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Overcoming Pride in Ministry
by Eric Watkins
Few things are more dangerous in the life of the church than prideful leaders. Some of the most difficult issues many churches encounter revolve around men who feel entitled to the office of deacon, elder, or pastor. Most of my ministry has been in church planting, and it is a truism that church plants tend to attract men who think very highly of themselves and their prerogative to lead.
Yet, before I appear to be waving my finger vigorously at others, I must admit that the biggest challenge I have faced as a pastor has been the pride of my own heart. Pride can far too often become the shackle that rather subtly wraps itself around our ankles and effectively hinders us from not only running the race of faith well, but from serving well.
This can be true not only for pastors, who often think too much of themselves and envy the ministry of other pastors; it can be true also of deacons and elders, or simply put, men in the church who believe they are entitled to fill one of these offices.
I would like to suggest that each of the offices of deacon, elder, and pastor, in one facet or another, reflects the person and work of Christ in His offices of prophet, priest, and king. These three Old Testament offices were each uniquely fulfilled by Jesus. The Westminster Shorter Catechism emphasizes this quite well in questions 23–28. Jesus is the perfect prophet, perfect priest, and perfect king. The New Testament offices of deacon, elder, and pastor not only continue certain aspects of the three Old Testament offices; they also function within the church to display perpetually the ministry of Christ in visible form. In a very profound sense, Jesus was the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.
Jesus as Deacon
As the perfect deacon, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Greek verb used twice here for “serve” is that from which we get the English word “deacon.” Jesus took keen interest in the physical needs of those to whom he came to minister, along with their spiritual needs.
It was one of His post-resurrection gifts to the church to establish a diaconal ministry to widows (see Acts 6); much as in the Old Testament, where the priests were to care for widows and orphans within the context of caring for the temple. God’s name was dishonored when widows and orphans were neglected in the covenant community, and in a similar way, God displays the glory of His grace by the way in which He continues to care for those who cannot care for themselves—both spiritually and physically. Jesus is the perfect deacon.
Jesus as Elder
Jesus is also the perfect elder. He referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10) who laid down His life for His sheep. He cared more for us than for Himself (Phil. 2), and He has set the bar quite high for those who would serve as undershepherds in His flock. When elders “take care of the flock in their midst,” they reveal the gentle yet firm care of Jesus, the perfect elder who alone is the “Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Jesus as Pastor
Last, Jesus is the perfect pastor. In many churches, the pastor ends up doing almost everything, including the work of deacons and elders. Yet the pastor-teacher bears a particular calling to minister the Word of God, and bears upon his conscience the words of Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). As a pastor with many flaws, I find it humbling to think of the way in which Jesus always taught God’s Word with perfect accuracy, pierced the hearts of His hearers, and kept every sermon focused on the gospel. Jesus is the perfect pastor-teacher.
It is for these reasons that men who aspire to one of the separticular offices ought not to aspire to having a title in the church, but ought rather to aspire to reflect the only One who is worthy of praise, glory, and honor—Jesus. Such a perspective keeps us from checking the bulletin and annual report to see if our names are mentioned in them. If, by God’s grace, we are called by His church to serve in one of these offices, we need to confess readily that we are but weak and “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). This expression of weakness and unworthiness comes after the servants have simply done what they were commanded.
Yes, we are weak; and yes, we are unworthy. Titles mean nothing; faithfulness means everything. By God’s grace, let us cease seeking after our own glory, and let us rather seek to display Jesus, the Lord of the church who is the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE October 1st, 2015
TOPICS Jesus Christ, Pastoral Ministry, Pride
Eric Watkins
Rev. Eric B. Watkins pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Fla., and a PhD candidate at Kampen Theological University in the Netherlands.
More from Eric Watkins
A Communion of Confession
Something Old, Something New
Our Daily Bread
Comforting Eve
Listening to God’s Word
ALL RESOURCES BY ERIC WATKINS
Why a Study Bible?
by R.C. Sproul
The editors of Tabletalk asked me to speak about study Bibles and what drove Ligonier Ministries, in particular, to publish a thoroughly revised and updated version of the Reformation Study Bible. I’m glad to take up this task, as I continue to believe that a good study Bible is one of the most important tools for helping people grow in the things of God.
Another article this month will deal with the history of study Bibles, so I won’t go into detail on that specific subject. However, I do want to point out that our efforts to produce a study Bible are born of the same passion that drove men in years past to get the Word of God into the minds and hearts and souls of every person. This passion compelled William Tyndale to cross the whole continent of Europe, moving from city to city to escape execution, translating the ancient Hebrew into words that a literate plowboy could read and understand. After the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther fled in a faked-kidnapping episode to the Wartburg castle. There, he donned a disguise and undertook the task of putting the Bible into the German vernacular. This was anathema to the Roman church—Luther was told that if he were to translate the Bible into the common tongue, he would open a floodgate of iniquity. Hundreds of different denominations would arise, each claiming to base their faith on the Bible. Luther agreed that that could very well happen. But, he said, if getting the gospel that is plain enough for every child to understand into the hands of the normal person carries with it the risk that some will misinterpret Scripture and open a floodgate of iniquity, then so be it. Luther understood the importance of every person’s knowing Scripture, and he knew that the church had to get it out to the masses even though misuse of the Bible was possible. As long as the church is faithful to this Word, she cannot be held accountable for its misuse.
At Ligonier, we’re confident in the power of the Word of God to convert sinners and equip Christians for every good work. We want the gospel to go forth to every nation, even if some may take that gospel and twist it to their own ends. But we want the people of God to grow deeper in their faith and to explore the depths of the gospel, which is simple enough for all to understand and yet so deep that in our lifetime we can only begin to scratch the surface of its meaning and application. For that, sound teaching is indispensable, and that’s why our goal has been to provide a study Bible grounded in the Reformed tradition of Christian theology.
Reformed theology, which C.H. Spurgeon said is merely a nickname for Christianity, is our passion here at Ligonier. We want to spread the knowledge of the gospel to as many people as possible to help churches around the world understand the substance of its message. Everything we do through Ligonier Ministries is directed toward that end, including the Reformation Study Bible.
There is distaste in our day, even in the church, for doctrine. People say, “I can live the Christian life without being concerned about doctrine.” Well, if you are not concerned about doctrine, then the best thing you can do with your Bible is throw it away, because that is what the Bible is—it is sixty-six divinely revealed books of doctrine. On the night before His execution, Jesus met in the upper room with His disciples and prayed His High Priestly Prayer. He poured out His soul to the Father in behalf of His followers—His disciples and those who would believe through the ministry of the original disciples. And His prayer was for their sanctification. He said to His heavenly Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Now, if you want to be sanctified, if you want to grow in conformity to the image of Christ, you need to know the truth of God. You need to know doctrine. The whole point of a good study Bible, such as the Reformation Study Bible, is to help you learn the theology that God reveals in His sacred Word that will shape your life and bring you into conformity with Christ.
The original Geneva Bible, which you will read about in this issue of Tabletalk, was developed to help people learn the theology revealed in God’s Word. It is in the spirit of that Geneva Bible that we produced the original New Geneva Study Bible, and then the Reformation Study Bible. We wanted a resource that, like the Geneva Bible, faithfully taught the Scriptures and presented the key tenets of Reformed theology rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation. And in that same spirit, we have the completely new, reworked edition of the Reformation Study Bible—which really excites me.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE September 1st, 2015
TOPICS Reference, Bibles,General Reference Works
R.C. Sproul
Dr. R.C. Sproul is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and author of the book Everyone’s a Theologian.
More from R.C. Sproul
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 1)
Everyone Believes this Doctrine
The Spirit’s Internal Witness
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 5)
The Deity of Christ
ALL RESOURCES BY R.C. SPROUL
When the Church Doesn’t Shine
by Elliot Grudem
“Grace always has about it the scent of scandal,” Philip Yancey wrote. That’s true individually. It’s also true corporately. Jesus didn’t die for a perfect church; He died to make her perfect. At times, Jesus allows His bride’s imperfections to be revealed publicly in a way that is best described as scandal. How should we respond in the midst of church scandal? I’ll suggest three ways: feel, pray, and hope.
Feel
First, you should feel. I can’t tell you what to feel, because I’m not in the middle of your specific experience. Nor should you let anyone—including yourself—tell you how to manage your feelings. Instead, process those feelings—even the ones you keep deep down inside—with God through prayer.
God encourages us to do that in the book of Psalms, which John Calvin called “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul.” He explained, “There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” The psalmists take those emotions and show us how to process them with God in prayer. Feel and join the psalmists in talking with God about your feelings.
Pray
Second, commit yourself to prayer, not just for yourself, but also for others and for the church.
Pray for those whose sin is exposed. Pray for yourself that you would not be tempted to follow in their sinful ways (Gal. 6:2). Pray for those affected by the exposed sin. Pray for the leaders who deal with the often-widespread implications of that sin. Pray for those who hear of the sin and believe it confirms their rejection of Jesus and His church. Pray for the church.
Pray prayers of thanksgiving. One reason sin becomes scandal is because it takes almost everyone by surprise: God was clearly at work in the church; gospel transformation was taking place in people’s lives and in their neighborhoods. And then this horrific sin was exposed.
In the midst of scandal, there is a temptation to invalidate all the ministry done in and through the church. That cannot be the case; God is not made impotent by our sin. Fight that temptation and fight despair by thanking God for the specific ways you’ve seen His good work in the church.
Pray for the restoration of the sinner. That can be the hardest thing to pray for, especially if you are impacted by their sin. We sinfully desire that they experience the same pain we are experiencing. We entertain private fantasies that include our rejoicing at their demise. Fight that sin by praying for repentance and restoration.
Hope
Finally, hope. Hope that God will answer your prayers as you’ve prayed them. Write down your specific prayers. Look for the ways God answers those prayers.
God is masterful at taking evil and turning it for good: “This Jesus … you crucified and killed … God raised him up” (Acts 2:23). In the middle of scandal, it can be tough to hope. Allow yourself to at least entertain hope. Struggle to follow Abraham who “in hope, believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18). Remember Jesus, crucified, dead, and buried, but now risen and reigning over everything.
Fight against things like cynicism and gossip that destroy your hope. The cynic is certain that nothing good will come of the scandal and so refuses to hope. The gossip doesn’t believe change is possible and so speaks against hope by spinning a story that is worse than it really is.
Only speak of what you know is and will be true. Stick to the facts of the situation and the truth of Scripture. You know for sure that God will work this for good (Rom. 8:28). You don’t have any idea what that good will look like. If the Israelites received their hoped-for, postexilic good, they would have received another king like David. Instead, God gave them David’s greater son, Jesus.
Resist the temptation to explain the good that God will work in the midst of scandal before God shows what that good is. Don’t title the chapter before God has shown you the last page. As you talk with others—both Christians and non-Christians—speak with confidence in a Redeemer who is in the business of taking a horrific mess and turning it into something beautiful, even though you don’t know exactly what that good will be.
Scandal might shut down the specific congregation most affected. Those directly affected by the sin may live with wounds that never fully heal. The sinner may never repent. Or, the congregation may come back stronger, and in ways you never expected. The deep wounds from sin may eventually heal.
In all of it, God will show once again that He is more gracious to His people than we could ask or think.
Sin’s widespread destruction is often shocking. In the midst of the sin, God’s restoring grace often surprises us. Mourn the destruction; rejoice in the restoration.
As John Newton—who knew a lot about sin-filled scandal and God’s amazing grace—wrote in “Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart”:
All thy wastes I will repair,
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew;
And in thee it shall appear,
What the God of love can do.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE September 1st, 2015
TOPICS Man and Sin, Prayer,Repentance and Forgiveness
Elliot Grudem
Rev. Elliot V. Grudem is lead pastor for leadership development and church planting at Vintage Church in Raleigh, N.C., and founder and president of the Leaders Collective, an organization aimed at equipping pastors.
More from Elliot Grudem
Mercy Ministry
ALL RESOURCES BY ELLIOT GRUDEM
The Proper Place of Love
by R.C. Sproul
How many people do you know that have made it to the hall of fame in music, art, literature, or sports because of their love? We elevate people to the status of heroes because of their gifts, their talents, and their power, but not because of their love. Yet, from God’s perspective, love is the chief of all virtues. But what is love?
Love is said to make the world go round, and romantic love certainly makes the culture go round in terms of advertising and entertainment. We never seem to tire of stories that focus on romance. But we’re not referring to romantic love when we speak of the Christian virtue of love. We’re talking about a much deeper dimension of love, a virtue so paramount that it is to distinguish Christians from all other people. Moreover, love is so important to the Bible’s teachings that John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Whatever else we say about the Christian virtue of love, we must be clear that the love God commands is a love that imitates His own. The love of God is utterly perfect. And we are called to reflect and mirror that love to perfection, to be perfect as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Now, of course, none of us loves perfectly, which is why we must be covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ by faith in Him alone. Nevertheless, it’s important for us to return time and again to Scripture to find out what love is supposed to look like, for we’re so easily satisfied with a sentimental, maudlin, romantic, or superficial understanding of love.
First Corinthians 13 plumbs the depths of what love really means. It’s a measuring rod by which we can examine ourselves carefully to see whether this love resides in our hearts and is manifested in our lives. Given that truth, I’m surprised that 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most popular passages in all of Scripture instead of being one of the most despised. I can’t think of any chapter in Scripture that more quickly reveals our sins than this chapter. It’s popularity may be due to its being one of the most misunderstood and least applied chapters in the Bible. There’s a sense in which we’re ambivalent toward it. We’re drawn to it because of the grandeur of its theme and the eloquence of its language, yet at the same time we’re repulsed by this chapter because it reveals our shortcomings. We want to keep some safe distance from it because it so clearly demonstrates to us our lack of real love.
This chapter is part of an Apostolic admonition to Christians who were torn apart by contentions in the church. They were behaving in an immature, fleshly manner, and at the heart of this ungodly behavior was a manifestation of certain talents, abilities, and gifts without the presence of love in their lives. In the opening verses, Paul speaks of love as the sine qua non of Christian virtue (1 Cor. 13:1–3). He’s speaking with hyperbole, intentionally exaggerating things to make his point. He starts off comparing love to the gift of tongues. Paul says, in effect, “I don’t care if you are fluent in fifty languages or if you have the gift to speak foreign languages miraculously. I don’t care if God has endowed you with the ability to speak the language of the heavenly host. If you don’t have love, the eloquence of your speech becomes noise. It becomes dissonance, an irritating and annoying racket.” He says here that if we speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, we become a sounding brass or a clanging symbol—mere noise. All the beauty of speech is lost when love is absent.
Paul then compares love to the gifts of prophecy and understanding, miraculous endowments that God gave to people during the Apostolic era. These tremendous gifts were nothing compared to love. The Apostle says that you can have a miraculous endowment, you can receive power from God the Holy Spirit, but it is to be used in the context of the grace of love. And without that love, the use of the divine power is a charade. Jesus had to warn even His own disciples about the danger of using a God-given gift without love. Jesus empowered His disciples to participate in His ministry of exorcism, and they went out on their mission and came back clicking their heels. They were so excited at the effectiveness of their ministry that they were rejoicing in the power Christ had given them. But what did Jesus say? Don’t rejoice because you have been given power over Satan, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven (Luke 10:1–20). The disciples were caught up with the power instead of the grace that was underlying that power. They were intoxicated with the gift, and were forgetting the One who gave it.
The bottom line is that the gifts of God can be used without love. When that happens, their value is destroyed. The essence of love, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, is to seek the welfare of others. A person who reflects God’s love is driven to give of himself for others, not to wield his power for his own benefit. But we are people who are more interested in power, in doing rather than being. We’re more concerned to seize the supernatural power that God can give rather than the supernatural love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). We have misplaced priorities. Thanks be to God that His love for us is greater than our love for Him. May He strengthen us to pursue love above all else, a love that reflects His love for us in Christ (5:8).
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE August 1st, 2015
TOPICS The Church, The Holy Spirit, Love
R.C. Sproul
Dr. R.C. Sproul is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and author of the book Everyone’s a Theologian.
More from R.C. Sproul
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 1)
Everyone Believes this Doctrine
The Spirit’s Internal Witness
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 5)
The Deity of Christ
ALL RESOURCES BY R.C. SPROUL
Planting Churches in Japan: An Interview with Dan Iverson
by Dan Iverson
Tabletalk: How were you called to plant churches in Japan?
Dan Iverson: My story is “mercenary to missionary.” I was an infantry officer, serving God in the “unreached” people group called the Marines. My wife, Carol, and I had never considered foreign missions, but then God led us to seminary, and at a missions conference in our first year, the speaker demonstrated from Genesis to Revelation (in about ten hours) God’s plan for “all nations.” We were deeply affected in seeing how proclaiming the gospel and starting churches in every people group was central to the Bible. How had we missed this?
In a prayer meeting, I was given a card for Afghanistan, which at the time had fewer than twenty known indigenous Christians. I was moved. Imagine seeing people carrying a telephone pole with ten people lifting at one end and one person at the other. At which end would you help? For many people groups, there are one hundred workers in the United States for every one in the field.
We wrestled with God for two years, worrying about taking our children overseas and raising support. God brought four seminary couples together to pray weekly about missions. We heard that three Japanese pastors from small church plants totaling sixty worshipers near Tokyo needed partners to start a presbytery. We prayed, our denomination’s missionary arm (Mission to the World) confirmed the call, God raised the support, and we came. Our team committed to twelve years, with the goal of starting churches where there were none, in partnership with these Japanese pastors.
TT: What have been some of your biggest joys and struggles over your twenty-eight years in Japan?
DI: Learning Japanese was such a struggle. After studying Romans in Bible study, Carol used a new word by mistake. At a restaurant, instead of ordering filet katsu (breaded pork or chicken) she ordered katsu rei (circumcision). But what a great joy it became over time to share “the unsearchable riches of Christ” in Japanese with people who had never heard the gospel.
The fruit was slow; it was four years before we saw the first believer. But what a joy to see Toshiko baptized! Like most Japanese Christians, she was the first in her family line. The following year, thirteen adults believed and were baptized.
We wondered, “How will we ever plant a church, let alone a presbytery?” But Jesus has promised to build His church. First one church was planted, then a daughter church. Elders were finally ordained. Korean missionaries and Japanese pastors, as well as our team, planted more churches, and today there is a presbytery with churches worshiping in nineteen locations.
Family separation is difficult. When my mother was dying, we wrestled with returning home. New Japanese believers in our church gave money on their own to buy tickets so that all of us could be with mom at the end. What a struggle—and a joy.
It was difficult to bring our children to Japan; at first it was our greatest reason not to become missionaries. But God turned that into blessing. The mission team “family” turned out to be betterin many ways for raising children. Our kids constantly saw God at work and by His grace, all nine have embraced Christ and His mission. (You can see our kids creatively singing about being “MKs” [missionary kids] at IversonJapan.com.)
I remember the day we finally started public worship in our Tokyo suburb. It was thrilling—in all of history, Jesus Christ had never been worshiped publicly in that town. A big, God-centered reason that we do missions is because worship doesn’t exist in so many places.
TT: How is Christianity viewed by the general population?
DI: In America, a twenty-year-old living at home might tell her mom, “I’m going to church,” when she’s really going shopping. But in Japan, she might say, “I’m going shopping,” when she’s really going to church. People aren’t killed for becoming Christian, but there is often opposition. While respect exists for Christian morals and for the now-secular schools started by missionaries long ago, becoming a Christian is still often viewed as being too “different” in a society that values conformity. A Japanese proverb says, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” Therefore, the rich, educated, secular, nominally Buddhist-Shinto Japanese continue as the world’s second largest unreached people group (see joshuaproject.net).
The 2011 tsunami also helped raise respect for Christianity. While hundreds of thousands of foreigners fled nuclear disaster, thousands of Christians came to serve. Many stayed or returned as missionaries. As God used the persecution in Acts to spread out the Christians and start new churches, He has used the tsunami to bring many to faith and start new churches where there were none.
TT: How does Japan’s culture affect your ministry?
DI: Many Japanese are interested in English. We offer conversational English classes that end with “Bible time.” Black gospel music is popular here. Our gospel choir has about fifty people singing black gospel music, and thirty-five of them are non-Christians. As a Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation leader supposedly said, “Those Protestants cheat! They sing their doctrines into the people’s hearts.” Also, the “group society” thing is huge. The process of building group consensus takes so long, but, once the decision is made, the execution is the world’s best.
Perhaps the biggest issue is religious/cultural. There is virtually no understanding of “God” with a big G, but only “the gods.” Coming to faith in the true God, seeing one’s sin, and trusting Christ alone for salvation usually takes years.
TT: What helps have been essential to your spiritual endurance and growth as you’ve served in a foreign country?
DI: I cannot imagine being in this hard place without a team of people with different gifts praying, working together, and encouraging each other, especially in the hard times.
Understanding the gospel in a deeper way has been vital. In the early “fruitless” years, a Tim Keller sermon on Luke 10 really helped me. When the disciples returned celebrating victory, Jesus told them not to rejoice in their fruit, but that their names were written in heaven. Slow fruit in Japan was good for my sanctification, teaching me to rejoice first in Christ, not ministry progress. And, as God gave fruit, the same lesson applied, probably more.
Meditating on Bible promises, reading about the history of world missions, our team’s twelve-year commitment, weekly Sabbath rest, good vacations, and home assignments in the USA have all helped us to persevere.
TT: What can churches outside Japan learn from the Japanese Church?
DI: First, the focus on the common good. Living in Japan has given me a new perspective on “American rugged individualism.” A “common grace” virtue of Japanese culture is putting the group’s needs above one’s own, which sounds pretty biblical. Second, moderation. Even wealthy Japanese people often live modestly. Third, perseverance. Kingdom work is difficult and slow. Many welleducated pastors faithfully persevere for decades on small salaries.
TT: How can short-term missionaries serve on the mission field?
DI: Many ways. Every year for twenty-five years, we have had young “gap-year” interns serve on our team. They teach in our Christian school, use their music gifts in church plants, and disciple missionary children. Short-termers (including retirees) teach conversational English, providing evangelism contacts.
TT: What are some disadvantages and advantages of short-term mission trips?
DI: We wrote an article some years ago titled “Short-Term Missions: Blessing or Bother?” Career missionaries can get pulled away from ministry to take care of short-term teams. But, while most missions in Japan are shrinking due to high cost and hard soil, our MTW Japan mission has grown from fifteen career missionaries to more than fifty. Almost every new missionary or their spouse was a former short-termer. Short-term teams help with English Bible camps and our Church Planting Institute; teach and give testimonies in churches; repair buildings; and about fifty other things. People are changed on these trips. They return home more committed to praying, giving, sending, and going.
TT: What advice would you give to someone considering cross-cultural missions work?
DI: Pray every day about it, with your spouse if you are married, asking for God’s clear leading. Go with a team that knows God’s grace, practices forgiveness, and models this gospel unity for the emerging indigenous church. And don’t let family concerns stop you. That was our biggest fear and reason not to go. Now twenty-eight years later, our children say with us, “Being missionaries wasbetter.” The best thing for our families is serving in the place where God leads.
Dr. Dan Iverson is country leader in Japan with Mission to the World (PCA), a church-planting organization dedicated to worldwide church growth. A former Marine officer, Dr. Iverson has been serving in Japan for nearly thirty years. He is church-planting pastor of Oyumino Christ Church (PCJ) in Chiba, Japan, and a mission team leader. In connection with Oyumino Christ Church, Dr. Iverson’s wife, Carol, is the headmaster at Covenant Community School International. For information on short-term missions trips or to learn more about the Iversons’ work in Japan, visit IversonJapan.com.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE August 1st, 2015
TOPICS The Church, Evangelism and Missions
Dan Iverson
Dr. Dan Iverson is country leader in Japan with Mission to the World (PCA), a church-planting organization dedicated to worldwide church growth.
More from Dan Iverson
Eastern Bankruptcy
ALL RESOURCES BY DAN IVERSON
Answering from the Word
by Voddie Baucham
Apologetics has been broadly defined as the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life. This definition pairs well with the practical admonition given by the apostle Peter to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics, then, boils down to knowing what we believe, why we believe it, and being able to communicate what we believe and why in an effective, winsome manner to those who question our faith.
Since our belief is based on Scripture, there is a limited number of things we have to defend. Moreover, each of those things has been articulated clearly by the biblical authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the most powerful tool we can use is the Word of God itself. Using Scripture as a model of and basis for apologetic engagement is an approach I call “expository apologetics.”
The Need for Apologetics
Apologetics has waxed and waned in terms of its popularity among Christians in America. At times, there has been more emphasis on mercy ministry, social outreach, or church growth. At other times, evangelism and apologetics have taken center stage. Currently, we are in the midst of a surge in the popularity and practice of apologetics. More and more, Christians are beginning to recognize the need. Apologetics is necessary today because of issues such as biblical illiteracy, postmodern and post-Christian thinking, and open opposition to biblical truth.
Biblical Illiteracy
One foundational reason why we need apologetics is the basic biblical illiteracy we find in both the culture at large and in the church. People simply do not know what the Bible says. As a result, some of the most basic tenets of Christianity, ones that once would have been known and assumed to be true by most Americans in the past, are today considered obscure and suspect.
Almost no one knows the Ten Commandments anymore, let alone believes that they are relevant. And catechesis is a foreign concept even to the most committed Christians. As a result, our culture is no longer filled with people who grew up steeped in these basic ideas. Today, not even those who attended church as children have heard foundational biblical truths. Consequently, we cannot assume anything. We must be prepared to defend the most basic claims and ideas of our faith. And we must be prepared to do so from the Bible.
Post-Christian Thinking
The belief that truth is relative directly opposes the concept of apologetics. I learned this the hard way when I was a student at Oxford University. I was finishing one doctoral program in the United States while simultaneously starting another doctoral program in the United Kingdom. My first week at Oxford, I was introduced to my primary instructor. When he learned that I was an American working on an apologetics-oriented dissertation back in the United States, he immediately set out to chart a course for me that included reading and writing on the subjects of inclusivism and pluralism. It was a very trying time.
I came face-to-face with postmodernism in its most powerful form. Here I was in the second-oldest and arguably most-respected university on earth, and everywhere I turned, truth was being denied, ambiguity affirmed, and certainty vilified. I had to learn very quickly how to hold my own and defend my faith among academic elites. I also learned that academic elites were just making slightly more sophisticated attempts at the same arguments with which I was familiar.
In the end, I learned to use the power of the Word to shape my arguments and force others to acknowledge their lack of authoritative support for the positions they held. Pressing this antithesis did not always result in the acknowledgement of the authority of Scripture. However, it often resulted in the acknowledgement that the debate was between man’s word and God’s Word.
Open Opposition to Biblical Truth
Another issue giving rise to the resurgence of apologetics is the open opposition to biblical truth prevalent in Western society. Gone are the days when the truths of the Bible were assumed and men held accountable to them. Today, Christianity is seen as a threat to freedom, or even a pathological condition. Schools accept the “theory” of evolution, but view the idea of creation as a dangerous myth. Judges see the biblical view of sodomy as hate speech. In fact, various state departments of child protective services have at times listed regular church attendance as one of the hallmarks of abusive parenting.
In this landscape, Christians must have a ready answer for those who believe that we are not just wrong—we are evil. Expository apologetics can be a powerful tool in the midst of such opposition. I am not proposing that apologetics will necessarily shut the mouths of our detractors. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. However, we can most certainly expose their hypocrisy and point them to the truth using the powerful, active, two-edged sword of God’s sword at our disposal.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE July 1st, 2015
TOPICS Scripture, Philosophy,Education
Voddie Baucham
Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr. is the incoming dean of the seminary at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia. He previously served as pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Tex.
More from Voddie Baucham
The Autobiography of God: 2011 Fall Conference at Reformation Bible College
Theology in Dialogue
The Rescuer
Questions & Answers
Pilgrims in a Post-Christian Culture
ALL RESOURCES BY VODDIE BAUCHAM
The Gospel in Mexico: An Interview with Victor Cruz
by Victor Cruz
Tabletalk: How did God call you to become a church planter in Mexico City?
Victor Cruz: When I finished seminary in 1997, I asked my presbytery if I could start a church somewhere in our field, and we were sent to Cuautla City to start Iglesia Puerta de Salvación(Door of Salvation Church). The task was very hard because my wife and I did not know anybody there, but from a small group of believers that we met through the pastors in the presbytery, we started reaching out to the community and making new disciples. Then, in the fourth year of our project, we started a second small group in Tlayacapan, and in 2007, a third group in Huazulco, Morelos State.
In the fall of 2006, I was thinking that we could start churches and train lay pastors in Mexico City, too. My wife and I grew up in the city and had been away for a long a time. One evening I told Teresa about going back to the city, and she answered, “Honey, I know you probably are having a hard week, but you will be Ok!” Our parents told us that this was a bad idea, and that we should think about the kids, but we continued praying for a chance to go back into Mexico City and plant a church in a strategic area.
In 2010, after I started my doctor of ministry studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, we moved to the Roma-Condesa area of Mexico City, which is one of the old areas of the city that is being renovated and where people living in the suburbs are moving closer to downtown and the financial district of Reforma. Our vision was to reach out to the city by preaching the gospel and serving the community around our church.
TT: Are people in Mexico City open to hearing the gospel? Are they familiar with the story of Scripture?
VC: People in Mexico City are open to talking about religion and faith because it is part of our culture. The challenge is to make people see their need for more than a nominal faith. People in general are not familiar with the story of Scripture, but they make strong affirmations about it that are biased in a negative way, such as, “The bible is culturally irrelevant and regressive, and makes people intolerant.”
TT: How do you present the gospel to those who have little knowledge of what the Bible says?
VC: One way of presenting the gospel to people in our city is to describe the grace of God that we can find in Jesus. People with a Roman Catholic background know little about the gospel of grace. In general, nominal Catholics in my country think that salvation has to be earned by works. When they hear that in Christ we are loved and forgiven because of the redemptive work of Christ and not by what we do to earn our salvation, usually they respond in a very positive way. The gospel of grace is powerful, able to open the hearts of people.
TT: What is the most significant influence in the spiritual lives of Mexicans? Why?
VC: The greatest spiritual influence in Mexico is the character of the Virgin Mary represented as theVirgen de Guadalupe. The worship of this advocation of the Virgin has shaped the personality of our nation. People say that if you are Mexican, you may not be a Catholic, but for sure you are aGuadalupano, which means that you believe in the protection and care of the Virgin.
The Virgin is worshiped by millions as the mother of all Mexicans. People think of her as the very picture of maternal giving: she is like a tender mother who helps you if you have faith in her and if you visit her on her day (December 12). If you are faithful to her, you will be blessed and she will give you what you want. If you want to marry someone, ask her. If you want to have money, just ask her. The same is true if you want to have a lucky day stealing, selling drugs, or whatever else you desire; she will be there for you. as a good mother, she never asks questions, she is there to love you no matter what you do.
This is the kind of belief that has shaped the spiritual life of millions of people. You can relate this to the corruption, injustice, and oppression of our country. The Virgin of Guadalupe represents the indiscriminate blessing of a loving mother.
TT: What is the greatest misunderstanding that those outside of Mexico have of Mexicans and Mexico?
VC: Maybe the greatest misunderstanding is that there is only one Mexico. Some people see Mexicans in a stereotype as uneducated, poor, and lazy. Of course part of the reality is that some Mexicans are like this, but there are millions of people who work hard, who are professionals, who manage their own companies, and who belong to a middle class that is larger than most people think. There are many Mexicos that are like roughly parallel lines that don’t touch each other very often, but when they do, the results are unexpected, sometimes tragic, sometimes sublime. Some interactions may be beautiful, others ugly—but never boring.
TT: What is the first thing you usually teach a new Christian as you begin to disciple them in the faith? Why?
VC: Usually I start teaching about the Bible. People in Mexico have heard about the Bible, they know that it is read during the Mass, but hardly any of them have ever read it on their own. The majority of the people in Mexico don’t own one, but for some of those who own it, they consider the Bible a magical object that can bring prosperity or drive away “bad energy.” For other people, it is just a religious book that tries to control people by giving a set of rules that have to be obeyed to please an angry God. When people understand how the Bible was written and start seeing it is a historical book, many show more respect for the Christian faith and become interested in knowing more about it.
TT: What is your long-term plan for ministry in Mexico?
VC: I long to see a church-planting movement from various evangelical denominations taking place in Mexico City. In order to see this, I would love to start a Reformed seminary where we can train men to become church planters. The kind of church planters who see beyond church growth, but who understand the gospel in a profound way, and want to see churches that love and serve their communities and that will become centers of social transformation. I hope to see this happening in the next twenty-five years.
TT: What are the three biggest challenges church planters in Mexico City face?
VC: The first one is the lack of available space, especially in the central areas of the city. Few churches can dream of buying a property close to the downtown area.
The second factor is related to the first one. The living cost in the downtown area is higher. Little by little, poor people are being moved away from the central areas of the city into the suburbs. This trend is the opposite of what was happening forty years ago.
The third one is that while evangelism is maybe easier in the city, because people are more open to new ideas and in need of community, discipleship is harder because of traveling distances, time, traffic, and lots of other distractions that you don’t have in a smaller town.
TT: How can Christians outside of Mexico pray for Christians there?
VC: People outside of Mexico can pray that God will raise a new generation of pastors and church planters that have the ability to reach out to a secular community. We need leadership in the church that is aware of the urgent need to participate in the transformation of our city through the faithful preaching of the gospel, through loving care for our neighbors, and by creating a culture where the beauty of the Christian faith is displayed in the arts, in business, and in every area of human life.
Dr. Victor Cruz is church-planting pastor of Redeemer Church (El Redentor Ciudad de México) in mexico City, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. Dr. Cruz received his doctor of ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla., and participated in the 2009 Redeemer City to City International Intensive program. In the fall of 2010, Dr. Cruz and his family moved to the Roma-Condesa neighborhood in mexico City in order to plant Redeemer Church.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE May 1st, 2015
TOPICS Scripture, Roman Catholicism, Evangelism and Missions
Victor Cruz
Dr. Victor Cruz is church-planting pastor of Redeemer Church (El Redentor Ciudad de México) in Mexico City.
More from Victor Cruz
Study Bibles in the Church
Teaching Them to Observe
ALL RESOURCES BY VICTOR CRUZ
The Weight of Shame
by Burk Parsons
Shame—we all feel it, or at least we should. We are all sinful, and our sin brings shame. Although shame has all but disappeared from our culture’s vocabulary and is largely ignored by many in the church, it exists nonetheless and must be recognized and reckoned with.
If we are honest with ourselves, and more importantly, honest with God, we cannot help but admit that we feel shame as a result of our sin. Whether we sin in private or in public—and whether we perhaps even pretend not to have it—shame is undeniably real. We feel shame because God in His grace created all human beings with the capacity to feel shame as a consequence of their sin. John Calvin wrote, “Only those who have learned well to be earnestly dissatisfied with themselves, and to be confounded with shame at their wretchedness truly understand the Christian gospel.” If we have never truly felt the shame of our sin, we have never truly repented of our sin. For it is only when we recognize what wretches we are that we are able to sing “Amazing Grace” and know what a sweet sound it truly is.
Even when we are young children—from the very first moment in our lives when we know we’ve done something wrong—we blush and hang our heads in shame. The question is not whether we feel shame, but what we do with our shame. Some try to hide their shame, some try to ignore it as long as possible, some grow callous and complacent toward their shame, and some wallow in their shame and live their lives in quiet desperation. However, as Christians, we have a place to go with our shame—the foot of the cross. We have a Redeemer who has taken our shame to the cross. So we sing, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior.”
Jesus Christ redeemed us not only from His wrath and hell in the future but from having to wallow in the mire of guilt and shame in the present. Jesus promised us not only eternal life in the future, but abundant life that begins in the present. Jesus lived and died not only for the guilt of our sin but for the shame of our sin. He endured the cross, despising its shame, so that we would not have to wallow in shame. Our Lord calls us to bring our shame to Him, whereas Satan wants us to bear the constant weight of our shame and wallow in it for the rest of our lives. But if we live each day bearing the shame of yesterday, and we’re worried about the shame of tomorrow, we will never experience the joys of abundant life in Christ today.Ž Therefore, let us lift our weary eyes from gazing upon our shame and fix our eyes of Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343
Bible-Believing, Bible-Obeying
by Burk Parsons
As a pastor, I spend much of my time out in the community, and I meet new people every week. When people inquire what I do for a living, I tell them I am a pastor. At that point I get responses that vary depending on whether the person is a Christian and whether he or she has been to church recently. When I tell them I serve as a pastor of a church called Saint Andrew’s Chapel, I then have to explain what kind of church we are and what kind of church we’re not. It’s the most natural way I have found to be able to explain the gospel to unbelievers in our community on a regular basis. Over the years, I have also found that describing our church initially in two simple ways is most effective for helping them understand who we are and what we believe. I explain that we are a Bible-believing and gospel-preaching church; and, if they haven’t run away yet, I then proceed to explain slowly and carefully what it means to believe the Bible—what the gospel is, who Jesus is and what He did, how sinners are saved, and why we worship as a community of believers. Although most people don’t realize it, I am giving them a basic, five-minute systematic theology course based on and flowing from the doctrine of Scripture. The doctrine of Scripture informs every other doctrine. It is a most practical doctrine for all of life.
Scripture is the foundation for all we believe and the fountain from which we daily drink. It was the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, and it holds the message of eternal life for ourselves, our children, and our neighbors. It is the sacred Word of God given to us by human authors through the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, and it is our only inerrant and infallible authority for all of faith and life. Nevertheless, many professing Christians give little attention to it. Though they constantly look for a special word from God, there it sits on their shelves, gathering dust. It is ignored by many people who sit in our churches, and it is under attack by many outside the church. It has been under attack ever since the fall, when the serpent asked, “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1).
Fundamentally, the devil questioned the authority of the Word of God, and the devil’s servants have been questioning it ever since. Questioning the authority of God’s Word is tantamount to questioning God Himself, and questioning whether God’s sacred Word contains errors is in fact questioning God’s ability to do all things perfectly. If we question God’s Word, we have set ourselves up as a higher tribunal than God and have declared ourselves judges of God and His Word. Nevertheless, as Bible-believing Christians, we must not simply refrain from questioning the truth of God’s Word, and we must not merely believe that God’s Word is true, but we must actually believe God’s Word and submit to it in all of life as we live coram Deo, before His face.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE March 1st, 2015
TOPICS Church Leadership,Scripture
Burk Parsons
Burk Parsons is editor ofTabletalk magazine and serves as copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla. He is author of Why Do We Have Creeds?. You can follow him on Twitter@BurkParsons.
More from Burk Parsons
A Mind Captivated by God
We’re One, but We’re Not the Same
A Man Created in God’s Image
Daily Confession, Enduring Reform
United in Truth
ALL RESOURCES BY BURK PARSONS
Speaking the Truth in Love
by Phil Johnson
Sometimes the best way to love your neighbor is to challenge a false belief that is holding him in confusion, discouragement, or some worse state of spiritual bondage. The idea that it’s unloving to defend truth or confront lies is one of the arrogant opinions of this postmodern age that needs to be torn down (2 Cor. 10:5). Authentic love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).
Love and truth are perfectly symbiotic. Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power. Nowhere in Scripture is the essential connection between these two cardinal virtues more clearly highlighted than in 2 John. Love and truth are the key words in that brief thirteen-verse epistle.
John is the perfect Apostle to write on this theme. Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James “Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17)—doubtless because of their fiery zeal for the truth. At first, their passion was not always tempered with love, and we see a glimpse of that in Luke 9:54, when they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village of Samaritans who had rebu’ed Christ.
In later years, however, John distinguished himself as the Apostle of Love, specially highlighting the theme of love in his gospel and in all three of his epistles.
And yet, as we see in all of his epistles, he never lost his zeal for the truth. He did, however, learn to keep it wedded to a proper, Christlike love. His second epistle is addressed to “the elect lady and her children”—most likely an esteemed Christian matriarch who had the means and the desire to make her home and hospitality available to itinerant missionaries, church planters, and teachers in the early church. Extending such hospitality was a tangible way she could fulfill the Lord’s new commandment (John 13:34).
She was probably familiar with John’s first epistle, where he warned “that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18; see v. 22; 4:3). Such men were “false prophets”—teachers who claimed to be believers but whose teaching undermined true faith. And many of them had already gone out all over the known world (4:1).
For someone whose ministry entailed showing kindness to strangers, those were unsettling words. Could she no longer show hospitality indiscriminately? What was the loving response to someone who claimed to be a brother in Christ but taught the doctrine of antichrist?
She had evidently written John personally to ask. The epistle is his reply. Verses 1–5 describe the symbiotic nature of love and truth, and John arms the primacy of love: “All who [genuinely] know the truth” do love (v. 1 is an echo of 1 John 3:14 and its cross-references). Love itself is at the heart of all truth because love is what the truth demands. Love is the perfect fulfillment of all our Lord’s commandments (Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14). So, in no way does John want this woman or any other reader of the epistle to think that what he is about to say denigrates the importance of love.
Then the epistle takes a dramatic turn. John reiterates the necessity of being on guard against deceivers and antichrists, for there are many (v. 7). He explains how to distinguish such people from authentic believers (v. 9).
All of this repeats in shorthand form things he had already said in 1 John. Verses 10–11 are the only completely new content in this epistle. This is therefore the main point John wants to address in this letter. It is John’s inspired answer to the question that seems to have prompted him to write in the first place:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
He calls for a strict separation between the people of God and anyone who comes in Christ’s name but denies Christ’s essential teaching.
John isn’t talking about simple matters of disagreement between brothers and sisters in Christ. He is not giving a mandate for speaking rudely to people, being hateful to one’s theological adversaries, or anything else that would violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:24–26: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrel-some but kind to everyone … correcting his opponents with gentleness.
“But there’s no mincing of words here. He instructs the woman to withhold both hospitality and honor from itinerant teachers who deny essential matters of the Christian faith. She is not to open her home to them; neither is she to bestow on them any favor or tribute that might encourage them in their evil mission.
Love—for the truth and for souls—demands such a response to dangerous falsehoods. To the postmodern mind that may seem like no love at all, but it embodies the best, deepest love for Christ. May we learn what it means to ground our love in the truth, and may we not succumb to the pressure of our age to spurn or subjugate Christ’s truth under a false and foggy notion of love.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE March 1st, 2015
TOPICS Scripture
Phil Johnson
Rev. Phil Johnson is executive director of Grace to You, pastor of GraceLife Fellowship, and an elder at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.
More from Phil Johnson
Angels: Messengers and Ministers of God
The Second Great Commandment
A Defense of the Old Perspective on Paul: What Did Paul Really Say?
Love by Submission
Salt of the Earth
ALL RESOURCES BY PHIL JOHNSON
What Is Grace?
by R.C. Sproul
A number of decades ago at the Ligonier Valley Study Center, we sent out a Thanksgiving card with this simple statement: “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” In all the debates about our role versus God’s role in sanctification—our growth in holiness—we’d stay on the right track if we’d remember this grace-gratitude dynamic. The more we understand how kind God has been to us and the more we are overcome by His mercy, the more we are inclined to love Him and to serve Him.
Yet we can’t get the grace-gratitude dynamic right if we aren’t clear on what grace means. What is grace? The catechisms many of us learned as children give us the answer: “Grace is the unmerited favor of God.” The first thing that we understand about grace is what it’s not—it’s not something we merit. In fact, if that is all we ever understand about grace, I’m sure God will rejoice that we know His grace is unmerited. So, here’s our working definition of grace—it is unmerit.
Paul’s epistle to the Romans sheds light on what we mean when we say that grace is unmerit. In 1:18–3:20, the Apostle explains that on the final day, for the first time in our lives, we will be judged in total perfection, in total fairness, in absolute righteousness. Thus, every mouth will be stopped when we stand before the tribunal of God. This should provoke fear in the hearts of fallen people, as condemnation is the only possible sentence for sinful men and women: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
But those who trust in Christ Jesus have hope, for if we are in Him by faith, we have been “justified freely by His grace.” Note that justification is accomplished not by obligation, but freely through grace on account of the redemption purchased by Jesus alone. There’s no room for boasting, for we are justified not by our works but by grace alone through faith alone. Paul goes on to cite Abraham as the preeminent example of one who was justified by faith alone and therefore free from God’s sentence of condemnation. If the basis for Abraham’s salvation, his justification, was something that Abraham did—some good deed, some meritorious service that he performed, some obligation that he performed—if it were on the basis of works, Paul says, he would have had something about which to boast. But Abraham had no such merit. All he had was faith, and that faith itself was a gift: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3; see Eph. 2:8–10).
Romans 4:4–8 is a key passage here:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
That’s grace. Paul couldn’t say it any other way. To him who works, it’s debt; if you merit something, it means that someone is obligated to pay you. If I hire you as an employee and promise to pay you one hundred dollars if you work eight hours, I must pay you for working the eight hours. I’m not doing you a favor or giving you grace. You’ve earned your pay. You’ve fulfilled the contract, and I’m morally obliged to give you your wages.
With respect to the Lord, we are debtors who cannot pay. That’s why the Bible speaks of redemption in economic language—we were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). Only someone else—Christ—can pay our debt. That’s grace. It’s not our good works that secure our rescue but only the works of Christ. It’s His merit, not ours. We don’t merit anything. He grants us His merit by grace, and we receive it only by faith. The essence of grace is its voluntary free bestowal. As soon as it’s a requirement, it’s no longer grace.
Grace should never cease to amaze us. God has an absolute, pure, holy standard of justice. That’s why we cling with all our might to the merit of Jesus Christ. He alone has the merit to satisfy the demands of God’s justice, and He gives it freely to us. We haven’t merited it. There’s nothing in us that elicits the Lord’s favor that leads to our justification. It’s pure grace.
And the more we understand what God has done for us as sinners, the more willing we are to do whatever He requires. The great teachers of the church say the first point of genuine sanctification is an increasing awareness of our own sinfulness. With that comes, at the same time, an increasing awareness of God’s grace. And with that, again, increasing love and increasing willingness to obey Him.
When we truly understand grace—when we see that God only owes us wrath but has provided Christ’s merit to cover our demerit—then everything changes. The Christian motivation for ethics is not merely to obey some abstract law or a list of rules; rather, our response is provoked by gratitude. Jesus understood that when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If I may have the liberty to paraphrase: “Keep My commandments not because you want to be just, but because you love Me.” A true understanding of grace—of God’s unmerited favor—always provokes a life of gratitude and obedience.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE March 1st, 2015
TOPICS Justification
R.C. Sproul
Dr. R.C. Sproul is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and author of the book Everyone’s a Theologian.
More from R.C. Sproul
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 1)
Everyone Believes this Doctrine
The Spirit’s Internal Witness
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 5)
The Deity of Christ
ALL RESOURCES BY R.C. SPROUL
Church Splits
by Tom Ascol
When an atom is split, its overall mass is reduced and a tremendous amount of energy is released. The results, graphically demonstrated by the two atomic bombs that ended World War II, can be massively destructive, with effects that linger for generations.
The reactions that result from atom splits have their counterparts in the spiritual realm with church splits. When a congregation experiences division, the consequences are often devastating, widespread, and long lasting.
The sinful severing of relationships always breeds betrayal and disillusionment. In a church, where members relate to each other as interdependent components of one body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Eph. 4:25), the pain caused by schism can also give rise to mistrust and cynicism, two emotional weeds that, if not uprooted, will prevent the kind of love and vulnerability that are essential to genuine gospel fellowship.
These negative consequences inevitably undermine a church’s mission to be a city on a hill that displays the glory of God to a lost and dying world. The message of reconciliation rings hollow when proclaimed by people who cannot get along with each other. Francis Schaeffer warned of the damning impact that divisiveness in churches has on evangelism.
The world looks, shrugs its shoulders, and turns away. It has not seen even the beginning of a living church in the midst of a dying culture. It has not seen the beginning of what Jesus indicates is the final apologetic—observable oneness among true Christians who are truly brothers in Christ.
No wonder the Bible places great emphasis on church unity and warns so strongly against church divisiveness. Nothing less than the glory of God, the spiritual health of believers, and the advance of the gospel are at stake when a church’s unity is threatened.
The Apostle Paul was once asked to help a church plagued with open immorality, arrogance, doctrinal error, and other problems. Though each of those problems is significant and has the potential to destroy a church, division in a congregation will prevent any of them from being resolved redemptively. That is why Paul gives it priority in his first letter to the church at Corinth.
After greeting them and expressing thanks for God’s grace in their lives, Paul directly confronts their disunity: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul urges them to be unified in their testimony, understanding, and judgment in the things that pertain to Christ.
Paul’s admonition echoes Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His followers in John 17:11, 21-23. No church that seeks to honor Christ or heed Apostolic instruction can fail to make the pursuit of genuine unity an ever-urgent priority. Indeed, believers cannot live up to their high calling without walking in “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3; see Phil. 1:27; 2:2).
Despite Scripture’s strong warnings against schism and repeated appeals for unity, sometimes churches—even good churches—experience unfortunate divisions. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over the role of John Mark in their planned second missionary journey. Despite their genuine godliness and usefulness in the kingdom, their differences over this matter “separated [them] from each other” (Acts 15:39). Luke’s record of this sad event serves as a sober reminder that no fellowship of believers is immune to division.
When church unity is disrupted, how should members respond? Even in the most dire of circumstances, church members must always remember Christ, submit to His lordship, and obey His Word. Controversy is never an excuse to sin.
Our Lord was betrayed and abandoned by His own Apostles. Yet, He continued faithfully to do His Father’s will. Churches that bear His name and that exist under His authority and blessing can dishonor Him in many ways. Yet, He continues to love, nurture, and guide them while calling them to repent (Rev. 2-3). Like Him, His followers must continue to love the church—and particular churches particularly—even when division mars its witness.
When sorrows and disappointments tempt you to give up on the church, remember that our Lord shed His blood for His bruised and broken bride. Remember, also, that one day, because of His resurrection, every wrong will be made right and every sinful division will be healed. Sing often the words of Samuel John Stone’s hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” especially the lesser-known fourth verse:
Though with a scornful wonder Men see her sore oppressed, By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed: Yet saints their watch are keeping, Their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping Shall be the morn of song!
When a church splits, many people are inevitably hurt by sinful attitudes and actions. On such occasions, we must remember that our Master knows what this is like and has shown us how to respond (1 Peter 2:19-25). As those who have been forgiven, we must forgive. As those who may have participated in sin, we must repent, remembering that this is precisely why Jesus died.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE February 1st, 2015
TOPICS The Church, Man and Sin
Tom Ascol
Dr. Tom Ascol is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla. He is executive director of Founders Ministries, an organization committed to reformation and revival in local churches.
More from Tom Ascol
Revelation-Driven Life
A Solemn Discharge of Duty
The Law of Love
Worthy Partaking: Examining the Heart
Getting the Gospel Right
ALL RESOURCES BY TOM ASCOL
Doubt and Obedience
by R.C. Sproul
One comment that Christian pastors sometimes hear from people they are counseling is that it would be easier for them to have a strong faith if they could see God doing the same kinds of miracles today as are recorded in the Bible. The unspoken assumption is that seeing is believing—that the people who lived in Jesus’ day found themselves more readily trusting Him because they could see His great works.
Such comments show the need for a closer reading of Scripture, for there are many cases where seeing great miracles didn’t move observers to faith. For example, John 11 records Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead—a convincing sign if there ever was one. Yet the authorities took the miracle as a reason to oppose Jesus, not to believe in Him (vv. 45-53). Scripture also records occasions when even God’s people experienced disbelief after seeing many miracles. Consider Joshua 7, which records what happened at Ai not long after the Israelites conquered Jericho. After the conquest of Jericho, when a shout brought the walls “tumbling down” (chap. 6), you can imagine what the feelings were among the people of Israel. God had delivered them in a dramatic, supernatural way, removing from their path the most formidable obstacle to the conquest of Canaan. He had delivered on His promise that He would give them every place where Joshua set his foot. So, you would think there would be nothing but elation and confidence among the troops and especially in the heart of Joshua. But what transpires is a major comeuppance for Joshua and the Israelites. After a scouting party reports that Ai should be easy to conquer, Joshua sends a force to take the city, but it is quickly routed, and thirty-six people are killed (7:2-5). How does Joshua respond?
Joshua tore his clothes and fell on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening… . And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (vv. 6-9)
Here we see Joshua, the one who in the past has always been courageous, the man of faith who gave the good report to the nation that Israel could take Canaan. Now he’s rending his garments and complaining to the Lord, saying, “Why didn’t You just leave well enough alone? We could have lived happily ever after on the other side of the Jordan, but now we’re humiliated and the news of this defeat will go all through the Promised Land.” Joshua, in a moment of disbelief, is saying to God, “What have you done for me lately?” His faith is so fragile that after one minor setback, he loses his confidence and is in mourning. Joshua thought he understood the full measure of God’s commitment to him and to his army, and he is beside himself when this defeat takes place at the hands of an enemy that Israel should have been able to run over without the help of God. Now even with God’s promise, they suffer this humiliating defeat. All of a sudden, Joshua’s wondering, “Was God’s promise of success an illusion? Was I hearing things? God promised that we’d never be defeated, and now we’re defeated.” What Joshua endures here, as we see in his fasting, mourning, and seeking God’s face, is a crisis of faith.
Why were the Israelites defeated? Joshua 7:1 tells us: “The people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan … of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.” Yes, God promised Israel victory, but He also commanded the people to exercise scrupulous obedience to the terms of this conflict. God instituted the ban against the Canaanites, meaning that in this conquest of holy war the soldiers could not take any personal loot or booty. And one man in the army disobeyed. Achan succumbed to the temptation to line his own pockets with the spoils from the victory at Jericho. And because of one man’s sin, God held the whole nation of Israel accountable. Because of this trespass, God’s anger is expressed against Israel, and His providential judgment causes this defeat.
Scripture warns us that on this side of glory, there is not a one-to-one correlation between obedience and blessing. Faithful people are often successful, but sometimes they experience great defeat. The faithless often suffer for their wrongdoing, but sometimes they enjoy many outward successes. Nevertheless, success and strong, confident faith are some of the blessings that the Lord gives to those who keep His commandments (Ps. 1). Though God has not promised to act in the same miraculous manner today as He did in the days of old, we can expect Him to move in our behalf. We don’t merit righteousness before our Father by our obedience, and the Lord’s grace is so vast that He regularly blesses us in spite of our disobedience. Still, perhaps we would see more blessing and experience less doubt if we were to serve Him more faithfully.
© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
 
FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE February 1st, 2015
TOPICS Doubt
R.C. Sproul
Dr. R.C. Sproul is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and author of the book Everyone’s a Theologian.
More from R.C. Sproul
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 1)
Everyone Believes this Doctrine
The Spirit’s Internal Witness
The Bible and Apologetics (Part 5)
The Deity of Christ
ALL RESOURCES BY R.C. SPROUL