to experience genuine change. Fear often motivates a person to repent. The fear of the Lord will cause an adulterer to seek forgiveness. It will motivate the prodigal to return. It will cause pastors to spend extended time in prayer for anointed sermons. When the fear of the Lord is preached the world will repent: “Falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). A true fear of the Lord saves man from himself. We should take His commands seriously…not legalistically, but reverently.

Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear one would have toward an abusive father, but rather, it’s the type of fear that involves respect and reverence for God. For example, we fear jumping off a 100-story building because we respect gravity. Fear, in this sense, is good and God-given; it protects us.

It is often through reverent fear that we come to Christ and redemption. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending, or securing an audience. The fear of the Lord offends, and rightly so. The goal of the church is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God. Shane’s sermons, articles, books, and radio program can all be found at Follow him on Facebook at:​

Has The Church Lost The Fear Of The Lord

VIDEO What Happens to Christians Who Die?, Part 1

Pastor John MacArthur preaches on the pillars, the participants, the plan, and the profit of the rapture.

1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 Oct 14, 1990

This morning, we come finally to the great text of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 18.  Please open your Bible to that particular passage of Scripture.  This is, of course, familiar to most of us as believers.  We know it as the Rapture passage, the passage which describes the catching away of the church.  It is in many ways the favorite text in this wonderful epistle that we’ve been studying here for months, and months, and months.  And finally, we have arrived at the long-awaited time to discuss this great event.  As we approach the text, I’ve entitled it: “What Happens to Christians Who Die?”  What happens to Christians who die?  I’m often asked that, even by Christians; in fact, usually by Christians.  Questions like: after we die, do we go directly to heaven?  Or, what happens to our bodies?  The details of those kinds of questions are very, very important to us, and they can be troubling if we don’t know the answer.  We want to know what happens after we die, and we would like to know what happens to the bodies of those we love when they go into the grave.  Those are pressing issues and they were equally pressing issues on the young believers in Thessalonica.

Remember now, those to whom Paul wrote this letter had only been in Christ a matter of a few months and they had only had just a few weeks, really, of exposure to Paul’s ministry so they were very much babes.  And they had become very troubled about this issue of what happens to Christians when they die.  They believed certainly in life after death because it says in chapter 1 verse 3 that they had hope.  There’s no question that Paul had told them about eternal life because he preached to them the gospel, and they believed it and they turned from idols.  And so, we know they knew about eternal life.  They knew that salvation was synonymous with living forever with God in heaven.  And they also knew about the coming of Jesus, that Jesus was going to someday return and gather all His people together and take them to be with Him.  They knew about that great gathering event. 

And so, there were some questions in their minds about how that all sort of worked out, like if you die now do you miss the gathering?  Apparently, Paul had made that gathering event so glorious, he had made that gathering event so wonderful that they were very worried that some of them might miss it, even though they would be living in eternal life, they would still be very concerned if they missed the gathering together.  In fact, it was so much on their minds that when you go back to chapter 1, would you notice verses 9 and 10?  As Paul describes them he says they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.  Now, there you have the three dimensions of their salvation: the past, turning from the idols of the past; the present, serving a living and true God; and the future, waiting for His Son from heaven.  This was a waiting group.  Chapter 2 verse 19, Paul refers to them as his hope and joy and crown in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming.  So, they must have known that the coming was something very special.  First of all, they would meet Jesus and they were waiting for Him.  Secondly, they would be the crown and joy and rejoicing of the apostle and they were thrilled about that.

Beyond that, they knew a few other things, look at chapter 5 verses 1 and 2.  Paul says, “Now, as to the times and the epochs,” or seasons, “brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”  They also knew about the day of the Lord.  They knew about a time of coming judgment on the ungodly.  They knew then that when Jesus came He would gather them to be with Him.  And He would also judge the ungodly.  They were waiting for Jesus to come.  They were waiting for the gathering time.

Now, in their waiting they had become somewhat disturbed.  Some of them probably feared that they had missed it, that it had happened without them.  How so?  Well, they were entering in to persecution and afflictions and some of them probably thought that they were going to be gathered before that happened.  So, in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4 Paul has to say to them, “So that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this for indeed when we were with you.”  We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction.  And so, it came to pass, as you know.”  He reminds them, now wait a minute, you shouldn’t be surprised by difficulty and persecution, I told you it was coming.  But maybe there were some of them who thought they were going to be gathered together before that really took place.  Certainly, they were living an immense expectation and would fear that they might miss such a great event.  In fact, in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians Paul says, “We request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” 

Somebody had been spreading the word around, either by supposedly an angelic messenger, a spirit, or some fabricated letter from Paul that the great event had already happened and the day of the Lord had arrived.  And so, there was an awful lot of concern, and loss of composure, and they were disturbed.  Had the day of the Lord already begun?  Had they somehow missed the gathering together?  And then, the most imminent question was, what about the Christians who die?  Will they miss it?  It isn’t that they didn’t believe that they would go to heaven; it was: will they miss this great event?  Will they somehow become second-class citizens in the future?  Will we know them only eternally as sort of disembodied glorified spirits while we go in our glorified bodies so that they are sort of secondary?  Or maybe we won’t even have communion with them at all, and there won’t even be a reunion with these two kinds of beings.  All of these questions were in their minds.  We can’t identify anything more specific than that. 

But they were living in expectation of Christ’s return.  They were so excited about it that the best way to describe their hope was they were waiting for His Son.  They wanted the Lord to come.  They knew it was the climax, the culmination, the great event that signaled the pinnacle of redemptive history, and they didn’t want to miss it.

It’s also interesting to note that they loved each other so much they didn’t want each other to miss it.  And so, apparently they were feeling grieved as believers were dying, for fear that they would therefore miss this great event.  It is with their grief and their confusion that Paul intends to deal.  If you look at the text in verse 13, he mentions being uninformed or ignorant and the fact that you are now grieving about it.  And then, in verse 18 he mentions the word “comfort.”  His purpose was to eliminate their ignorance, thus to eliminate their grief, and thus to bring them comfort.  Now, summing that up let me say this.  The passage is more pastoral than it is theological.  It is more intended to alleviate confusion, grief, distress, and bring comfort than it is to give a theological, eschatological delineation of every factor in the gathering together. 

They were agitated.  They were upset.  They were confused.  They were worried.  They were fearful.  After all, they’re baby Christians; they don’t know very much, they’re living every day waiting for the Son to come.  And as some of them die in the months since Paul has left, their question is: what happens to those people?  Do they miss it?  And their love for each other is so strong, chapter 4 verse 9 says, “As to the love of the brethren you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren.”  They loved each other so much they were grieving because some might miss this great event.

So, Paul writes to alleviate their grief, to bring them great measure of comfort.  Their anticipation was very, very high about the return of Christ.  And I believe it is fair to say that Paul had communicated to them that Jesus could come in their life time.  If that was not what they believed, then the whole question is meaningless.  Their concern was: they were believing Jesus would come at any moment, and as some were dying their fear was they’re going to miss it.  The only reason they would have that fear, they would have that anticipation is because they believed it could happen soon.  The major question then is: what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns?  And since they had the impression that He could come at any moment, they were deeply concerned about this issue.  It may well have been that somebody could’ve suggested, “Well, according to the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:30, if some Christians fall into sin, some are weak, and some are sick, and some are asleep or dead, it may be that these people are dying because of sin in their life that we don’t know about.  And God’s just laying them in the grave because of their sin, and only the ones who live a pure life are going to make it to the coming of Jesus.  And maybe if they are resurrected in the future, it’s going to be some time after, and some lesser circumstance, and all of that.” 

And so, Paul pens these verses.  Let’s start at verse 13.  “But we do not want you to be uninformed or ignorant, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”  He says I don’t want you to be ignorant and as a result of being ignorant, grieving.  I don’t want you to worry about those who died having missed the Lord’s return.  You say, “Well, how did Paul even know they were thinking like this?”  Back in chapter 3 verse 1 you’ll remember he mentions how he couldn’t endure any longer not knowing about them, and so in verse 2 he says we sent Timothy, and then in verse 6 it says Timothy has come back.  And when Timothy came back, it says he brought us good news of your faith and love.  I like that.  Because back in chapter 1 Paul commended them for their faith and their love and their hope.  But when Timothy came back apparently he only brought them good news about their faith and their love because their hope was a little messed up and it needed to be straightened out a little bit because they were so confused.  So, Paul writes to deal with that confusion and its consequence, grief.

Now, would you note at the beginning of verse 13.  We’re going to take our time with this, we’ll continue next week and maybe even finish it, but I want to do it very carefully because this is a very, very important passage and a very important subject.  You’ll note at the beginning he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren.”  That opening statement is Paul’s favorite way to change the subject.  That’s his favorite way, either in a positive or a negative format to change the subject.  Sometimes he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” such as here and in Romans 1:131 Corinthians 10:1, etc.  Sometimes he’ll also say, “I want you to understand.  I want you to know,” like 1 Corinthians 11:3Philippians 1:12 and other places.  But whether he says I want you to know, on a positive side, or I don’t want you to be ignorant, it marks a change in the subject to a new topic with no direct connection to the one previous.  And it’s rather emphatic.  “But” marks a change in course, “brethren” is a call to attention which signals something they need to give their attention to.  We’re done with that and I’m calling you back again to a new discussion, brethren.  It’s a term of affection, obviously, and he had immense affection for them as the end of chapter 2 indicates when it says that he was burdened, bereft really, because of the great desire he had to see their face.  And so, he turns the corner with the word “but,” he grabs their attention for the new subject with the word “brethren,” and then he says, “We would not have you uninformed or ignorant.”  This then introduces a new subject.  This introduces not only a new subject, but in this case new teaching, new revelation indicated in verse 15 “by the word of the Lord,” a revelation that he has received.

So, here he will deal with their ignorance which has led to their confusion and grief, restlessness and lack of comfort.  And what is it that he’s going to talk about?  “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.”  Now, why does he use the word “asleep?”  Why doesn’t he just say dead?  Because sleep is the unique way to speak of Christians in repose, in temporary repose.  By the way, the word “asleep,” koima to cause to sleep, is the word from which we get our word cemetery, which it was the early Christians optimistic name for a graveyard.  It really meant a sleeping place.  It really was a synonym for a dormitory, a place where people sleep.

Now, how is it that Christians are spoken of as sleeping?  You’ll notice as I answer that question, first of all, that it’s in a present tense form, this participle here, and it has the idea of those who are continually falling asleep.  That is, believers who fall asleep from time to time as a regular course of life in the church.  They’re saying, “What about these Christians that just continue to die?”  I mean, life is like that.  It ends, right?  And they keep dying.  And he says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about what happens to people after they die.”  Now, the word “sleep” in the Bible is used of normal sleep, a recovery process by which the body goes into rest temporarily.  John 11:12 uses it in its normal sense.  But the word for “sleep” is also used uniquely of Christians, and it’s used a number of times for Christians, now listen carefully, and it always refers to their bodies.  It always refers to their bodies.  The only part of us that goes in to any state of unconsciousness at death is the body.  In John, you remember chapter 11 and verse 11, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, Jesus said, but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep.  Now, everybody knew that Lazarus was what?  He was dead; he had been dead for three days.  His sister said, “By this time his body stinketh.”  Decay had set in, he had been entombed, he was dead.  From Jesus’ view he was only asleep; his soul was alive not bound in the grave, we don’t know where it was or what it experienced ‘cause the Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it does not pass out of existence since it is eternal and it is eternally conscious.  But his body was at rest, and Jesus saw that as temporary.  That’s why He calls it sleep.  Sleep is something you wake up from.  If you don’t wake up, you’re dead or you eventually will die.  And so, Jesus sees the death of Lazarus as temporary repose of his body.

Look at Acts chapter 7, just to give you a full understanding of this.  You remember when Stephen was being stoned it says in verse 60, “Falling on his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And having said this, he fell asleep.”  He fell asleep.  It was death from the human viewpoint.  It was death from the clinical viewpoint.  It was sleep because it was only temporary repose for his body.  His spirit didn’t go in to unconsciousness.  If you don’t think so, look at verse 59.  He said, “Lord Jesus,” what?  “Receive my spirit.”  It was only his body that was to be in repose, to be asleep.  A sleep, by the way, from which even his body would awaken, and that’s the main point that I want you to understand.  When in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says of Christians, “Many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep,” he again refers to death for a Christian as sleep because it is the temporary repose of the physical body.  In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians verse 6, it talks about Christians who saw the resurrected Christ; many of them remain until now.  That is, to the writing of this epistle.  But some have fallen asleep.  There’s that same familiar concept.  Verse 18, those who have fallen asleep in Christ.  And then, in verse 51, “I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep.”  Again, referring to Christians in death.  Second Peter 3:4 mentions it, “Where is the promise of His coming for ever since the fathers fell asleep all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”  There, it is the wistful anticipation of unbelievers that those who have died have died only a temporary death. 

But for Christians the term is accurate, for it is a temporary thing.  Even for pagans there will be a resurrection.  There is a sense in which the pagan bodies only sleep, for they too will be raised.  However, they will be raised to eternal damnation and death.  And so, thus it is not appropriate to speak of theirs as a temporary death, therefore a sleep, but as a permanent death and not a sleep at all.

Now, let me go a step further.  The term “sleep” or the concept of sleep does not refer to the soul.  There is no such thing as souls sleeping.  When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And he had the anticipation of entering into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ.  Nowhere does the Scripture ever teach that at any time forever the spirit of a person is ever unconscious.  That’s what makes hell so terrible.  It is consciousness in the absence of God forever.  That’s what makes heaven so wonderful; it is consciousness of the presence of God forever.  And you remember in Luke 16 as Jesus told the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man that when Lazarus died he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom and comforted.  And you remember when the rich man died, he was immediately and consciously in torment and cried out for someone to give him water to touch his tormented tongue.  You will remember that in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul looks at death for a believer, and in verse 8 he says, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.”  There’s no purgatory, there’s no intermediary condition, there’s no state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness, there’s no spiritual coma.  To be absent from the body, to be present with the Lord.  And in Philippians 1:23 the apostle Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.”  You’re either here or with Christ.  There’s no intermediary condition for the saved.  They go to be received into the presence of Jesus Christ.  There’s no intermediary place for the damned.  They go into conscious punishment and torment.  But while that spirit of that dead Christian goes immediately into the presence of Christ, that body is asleep, it is in repose, it is in rest, it is in a dormitory, as it were, and a Christian in a graveyard is just sleeping in the dorm, nothing more.

Now, the question comes: well, why is Paul so concerned to tell them about these Christians who have died?  Verse 13 says, “That you may not grieve.”  They were grieving about it.  You say, “Well, now wait a minute, anybody grieves when a Christian dies, that they know and they love and they care about.  Don’t Christians grieve, and don’t they sorrow, and don’t they lament, and don’t they shed tears when loved ones die?  That’s normal, isn’t it?”  Yes, very normal.  And certainly the Spirit of God instructs us in Romans 12:15 to weep with those that weep.  There’s a normal sorrow, reasonable, sensible release of the pain of separation and loneliness that God has designed for our benefit.  He’s not talking about that.  Follow along in the verse.  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like people who have,” what?  “No hope.”  I don’t want your grief to be that dead-end grief, that grief that comes to people because there’s no contemplation of reunion.  I don’t want you to think that Christians ever say a final goodbye, because they don’t.  That’s a great thought, isn’t it?  You never say goodbye to a believer for the last time.  There will always be another time.  I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans grieve.

In Ephesians chapter 2, as Paul delineates the character of being lost, the essence of it, he says, “They are separate from Christ, they are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, they are strangers to the covenants of promise.  They have no hope and are without God in the world.”  Among those characteristics of the lost is that statement: they have no hope.  They have no hope in life after death.  They have no hope in reunion.  Through the years I’ve had funerals, continue to have funerals of unbelieving people, or funerals of believing people where unbelievers are in the family and the hopelessness is terrifying.  The terrible sense of finality: no reunion, no future, nevermore the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice, never again, finality.  To be so consumed in life with a person, and then have the curtain drop so totally, absolutely, and finally is a cause for deep despair.  The greater the love, the greater the pain, and it is the pain of hopelessness.

You say, “Well, now wait a minute.  Weren’t there some pagans who could be numbered among ‘the rest’ there who taught life after death?”  Yes, there were some of the mystery religions that might have espoused that.  Some of the ancient cults that would have espoused that.  There were some philosophers in ancient times who taught there was an afterlife.  But nonetheless, the common teaching was that this was all there was, this was it.  Catullus sort of wrote of the common view when he wrote, “The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets there is one unending night to be slept through.”  End quote.  People live with hopelessness for the most part.  And I might add, that even people who were believing philosophers who taught an afterlife or who were in to mystery religions that taught an afterlife could never be confident about their wish for an afterlife because they had no indwelling Holy Spirit to vouch safe that reality to them.  And so, their hope was subject to the whims of their flesh and a whimsical kind of hope that’s dependent upon the flesh is no firm hope, no sound hope, and so it’s safe to say they are without hope.  Non-believing but religious people who are taught there’s a life after death can cling to the wish without having the affirmation of God that it’s true.  And so, in some cases it may be worse than having no hope because it’s hope and no hope, hope and then no hope, and hope and then no hope, and it vacillates.  Better to come to finality about no hope and get on with life.  So, people live with hopelessness, and the hopelessness, the fear of never being again together, no reunion.

Paul says, “Look, I know you’re concerned about those Christians that die from time to time and I know you’re concerned that maybe they’re going to miss the gathering together and you loved them and you want to see them again and you want them to be there and they’re not going to be there.  And you’re going to wonder: where do they go?  And where are they?  And how can we recognize them if they’re not there in bodily form?  And it won’t be like it was, and will the reunion happen?”  And he says, “Look, I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans who have no comfort in the promise of a reunion.”  Reunion is here, beloved, it is.  It is also in the very terminology of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1 when it’s called “our gathering together to Him.”  As we are brought to Him, we are gathered together to each other.  There will be reunion.  There will be a gathering together.  And he says you don’t need to fear, and you don’t need to grieve about it like people who are looking at a dead end.  We need to get that somehow deeply embedded in our hearts, don’t we?  That is our confident hope.  Partings here are just brief.

Now, he says, “I don’t want you to be an uninformed people about the Christians who are dying.  I don’t want you to grieve as the rest who have no hope.  Now, in order to eliminate that and to comfort you, I’m going to tell you about the gathering together.”  And this is what prompts his discussion of this great event.  By the way, this is one of the three passages in the New Testament which are the key passages in delineating this event.  John 14, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4, and we’ll be intersecting with all three as we go through this great text.

By the way, each time our Lord gave teaching through the Holy Spirit, each time this teaching came on this gathering together event at the coming of Christ, it was in response to certain distress.  In John 14 the disciples were distressed and confused and discomforted.  Why?  Because Jesus was what?  He was leaving.  And in the middle of their distress, they were wondering what is going to happen to us, and so Jesus said, let Me comfort you, I’m coming back.  In the case of Corinth, some were flatly denying altogether the resurrection and denying that there ever would be a gathering together.  And the Corinthians were confused.  Will there be one?  Are You ever going to collect us together?  Is there going to be a resurrection?  And so, he writes 1 Corinthians 15 about resurrection, and verses 51 to 58 about this gathering together itself.  And here you have the same thing.  The Thessalonians are distressed and disturbed, maybe because of their lack of information, and also because of some misinformation being given to them.  And so, in each case distress, doubt, confusion, even denial has caused the Spirit of God to put this down.

Now, I say that to say in all three cases it comes primarily as comfort.  It comes as a pastoral message rather than an eschatological treatise.  What is most interesting about it is if you look at the great eschatological passages of the New Testament, Matthew 24 and 25, and the book of Revelation, you don’t find a gathering together, this specific event, in either one of them.  It’s almost like this was reserved as a point of comfort contact.  It fits into the whole scheme, but those books which give you sort of chronological flow of eschatological events do not focus on this specific event.  Here it comes in a pastoral way.  It’s almost a very special, very private, very personal ministry of the Spirit of God to comfort troubled believers about their future.

So, this launches Paul then to discuss this event which we call the Rapture.  You say, “Now, where do we get that concept, Rapture?”  Go down to verse 17, the verb there “shall be caught up,” is the verb harpaz, snatched.  Snatched.  It means to snatch up, to seize; it means to carry off by force.  And it has the idea of a sudden swoop of irresistible force that just sweeps us up.  From a Latin word connected to this word comes our word rape, to give you the idea of the force, the seizure, the snatching concept.  And so, there is coming a snatching away, a seizing by force, the swooping us off, gathering us together to the Lord in the future.  And Paul says in order to eliminate your ignorance, and your consequent grief, and to bring you comfort, I’m going to tell you about it.

All right, now he’s going to tell us four things about it: the pillars of the Rapture, the participants in the Rapture, the plan of the Rapture and the profit, or the benefit, of the Rapture.  Let’s at least look initially at the first one this morning: the pillars of the Rapture.  What is it built on?  We’ve got to have a foundation for this.  It isn’t philosophical speculation, it isn’t religious mythology, it isn’t some kind of fable fabricated by well-meaning people who want to make folks feel good because of their sorrow.  What is this great promise that Jesus is coming to gather us all together built on?  He gives us three elements, to the three pillars, really: the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the revelation of Christ.

Let’s look at the death of Christ, verse 14.  “For if we believe that Jesus died.”  Stop right there.  In this case the “if” could be misleading.  It doesn’t suggest any doubt; it’s only there to indicate logical sequence, the logical sequence of believing, if you believe.  And in this case that condition is fulfilled so you could say, “Since you believe that Jesus died.”  Or, “Based on the fact that Jesus died,” that’s just simply laying down a premise.  Since you believe in Christ’s death, thus and thus and thus and thus.  And he follows with this statement.  So, if you believe, or if we believe that Jesus died, that’s where it all begins.  In order to believe in the Rapture and in order to understand the coming of Jesus to snatch away His church, you have to believe in the death of Christ.  But what does he mean by that?  Well, it was the death of Christ that paid the penalty for our what?  Our sins.  So, it was the death of Christ then that brought us into the possession of eternal life.  It is because Jesus bore our sins in His own body, it is because He became sin for us, it is because in His death He fulfilled all the conditions that God required to pay the penalty for sin, it is because of that that we can be gathered together by Christ into God’s presence, right? 

So, we have to start at that point.  It was in His death that He fulfilled all the conditions.  So, when Paul says if we believe that Jesus died, he’s not simply talking about the death of Jesus in some flat one-dimensional martyr kind of mentality.  He is summing up in it the whole atoning work.  If we believe, as it were, in the full implications of the death of Christ, then we know that judgment for sin has been satisfied, right?  We know then that we, by virtue of that, have been made acceptable to God.  And if we have been made acceptable to God, then there is a pillar on which the gathering together can occur.  If we are not acceptable to God, He’s not going to gather us to Himself.  If we don’t belong to His Son, by substitutionary death and faith in that person and work, then He’s not going to gather us together.  But because in His death we are saved from death, we believe in the gathering together.  In fact, Jesus died, and you notice he doesn’t refer to Jesus use the word sleep, Jesus died feeling the full fury of death in all of its dimensions as He bore in His body our sins, in order that He might turn death for us into sleep. 

One writer puts it this way, “Death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ.  It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed.  Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church.”  End quote.  Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church.  Why?  Because He paid for our sins.  You say, “What does that have to do with it?”  The wages of sin is death.  If the wages are paid, then we no longer face death, only temporary sleep.  The sting of death is what?  Sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56.  It’s like a bee, and when the bee stung Jesus and He died, the stinger was there and there’s no sting left.  And so, there’s no death.  We need to say, not So-and-so died, but So-and-so in spirit is alive with Jesus Christ and their body is asleep waiting for the gathering together.  That’s what happens to Christians when they die.  Their spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord, fellowship.  Their body goes in to repose, sleeping.  That’s the first great pillar.  That hope is provided for us in His death.

Second one, verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  There’s the second pillar.  When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father, it indicated that the Father approved the sacrifice of Christ and that in raising Jesus He would raise those who were in Him.  When God the Father raised Christ from the dead He indicated that Jesus Christ had triumphed over death not only for Himself but for every Christian.  And that’s why Paul goes on to say if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, “Even so,” now there’s the bridge, those two words, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”  See, our resurrection and our gathering together at His coming is predicated on His resurrection. 

I like what I. Howard Marshall at Aberdeen, Scotland wrote, he said this, “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.”  He will treat us the same way He treated Jesus.  And when Jesus died, where was His soul?  Well, it was alive, and it was proclaiming victory and triumph, and His body was in repose.  But God raised that body and joined it to that eternal soul of the second member of the trinity, and that’s exactly what He’s going to do for you.  When you die your spirit goes to be with the Father, and with the Son, and your body into the grave but God will take that body out of the grave in the same that He raised Jesus He’ll raise you to be joined with that eternal spirit into that final form like Christ.  You’ll be like Him for you’ll see Him as He is, says John.

So, “even so” is the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and what happens to Christians when He comes.  The resurrection of us all is linked to the resurrection of Christ.  First Corinthians 15:23 says Christ the firstfruits and afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming.  As God raised Him up, as it says in Hebrews 13:20, God will raise us up also.  You remember John 14:19, Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”  First Corinthians 6:14 says it directly.  “God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”  Second Corinthians chapter 4 verse 14 says the same thing: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with You.”  That’s our hope.  The pillar of the gathering together, the death of Christ, the penalty of sin is paid and God is satisfied that we are righteous in Christ and He can receive us to Himself.  The resurrection, which is God’s guarantee of Christ’s perfect accomplishment and the guarantee of our resurrection who are in Christ for He will treat us the same way He treated Christ.  Namely, He will raise us from the dead. 

And then, Paul specifically says it in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”  What’s he saying?  He’s saying: “Look, dear friends, you aren’t going to miss anything.  Even the people who die aren’t going to miss it.  Based on the death of Christ and its perfect work, based on the resurrection of Christ and the Father’s will, God is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”  With Him means with Christ.  When Christ comes in His glory to gather His people, those who have fallen asleep are going to be there.  That’s the answer to the question.  Now, what is this little phrase, “God will bring with Him?”  With Him means with Christ, but what do you mean God will bring?  Some say it means that God will bring with Christ from heaven down the spirits of dead Christians to join their bodies.  You know, it says later that we meet in the air, and so that God will bring down from heavens their souls to meet the resurrected bodies coming up, and there’ll be a joining together at that point.  Some people say it means, no, God will bring with Christ back to glory all those gathered together, living and dead.  Once they’re gathered, God will bring them back to glory. 

You say, which is true?  Well, probably both.  I don’t think we need to get carried away and be too technical.  Some have even said what it means is God is going to bring the spirits of these believers out of heaven all the way down to earth and they stay on the earth.  That’s one view.  That view doesn’t make sense.  If you’re going to come all the way to the earth, why meet in the air?  That’s an unnecessary trip if we’re going back.  Secondly, that doesn’t square with what the Bible says.  You say, “Well, what do you mean?”  Look at John 14 for a moment, verse 1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.”  The disciples again were troubled because Jesus was leaving and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them.  He says, “I’m going away, that’s right, in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare,” what?  “A place for you.”  Where?  In heaven, in the Father’s house.  “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” there is a logical conclusion, “I will come again and take you there.”  Does that make sense?  It does to me.  “I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be also.”  I’m going up there to the Father’s house and I am going to fix a place for you, and then I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to take you to the place I fixed for you where I am.  That has to be heaven.  So, we conclude then that when Jesus gathers believers together, which way are we going?  Up.  We meet in the air and we continue the heavenward movement.  Yes, it’s fair to say that our spirits, the spirits of Christians who have died, come down to meet those bodies, but once the meeting takes place, we are gathered together to Christ.  He gathers us to Himself, and He takes us to where He is, which is clearly in the Father’s house in heaven where He’s been preparing a place for us.  There has to be, then, some time interval there before to return to earth for the establishment of the Kingdom.  And so, when Jesus comes, he says God’s going to bring along all the gathered together, including those who have fallen asleep, God’s going to bring them all to Himself, along with Jesus Christ.  That’s the gathering together.  That’s the event.  And he says that those who have fallen asleep aren’t going to miss it, so don’t grieve for those who are dying, and for yourself should you die.

Again, I remind you, it really is clear that they had reason to expect that Jesus could come in their life time, right?  Or all of these questions wouldn’t have existed if they thought it was thousands and thousands of years down the road.  Paul had given them the impression that it could come in their life time.

One other note that I just mention to you.  The end of verse 14, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, the best way to understand that phrase is a sort of phrase of what you could call attendant circumstance.  The use of dia here can reflect the idea that they died in a circumstance of being related to Jesus Christ.  They died in a situation where they were related to Jesus Christ.  So, all who have temporarily gone into repose in the graves as to their physical bodies in relationship to Jesus Christ are going to be there at the gathering.  I just want to let you know, folks, that if you’re ever in Christ, you’re always in Christ.  And you can be spoken of as being in Christ even though you’re asleep, your body is asleep.  It’s a permanent designation.  We have fallen asleep in Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 15:18.  Those who died in Christ remain in Christ forever and ever, and will be risen in Christ, and collected with the rest who are alive.  Now, that’s just the first part.  The good part is yet to come when we see one more of the pillars and then the plan, the participants and the profit from this, but that will be for next time.  Let’s bow in prayer.

While your heads are bowed for just a moment, I was reading this week about a little girl, five-year-old girl who was watching her brother die of a very, very painful disease.  He was much older than she, and she loved him a lot.  And after he died and the funeral was over she said to her mother, she said, “Mommy, where did brother go?”  To which her mother replied, “Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.”  She said, “Oh.”  And that satisfied her little mind.  Not long after that, she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend, and her mother was weeping and saying, “I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son.”  Later in the day, the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, “Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?”  Well, the answer to that question is no, nobody is lost when we know where they are.  We don’t grieve as those who have no hope.  Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes.  That is the promise of Scripture.

Thank You, Father, for such a promise and such a hope.  We pray this day that there will be no one in the hearing of this message who does not live in that hope.  Father, we pray for those who have no hope, who look at death as a blind alley, a dark hallway, a dead-end street, have no hope of reunion, no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal joy.  God, bring them to the Savior this day.  Save them, Lord.  Save them with Your grace, that they might have the hope of those in Christ, living and have fallen asleep, that someday we shall all be gathered together to be forever with Christ, to go to the dwelling place prepared for us in the Father’s house to be where our Savior is.  How we thank You, Father, that that hope is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  We pray in His name.  Amen.

How to Shepherd Your Flock in a Politically Charged World

Trevin Wax

Everything gets politicized these days. It’s never been easier for churches to also get caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism.

So, what should a pastor do when their fellow church members see needs and want to meet them, see injustice and want to stop it, or see a good cause and want to support it?

First, we should rejoice! When a church does a good job equipping people to think and live as Christians in a fallen world, the people become like rivers overflowing the banks of the church gathered (the lake). The landscape changes when there are lakes and rivers. But not all lakes need to be rivers.

So what do you do when one person wants their passion to be the primary passion for the whole church? 

There are no easy answers to this question because every church and every community and every activist is a different mix of personalities and passions. But here are some principles to keep in mind.

1. Demote the political sphere while encouraging your politically active members.

For too many in our society, politics is everything. In This Is Our Time, I write about the politicization of everything, where politics has become a religion. Our country is still faith-filled; it is just that today our faith is misplaced. Too often, it’s directed toward government, not God. And many of our frustrations come when we realize government can’t ultimately save us. It was never meant to. Peggy Noonan writes: “When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.”

All around us are people who believe the myth that politics is the only real place where you can effect change or transform the world. When you think that laws are the most important factor in changing the world, then every battle must be fought to the end. Otherwise, you’re sacrificing the cause!

The gospel challenges that myth. It tells us that the political sphere is just one area in which change can take place. It helps us put the political in a broader context, to realize that it is not everything. All gains are temporary, but so are all setbacks. Even if we lose a political cause, we can still be faithful. We are called always to witness, not always to win.

With all of this in mind, pastors should demote politics to its proper place, while simultaneously encouraging Christians who are active in their community. Understanding that the political sphere is not ultimate does not mean we should retreat. We cannot be indifferent, hoping to enter our houses of worship or our closets for prayer, as if holiness is all personal and private. No, the apostle Peter calls us to holiness and honor as a way of being on mission in this world. “Holiness is not supposed to be cloaked in the chambers of pious hearts,” says theologian Vince Bacote, “but displayed in the public domains of home, school, culture, and politics.”

2. Be aware of how quickly the uniting factor of a congregation can become a cause rather than the cross. 

Once you have demoted the political sphere to its proper place and encouraged your church members to remain active, you should keep an eye on what is at the center of your preaching and teaching. It is easy for the unifying factor of a church to become what we do for others instead of what Christ has done for us.

A church’s unity for a cause can eventually displace the cross. The gospel is still there, but it’s no longer in the center. Something else is uniting the church – a political cause, social work, a community ministry.

Why does this matter? Because we want long-term fruitfulness in our communities.

When you put the gospel at the center, various ministry opportunities will come alongside as demonstrations of the power of Christ’s work on the cross. But when you put a cause at the center, various ministry opportunities may flourish for a time but then wither away, because they are no longer connected to the source of life that can sustain such activism.

3. Guard the platform of your church.

As a pastor, you’ve probably received multiple self-invitations to take “just a few minutes” of precious platform time to give a report or make a congregation aware of a need. Whether it’s people spreading Bibles around the world, missionaries coming home from furlough, medical missionaries providing essential healthcare or pro-life opportunities… everyone wants just a few minutes. Except for the congregation. They expect you to say “no” and protect them from the countless ministry opportunities that could be presented every week.

Do your congregation a favor and guard the platform of your church. Only put activities in the bulletin that correspond to your church’s mission and presence in the community. You can’t be a megaphone for every single thing people in your church want to promote.

4. Observe your church’s particular gifts and passions, and provide opportunities for community involvement.

Right now, our church is involved with tutoring elementary school students down the street. We’re helping plant a church in Cincinnati. We’ve celebrated when families have adopted children from overseas, and we’ve hosted fundraisers to help them offset the cost. We’re assisting refugees being resettled in our area.

These are ways that our church is ministering to the community. Enough people in the congregation were involved in the need for the church to realize it could help facilitate some of this good ministry.

J. D. Greear lays out three approaches to individual ministries – Own, Catalyze, and Bless. He explains it this way:

To “own” a ministry means we staff and resource it directly.

Those we “bless” are those we know our members are engaged in, but as an institution we have little interaction with them other than the occasional encouragement. 

But the third category, “catalyze,” is where we put most of our energy. When we catalyze something, we identify members with ideas and ask them to lead us. We come alongside them, adding our resources, networking power, etc. We serve them. And that means sometimes they don’t do things exactly the way I would prefer. But in the long run, an empowered church catalyzed to do ministry will do more gospel-good in the community than if the church owns and staffs all its own ministries.

5. Publicly affirm and bless the kind of activism you want to see.

This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Lift up examples of people who are the kind of activists you want to see.

When you hear of people in your congregation doing good in the community, don’t be shy in letting the rest of the church know. What you celebrate, you become.

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