Discipleship as a Way of Life

On March 24, Scott Chafee brought a message that followed up the lesson from March 10, on Discipleship as a Lifestyle. This message looked at three biblical examples on how the rhythms of life were used to reach people trapped in doubt, darkness, and deception.

Luke 18:31-34 (Jesus predicts his death, as the Suffering Servant)
DOUBT – the disciples did not understand
The Rhythm of Story – Luke 18:31-33
The Rhythm of Listen – Luke 18:34

Luke 18:35-43 (blind Bartimaeus, receives his sight)
DARKNESS – the man could literally not see
The Rhythm of Listen – Luke 18:40-41
The Rhythm of Celebration – Luke 18:43

Luke 19:1-10 (public sinner Zaccheus is transformed)
DECEPTION – the enemy had deceived him and his behavior followed
The Rhythm of Eat – Luke 19:5-6
The Rhythm of Bless – Luke 19:8

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ReFocus on Worship – Psalm 15

 

A Description of a Worshiper in Psalm 15

If we are going to ReFocus on worship, perhaps we need to define by what we mean by worship, explaining what it IS and what it is NOT. When you hear the word “worship” what comes into your mind? If we’re honest, we probably picture this sanctuary at 9:30 or 11:00, basically, the event that takes place in this room each week. Or maybe you might think about hymns, or a choir, or listening to the preacher for 30 minutes, or offering prayer, or a collection plate.

Worship is not just something in the church because we have all heard the phrase, “hero worship.” Maybe it’s your favorite athlete or actor. Maybe you’re a Swifty or a fan of some other popular musician or artist. People can become blinded by their loyalty to their chosen hero. It becomes hero worship when they are all-in with that person with a blind eye to their limitations or faults.

As far as an ACROSTIC for this week… here it is… TRUTH, taken from John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

T – Theology of Worship – Human beings are created to worship. Throughout the centuries, mankind will worship something, from the living God of Israel, to rocks, trees, the sun, the stars, the horoscope, or even possessions, or popularity, or pleasures, or position. All these things can consume our minds and our hearts.

The Old Testament regularly calls for God’s people to worship him…

Psalm 29:1–2 – Ascribe to the Lord, you angels, Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Give honor to the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Philippians 2:9–11 – For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The purpose of the church, beyond serving the Lord and spreading the gospel, is to worship God through Jesus Christ. Here is a picture of the church…

1 Peter 2:5 – you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

In John 4:23–24, Jesus made it clear that the physical location of our worship is no longer relevant: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24). True worship takes place on the inside, within our hearts or our spirits, WE are the dwelling place of God.

Why do we worship Him? Psalm 103:1–2 – Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name. 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; 3 Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; 4 Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Believers are temples of the living God, shining his glory.

When the Old Testament prophet Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9, NLT), he was speaking of a lifestyle wholly dedicated to glorifying God. The apostle Paul also defined worship as an all-encompassing way of life: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).

Believers participate in specific acts of worship whenever they celebrate God’s worthiness and His greatness by giving honor and glory to His name. Worship can be expressed in words, shouts, singing, bowing down, raising hands, and many other ways. In Psalm 95:1-2, the psalmist urges God’s people to engage in acts of worship: “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and let us sing him songs of praise.”

We’re talking about a theology of worship, (theology is literally, “words about God”). Here is a certain foundation, God is the object of our worship. It’s not about a place, like a sanctuary. It’s not about our attire, like wearing your Sunday best or a tie. It’s not about the equipment used in worship, like hymnbooks, choirs, or a pulpit. God alone is worthy of worship (1 Chronicles 16:25; Psalm 96:4–5). Worshiping God means acknowledging His absolute worth that He alone deserves. He is our Creator (Acts 17:28; James 1:17; Revelation 4:11), our Redeemer (Colossians 1:12–13; 1 Peter 1:3), and the Lord of all (Psalm 22:27).

A biblical theology of worship involves praising God and giving Him glory with our lips and with our lives; with our words and with our works; with our physical bodies and with our spiritual hearts. Worship that pleases God is authentic, offered with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3–4; Isaiah 66:2).

So, the T is all about a Theology of Worship. The R in TRUTH is for…

R – Righteous Behavior – what we say or believe must be backed up with what we do and how we behave. If not, our faith is just a game we play at certain times during the week. Psalm 15:1-5, (along with Psalm 24) may have been inspired on the occasion of moving the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-19). Or the psalm may have expressed David’s deepest thoughts when he was in exile and was deprived of worshiping in God’s house.

The upright man of Psalm 15 is a complete contrast to the fool of Psalm 14 (in heart, word, and deed). The foolish person of Psalm 14 had forsaken the Law and the Lord, while this group in Psalm 15 is a remnant that kept faith alive in the nation of Israel (Malachi 3:16-18).

David’s Worship (15:1)

  1. A Pilgrim Worshiper – Who may abide in your tent or tabernacle? This language is similar to the tent of meeting during the Exodus. God met with his people for worship and sacrifices. For us, this is a real reminder that our worship can be on the move, wherever you are. All over the world, you can find God’s people and worship together. This also deals with the universal church, which are all believers who are united in Christ.
  2. A Permanent Worshiper – Who may dwell on your holy hill? Eventually, the transient Israelites found their capital city, the City of David, and worshiped on a holy hill, called Moriah. It was this same location where Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac, as a test of his faith. For us, there’s something to be said about gathering in a specific location on a regular basis. This is your local community of faith.

David’s Walk (15:2-4) – He who walks uprightly; who walks with integrity. This psalm helps us to see the connection between what we believe, what we do, and how we behave in public life. They say that integrity is all about “being the same person even when no one else is watching” … but we must always remember that someone is ALWAYS watching!

  1. His Works (15:2a) – He works righteousness.
  2. His Words (15:2b-4)
    1. Secret Words (15:2b) – … He speaks truth in his heart.
    2. Spoken Words (15:3-4)
      1. Restrained – He does not backbite or slander with his tongue.
      2. Righteous – He does not do evil to his neighbor.
      3. Responsibility – He does not take up a reproach or cast blame against his friend.
      4. Respectful – He despises a vile reprobate person but honor those who fear the Lord.
      5. Reliable – He swears to his own hurt and does not change.

David’s Ways (15:5)

  1. They Were Fair (15:5a) He doesn’t change interest on a loan nor take a bribe against the innocent.
  2. They Were Fixed (15:5b) He who does these things will never be moved.

This psalm helps us see a picture of a true worshiper whom God accepts into his sanctuary. But then, we come to the U in TRUTH…

U – Unacceptable Worship – Not everything we offer up to God, and we call worship, is acceptable worship to God.

A biblical theology of worship is concerned with the true worship of God.

True biblical worship must be reverent (Hebrews 12:28).

We must understand who is being worshiped. God is holy, just, perfect, powerful, loving, etc. On the flip side, we are sinners saved by grace, and we come before our holy God on the basis of our Redeemer, Jesus.

There is no room for pride in adoration (see Luke 18:9–14). If we feel we deserve being in his presence, it is a sure sign that we have missed the mark.

Those who wish to worship biblically must worship God as He is revealed in Scripture. Unbiblical views of God must be rejected.

Here are a few verses of unacceptable worship:

Hebrews 12:28 – Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Genesis 4:4-5 – Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.

Matthew 15:7-9 – You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

And, we should beware of casting judgment based on another group’s style or preference or worship expression. That would be ok if you are the object of worship, but since you are not, how dare anyone say that God is not pleased with that type of offering or sacrifice of praise. Because it is different than yours.

The second T in TRUTH is for …

T – True Worship (John 4:19-24) Did you know that we can worship in ignorance? You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22).

WHAT or WHO does God seek? The lost? Converts? Disciples? Missionaries? Laborers? According to John 4:23, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. The Father seeks worshippers. So, what is a worshiper? What does a worshiper do? What does a worshiper look like?

We must know the endgame at the beginning or else we may only develop into a worshiper by accident, or we’ll miss the target all together. Look back at Psalm 15. It helps us see how a worshipper acts. Here are a few verses that support the need for Holy Spirit inspired transformed behavior:

Ephesians 4:1 – Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,

Philippians 1:27 – Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Colossians 1:10 – so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

1 Thessalonians 2:12 – so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

1 John 2:6 –the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

1 Peter 2:21 – For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.

The point is that worship is way more than gathering here on Sunday believing that if I do, that’s all God wants from me. We need to know the truth, because in reality, ignorance is NOT bliss. God knows who’s serious about their faith and who is going through the motions.

There is only one way to renew our minds, and that is by the Word of God. This book is the truth. This book reveals the Truth, Jesus our Lord and Redeemer. To know the truth, to believe the truth, to hold convictions about the truth, and to love the truth will naturally result in true spiritual worship.

And finally, the H in TRUTH is for…

H – Hymns and Spiritual Songs – What were the ingredients of worship that we find in the New Testament? In the first century church, on any given Sunday…

They Observed the Lord’s Supper – On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7),

They Offered up Prayers – What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:15),

They Sang Songs to the Glory of God – speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)

They Took Up a Collection – On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2)

They Read the Scriptures – When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16)

They Proclaimed the Word of God – On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7, until midnight I might add).

CONCLUSION:

When we talk about worship being a lifestyle that includes transformation of the mind and the body; it is more than simply keeping the rules.

We know that the rabbis had 613 commandments to obey if they wanted to be righteous; sort of a fence around the Law to keep us from breaking God’s Top Ten. Moses ben Maimon (AD 1138–1204, commonly known as Maimonides) compiled a list. (His tomb is in Tiberias, on the western Sea of Galilee).

In Psalm 15, David lists 11 things that is practiced by a true worshipper of El-Shaddai, (God Almighty).

Isaiah 33:15-16 cut that list down to six, very similar to what David records in Psalm 15.

Micah 6:8 brings it down to 3. 1) To act justly, 2) to love mercy, and 3) to walk humbly with your God.

Habakkuk 2:4 brings it down to 1, the righteous will live by faith.

Where are you on this continuum of worship and lifestyle? What changes do you need to make? How must your life be transformed by the renewing of your mind and the modification of your behavior?

True worship is not confined to what we do in church. True worship is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. The highest form of praise and worship is obedience to God and His Word. To do this, we must know God; we cannot be ignorant of Him (Acts 17:23). Worship is to glorify and exalt God—to show our loyalty and admiration to our heavenly Father.

Let’s pray about it.

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The Peacemaker – Ken Sande

The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande (Please support the author by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

This wonderful news can radically change the way we respond to conflict. Through the gospel, the foundational G, the Lord enables us to live out the Four G’s of peacemaking. As we stand in awe of his matchless grace, we find more joy in glorifying God than in pursuing our own selfish ends. When we realize that God has mercy on those who confess their sins, our defensiveness lifts and we are able to admit our wrongs.

The primary focus of this book, however, will be on how God can help you as an individual Christian throw off worldly ideas about resolving conflict and become a true peacemaker. Among other things, it will explain How to use conflict as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of Jesus When it is appropriate to overlook an offense How to change attitudes and habits that lead to conflict How to confess wrongs honestly and effectively When to assert your rights How to correct others effectively How to forgive others and achieve genuine reconciliation How to negotiate just and reasonable agreements When to ask the church to intervene in a conflict How to deal with people who refuse to be reasonable When it is appropriate for a Christian to go to court

When someone mistreats or opposes us, our instinctive reaction is to justify ourselves and do everything we can to get our way. This selfish attitude usually leads to impulsive decisions that only make matters worse.

Focusing on God is the key to resolving conflict constructively. When we remember his mercy and draw on his strength, we invariably see things more clearly and respond to conflict more wisely. In doing so, we can find far better solutions to our problems.

Escape Responses – The three responses found on the left side of the slippery slope are called the escape responses. People tend to use these responses when they are more interested in avoiding a conflict than in resolving it.

Denial. One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. Or, if we cannot deny that the problem exists, we simply refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly.

Flight. Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may include leaving the house, ending a friendship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. In most cases, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem (see Gen… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Suicide. When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives (see 1 Sam. 31:4).… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Attack Responses – The three responses found on the right side of the slippery slope are called the attack responses. These responses are used by people who are more interested in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Assault. Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally (… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Litigation. Another way to force people to bend to our will is to take them to court. Although some conflicts may legitimately be taken before a civil judge (see Acts 24:1–26:32; Rom. 13:1–5), lawsuits usually damage… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Murder. In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them (see Acts 7:54–58). While most Christians would not actually kill someone, we should never forget that we stand guilty of murder in God’s eyes when we harbor anger… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Peacemaking Responses The six responses found on the top portion of the slippery slope are called the peacemaking responses. These responses are commanded by God, empowered by the gospel, and directed toward… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

The first three peacemaking responses may be referred to as “personal peacemaking,” because they may be carried out personally and privately,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Overlook an offense. Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly and deliberately overlooking an offense. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11; see also 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness and involves a deliberate… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Reconciliation. If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged the relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “[If] your brother has something against you… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Negotiation. Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

When a dispute cannot be resolved through one of the personal peacemaking responses, God calls us to use one of the next three peacemaking responses,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Mediation. If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Arbitration. When you and an opponent cannot come to a voluntary agreement on a material issue, you may appoint one or more arbitrators to listen to your arguments and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Accountability. If a person who professes to be a Christian refuses to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to formally intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: “If he… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

The extreme responses to conflict also result in greater losses. Every response to conflict costs you something; you must give up one thing to gain another.

There are also three noteworthy parallels between the two sides of the slippery slope. Both extremes of the spectrum result in death, either through suicide or murder, which are terrible problems in our culture.

There are also some interesting contrasts between the various responses to conflict. First, there is a difference in focus. When I resort to an escape response, I am generally focusing on “me.” I am looking for what is easy, convenient, or nonthreatening for myself. When I use an attack response, I am generally focusing on “you,” blaming you and expecting you to give in and solve the problem. When I use a peacemaking response, my focus is on “us.” I am aware of everyone’s interests in the dispute, especially God’s, and I am working toward mutual responsibility in solving a problem.

The issue of goals reveals a second difference between various responses. People who use escape responses are usually intent on “peace-faking,” or making things look good even when they are not. (This is especially common in the church, where people are often more concerned about the appearance of peace than the reality of peace.)

Attack responses are used by people who are prone to “peace-breaking.” They are more than willing to sacrifice peace and unity to get what they want.

Those who use the responses on the top of the slippery slope are committed to “peace-making” and will work long and hard to achieve true justice and genuine harmony with others.

Let’s begin our discussion by defining conflict as a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.

There are four primary causes of conflict. Some disputes arise because of misunderstandings resulting from poor communication (see Josh. 22:10–34). Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions can also lead to conflict (see Acts 15:39; 1 Cor. 12:12–31). Competition over limited resources, such as time or money, is a frequent source of disputes in families, churches, and businesses (see Gen. 13:1–12). And, as we will see below, many conflicts are caused or aggravated by sinful attitudes and habits that lead to sinful words and actions (see James 4:1–2).

As James 4:1–2 tells us, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. . . .” When a conflict is the result of sinful desires or actions that are too serious to be overlooked, we need to avoid the temptation to escape or attack.

First, you can trust God. Instead of relying on your own ideas and abilities as you respond to people who oppose you, ask God to give you grace to depend on him and follow his ways, even if they are completely opposite to what you feel like doing (Prov. 3:5–7).

Second, you can obey God. One of the most powerful ways to glorify God is to do what he commands (Matt. 5:16; John 17:4; Phil. 1:9–10). As Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Third, you can imitate God. When the believers in Ephesus were struggling with conflict, the apostle Paul gave them this timeless advice: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2; see 1 John 2:6).

Fourth, you can acknowledge God. As God gives you grace to respond to conflict in unusual and effective ways, other people will often take notice and wonder how you do it.

Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God. If you want to show that you love him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), then ask him to help you trust, obey, imitate, and acknowledge him, especially when it is difficult to do so.

The other benefit of a God-centered approach to conflict resolution is that it makes you less dependent on results.

God’s highest purpose for you is not to make you comfortable, wealthy, or happy. If you have put your faith in him, he has something far more wonderful in mind—he plans to conform you to the likeness of his Son!

God may also use conflict to expose sinful attitudes and habits in your life. Conflict is especially effective in breaking down appearances and revealing stubborn pride, a bitter and unforgiving heart, or a critical tongue. When you are squeezed through controversy and these sinful characteristics are brought to the surface, you will have an opportunity to recognize their existence and ask for God’s help in overcoming them (Ps. 119:67).

The Bible provides a detailed description of the character traits needed to manage conflict productively.

Motivated. As we have seen, the gospel provides enormous motivation to respond to conflict constructively.

Informed. As a steward, you also need to understand your Master’s will (see Luke 12:47). This is not difficult, because God has written out his instructions for you.

Strengthened. You are not alone when you are stewarding conflict: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9a; cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). God provides this strength to all Christians through the Holy Spirit, who plays an essential role in peacemaking.

Dependent. At times, conflict can push you beyond your limits. You may have a difficult time understanding how to respond to a particular situation, or you may become so weary that you lose your determination to do what you know is right.

Faithful. Perhaps the most important characteristic of a steward is faithfulness: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience.

The Three Dimensions of Peace God loves peace. From Genesis to Revelation, he communicates a deep desire to bless his people with peace and to use them to bring peace to others. Consider these recurring themes: 1. Peace is part of God’s character, for he is frequently referred to as “the God of peace” (see Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil.4:9; Heb. 13:20; cf. Judg. 6:24). 2. Peace is one of the great blessings that God gives to those who follow him (see Lev. 26:6; Num. 6:24–26; Judg. 5:31; Ps. 29:11; 119:165; Prov. 16:7; Micah 4:1–4; Gal. 6:16). 3. God repeatedly commands his people to seek and pursue peace (see Ps. 34:14; Jer. 29:7; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:15; 1 Thess. 5:13; Heb. 12:14). He also promises to bless those who do so (see Ps. 37:37; Prov. 12:20; Matt. 5:9; James 3:18). 4. God describes his covenant with his people in terms of peace (Num. 25:12; Isa. 54:10; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26; Mal. 2:5). 5. God taught his people to use the word peace (Hebrew shalom and Greek eirene) as a standard form of greeting (Judg. 6:23; 1 Sam. 16:5; Luke 24:36) and parting (1 Sam. 1:17; 2 Kings 5:19; Luke 7:50; 8:48). Nearly all of the New Testament Epistles either begin or end with a prayer for peace (Rom. 1:7; 15:13; Gal. 1:3; 2 Thess. 3:16).

There are three dimensions to the peace that God offers to us through Christ: peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within ourselves.

Peace with God Peace with God does not come automatically. All of us have sinned and alienated ourselves from him (Isa. 59:1–2). Instead of living the perfect lives required for enjoying fellowship with him, each of us has a record stained with sin (Rom. 3:23).

Peace with Others In addition to giving you peace with God, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the way for you to enjoy peace with other people (Eph. 2:11–18). This peace, which is often referred to as “unity” (Ps. 133:1), is not simply the absence of conflict and strife. Unity is the presence of genuine harmony, understanding, and goodwill between people.

Peace within Yourself Through Jesus you can also experience genuine peace within yourself. Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, tranquility, order, rest, and security.

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity – Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and he is present and working in your life (Matt. 5:9). The converse is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the good news about Jesus’ saving work on the cross.

Similar words are recorded in John 13:34–35, where Jesus tells his disciples that their public witness would be closely related to the way they treated one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The Enemy of Peace – Since peace and unity are essential to an effective Christian witness, you can be sure that there is someone who will do all he can to promote conflict and division among believers. Satan, whose name means “adversary,” likes nothing better than to see us at odds with one another. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

Satan promotes conflict in many ways. Among other things, he tempts us so we give in to greed and dishonesty (Acts 5:3), he deceives us and misleads us (2 Tim. 2:25–26), and he takes advantage of unresolved anger (Eph. 4:26–27). Worst of all, he uses false teachers to propagate values and philosophies that encourage selfishness and stimulate controversy (1 Tim. 4:1–3).

Satan prefers that we do not recognize his role in our conflicts. As long as we see other people as our only adversaries and focus our attacks on them, we will give no thought to guarding against our most dangerous enemy.

Paul also shows that unity does not mean uniformity (Eph. 4:7– 13). He reminds us that God has richly blessed his children with a wide array of gifts, talents, and callings (1 Cor. 12:12–31). Mature Christians rejoice in the diversity that God has given to his people, and they realize that believers can legitimately hold differences of opinion on “disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1). When differences rob us of harmony and peace, however, there is work to do.

Ironically, even though pastors usually neglect 1 Corinthians 6, there are many judges and attorneys who are calling the church to take Paul’s teaching seriously. For example, associate Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia made this observation: I think this passage [1 Cor. 6:1–8] has something to say about the proper Christian attitude toward civil litigation. Paul is making two points: first, he says that the mediation of a mutual friend, such as the parish priest, should be sought before parties run off to the law courts. . . . I think we are too ready today to seek vindication or vengeance through adversary proceedings rather than peace through mediation. . . . Good Christians, just as they are slow to anger, should be slow to sue.5

God Is Sovereign – The Bible provides many examples of people who trusted God even in the midst of terrible hardship and suffering. Our prime example is Jesus.

One reason that Jesus and Paul trusted God so completely is that they knew he was in complete control of everything that happened in their lives.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, we say to ourselves, “If I were God and could control everything in the world, I wouldn’t allow someone to suffer this way.” Such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God.

God Is Good – If all we knew was that God is in control, we could have reason to fear. Indeed, if he used his power arbitrarily, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil, we would be in great danger. But this is not the case. God is good—his power is always wielded with perfect love.

The Path Has Been Marked – Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts, or fears. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us to continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult circumstances.

Trust Is a Decision – Your view of God will have a profound effect on how much you trust him. If you do not believe that he is both sovereign and good, trust will be an elusive thing, for a god who is loving but not in control is simply “a heavenly Santa Claus . . . who means well, but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.”11 Such a god offers little security or hope in the face of affliction and fails to inspire either trust or obedience. On the other hand, if you believe that God is sovereign and good, you will be able to trust him and obey him, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Define the Issues – As you evaluate your role in a conflict, it is helpful to clearly define the issues that separate you from other people. Conflicts generally involve two kinds of issues: material and personal. Material issues involve substantive matters such as property, money, rights, and responsibilities.

Personal issues relate to what goes on inside or between persons. These matters involve our attitudes and feelings toward others that result from how we have treated one another.

Overlook Minor Offenses – In many situations, the best way to resolve a conflict is simply to overlook the personal offenses of others.

Check Your Attitude—and Change It One of the reasons we sometimes find it difficult to overlook offenses is that we have an overly sensitive attitude or a tendency to dwell on what others have done. One way to guard against this problem is to check your attitude in the light of God’s Word.

Philippians 4:2–9 Paul does not explain every action that Euodia and Syntyche need to take to settle their differences. Instead, he focuses on the steps they can take to develop a proper attitude toward their situation and toward each other. Paul has broken his instructions into five basic principles, which you too can use whenever you are involved in a conflict.

1. Rejoice in the Lord always. As usual, Paul urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict. Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered.

2. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The second step in developing a proper attitude toward conflict is to “let your gentleness be evident to all” (cf. Gal. 6:1–2).

3. Replace anxiety with prayer. The third step in developing a godly attitude toward conflict is to get rid of anxious thoughts.

4. See things as they really are. As you replace anxiety with prayer, you will be ready to follow Paul’s fourth instruction, which is to develop a more accurate view of others.

5. Practice what you’ve learned. Paul’s final instruction to Euodia and Syntyche (and to us) is both straightforward and encouraging: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.

Count the Cost – Another way to avoid unnecessary conflict is to consider the cost of unresolved conflict. Conflict is often much more expensive than we expect it to be. Unresolved disputes can consume large amounts of time, energy, and money, leaving you emotionally and spiritually exhausted.

What about “Rights”? Some people resist overlooking offenses and settling disputes by arguing, “I have my rights—and it wouldn’t be just to let him off so easily.” Whenever I hear this comment from a Christian, I ask, “Where would you spend eternity if God administered justice that was not tempered with mercy?” The answer is obvious: We would all be condemned to hell.

The truth of the matter is that it may actually be unjust in God’s eyes to exercise certain rights. Much of what is legally permissible today is not right when viewed from a biblical perspective.

Here again the concept of stewardship serves as a helpful guiding principle. Rights are not something you deserve and possess for your own benefit. Rather, they are privileges given to you by God, and he wants you to use them for his glory and to benefit others, especially by helping them know Christ.

These passages describe the root cause of conflict: unmet desires in our hearts. When we want something and feel that we will not be satisfied unless we get it, that desire starts to control us. If others fail to meet our desires, we sometimes condemn them in our hearts and fight harder to get our own way. Let us look at this progression one step at a time.

The Progression of an Idol / Desire – Conflict always begins with some kind of desire. Some desires are inherently wrong, such as vengeance, lust, or greed, but many desires are not.

I Demand – Unmet desires have the potential of working themselves deeper and deeper into our hearts. This is especially true when we come to see a desire as something we need or deserve and therefore must have in order to be happy or fulfilled.

Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept of idolatry is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.

It is important to emphasize the fact that idols can arise from good desires as well as wicked desires. It is often not what we want that is the problem, but that we want it too much.

As you search your heart for idols, you will often encounter multiple layers of concealment, disguise, and justification. One of the subtlest cloaking devices is to argue that we want only what we legitimately deserve or what God himself commands.

How could I tell which motives were actually ruling my heart? All I had to do was look at how I felt and reacted when my desires were not being met.

I Judge – As my example shows, idolatrous demands usually lead us to judge other people. When they fail to satisfy our desires and live up to our expectations, we criticize and condemn them in our hearts if not with our words.

As David Powlison writes: We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn—because we literally play God. This is heinous. [The Bible says,] “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?” Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. In this we become like the Devil himself (no surprise that the Devil is mentioned in James 3:15 and 4:7). We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God’s throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren. When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.3 This insight should leave us shaking in our boots!

We cross the line, however, when we begin to sinfully judge others, which is characterized by a feeling of superiority, indignation, condemnation, bitterness, or resentment. Sinful judging often involves speculating on others’ motives. Most of all, it reveals the absence of a genuine love and concern toward them. When these attitudes are present, our judging has crossed the line and we are playing God.

I Punish – Idols always demand sacrifices. When someone fails to satisfy our demands and expectations, our idol demands that he should suffer. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, we will find ways to hurt or punish people so that they will give in to our desires.

This punishment can take many forms. Sometimes we react in overt anger, lashing out with hurtful words to inflict pain on those who fail to meet our expectations. When we do so, we are essentially placing others on the altar of our idol and sacrificing them, not with pagan knives, but with the sharp edge of our tongues. Only when they give in to our desire and give us what we want will we stop inflicting pain upon them. We punish those who don’t “bow” to our idols in numerous other ways as well.

Love, fear, trust—these are words of worship. Jesus commands us to love God, fear God, and trust God only (Matt. 22:37; Luke 12:4–5; John 14:1). Anytime we long for something apart from God, fear something more than God, or trust in something other than God to make us happy, fulfilled, or secure, we worship a false god. As a result, we deserve the judgment and wrath of the true God.

Deliverance from Judgment – There is only one way out of this bondage and judgment: It is to look to God himself, who loves to deliver people from their idols. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2–3).

Deliverance from Specific Idols – Yet there is more good news. God wants to deliver us not only from our general problem with sin and idolatry, but also from the specific, day-to-day idols that consume us, control us, and cause conflict with those around us.

God uses three vehicles to convey his grace to help us in this identification and deliverance process: his Bible, his Spirit, and his church.

If someone told you that you had a deadly cancer that would take your life if you did not get treatment, you would probably spare no effort or expense in pursuing the most rigorous treatment available. Well, you do have cancer—a cancer of the soul. It is called sin and idolatry.

Replace Idol Worship with Worship of the True God – In his excellent book Future Grace, John Piper teaches that “sin is what you do when you are not fully satisfied in God.”4 The same may be said about idolatry. In other words, if we are not fulfilled and secure in God, we will inevitably seek other sources of happiness and security.

Repent before God. When we repent and confess our sins and idols, believing in our forgiveness through Christ, we also confess our faith in Christ.

Fear God. Stand in awe of the true God when you are tempted to fear others or are afraid of losing something precious.

Love God. Desire the one who forgives us and provides everything we need, instead of looking to other things that cannot save you.

Trust God. Rely on the one who sacrificed his Son for you and has proven himself to be absolutely dependable in every situation.

Delight in God. Learn to find your greatest joy in thinking about God, meditating on his works, talking to others about him, praising him, and giving him thanks.

James 4:1–3 provides a key principle for understanding and resolving conflict. Whenever we have a serious dispute with others, we should always look carefully at our own hearts to see whether we are being controlled by unmet desires that we have turned into idols. These desires love to disguise themselves as things we need or deserve, or even as things that would advance God’s kingdom. But no matter how good or legitimate a desire may look on the surface, if we have gotten to the point where we cannot be content, fulfilled, or secure unless we have it, that desire has evolved into an idol that has diverted our love and trust from God. Fortunately, God delights to deliver us from our slavery to idols and enable us to find true freedom, fulfillment, and security in his love and provision. And as we break free from the desires that have fueled our conflicts, we can resolve seemingly hopeless disputes and become more effective peacemakers. If you are presently involved in a conflict, these questions will help you apply the principles presented in this chapter to your situation: 1. Work backwards through the progression of an idol to identify the desires that are controlling your heart. Ask yourself these questions: a. How am I punishing others? b. How am I judging others? c. What am I demanding to have? d. What is the root desire of that demand? 2. What makes you think that you need or deserve to have any of these desires satisfied? 3. In order to more clearly identify your idols (desires turned into demands), ask yourself these questions: a. What am I preoccupied with? (What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and/or the last thing at night?) b. How would I fill in this blank?: “If only ______, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure.” c. What do I want to preserve or avoid at any cost? d. Where do I put my trust? e. What do I fear? f. When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression? g. Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it? 4. How are your expectations of others magnifying your demands on them and your disappointment in their failure to meet your desires? 5. How are you judging those who do not meet your desires? Are you feeling indignation, condemnation, bitterness, resentment, or anger? 6. How are you punishing those who do not meet your desires? 7. What has God done to deliver you from your idols? What can you do to receive this deliverance? 8. How can you cultivate a more passionate love for and worship of God? 9. Go on record with the Lord by writing a prayer based on the principles taught in this chapter.

Repentance Is More Than a Feeling – Repentance is the first step in gaining freedom from sin and conflict. Repentance is not something we can do on our own; it is a gift of God for which we should continually pray, whereby he convicts us of our sin and shows us the road to freedom (2 Tim. 2:24–26). Repentance does not mean we simply feel sad and uncomfortable. Nor does it involve a mere apology. To repent literally means to change the way we think.

In contrast, godly sorrow means feeling bad because you have offended God. It means sincerely regretting the fact that what you did was morally wrong, regardless of whether or not you must suffer unpleasant consequences. It involves a change of heart—which is possible only when you understand that sin is a personal offense against God himself (2 Chron. 6:37–39; cf. Jer. 31:19). Godly sorrow will not always be accompanied by intense feelings, but it implies a change in thinking, which should lead to changes in behavior.

Examine Yourself – One evidence of sincere repentance is a willingness to thoroughly examine ourselves so that we can uncover both our mistakes and our sins. Mistakes are the result of errors in judgment rather than sin. Although it is right to acknowledge and repair mistakes that have hurt others, we do not need to go through the same in-depth process that is needed to confess and correct our sins.

In fact, we can sin against God by omission—by doing nothing.

Because most of us do not like to admit that we have sinned, we tend to conceal, deny, or rationalize our wrongs. If we cannot completely cover up what we have done, we try to minimize our wrongdoing by saying that we simply made a “mistake” or an “error in judgment.” Another way to avoid responsibility for our sins is to shift the blame to others or to say that they made us act the way we did.

Using Your Tongue as a Weapon – Scripture warns us that the tongue is often a chief cause of conflict. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person. . . . It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5–6, 8b). Sinful speech can take many forms.

Reckless words, spoken hastily and without thinking, inflame many conflicts.

Grumbling and complaining irritates and discourages other people. It also takes our eyes off of the good things God and others do for us.

Falsehood includes any form of misrepresentation or deceit (Prov. 24:28; 2 Cor. 4:2), including lying, exaggeration, telling only part of the truth, or distorting the truth by emphasizing favorable facts while minimizing those that are against us. Anytime we use words that give a false impression of reality, we are guilty of practicing deceit.

Gossip is often both the spark and the fuel for conflict. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28).

Slander involves speaking false and malicious words about another person. The Bible repeatedly warns against such talk (e.g., Lev. 19:16; Titus 2:3) and commands us to “have nothing to do” with slanderers who refuse to repent (2 Tim. 3:3–5).

Worthless talk can also contribute to conflict, even if you intend no harm. It violates God’s high standard for talking to or about others: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).

Sinful words contribute greatly to conflict. Furthermore, they can destroy us from the inside out. As 2 Timothy 2:16 warns, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”

Controlling Others – Few things cause as much conflict as trying to control other people. Some attempts to control others are blatantly self-serving, such as maximizing our own profit or influence at another person’s expense (Gen. 29:15–30). But the more common type of control involves trying to persuade, manipulate, or force people to do things that simply make our lives more comfortable and convenient.

Breaking Your Word – A great deal of conflict is the direct result of someone’s failure to keep a commitment, whether it was expressed in a contract, a marriage vow, an oath to God, or by a simple yes or no (Matt. 5:33–37; cf. Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:23; Prov. 2:17).

Failing to Respect Authority – Another common source of conflict is the abuse of or rebellion against the authority God has established in the church, the government, the family, and the workplace. All legitimate authority has been established by God, primarily for the purpose of maintaining peace and order (Rom. 13:1–7).

Forgetting the Golden Rule – Perhaps the most common cause of conflict is our failure to follow the Golden Rule, which Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” To see whether you have violated this teaching, ask yourself questions like these: Would I want someone else to treat me the way I have been treating him? How would I feel if I found out people were saying about me what I’ve said about her? If our positions were reversed, how would I feel if he did what I have done? If someone broke a contract for the same reasons I am using, would I feel that was right? If I was an employee, how would I feel if I was treated the way I have treated her? If I owned this business, would I want my employees to behave the way I am behaving?

The Seven A’s of Confession – As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.” These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s.

1. Address Everyone Involved – As a general rule, you should confess your sins to every person who has been directly affected by your wrongdoing. Since all sins offend God by violating his will, all sins should be first confessed to him (see Ps. 32:5; 41:4).

2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe – The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. The message you are communicating is this: “Obviously you’re upset about something. I don’t know that I have done anything wrong, but just to get you off my back I’ll give you a token apology. By the way, since I don’t know whether I have done anything wrong, I certainly don’t know what I should do differently in the future. Therefore, don’t expect me to change. It’s only a matter of time before I do the same thing again.”

3. Admit Specifically – The more detailed and specific you are when making a confession, the more likely you are to receive a positive response. Specific admissions help convince others that you are honestly facing up to what you have done, which makes it easier for them to forgive you.

4. Acknowledge the Hurt – If you want someone to respond positively to a confession, make it a point to acknowledge and express sorrow for how you have hurt or affected them. Your goal is to show that you understand how the other person felt as a result of your words or actions.

5. Accept the Consequences – Explicitly accepting the consequences of your actions is another way to demonstrate genuine repentance. The prodigal son demonstrated this principle. After acknowledging that he had sinned against God and his father, he decided to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:19).

6. Alter Your Behavior – Another sign of sincere repentance is to explain to the person you offended how you plan to alter your behavior in the future. On a personal level, this could involve describing some of the attitude, character, and behavior changes you hope to make with God’s help.

7. Ask for Forgiveness (and Allow Time) – If you follow the six steps described above, many people will readily say they forgive you. If the person to whom you have confessed does not express forgiveness, however, you may ask, “Will you please forgive me?” This question is a signal that you have done all that you can by way of confession and that the responsibility for the next move has shifted to the other person. This will often help the offended person make and express the decision to forgive you.

Not every confession will require all seven steps. Minor offenses can often be handled with a fairly simple statement. The more serious the offense, however, the wiser it is to make a thorough confession using all of the Seven A’s.

You Can Change – The final step in finding freedom from a particular sin is to work with God to change your attitudes and behavior in the future. This process fulfills the third opportunity of peacemaking, namely, growing to be more like Christ.

God is eager to help us to grow and change (see Phil. 1:6, 2:13; Rom. 8:28–29; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 2 Peter 1:4). There is no sin or habit in your life that cannot be overcome by his grace.

Pray. Thank God for the saving work he has already done in your life and ask him to give you faith to believe that you really can change.

Delight yourself in the Lord. As we saw in chapter 5, the best way to squeeze idolatrous desires out of our hearts is to learn to love and worship God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul.

Study. The Bible frequently emphasizes the close connection between transformed thinking and growth in character (Rom. 8:6–8; 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 2:9–16; Eph. 1:17–19; 4:22–24; Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–12). Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding—all involving our minds—are important prerequisites to spiritual fruitfulness.

Practice. As Paul warned the Philippians, we cannot change unless we put what we are learning into practice (Phil. 4:9).

Jesus is clearly calling for something much more loving and redemptive than simply confronting others with a list of their wrongs. He wants us to remember and imitate his shepherd love for us—to seek after others to help them turn from sin and be restored to God and those they have offended.

As these and many similar passages indicate, we need to let go of the idea that showing someone his fault always requires direct confrontation. Although that approach will be appropriate in some situations, we should never do it automatically. Instead, we should ask God to help us discern the most winsome and effective way to approach a particular person at a particular time and to open the way for genuine reconciliation.

The Bible clearly commends face-to-face meetings as an important step in reconciling people, but it does not teach that this is the only way to begin a reconciliation process. In fact, it is sometimes better to involve other people in resolving a conflict before trying to meet personally with someone who has wronged you.

However, whether we begin with a private meeting or work through intermediaries, we must not let personal preferences or cultural traditions divert us from seeking genuine reconciliation, which requires a sincere expression and confirmation of confession and forgiveness.

First, many of the passages related to restoring relationships clearly contemplate a direct conversation between the conflicting parties (see Matt. 5:23–24; 18:15; Luke 17:3). Second, Scripture provides many examples of marvelous reconciliation that came about after personal meetings between people who had wronged each other, including Jacob and Esau (Gen. 33:6–12), Joseph and his brothers (45:1–5; 50:15–21), and Paul and the apostles (Acts 9:27–28). Third, the Bible also gives examples of disastrous results when the involvement of intermediaries allowed the parties to delay or avoid personal meetings involving genuine confession and forgiveness.

If Someone Has Something against You – If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace—even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong. If you believe that another person’s complaints against you are unfounded or that the misunderstanding is entirely the other person’s fault, you may naturally conclude that you have no responsibility to take the initiative in restoring peace.

There are several reasons why you should initiate reconciliation even if you do not believe you are at fault. Most importantly, Jesus commands you to go.

Finally, you should initiate reconciliation out of love for your brother and concern for his well-being.

Bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness are serious sins in God’s eyes.

When Someone’s Sins Are Too Serious to Overlook – God also calls you to go and talk to someone about a conflict if that person’s sins are too serious to overlook. This is why Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). It is sometimes difficult to decide whether another person’s sin is so serious that you need to go and talk about it.

Is It Dishonoring God? – Sin is too serious to overlook if it is likely to bring significant dishonor to God (see, e.g., Matt. 21:12–13; Rom. 2:23–24). If someone who professes to be a Christian is behaving in such a way that others are likely to think less of God, of his church, or of his Word, it may be necessary to talk with that person and urge him to change his behavior.

Is It Damaging Your Relationship? – You should also go and talk about offenses that are damaging your relationship with another person. If you are unable to forgive an offense—that is, if your feelings, thoughts, words, or actions toward another person have been altered for more than a short period of time—the offense is probably too serious to overlook.

Is It Hurting Others? – An offense or disagreement is also too serious to overlook when it results in significant harm to you or others.

Is It Hurting the Offender? – Finally, sin needs to be addressed when it is seriously harming the offender, either by direct damage (e.g., alcohol abuse) or by impairing his or her relationship with God or other people.

A Christian’s responsibility to help others deal with serious sins can be understood more clearly by studying two particular words used in Galatians 6:1. In this passage Paul told the Galatians to restore a brother who is “caught in a sin.” The Greek word that is translated as “caught” (prolambano) means to be overtaken or surprised. Thus, the brother who needs our help is one who has been ensnared when he was off guard.

It also helps to understand what Paul told the Galatians to do with a brother caught in sin. Instead of ignoring him or throwing him out, the Galatians were instructed to “restore him gently.”

After the Log Is Out of Your Eye – As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:3–5, you should not try to talk to others about their wrongs until you have dealt with your contribution to a problem.

1. You may simply overlook the offense. Confess your contribution to the problem, let go of what the other person did, and get on with your life. This route will be appropriate if the other person’s sin is relatively minor and has not permanently affected your relationship.

2. You may build on the other’s superficial confession. Your confession may encourage the other person to make some form of admission, even if it is incomplete or halfhearted.

3. You may need to talk about the other person’s sin now. This will be appropriate when the conflict is so serious or the other person’s attitude and behavior is so harmful that the situation must be dealt with immediately or further problems are likely to occur.

4. You may postpone confrontation until another time. This will be appropriate if the matter is not urgent and if immediate confrontation is not likely to be productive.

Bring Hope through the Gospel – When someone has disappointed or offended me, my natural tendency is to come at them with “the law,” lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should now do to make things right. This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse.

As these passages show, when we need to talk with others about their faults, we should ask for God’s help to resist our tendency to hammer people into submission by dwelling on their failures. Of course, we sometimes need to show them where they have sinned and fallen short of God’s ways. But that should not be the primary focus of our words, because judgment inevitably discourages.

Be Quick to Listen – Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are saying. Knowing this is not our nature, James gave this warning to the early church: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Good listening is particularly important for a peacemaker.

Waiting – Waiting patiently while others talk is a key listening skill. Without this skill, you will often fail to understand the root cause of a conflict, and you may complicate matters with inappropriate reactions.

Attending – The human mind can think at least four times faster than a person can talk. Therefore, when you are listening to someone, your mind may be searching for something more to do. If you allow your mind to wander, or if you start rehearsing your responses, you may miss much of what others are saying.

Clarifying Clarifying is the process of making sure you understand what the other person is saying.

Reflecting – Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way.

Agreeing – Agreeing with what another person says is an especially powerful listening response. This doesn’t mean you abandon your beliefs, but rather that you acknowledge what you know is true before addressing points of disagreement.

One reason we are sometimes reluctant to admit being wrong on one issue is that we fear it will seem like we are accepting responsibility for the entire problem.

The Tongue of the Wise Brings Healing – A third element of effective communication is the ability to speak to others in a clear, constructive, and persuasive manner.

Breathe Grace – As we have seen throughout this book, peacemakers are people who breathe grace to others in the midst of conflict. Since we cannot breathe out what we have not breathed in, this process hinges on our moment-to-moment relationship with God.

Make Charitable Judgments – When you are trying to show others where they may need to change, your attitude will usually carry more weight than your actual words. If people sense that you have jumped to conclusions about them and enjoy finding fault in them, they are likely to resist correction. If, on the other hand, they sense that you are trying to believe the best about them, they will be more inclined to listen to your concerns.

Speak the Truth in Love – God commands us not only to speak the truth to each other, but to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15; emphasis added), even to people who have wronged or mistreated us (1 Peter 3:9; cf. Luke 6:27–28; Acts 7:59–60; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).

Talk from Beside, Not from Above – When you need to show others their faults, do not talk down to them as though you are faultless and they are inferior to you. Instead, talk with them as though you are standing side by side at the foot of the cross.

Help Others Examine the Desires of Their Hearts – As we saw in chapter 5, the root cause of most conflict is desires in our hearts that have become so strong that they begin to consume and control us. These desires can become little gods or idols that dominate our thoughts, goals, and actions.

Choose the Right Time and Place – Timing is an essential ingredient of effective communication. If possible, do not discuss sensitive matters with someone who is tired, worried about other things, or in a bad mood. Nor should you approach someone about an important concern unless you will have enough time to discuss the matter thoroughly.

Talk in Person Whenever Possible – As we discussed in chapter 7, communication is most effective when it is done as personally as possible. Therefore, face-to-face conversation is usually better than talking by telephone, because both people can see facial expressions and communicate with body language as well as with words.

Engage Rather than Declare – One of the fastest ways to make people defensive is to abruptly announce what they have done wrong. If you launch into a direct and detailed description of their faults, they are likely to close their ears and launch a counterattack.

Communicate So Clearly That You Cannot Be Misunderstood – Many conflicts are caused or aggravated by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or appropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully, they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense.

Plan Your Words – I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning your words when you need to talk with others about their faults. In delicate situations, careful planning can make the difference between restored peace and increased hostility.

Use “I” Statements – One of the most helpful skills Corlette has taught me is how to use “I” statements. The statements give information about yourself rather than attack the other person—as is the case when you make statements like “You are so insensitive” or “You are just irresponsible.” A typical formula for an “I” statement is “I feel ___ when you ___, because ___. As a result ___.”

“I” statements can accomplish three things. First, they tell the other person how his or her conduct is affecting you.

Second, this kind of statement identifies what the other person has done that you are concerned about.

Third, an “I” statement can explain why this issue is important to you and why you would like to discuss it.

Be Objective – When you are trying to show someone his fault, keep your remarks as objective as possible. While an expression of personal perceptions and feelings may help someone understand your feelings, if you emphasize subjective opinions and judgments too much, you are likely to convey condescension or condemnation.

Use the Bible Carefully – It is often helpful to refer to the Bible as a source of objective truth when you have a disagreement with another Christian. If this is not done with great care, however, it will alienate people rather than persuade them.

Ask for Feedback – When talking to another person, one of your primary goals should be to match impact with intent. In other words, you want to make sure that what you meant to say has actually gotten across to the other person completely and accurately.

Offer Solutions and Preferences – When you speak to others about issues in their lives, be prepared to offer solutions to the specific problems you have identified. If you can show a person a reasonable way out of a predicament, he or she may be more inclined to listen to you. Hope is a key ingredient in promoting repentance and change.

Recognize Your Limits – Finally, whenever you are trying to show someone his fault, remember that there are limits to what you can accomplish. You can raise concerns, suggest solutions, and encourage reasonable thinking, but you cannot force change.

The Matthew 18 Process – A general principle taught in Matthew 18 is that we should try to keep the circle of people involved in a conflict as small as possible for as long as possible. If we can resolve a dispute personally and privately, we should do so. But if we cannot settle matters on our own, we should seek help from other people, expanding the circle only as much as necessary to bring about repentance and reconciliation.

Step One: Overlook Minor Offenses Before you consider involving others in a conflict, it is wise to review the steps that you can take to resolve a dispute in private.

Step Two: Talk in Private If you have wronged someone else, God calls you to go to the other person to seek forgiveness (see chapters 5 and 6). If another person has committed a wrong that is too serious to overlook, it is your responsibility to go the other person and show him his fault, making every effort to resolve personal issues and promote genuine reconciliation (see chapters 7 and 8).

Step Three: Take One or Two Others Along If a dispute cannot be resolved in private, Jesus tells us to ask other people to get involved. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matt. 18:16).

By mutual agreement. If you and your opponent cannot resolve a dispute in private, you can suggest that the two of you ask one or more unbiased individuals to meet with you in an effort to facilitate more productive dialogue.

On your initiative. While mutual agreement is always preferable, it is not actually required if your opponent professes to be a Christian. Matthew 18:16 indicates that you may seek help from reconcilers even if your opponent doesn’t want it. Before you take this step, however, it is wise and often beneficial to warn your opponent what you are about to do.

WHAT DO RECONCILERS DO? Reconcilers can play a variety of roles in a conflict. Their primary role is to help you and your opponent make the decisions needed to restore peace.

WHAT IF MY OPPONENT IS NOT A CHRISTIAN? The basic principles of step three can also be applied when the other person does not profess to be a Christian. Some modifications may be needed, of course.

Step Four: Tell It to the Church (Church Accountability) If your opponent professes to be a Christian and yet refuses to listen to the reconcilers’ counsel, and if the matter is too serious to overlook, Jesus commands you to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). This does not mean standing up in a worship service and broadcasting the conflict to church members and visitors alike, since unwarranted publicity is totally inconsistent with the intent of Matthew 18. Instead, you should inform the leadership of the other person’s church (and probably yours as well) of the problem and request their assistance in promoting justice and peace by holding both of you accountable to God’s Word and to your commitments.4

Step Five: Treat Him as a Nonbeliever As I have shown repeatedly, God calls his people to act justly, seek peace, and be reconciled with others. If a Christian refuses to do these things, he is violating God’s will. If he refuses to listen to his church’s counsel to repent of this sin, Jesus says the church should “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17, emphasis added). Jesus’ use of the word as is significant. Since only God can know a person’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7; Rev. 2:23), the church has no power to decide whether a person is a believer. Instead, the church is called only to make a functional decision: If a person behaves like a nonbeliever would—by disregarding the authority of Scripture and of Christ’s church—he should be treated as if he were a nonbeliever.

In other words, the church should not pretend that things are all right with people who claim to be Christians and yet refuse to listen to God as he speaks through the Scriptures and the church. Treating unrepentant people as unbelievers is sometimes the only way to help them understand the seriousness of their sin. This may be accomplished by withdrawing various membership privileges, such as communion, church office, or teaching Sunday school, and may culminate in revoking their membership status altogether if they persist in their refusal to repent of sin.

Treating someone as a nonbeliever serves three important purposes. First, revoking the person’s membership in the church prevents the Lord from being dishonored if that person continues to act in blatantly sinful ways (Rom. 2:23–24). Second, other believers are protected from being led astray by a bad example or divisive behavior (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1–6). Third, treating someone as a nonbeliever may help the rebellious person to realize the seriousness of his or her sin, turn from it, and be restored to God. This third purpose bears repeating. The intention in treating others as nonbelievers is not to injure them or punish them, but rather to help them see the seriousness of their sin and their need for repentance. Jesus loved people caught in sin enough to warn them of their sinful condition and its consequences and to urge them to repent (e.g., Mark 2:17; John 4:1–18). The church should do no less.6

Many Christians balk at this teaching. Some churches ignore or refuse to implement Matthew 18:17, even though the Bible teaches that God views accountability and discipline as an act of love and an important means to restore his wandering sheep and protect his people from being led astray by sinful examples.

Consider this analogy. When a patient has cancer, it is not easy for his doctor to tell him, because it is a truth that is painful to hear and difficult to bear. Even so, any doctor who diagnoses cancer but fails to report it to a patient would be guilty of malpractice.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13 Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. As most of us know from experience, however, it is often difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We often find ourselves practicing a form of forgiveness that is neither biblical nor healing.

As Christians, we cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

You Cannot Do It Alone – It is impossible to truly forgive others in your own strength, especially when they have hurt you deeply or betrayed your trust.

Neither a Feeling, nor Forgetting, nor Excusing – To understand what forgiveness is, we must first see what it is not. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgiveness involves a series of decisions, the first of which is to call on God to change our hearts.

Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action.

Finally, forgiveness is not excusing. Excusing says, “That’s okay,” and implies, “What you did wasn’t really wrong,” or “You couldn’t help it.” Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed and granted indicates that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable. Forgiveness says, “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.”

To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. Aphiemi, a Greek word that is often translated as “forgive,” means to let go, release, or remit.

But if someone sinned against you, part of their debt is also owed to you. This means you have a choice to make. You can either take payments on the debt or make payments. You can take or extract payments on a debt from others’ sin in many ways: by withholding forgiveness, by dwelling on the wrong, by being cold and aloof, by giving up on the relationship, by inflicting emotional pain, by gossiping, by lashing back or by seeking revenge against the one who hurt you.

Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises: “I will not dwell on this incident.” “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.” “I will not talk to others about this incident.” “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.” By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender.

When Should You Forgive? Ideally, repentance should precede forgiveness (Luke 17:3).

When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:25; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60).

Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person (Luke 17:3–4). It is a commitment to make the other three promises of forgiveness to the offender.

Can You Ever Mention the Sin Again? The four promises are a human attempt to summarize the key elements of God’s marvelous forgiveness for us. As a human device, they are limited and imperfect and should not be used in a rigid or mechanical fashion. In particular, the commitment not to bring up the offense again and use it against the offender should not be used to prevent you from dealing honestly and realistically with a recurring pattern of sin.

What about the Consequences? Forgiveness does not automatically release a wrongdoer from all the consequences of sin. Although God forgave the Israelites who rebelled against him in the wilderness, he decreed that they would die without entering the Promised Land (Num. 14:20–23).

Overcoming Unforgiveness – The promises of forgiveness can be difficult to make and even harder to keep. Fortunately, God promises to help us forgive others. He gives us this help through the Bible, which provides practical guidance and many examples of personal forgiveness.

Confirm Repentance – It can be difficult to forgive a person who has failed to repent and confess clearly and specifically. When you find yourself in this situation, it may be wise to explain to the person who wronged you why you are having a difficult time forgiving.

Renounce Sinful Attitudes and Expectations – Forgiveness can also be hindered by sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations.

Assess Your Contributions to the Problem – In some situations, your sins may have contributed to a conflict. Even if you did not start the dispute, your lack of understanding, careless words, impatience, or failure to respond in a loving manner may have aggravated the situation. When this has happened, it is easy to behave as though the other person’s sins more than cancel yours.

Recognize That God Is Working for Good – When someone has wronged you, it is also helpful to remember that God is sovereign and loving. Therefore, when you are having a hard time forgiving that person, take time to note how God may be using the offense for good.

Remember God’s Forgiveness – One of the most important steps in overcoming an unforgiving attitude is to focus your attention on how much God has forgiven you. The parable of the unmerciful servant vividly illustrates this principle (Matt. 18:21–35).

Draw on God’s Strength – Above all else, remember that true forgiveness depends on God’s grace. If you try to forgive others on your own, you are in for a long and frustrating battle. But if you ask God to change your heart and you continually rely on his grace, you can forgive even the most painful offenses.

Reconciliation and the Replacement Principle – Forgiveness is both an event and a process. Making the four promises of forgiveness is an event that knocks down a wall that stands between you and a person who has wronged you. Then a process begins. After you demolish an obstruction, you usually have to clear away debris and do repair work.

Being reconciled does not mean that the person who offended you must now become your closest friend. What it means is that your relationship will be at least as good as it was before the offense occurred.

Reconciliation requires that you give a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and regain your trust.

Although reconciliation can sometimes take place with little or no special effort, in most cases you will need to remember the saying, “If you are coasting, you must be going downhill.” In other words, unless a deliberate effort is made to restore and strengthen a relationship, it will generally deteriorate. This is especially true when you are recovering from intense and prolonged conflict.

In Thought – Even when we say, “I forgive you,” many of us have a difficult time not thinking about what others have done to hurt us. Try as we might, memories of the offense keep popping back into our minds, and we find ourselves reliving all kinds of painful feelings.

In Word – As Luke 6:27–28 implies, the replacement principle applies to your words as well as your thoughts. When talking to others about the person who offended you, make it a point to speak well of the person. Express appreciation for things he or she has done and draw attention to redeeming qualities. Do the same when talking to the offender. Praise, thank, or encourage!

In Deed – If you really want to be reconciled to someone, apply the replacement principle to your actions as well (1 John 3:18). As C. S. Lewis noted, “Don’t waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”4

Cooperative versus Competitive Negotiation – Many people automatically resort to a competitive style when negotiating material issues. They act like they are having a tug-of-war, with each person pulling aggressively to get what he or she wants and letting others look out for themselves.

First, a competitive approach often fails to produce the best possible solution to a problem. When people work against each other, they tend to focus on surface issues and neglect underlying desires and needs. As a result, they often reach inadequate solutions.

Second, competitive negotiation can also be quite inefficient. It usually begins with each side stating a specific position, and progress is made by successive compromises and concessions. Because each compromise typically is about half the size of the previous one and takes twice as long, this process can consume a great deal of time and generate significant frustration.

Finally, competitive negotiating can significantly damage personal relationships. This approach tends to be very self-centered and easily offends others. It also focuses on material issues rather than on personal concerns, perceptions, and feelings.

When you need to negotiate, PAUSE. This acronym stands for the following steps: Prepare Affirm relationships Understand interests Search for creative solutions Evaluate options objectively and reasonably

Prepare – Preparation is one of the most important elements of successful negotiation (Prov. 14:8, 22). This is especially true when significant issues or strong feelings are involved.

Affirm Relationships – A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm your respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process.

Understand Interests – The third step in the PAUSE strategy is to understand the interests of those involved in the disagreement. Only then can you properly respond to the command to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In order to identify interests, it is important to understand how they differ from issues and positions.

An issue is an identifiable and concrete question that must be addressed in order to reach an agreement.

A position is a desired outcome or a definable perspective on an issue.

An interest is what motivates people. It is a concern, desire, need, limitation, or something a person values.

Before you attempt to understand the interests of other people, it is wise to make a written list of your own interests. Remembering the three opportunities provided by conflict, you might begin by listing interests related to glorifying God, serving others, and growing to be like Christ.

Search for Creative Solutions – The fourth step in the PAUSE strategy is to search for solutions that will satisfy as many interests as possible. This process should begin with spontaneous inventing. Everyone should be encouraged to mention any idea that comes to mind. Imagination and creativity should be encouraged, while evaluating and deciding should be postponed.

Evaluate Options Objectively and Reasonably – The final step in the PAUSE strategy is to evaluate possible solutions objectively and reasonably so you can reach the best possible agreement. Even if the previous steps have gone well, you may encounter significant differences of opinion when you get to this stage. If you allow negotiations to degenerate into a battle of wills, your previous work will have been wasted. Therefore, instead of relying on personal opinions, insist on using objective criteria to evaluate the options before you. If you are dealing with Christians, refer to relevant biblical principles.

Control Your Tongue – The more intense a dispute becomes, the more important it is to control your tongue (Rom. 12:14). When you are involved in prolonged conflict, you may be sorely tempted to indulge in gossip, slander, and reckless words, especially if your opponent is saying critical things about you. But if you react with harsh words or gossip, you will only make matters worse. Even if your opponent speaks maliciously against you or to you, do not respond in kind. Instead, make every effort to breathe grace by saying only what is both true and helpful, speaking well of your opponent whenever possible, and using kind and gracious language.

Seek Godly Advisors – As Paul says, it is difficult to battle evil alone (Rom. 12:15–16). This is why it is important to develop relationships with people who will encourage you and give you biblically sound advice.

Keep Doing What Is Right – Romans 12:17 emphasizes the importance of continuing to do what is right even when it seems that your opponent will never cooperate. When Paul says, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody,” he does not mean that we should be slaves to the opinions of others. The Greek word that is translated “be careful” (pronoeo) means to give thought to the future, to plan in advance, or to take careful precaution (cf. 2 Cor. 8:20–21). Therefore, what Paul is saying is that you should plan and act so carefully and so properly that any reasonable person who is watching you will eventually acknowledge that what you did was right.

Recognize Your Limits – When dealing with difficult people, it is also important to recognize your limits. Even when you continue to do what is right, some people may adamantly refuse to admit you are right or to live at peace with you. This is why Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In other words, do all you can to be reconciled to others, but remember that you cannot force others to do what is right.

Use the Ultimate Weapon – The final principle for responding to a stubborn opponent is described in Romans 12:20–21: “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Here is the ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (cf. Luke 6:27–28; 1 Cor. 13:4–7). Instead of reacting spitefully to those who mistreat you, Jesus wants you to discern their deepest needs and do all you can to meet those needs.

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Revelation for the Rest of Us

Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple, by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett (Please support the authors by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

I can’t take another step without admitting that this speculation stuff was what I believed for a long time. I believed it as a child, as a teen, as a young adult studying theology, and then into my early career as a professor. I believed it. Until I didn’t. I changed my mind not only because every one of the certain predictions I heard from preachers and youth pastors and read in books were wrong. Not just slightly off but totally wrong. I wanted to learn how to read the book of Revelation better, and in so doing I became convinced that the Left Behind approach seriously misreads the book of Revelation and Christian eschatology. We’ll say more about this in the chapters that follow, but I came to see that approach as dangerous for the church. The speculation readings of Revelation teach escapism and fail to disciple the church in the moral dissidence that shapes everything in the amazing book of Revelation. Escapism is as far from Revelation as Babylon is from new Jerusalem.

Speculation is the biggest problem in reading Revelation today. Many treat it as a databank of predictive prophecy—what one Revelation scholar, Christopher Rowland, calls “a repository of prophecies concerning the future.” Readers want to know if now is the time of fulfillment for that symbol, figure, or event. Speculations about who is doing what, sometimes standing on stilts, has ruined Revelation for many.

Four Basic Readings Before getting to those speculative readings of Revelation, a quick sketch of four basic readings of Revelation: Preterists read Revelation as written to first-century churches about first-century topics. Historicists read Revelation as a sketch of the history of the church from the first century until the end. Futurists think Revelation is totally, or nearly entirely, about the future. This approach is populated by the speculators. Idealists read Revelation as timeless images and truths about God, the church, the state, and God’s plan for this world.

Revelation has become a “paradise of fanatics and sectarians”!

Many Americans have experiences of Revelation inducing fear of a global holocaust, with the book providing a roadmap of who does what and when. Experts on the history of reading Revelation as speculation woven into culture have shown that in the middle of the nineteenth century the book of Revelation went populist—that is, it became, as Amy Johnson Frykholm put it, the “ordinary person’s game.” All one needed was a dispensationalist framework, the rapture on the horizon, and a Bible in one hand and news sources (or Left Behind books) in the other. Everything “fit”: politics, international treaties, economic trends, moral decline, family breakdowns. East Coast elites and sophisticated biblical interpretation were easily swept out the church door when the experience of personally knowing the inside story became the norm. Such persons supernaturally knew what no one else knows.

But because of all this, many today have turned down the knob on the music of the book of Revelation. The speculation approach is behind the ordinary dismay with this book, and speculation can be laid at the front door of what is called dispensationalism (see appendix 1, “Dispensationalism’s Seven Dispensations.”) Dispensationalism of the classical sort is a method of reading the Bible in which God forms seven (or so) different covenants with humans—like Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Israel, the modern state of Israel, figures big in this scheme. What dispensationalism is known for even more is its belief in the imminent rapture that occurs before a future seven-year tribulation. Sometime near the end of that tribulation, Jesus will come back (the “second coming”), establish a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth, and then at the end of that millennium comes eternity. For dispensationalists the book of Revelation, at least from chapter four on, is entirely about that tribulation. The message of Revelation for many is, “You don’t want to be there when it happens. So get saved and get ready!”

Philip Gorski, in his exceptional book American Covenant, says the speculative, dispensational approach needs criticism not only for how it reads Revelation but also for what it does to the readers. First, it reads the Bible: • Predictively, as an encoded message about future events that can be decoded by modern-day prophets; • Literally, such that the mythical creatures of the text are understood as material realities; • “Premillennially,” with the second coming of Christ understood to precede the earthly ‘millennium’ of God’s thousand-year reign on earth; and • Vindictively, with the punishment of the godless occurring in the most gruesome and violent forms imaginable. He presses on his readers another vital point: this is not how the church throughout its history has read the apocalyptic texts of the Bible. What was apocalyptic and metaphorical and fictional over time became rigidly literal for too many readers.

Gorski really helps us all when he zooms in on what these kinds of readings do to people. “First, it leads to hubris. It seduces its followers into claiming to know things that no human being can possibly know.”

Gorski’s second point stuns. This way of reading the Bible “leads to demonization of others.

Third, it leads to fatalism, suggesting that wars and other calamities are beyond human control.

Finally, and most fatefully, it suggests that the ultimate solution to all problems is a violent one involving the annihilation of one’s enemies.”

Michael Gorman, who wrote one of the most important textbooks on Revelation, concludes that the discipleship of this approach is about • believing in order to escape the Tribulation, • evangelizing to help others escape, • connecting current events to prophecies, • and being ready to die for faith in Jesus.

Nelson Kraybill puts it succinctly: “Many Christians in the West have shut out the book of Revelation after seeing it exploited by cult leaders, pop eschatologists, and end-time fiction writers.”

Gorski’s project reveals that this approach to Revelation partakes far too often in nothing less than American Christian nationalism!

Future Speculations, Excitations, and Frustrations – We’ve been using the term “speculation,” so let’s explain it a bit more. This reading of Revelation obsesses about predictions about the future. That is, one narrows down an image in Daniel or Ezekiel or Revelation to such-and-such leader or to some specific nation. The USA fits into the predictions, and that means we (mostly Protestant, evangelical, white) Christians are the safe ones since we are the saved. The sort of dispensationalism we are talking about specializes in knowing “signs of the times” that are imminent.

Countless students and friends and people have told us this. They’ve had their excitations about the imminent rapture, they’ve heard the predictions, and they’ve seen that every one of them was wrong. Every. One. No. Exceptions.

They are unaware that there is a far more accurate and profoundly relevant way to read Revelation. We’ll tie some of this into a knot of terms: Revelation connected to speculation leads to excitation, and excitations lead to expectations, and expectations unfulfilled lead to frustrations. Frustrations lead to realizations that have led many to say, “There’s something big-time wrong with these speculations.”

The book is for all times because it is about all time. The flexibility of the book to give Christians a sense of direction and meaning throughout church history is the big clue to a different approach. The clue is that Revelation is timeless theology not specific prediction, and the moment it turns to specific predictions it loses its timeless message.

Why Is the Predictive Reading So Popular? 1. Fulfilled prophecies validate a person’s faith. 2. It resolves theological tensions: this world is not my home, this world remains my home for a while; God is in control, but I can choose, etc. 3. Predictive theology is by the people for the people instead of professionals. 4. History has meaning and a plan. 5. It offers utopian hope with a perfected social order. Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, 293–324

So, Revelation for the Rest of Us – The Apocalypse is not about prediction of the future but perception and interrogation of the present. It provides readers with a new lens to view our contemporary world. What if Revelation is what another scholar on Revelation, Greg Carey, thinks it is? “Monsters characterize imperial brutality; cosmic portents reflect social injustice; heavenly glories display the rule of the transcendent over the ordinary.”

“The last book of the Bible is not a catalog of predictions about events that would take place two thousand years later. Rather, it is a projector that casts archetypal images of good and evil onto a cosmic screen.” Wow, that line leads us to a fresh reading of Revelation.

A dissident is someone who takes a stand against official policy in church or state or both, who dissents from the status quo with a different vision for society. We need a generation of dissident disciples who confront and resist corruption and systemic abuses in whatever locations they are found: • corruption in the countries of the world, • our churches’ complicities in these corruptions, • and the reading of Revelation as speculation, which blunts our prophetic voice.

The book of Revelation, when read well, forms us into dissident disciples who discern corruptions in the world and church. Conformity to the world is the problem. Discipleship requires dissidence when one lives in Babylon.

As Greg Beale says, Revelation may be the most relevant book in the entire Bible, speaking to us today with its exhortations for “God’s people to remain faithful to the call to follow the Lamb’s paradoxical example and not to compromise.” But to discern its relevance we must stop our speculations and excitations—with their toothless approaches to discipleship—and our obsessions over being raptured or left behind, and we must go to prison with John.

Revelation records a timeless battle between two cities: Babylon and new Jerusalem. It’s a battle between two lords: The Lord of lords, Jesus, and the lord of the empire, the emperors of Rome. It’s a battle between hidden forces: angels and those in heaven against the dragon and his many-headed beasts (or wild things), and armies on both sides.1 Babylon loses and new Jerusalem wins. It takes imagination to believe this is true.

Yet John must have believed his listeners, those who heard the reading of this book, would comprehend what he had written. With one eye on Rome and the other eye on these seven churches, John chose to communicate with them in a way that has had a lasting—and sometimes bizarre—legacy.

Their songs were subversive, pointing to a different hope, and their witness announced a different Lord. There was something about them that made those in power nervous, so they began at the top with a plan to eliminate the most influential Christian in western Asia Minor: a Jew who believed Jesus was the Messiah. They shipped him off to a remote island, no doubt thinking this would put an end to this dissident. Except it didn’t.

In the book of Revelation John instructs the seven churches of western Asia Minor on how to live as Christian dissidents in an empire racked by violence, power, exploitation, and arrogance. “Follow the Way of the Lamb” thumps the drumbeat of this book. Yet many discussions of Revelation completely miss this key message. Michael Gorman is right: Revelation “is not about a rapture out of this world but about faithful discipleship in this world.”

A dissident is a person of hope, someone who imagines a better, future world, and then begins to embody that world. It’s someone who speaks to promote that better, future vision and against what is wrong in the present.

We are either thermometers reflecting the temperature of the world or thermostats adjusting that temperature. But we are only nonconformists, he warned his audiences in Montgomery, if we have been transformed in Christ.

We might call John a double dissident because he had his eyes on the evil powers at work in the empire as well as those same powers at work in the church. He saw too much Rome in the church, and not enough church in Rome.

What’s important to understand is that John, too, was a dissident, a prophetic voice in a long line of dissident voices speaking about the negative influence of Rome in the church. Too many of the churches were floating along with cultural buoyancy, wrongly assuming that all was fine. They believed they could follow Jesus and still be 100% culturally respected. They thought they could live like Rome and enter the new Jerusalem. John saw through their errant beliefs and spoke up and spoke out. It’s one thing to talk trash about Rome—the obvious enemy—behind closed doors, but it’s another to diss your own churches.

But while he is dispensing grubs to the churches, he’s also got his eyes on Rome and the other churches he pastors. Because John spoke against Rome, he became an imprisoned dissident. Because he spoke against the churches, some saw his imprisonment as a relief. This is one of the keys to reading Revelation well—that we understand the dual critique of the church and the empire. Reading Revelation well requires recognizing that Revelation has much to say; it makes no sense until we first see how it speaks a powerful encouragement to be dissident disciples.

Revelation is a visionary, auditory experience interpreted for the seven churches, the result of an artistic and graphic imagination. That’s not to say that what John saw did not happen. It’s simply to note that his experience was interpreted and mediated through what is written.

Putting this all together is what we mean when we say John used his “imagination.” We don’t mean imagination in the sense of making something up—as in writing a fictional story. Instead, we mean the creative process of communication, where something real stimulated his imagination and then something he says to communicate that experience stimulates ours. Remember: it takes imagination to read Revelation rightly.

Imagination John’s strategy was to write an “apocalypse” (the Greek apokalypsis means “unveiling,” “revealing”). An apocalypse, by design, is an imagination-stimulating genre. Apocalypses reveal to humans God’s plan for the world. They inform readers that what they think is real is not as real as they think, that there is a deeper reality, that the world is not what it seems to be. And in reading, the unfathomable becomes clear.

Our point is that good readers of Revelation will read it more like The Lord of the Rings than Paul’s letter to the Romans. We should let the bowls empty out and the trumpets blast; we should visualize the fall of Babylon and the woman of Revelation zooming and leaping and spinning and twirling—if you want to read this book well. The writer John used his imagination to see what he saw, and it takes an imagination to engage his. Too many readings of Revelation are flat-footed and literal. But as Greg Stevenson, an expert on Revelation, says, “Revelation symbolically transforms the world into a battlefield in which the forces of the dragon are arrayed against the forces of God.”

Imagination also comforts the oppressed, the discouraged, the seeker, and the wanderer. When we engage the flood of images Revelation offers us and experience them with our senses, it encourages us to trudge through the deep icy snows of discouragement and stimulates faith in the God who really is the Lord of lords and King of kings—even when dictators and tyrants ruin our society.

John operates with two opposing sides as well. On one side is God and the Lamb and the Seven Spirits, the woman, the seven churches, allegiant witnesses, the four living things, the twenty-four elders, and the good angels—all of whom are marching toward the kingdom of God or the new Jerusalem. On the other side is the dragon, the wild things, and their demonic and human servants—all of whom are embodied in Babylon. To read Revelation well, we will need to get to know John’s characters as our companions.

“Choose your team!” is one of John’s rhetorical strategies. Choose Team Lamb and you become a dissident who resists Team Dragon. Dissidents soon learn how many are on Team Lamb, and they begin to discern the manifold ploys and plots of Team Dragon. They also learn, as they speak up and speak out on how to resist Team Dragon.

Three principles for reading Revelation well are now on the table: 1. It’s not written for speculators—for those looking for a decoder ring to interpret newspaper headlines. 2. It is written for dissidents—for followers of Christ ready to challenge the powers of world and empire. 3. And it requires imagination—engaging our senses and minds with the performance that is Revelation, with all of its rich images and intriguing characters. Now, we turn to a fourth principle, which brings all three principles together: we must understand the Playbill, or the Cast of Characters, of Revelation. The Book of Revelation puts a number of characters on the stage, each becoming a “character” in the drama. Each deserves to be understood for their role. To understand Revelation, one must grasp what John means—to take the first example of a character in the Playbill—with “Babylon.” If you wait until you meet this character in chapter 17 to think about Babylon, you will have a thin reading of the first sixteen chapters.

John’s cast of characters are assigned to one of two teams, summarized in the playbill pages that follow: TEAM LAMB: God and the Lamb and the Seven Spirits, the woman, the seven churches, allegiant witnesses, the four living things, the twenty-four elders, and angels, all designed for new Jerusalem TEAM DRAGON: The dragon and the beasts, which I translate throughout as “the wild things”—there are two of them—all inhabiting Babylon (kings and merchants and sailors and anyone who chooses to have the mark of the wild thing, and John names some others: the Nicolaitans and Balaam and Jezebel)

These two teams are engaged in a cosmic battle with one another, what Paul Minear refers to as “sovereignties in conflict.” One can’t read Revelation well or make Revelation come alive in our world until we understand John’s multilayered cosmic universe and the characters who are both visible and invisible.

It’s important for us to see that this throne-room vision fundamentally determines the message of the entire Apocalypse: God is on the Throne, Caesar is not, Babylon will go down, and someday justice will be established in the new Jerusalem.

John here is not offering us prediction, but revelation, making an appeal through our perception and engaging our imagination.

The centralizing of all this power has one purpose: to fight the Lamb. The Lamb will win, of course, and John tells us this in 17:14 to calm down our excitations.

John ups and tells us what he means: “The woman . . . is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18, italics added). So we now have everything in this vision identified: the woman is Babylon, the woman is sitting on the wild thing, the wild thing operates on seven hills with seven kings (make that ten more kings), and the wild thing is a king too! The wild thing hates the Lamb, but the Lamb will be victorious, and Babylon, “the great city,” will burn to the ground. It would have taken very little imagination in John’s day to recognize that this so-called great city is Rome, but it may shock today’s reader to know that this is the most repugnant, hostile portrait of the “eternal city” in the ancient world.

For example, not that long before the writing of Revelation, Peter is in Rome and he calls Rome “Babylon”: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings” (1 Pet 5:13).

John has morphed Roma—an image of Roman pride and glory—into “the mother of prostitutes, Babylon the great.” If so, John turns Rome’s own image of itself inside out and upside down.

Why Babylon? These two-and-a-half chapters in Revelation (17–19) are all about Rome, and John makes that clear in the last verse of Revelation 17 when he says Babylon is the “great city” (17:18), the city of “seven hills” (17:9). A first-century person would have quite naturally connected the woman sitting on seven hills to the common Roman coin depicting Roma, the goddess, sitting on seven hills.

But again, why not just say this? Why call her Babylon? And the answer is because John isn’t just speaking about Rome, but he is connecting Rome and the empire to the ongoing story of God’s people. Babylon became for Jews and early Christians the most graphic image, metaphor, or trope for a city filled with arrogance, sin, injustice, oppression of God’s people, and idolatry.

Today, if you want to insult a leader you would call him a “Hitler” or “Stalin.” If you want to insult the integrity of an athlete you might call them a “Pete Rose.” In the Jewish world of John, you would insult a woman with the label “Jezebel” and a man by calling him “Balaam.” But if you wanted to insult an entire city and mock its powers, you pulled out the “Babylon” card.

To use “Babylon” to refer to the reigning powers of the world was very, very Jewish.

Babylon is chosen because that specific city from that specific time in Israel’s history became a trope for the powers that oppressed, took captive, and killed the people of God.

Babylon for All Times – This leads us to an important observation and another principle for reading Revelation well: Babylon is a timeless trope. Jews knew of the original city of Babylon as a specific event from their own story. But from that time onward they had their eyes open for the presence of the next Babylon and other Babylons to follow. Whenever they saw an oppressing nation or an enslaving power, they saw Babylon all over again. Whenever they saw their country besieged and their city (Jerusalem) attacked or exploited, they remembered Babylon. Babylon was more than a one-time event—it was timeless for Jews.

Babylon is as present to John as Patmos. Babylon was not some future city for him.

Babylon is always here—even today. Babylon is an image, a metaphor, a trope Jews used for empires that oppress and persecute the covenant people. As a trope, Babylon names empires that oppress those who walk in the way of the Lamb. When we turn later in this book to the story at work in the book of Revelation and look at its timeline, we will need to depict Babylon as timeless. And this means: Babylon accompanies the church as it moves through church history.

“Babylon exists wherever sociopolitical power coalesces into an entity that stands against the worship of YHWH alone.”

We will meet the dragon’s violent ways in the militaries of major empires and nations—in airplanes, in submarines, in warships, in bombs, in nuclear warheads, in nerve gasses, in alliances of nations, and in internet terrorism.

We encounter the dragon and Babylon in spiritual, moral, cultural, political, economic, and educational degradations that bring death, that block freedoms, that are designed by the wild things to yield allegiance to the dragon.

Many of those reading Revelation speculatively point their fingers at Russia or Iran or Iraq and fail to see Babylon in their own country. Yet as Michael Gorman has gone to pains to demonstrate, the USA has earmarks of empire in its exceptionalism, nationalism, colonialism, and militarism.

A Word for the Church Too – The biggest problem facing the seven churches was Babylon. And the biggest problem we still face in our churches today is Babylon. Babylon is past and it is now; it is tomorrow and it is future as well. But it is only the future because Babylon is always.

Babylon’s Characteristics – Babylon means military might, exploiter of the economy, and oppressor of the people of God. But there’s more to this image than just an external threat to God’s people. Babylon is also present in the various sins of the seven churches. The storyline of the book of Revelation is about wiping out the sins of Babylon so there can be a new Jerusalem. Dissident disciples have their eyes trained to discern the signs of Babylon, and they recognize the sinister symptoms of something disordered.

Revelation reveals the plan of God to wipe the world clean of evil by defeating the dragon, wrangling the wild things, and taking down Babylon. It takes readers into the heart of evil, defeats it, and leads us triumphantly to the world’s true destiny: the new Jerusalem, the city that flows with peace and justice.

These seven signs manifest idolatries and injustices, but if one wants to reduce them to their core they express a corrupted, corrupting civil religion and spiritualized politics. To quote again from Richard Bauckham, here is his thematic statement for the seven characteristics of Babylon: Absolute power on earth is satanic in inspiration, destructive in its effects, idolatrous in its claims to ultimate loyalty.

In one word: domination. The one who follows the Lamb toward new Jerusalem discerns and resists the claims to absolute power by Babylon.

1. Anti-God (for Jews and Christians) – Babylon formed an anti-God way of life into a rigid system. Jews and Christians had long denounced common idolatries (Isa 40–55; Wis 13–15; Acts 12:21–23; Rom 1:18–32). What they witnessed throughout the ancient world were gods and kings, even kings as gods, revered in temples.

There was no distinction made between military might, political rulers and emperors, politics, and religion. Empire and religion were woven together into a seamless whole.

2. Opulent Babylon luxuriated in opulence, indulgence, entertainment, and games. John tells us that Babylon “was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls” (Rev 17:4). The rich got richer as the poor remained in their crowded, beggarly, and ignored condition.

One of the best ways to communicate the ugliness of opulence is through hyperbole!

3. Murderous – What Rome called pax Romana, or the peace of Rome, was really the subjugation of enemies through violent conquer or surrender. To be emperor over a large empire, one needed the chops of military victories, and the more impressive the enemy, the more status accrued to the emperor.

4. Image – By all accounts Babylon impressed the watching world with its strategies, engineers, and architecturally brilliant temples, palaces, buildings, theaters, and sporting spectacles. Roads and aqueducts crisscrossed the empire. Marble-shaped-images were everywhere. The monumental buildings testified to the impressive glory of Rome, its victories, and its leaders.2 Those who saw the power and glory and reach of Babylon (=Rome) were stunned—everyone except the dissidents, the oppressed, the slaves, those captured, and the poor. In other words, most everyone!

That’s exactly what Babylon wanted (and has always wanted)—to be an object of awe, astonishment, and praise.

Dissidents of Babylon learn to discern and resist the intoxicating allure of cultivating image and persona.

5. Militaristic – Rome accumulated all it had through military might and power. Rome tellingly rejected the use of “king” (rex) for its premier leader, instead preferring the title “emperor,” a translation of imperator, referring to military commanders. The ruler of Rome was the most powerful man in the world, and as the world’s mightiest man he was a militarist.

Dissidents discern in the exploitations of other humans—whether man, woman, or child—a mark of Babylon.

6. Economically Exploitative – Rome, aka Babylon, aggregated, accumulated, exploited, taxed, and traded—and this was a daily experience throughout the empire. Mosaics in Pompeii show that on the houses you could read on the floor “Hello Profit!” or “Profit is Happiness!” The poor resented the wealthy as much, if not more, in western Asia Minor as they did anywhere else, and the poor agitated for redistribution. The blistering criticisms of Revelation 18 then fit quite well with the social conditions of the time. The injustices of exploitation simmered just below the surface of Roman society.

One writer even quipped that you could travel the world to see what it has to offer or you could go to Rome and see it all there. The merchants sold what Babylon was buying with a ceaseless flow toward Rome. Dissidents today are also attuned to recognize the excesses of economic exploitation and consumerism.

7. Arrogant – The previous six signs of Babylon could all be rolled up into this one. Rome turned its arrogance into a virtue. “In her heart,” John knows by discernment, “she boasts, ‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn’” (Rev 18:7). The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says nearly the same thing about the original Babylon: “You said, ‘I am forever—the eternal queen!’” (Isa 47:7); and she said “I am [that’s blasphemy in the highest], and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children” (47:8). Arrogance begins at the top of the empire, or rather, the system rewards the arrogant and lines up everyone else in a hierarchy of status.

This boasting falls directly opposite the cross of Jesus and his way of life. Jesus’s victory came by means of a hideous crucifixion—the way of the Lamb. Augustus exposes for all to see the way of the dragon—self-adulation, human accomplishment, and false humility. His rule and way of life exist through power, through violence, through murder, and through the exploitation of others for the sake of indulgence and opulence.

Summary If we had to choose a single term for Babylon, we’d focus on the militaristic drive to conquer and select the term “domination.” Domination unto death is the way of the dragon.

These set the tone for how Babylon penetrated the seven churches, and we should reflect on how they continue to be expressed in churches today. Remember, dissidents discern Babylon—they develop a Babylonian hermeneutic.

The Dragon and Its Wild Things – Babylon presents itself as the powerful order of strength, but behind Babylon are the dragon and the wild things. We’ve offered a brief introduction to each of these characters in the playbill, but here we want to unpack that further. Babylon, in short, is the systemic order of power created by the dragon and the wild things.

The dragon’s mission is clear: it wants the woman’s baby boy, the Son of God who is to rule, and it wants the Son dead.

The war is on between Team Dragon and Team Lamb. Notice the astounding opening in Revelation 12:7: there is a war in heaven! One can’t read that and not think of John Milton’s battles in Paradise Lost, or those of J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis between good and evil. This is the stuff of the world’s great stories and myths.

That last verse we cited, Revelation 12:17, speaks of going to war with the offspring of the woman. The seven characteristics of Babylon manifest the way of the dragon, which battles against the way of the Lamb. One can’t read Revelation well without embracing the cosmic, even mythic, battle between Team Dragon and Team Lamb.

Dissident disciples are the first to realize they are in a battle—not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and powers that snake their way into the seven churches. Some readers of Revelation, however, turn Revelation 12 into little more than a symbolic battle between abstract good and abstract evil. But the dragon can’t be reduced to a symbol of evil. The dragon is the ultimate agent of evil.

The Wild Things: #1 and #2 One of the biggest mistakes we can make in reading Revelation is spending too much time speculating on the precise predictive identity of the wild thing (or the antichrist; see appendix 3), the mask of the dragon. Who will it be? Luther and Calvin thought it was the pope, as have many zealot Protestants since (and some still today).

These speculators were all wrong, and they’ve all been wrong because they lack the kind of imagination a faithful reading of Revelation requires, wanting to reduce everything to literal predictions.

We are not looking for figures by predicting specific persons in the future; rather, we are looking for images of dragon-like leaders at work in all societies and all times. They are puppets, whose strings are pulled by the dragon. Remember, these images are not about predicting the future, but about shaping our perceptions of the present.

There are two wild things in Revelation 13, one from the sea and one from the earth. Wild thing #1 emerges from the sea, a picture of chaos and the ancient abyss (see 11:7). Wild thing #1 is all about power while wild thing #2 is about propaganda. Both of them do their work behind closed doors in the dragon’s Babylon, creating a propaganda machine to control and dominate.

666 Many readers of Revelation today get snagged in the 666 web of speculation (Rev 13:16–18), wondering what such a number means, how numbers like this worked in John’s world, and to whom 666 might apply today.

Who will it be? is not the right question to ask, though. Rather, we should ask Who was it for John? and Who might it be for us?

To begin, we go back to the time when the Book of Revelation was written. Nero Caesar, in Greek Nerōn kaisar, adds up to 666 when translated into Hebrew: 50+200+6+50+100+60+200 = 666! Some manuscripts of Revelation here do not have the number 666 but instead 616, and if one drops off the second “n” in Nerōn that name then totals 616!

But Nero is not alone in satisfying such a calculation, because 666 is also the numerical value of the word thērion, which is the Greek word for “beast” or “wild thing.” This was likely all great fun for the first readers of Revelation.

Like Babylon, 666 does not point to one person at one future moment in history but to all political tyrants who have the powers to establish the way of the dragon and oppress Team Lamb.

The Lamb – The believers to whom Revelation was originally written lived in Babylon—that is, the Roman Empire. Their entire lives—bodies, minds, and spirits—were swamped by Babylon. Those believers become faithful witnesses to Jesus as Lord by following the Lamb as residents in Babylon. And faithful discipleship, a life that mirrors Christ, who is the Lamb, is still about being a witness to Jesus as a resident in this world. Discipleship is about Lamb-like living.

This term, following, is used in the Gospels for the disciples as well. The faithful follow Jesus in the way of the Lamb—into a witness that can lead to suffering and even death, and into the way of victory over those who oppose the Lamb.

But if discipleship is really about following the Lamb, what are the characteristics of the Lamb that we are to follow? John gives us a multifaceted depiction of Jesus in the book of Revelation, and he is the one whom disciples are to follow by resisting Babylon.

We are only through the first eight verses of this book, and already Jesus fills a theological textbook with ideas and concepts about his identity and mission!

In other words, the book of Revelation is first and foremost a revelation about Jesus.

John’s Jesus is altogether splendorous. And again, his words are soaked in Old Testament imagery: a long, priest-like robe with a golden sash, snow-white hair like Daniel 7, eyes of fire and glowing feet like Daniel 10, and a resonant, reverberating voice like Ezekiel 1.

The Lord Because of the flow of this book, we need to always keep our eyes on what John said in 1:5: Jesus is “the ruler [archōn] of the kings of the earth.” He is, in other words, the Lord of lords. Living into this requires both a comic and cosmic imagination, especially for those living outnumbered as allegiant witnesses to Jesus. In today’s terms, you might hear an echo of someone in these churches yelling out “Booyah!”

John is saying that Jesus is there with them, alive and speaking, and they should hear him speaking as the one true ruler of the world, the Lord of lords! They should declare allegiance to him, walk in the way of the Lamb, and resist the dragon by refusing to walk in the way of Babylon.

Pause with us one more time: what strikes the reader of Revelation 1 is not speculation about who will be whom, who will do what, in which nation, and at what date. What strikes the reader is the overwhelming majesty of Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, the King of kings and the world’s only true Emperor of emperors. The followers of the Lamb hearing this book performed are over the moon in joyous rapture at the prospect of a world run by Jesus—a world John calls the new Jerusalem. This Jesus is the one who calls people to follow him by resisting the lords of Rome and walking in the way of the Lord of lords.

The Lion The vision of John shifts from Jesus to the churches in chapters 1, 2, and 3, and then to the Throne-God in chapter 4, and then back to Jesus all over again in chapter 5. But in chapter five the lordly images describing Jesus in Revelation 1–3 morph from a Lion into the Lamb. We’ll start with the Lion.

The Lamb – Something odd happens in chapter 5 that transforms the message of the book of Revelation. One of the elders informs John that only the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, had triumphed and so only he can crack open the scroll (perhaps “little scroll”). John wants us to see with the eyes of our imagination again—to picture the Lion romping forward to grab hold of the scroll. But no, that’s not how it happens. Instead, there is a morphing, a transformation: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (5:6, italics added).

The Lion becomes the Lamb. And it is a bizarre lamb, with three sevens: “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (5:6). The Lamb “took the scroll from the right hand” of God (5:7). Then two groups (four living creatures and twenty-four elders) erupt into worship of the Lamb.

Why the transformation? It’s easy to follow a fierce lion, but who wants to follow a lamb? The Lamb, they sing, is worthy, not because he headbutted someone off the stage. No, he is worthy because he was slain, and by being slain, the Lamb “purchased” a universal people of God, and they—not Babylon’s lords—will be a “kingdom and priests to serve our God.” What’s more, the Lamb’s followers “will reign on the earth” (5:10). The Lord of Revelation 1:5, you will remember, is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” That Lord, that Lion, is the Lamb.

Their Lamb is really a Lion who wins with a sword in his fist in a noisy, bloody battle at Armageddon. Their Christology distorts the book, because they are driven by speculations about when this will happen, where it will happen, and who will be the antichrist. The Lion is a Lamb who wins (as we are about to see) not with a sword in a bloody battle but with a nonviolent weapon, namely the Word of God.

But what does it mean to say that the Lamb was a slain lamb? Remember how we morphed from a fierce, powerful, death-dealing Lion to a vulnerable, defenseless Lamb?

Two more observations about the slaughtered Lamb. Jesus’s way of life, the Lion-Lamb way of life, forms the paradigm for his followers, so it comes as no surprise that followers of Jesus are also slain or slaughtered. Notice these two verses: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (6:9) In her [Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth. (18:24)

Babylon’s way is the way of sword and violence. The way of the Lamb is to speak up and about Jesus in the midst of Babylon, come what may. What may come is the Lamb’s way of ultimate witness: martyrdom. The Lamb wages war, not with a sword in his fist, but with a sword coming from his mouth and with a life that embodies resistance to the lords of Babylon.

The Logos – John’s Jewish contemporaries prayed and memorized the book of Psalms as their prayer book. Words from Psalm 44 formed in the memories of God’s people a picture of God as warrior and Israel’s “victories” coming not because of their own power or swords but from God.

In Revelation the Lamb wins the war.

There is a gruesome battle with a paradox: the “deaths” at the hand of the Lamb are by the Word, the Logos, and not by a sword in the king’s fist. And here’s why. The way of the Lamb is not the way of Babylon and its dragon. The latter is the way of power and might, violence and bloodshed, murder and arrogance, and the exploitation of human bodies. In a previous chapter we looked at the militarism of Babylon. Militarism is not the way of the Lamb. Instead, the Lamb wins by losing, and his losing liberates others. The Lamb liberates by giving his life, and the Lord wins the battle with the Word, the Logos. Some interpreters of the book of Revelation relish the battle descriptions as literal, physical, military battles with incalculable bloodshed held at a place called Armageddon. When we read such interpreters, we should wonder if their heart has been cauterized. Because while the images of battle in Revelation 6–18 look like physical battles, they are really apocalyptic fictions, images that dance before our eyes and imaginations to tell us that the Lamb will win. And the Bible tells us the Lamb wins with the Word. Winners with the Word deconstruct winners with the sword, and they will win at the parousia of Jesus, or his second coming or return (see appendix 4, “Armageddon”).

The Rider is called “Faithful and True,” which is what Jesus is called in 3:14: “the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Unlike Babylon, who is drunk on the blood of God’s people, Jesus will bring justice, as was predicted of the Messiah in Isaiah 11. Like Daniel 10:6 and Revelation 1:14, he has fiery eyes. This image means that he is coming to purge evil from God’s creation. He is not wearing “crowns,” as the NIV has, but rather “diadems,” which are worn as a symbol of kingship. Roman emperors wore wreaths, not diadems, because the former symbolized victory and the latter kingship. The way of the Lamb is not the way of the dragon or Babylon.

The Lion is the Lamb, the Word of God, who is the Emperor and Lord over all the earth’s lordless lords. He will win and he will reign. There will be a great victory feast, a final judgment, and a splendorous city descending from heaven, the new Jerusalem.

The Faithful Witnesses – The Throne-God wins, the Lord-Lion-Lamb-Logos wins, and the Seven Spirits win. The dragon and the wild things lose. The book of Revelation, however, is not just about a spiritual battle in the heavens, as was sketched out for us in Revelation 12. The apocalypse takes place on earth too, as the battle for allegiance, truth, and power. Babylon and new Jerusalem form the two encampments while the dragon and the Lamb lead troops of wild things and faithful witnesses.

The faithful witnesses declare their allegiance to the Lamb and walk in the way of the Lamb as dissidents of Babylon. Faithful to the Lamb, they witness to the Lamb, speaking up and speaking out and sometimes suffering.

The Woman – As we saw with the Lord, Lion, and Lamb, there are images that will morph and shift in Revelation. This is what we see happening with the woman of Revelation 12. She is first Israel or perhaps Eve, and then she becomes Mary, mother of Jesus, and then she becomes the church.

Losing yet again, the dragon surrenders to the woman and chooses to battle “the rest of her offspring” (12:17). These children of the woman are the faithful witnesses of the seven churches: “Those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (12:17).

This approach to Revelation distorts the meaning of what John wrote in a number of ways, not least these two. First, these are wildly inaccurate descriptions of the periods themselves. And second, John thinks of these churches as coexisting and contemporary. There is not a shred or scrap of evidence that John sees them as future churches. Everything about Revelation speaks directly to John’s own day and how John’s churches can live faithfully in Babylon (Rome). The biggest problem with this interpretation also damns the entire approach: it fails to comprehend the historic global church.

We encounter: the seven seals (6:1–8:1), the seven trumpets (8:2–11:19), and seven shallow bowls (15:1–16:21). Three plus ten. Ten interludes interrupt three cycles of seven judgments (7:1–8, 9–17; 8:3–5; 10:1–11; 11:1–14; 12; 13; 14:1–13, 14–19; 15:2–4).

There’s nothing controversial about breaking the book of Revelation into these major sections. The controversy begins when we ask, How are we to read the book’s narrative plot and flow? How do the characters of the playbill come together to form the plot? Previously, we noted four basic principles for reading Revelation well: (1) it’s not for speculators; (2) it is for dissidents; (3) it requires imagination; (4) and we need to know the basic characters. Now we add a fifth principle: (5) it is vitally important that we locate these characters within the dramatic narrative.

The three most significant elements of classic dispensationalism are: First, an emphasis on a literal reading of Revelation. And it must be added that those who urge this claim that they alone read Revelation “literally.” Not a few of us would describe this as flat-footed. Second, classic dispensationalism teaches a prophetic or prediction-heavy reading that seeks to locate Revelation on the world’s stage. Think of looking for the signs of Revelation as you scroll through your Twitter feed. Third, add to these first two a chronological reading that sees chronological steps progressing all the way from chapter 6 to the end of the book.

But there are several reasons why this reading is most unlikely. To begin with, the word “prophetic” does not have to mean “prediction.” Pick up your Bible, read the prophets of Israel, and you will see immediately that they are speaking to their own day as much as they are speaking to the future. It’s a both-and way of speaking.

No one literally thinks any of these beasts have seven heads or that some sword will zoom from Jesus’s mouth when he speaks. Some things are “literal” and others “symbolic,” and both sides interpret in both ways. Not to mention that John himself does not see what he is describing as future but considers himself to be a fellow participant in the so-called great tribulation (1:9).

Life—past, present, future—is not a product of random chaos, nor is it the result of fate or blind luck. No, in the story of everything, the world is God’s world, time is in God’s hands, history has a beginning, and God guides history toward its divine intention: the new Jerusalem or the kingdom of God. Such a worldview colors one’s perception of every moment and counters every other worldview. To the degree that those seven churches lived according to the story of everything, they had to live in two worlds.

Here is the only secret you need to reading Revelation: this book is about the Lamb’s final, complete defeat of the dragon and its Babylons and the establishment of new Jerusalem.

For there to be an uncontested new Jerusalem, there must no longer be a Babylon warring with the Lamb.

The book is not about finding joy in unbelievers getting their comeuppance, but about the defeat of the dragon and the systemic evils in Babylon. The celebration is not personal vengeance but cosmic justice. It’s a colossal cosmic relief for the dragon to be defeated so the splendor can all go to the Lamb and the One on the throne.

Everything in the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, utilizes the backstory of Israel. John alludes to the Old Testament prophets constantly because their story is his story. Well, that’s not quite right. It’s better to say their story becomes his story, and his story takes that backstory and reframes the entire story of Israel as one headed toward the new Jerusalem.

The Backstory of Israel Includes: Creation, promise, covenant, the plagues and the exodus, law, temple, kings and prophets, exile, and return. It’s essential in reading Revelation to have some familiarity with the backstory of Israel. This means readers of Revelation need to know the characters and formative events of the Bible: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Israel, Moses, David, Solomon, and the prophets. Along with these characters, readers of Revelation also need to know about the events of the backstory: creation, promise, covenant, law, tabernacle and temple, kings and prophets, law, exile, return, and how specific events like Passover, the plagues, the exodus, and entering the land became paradigms for God’s redemption in this world.

The Story So Far – Jesus radically adjusted the backstory of Israel in two ways. First, he added several events with his own life and actions. And second, the entire backstory became a new story because Jesus taught his followers that the backstory anticipated and was fulfilled in him! The “first” testament becomes a “second” testament because of Jesus, and John updates Jesus’s and the other apostles’ versions of the backstory into the story so far.

The Story So Far Includes: Creation, promise, covenant, law, temple, kings and prophets, exile, and return. Adds Jesus: His birth, life, teachings, miracles, apostles, last week, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming.

The Final Story – Just as Jesus adjusted the story of Israel, so the final story provided by John in the Apocalypse adjusts the story so far yet again! But there’s something in John’s story that also tells us where we are in the story and how we should live as allegiant witnesses in today’s Babylons. Revelation’s Final Story Includes: Creation, promise, covenant, law, temple, kings and prophets, exile, and return. Adds Jesus: His birth, life, teachings, miracles, apostles, last week, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. Adds some final details: Babylon, dragon, and wild things; One on the throne, Lamb, Seven Spirits, three times seven judgments, Babylon defeated, and new Jerusalem.

Three Stories in Which We Find Ourselves Today – The Bible’s story of everything transcends what the world offers us. In a recent and brilliant study of the stories told by Americans, Philip Gorski proposes the existence of three basic storylines: radical secularism, Christian nationalism, and civil religion.

First, and the easiest for most Christians to reject, is radical secularism. This storyline explicitly wants God out of the public square and Christians to cease with their God-shaped moral visions. Instead, it wants a secular ethic rooted in reason that engages all people neutrally in the public square. For believers this is impossible, not least because everything we think and do flowers from our faith (or at least it ought to).

The second story popular today flips this first script on its head: Christian nationalism. In this story, the USA is a Christian nation, and its laws and government ought to reflect to one degree or another their Christian foundations. Accompanying this story is the necessity of violence wielded to maintain this Christian foundation and framework. Such an approach finds affinity, according to Philip Gorski, with the conquest narratives of the Old Testament, especially those we read in Joshua. Christian nationalists read the book of Revelation as the paradigm of earthly war and defeat, and their perspective on the place of government and its role emerges from the premillennial dispensational approach to Revelation. However extreme it was, January 6, 2021, illustrates such an approach.

Gorski himself contends for a third storyline, what he calls civil religion, which he contends draws from both the secular Western world of “civic republicanism” but also the biblical world of “prophetic religion.” These are the current options we in the West either grow up with or into. Three stories that help us make sense of the world around us and how we should engage in the public square—yet none of them offer us what Jesus and the apostles and John’s story of everything offer. Each of these stories has something to teach us, but none of them are fully satisfying.

John does not adjudicate how to engage in politics. Instead, John instructs Christians how to discern the moral character of governments and politicians and policies and laws. John takes the stance of a dissident disciple who lives out of a story unlike anything the world has to offer.

An Interlude about the Interludes Have you ever noticed that the book of Revelation is filled with interruptions or breaks in the narrative flow? Why are there so many of these interruptions—we count ten of them—interrupting the flow of John’s story in chapters 6 and following? It’s like traveling on a road trip with someone who wants to stop at every fresh fruit stand along the way. If you open your Bible and scan the section headers in Revelation 6–16, you’ll likely notice the interludes and see them as interruptions. Does John think the seven churches need interruptions as he tells this story? Perhaps he has a reason. The story he tells is ghastly, with three times seven judgments on the world. Might John be concerned for his audience, hoping to keep them from succumbing to fear or depression? We believe this is exactly what is happening. Just as we get to the point where we want to put our hands over our eyes, John lifts us into the presence of God, a place of worship and revelation. These interruptions are called interludes and they perform one key function: they lift the listeners in the seven churches out of the horrors of the dragon and the wild things and Babylon into the heavenly throne room to experience God as the real story behind the story of everything.

Here is a list of all ten interludes: Interlude 1: Marking 144,000 (7:1–8) Interlude 2: Universal Acclamation by Witnesses (7:9–17) Interlude 3: Petitions of the Devout Ones (8:3–5) Interlude 4: Little Book Eaten (10:1–11) Interlude 5: Two Witnesses (11:1–14) Interlude 6: Woman and Dragon (12:1−17) Interlude 7: Dragon’s Two Wild Things (13:1−18) Interlude 8: Allegiant Ones (14:1–13) Interlude 9: Judgment Announced (14:14–19) Interlude 10: Conquerors (15:2–4)

What the Interludes Do – The interludes function as digressions in speech, departing from the sequence of the argument to call attention to something important. Revelation was written for oral performance (Rev 1:3), and the interludes capture the hearers’ attention with their unexpected shifts in focus. The interludes enhance the emotional appeal: while the visions awaken fear, the interludes offer hope for salvation, inviting confidence. The interludes create delay by disrupting the seemingly inexorable movement toward God’s judgment. The interludes create intensity. The interludes pull us from the disorientation that is intentionally created by the seals and trumpets. —Cited and adapted from Craig R. Koester, 356–57

Babylon runs along as if there is no Lamb, as if Rome’s current emperor is the world’s true king, and as if they have nothing to worry about. But in many of these interludes, the seven churches get sensory experiences of the realest of realities in the presence of God. A reality that someday will be New Jerusalem.

These glorious interludes mediate the victory of the Lamb for those who remain allegiant to him. Those living in Babylon need the interludes. This is the truth from behind the curtain, now pulled back for a brief moment of revived hope and encouragement. The interludes lift their listeners in the seven churches away from the horrors of the dragon, the wild things, and Babylon into the heavenly throne room where they can experience God as the real story behind what is happening:

If you haven’t noticed, John loves numbers. Many readers and interpreters of Revelation have noted that John never gives us a number that is free from symbolic value. Seven is the number of perfection, implying something done according to the divine design, the number of completion. Three implies the greatest or ultimate expression of something. So seven times three indicates triple perfection!

That word “immediately” can only mean immediately—that is, imminently. Attached to these verses are parables that tie these cosmic events to what sounds like the final events of all history (Matt 24:32–25:46). But what historic event are these scenes tied to? Jesus connects them directly to the destruction of Jerusalem in 66–73 AD. The words of Jesus are aimed at that event and then expressed in terms that characterize the end of history. That’s how apocalyptic language works.

The best explanation we have ever seen for how biblical prophecy works requires understanding two things: resistance and affirmation. What must be resisted is thinking that the prophets are announcing in precise detail what will happen in time and space in the immediate future. What must be affirmed is that rhetorically the prophets ramp up imminency to press upon their readers the urgency of responding to their message.

Was John wrong? Answering “yes” utterly fails to deal with apocalyptic and prophetic language. The next event is framed as the last event to motivate hearers to repent and follow the way of the Lamb. Prophet after prophet in the Old Testament did the very same thing, so John frames these judgments as something about to happen just over the horizon, and we are to receive them the same way—knowing that God’s time is God’s time, as Jesus taught his followers (Matt 24:36).

What is the point of this “bitter sweetness” that characterizes God’s judgment? These judgments do not simply elicit celebration, but instead they usher the listener into an embittered joy, a painful truth that the world must experience for it to be redeemed. These judgments are a necessary but bitter reality. They are a bitter sweetness.

These scenes are not the stuff of world wars or nuclear holocausts. They are images of God’s justice being established by erasing the evils of injustice.

All of this to say: we are to see these—yes, triply—complete judgments as the deepest desire of the oppressed for justice. The specific judgments in the seals, trumpets, and shallow bowls are common tropes recognizable by those who have studied the Old Testament.

The oppressed want to hear from God, and they want to experience his justice. They want to see judgment on evil, they want oppression to end, and they want injustices to be undone. They want to hear that their oppressors are scheduled for a date with the divine. They want to know that racism will end in equality, that starvation will end in a banquet, that exclusion from the city will end in open gates for all. The oppressed have felt the piercingly violent eyes of Babylon upon them and have stared into the face of the dragon in the wild things. They know evil when they see it, and they long for the light found in the Lamb’s eyes.

All these and others remind the oppressed people of God that it may not look good today, but tomorrow brings new Jerusalem.

Behind all these judgments is an acknowledgment of God’s superintendence and orchestration. The book of Revelation exhales the air of God’s judgment in hot gusts—and we must not diminish divine involvement. A mistake is sometimes made by those who press these judgments into literal earthly realities in which God supposedly makes havoc of his own creation. Rather, these are all—each and in totality—graphic images of judgment on the dragon, the wild things, and Babylon. These judgments have a clear purpose as well: the elimination of evil in the world so the people of God can dwell in peace in the new Jerusalem. They spring from John’s vision, which he connects to the plagues and the prophets, and they stir the imagination of the oppressed in their hope for justice and of the sinful as a warning that God will eventually pay back all injustice.

Morally, the core issue is justice, and God is the One and Only who always does what is right. We are to see the three times seven judgments as an indication that God is making the world right by eliminating the arrogant, anti-God, exploitative, dominating ways of Babylon. Nothing thrills the heart of the oppressed and unjust sufferers more than hearing that God will make everything right—that he will bring justice. To put it practically, this means: • Racism condemned and made right is justice. • Economic exploitation made right is justice. • Trafficking bodies of humans made right is justice.

No, God makes things right because injustices are horribly wrong. The three times seven judgments are not lurid chronological timelines of revenge, but are three separable, but at times overlapping depictions, of God establishing justice so that the evils of Babylon disappear and the goodness of new Jerusalem becomes a reality.

A Prophet Spinning Plates – When an Old Testament prophet’s prophecy comes to pass and is fulfilled—though not in every single detail—some are tempted to characterize such prophecies as partially fulfilled. A “fuller” fulfillment is expected. For such readers, Revelation is the depiction of that final fulfilment, completing the missing aspects of many lingering, incomplete Old Testament prophecies. This, too, is a mistake. Here’s why: the seeds of John’s visions were planted in Israel’s past but only bloom with the arrival of the Lamb. Put differently, our wonderful writer’s imagination grows out of his memory. His book is not a prediction-fulfillment scheme based in Isaiah or Ezekiel or Daniel. Rather, John uses the images of these prophets to interpret the present and anticipate the future.

How Prophets Prophesied – Many people today are taught to read the Old Testament prophets as predictors and the New Testament authors as fulfillers of those predictions. But it’s not that simple. Careful reading of Scripture teaches us that it takes time to read the Bible in its historical context.

For example, Jesus connected his prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, which occurred in the war with Rome in 66–73 AD, with the prophet Daniel (Mark 13:14). Peter saw Pentecost in the language of Joel (Acts 2:14–21). When prophets spoke like this, they said something old and new at the same time.

How John Prophesied John was soaked in the language of prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel, and at times there is a prophecy-fulfillment scheme at work. But most of the time John’s scheme is not prophecy-fulfillment. Instead, it is perhaps better described as re-actualization.

Again, these are not identical, but they are close enough to make us wonder if John spent time pondering Isaiah 27:1. (Answer: Yes, he did.) We are not to think that John created what he says about the wild things or serpent or the sword solely from this text, but rather that this text informed John as he described the visions that he saw.

One could say John is recording the fulfillment of Jesus’s own words, and that would be partially right, but we should also note that Jesus’s own words echo the prophets before him. John is echoing echoes!

Different contexts, but similar ideas. These cosmic disturbances are apocalyptic language for divine judgment against political powers. John’s uses of these texts are not “fulfillments” but the re-actualizing of former prophecies.

This is neither accidental, nor is it prophecy being fulfilled. John captures his sensory experiences in the language he knew best: the plagues of Egypt.

In Summary – To sum up the previous chapters, we can say that the three times seven judgments are bittersweet scrolls for John to digest, and they are the answer to the prayers of the suffering, oppressed people of Jesus. The judgments map onto one another but also accumulate and intensify toward the final erasure of evil in the defeat of the dragon, the wild things, and Babylon. The judgments make things right for the people of new Jerusalem.

Divine Judgments or Disciplines? We believe more careful, nuanced thinking is needed to ascertain what is happening with the divine three times seven judgments in Revelation. These “judgments,” are perhaps better described as divine disciplines which establish justice, not vindictive judgments of retribution. The difference matters. These acts of God on the stage of history are not retributions or the venting of a divine spleen. They are acts of God with the purpose of transforming people.

But here are three examples (italics added) of the refrain we are referring to: And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev 7:9) Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. (Rev 14:6) Can you hear the refrain? Here, John speaks of tribes and nations and peoples and languages. There is no more all-encompassing expression like this found in the entire Bible. At the time John is writing the Apocalypse, the church can only be found as small pockets of Jesus followers scattered throughout the Roman empire. And we’d emphasize small pockets. It exists as house churches.

The prophets frequently expressed the end time as the return of the scattered northern tribes of Israel and their joining with Judah. For instance, the famous vision of the dry bones rattling and coming back to life in Ezekiel 37:20–28 was a prediction of that rejoining.

It is a biblical blunder to reduce the great tribulation to a future period when God is doing nothing but pouring out wrath for the purpose of retribution. Instead, we should read the so-called great tribulation as a time of the greatest evangelistic impact in history, a reaching-out that occurs in the midst of clashing empires. Babylon’s persecutions are met by faithful witnesses and martyrdoms, and the flying angel of 14:6 that we just read about is a summons to the entire globe to “fear God and give him glory” (14:7). Even those committed to the dragon and the wild things convert!

They reactualize the song of Moses toward the victorious Lamb with these final words: “All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:4). Again, we see conversion occurring in the midst of the divine disciplines. For this reason, it is unwise to reduce the seals, trumpets, and bowls to the word “judgments”; rather, these are divine disciplines. There is an intent for them that goes beyond vindication and punishment. God uses these three times seven disciplines to warn followers of the dragon about God’s coming judgment while also calling them to surrender themselves to the Lamb.

Putting this all together can feel a bit complicated, but here is our best attempt: John has re-actualized the song of Moses and turned it on its head. The expert on this interpretation, Richard Bauckham, has observed, “The effect [of John’s version of the song of Moses] is to shift the emphasis . . . from an event by which God delivers his people by judging their enemies to an event which brings the nations to acknowledge the true God.” The martyrs who sing the new ode of Moses sing a song not of their own liberation from Egypt or their own salvation but of the impact of their witness on the world around them. Their witness led a mass of people to praise the God on the throne and his Lamb. John’s ode is like Moses’s ode, but it’s also altogether new at the same time.

John’s core chapters (6–19) tell us, and this concludes our observations, that the three times seven judgments are disciplines designed by God to woo people from the way of the Dragon to the way of the Lamb.

Not All Repent – We have saved two explicit texts for last. There are two tragic texts, and we show our emphasis in italics: The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. (9:20–21) The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done. (16:8–11) If some convert to the Lamb through the divine disciplines, others are hardened and turn more vitriolic in their rejection of God. The term that stands out to us here, which we have emphasized in bold italics, is “repent.” The whole world is called to repent.

The divine intent of the disciplines is to clear out the rubble, the evil manifestations of the dragon and its wild things in the corrupted city of Babylon. Only then can new Jerusalem arrive without the fear of violence and the corruption of the dragon.

The revelations of negative consequences combine with a threat of judgment and provide an opportunity to repent—which means there is discipline in the divine act of judgment. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place. (2:5) Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (2:16) But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (3:3) I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (3:11) These statements are warrants for repentance and transformation, not simply warnings of inevitable judgment.

Rider on the White Horse – We begin with a new version of what appears to be the second coming of Christ, pictured for us in the image of a Rider on the white horse, whose name is “Faithful and True” and the “Word of God” (Logos of God). Anyone can figure this one out: it’s Jesus!

The Last Judgment – Following the celebration over the fall of Babylon and the white horse Rider, Revelation gives us one last judgment. John splits this last judgment into four scenes, one in Revelation 20:1–3 (locking up Satan), followed by 20:4–6 (the millennium), then 20:7–10 (judging Satan), and finally 20:11–15 (the “great white throne” judgment). Again, there is Old Testament imagery behind these judgment scenes.

The “Millennium” From his Daniel-inspired sketch of judgment, John moves into another image, what today is often called the “millennium” (20:4–6). At the outset we’d like to note that almost everything said today about the millennium by those speculating about the future does not come from this text. Yet it is the one and only passage about a millennium in the whole Bible. Many simply fill in the blanks of Revelation 20:4–6 with visions of grandeur and peace and justice from passages found in the Old Testament prophets. What’s even more irritating is that what is actually said about the millennium in this one-and-only text is almost entirely ignored! One more time it bears repeating, beware the speculators!

John turns that defeat in Daniel into the binding of Satan and the “millennium” vision of Revelation 20.

What is the victory? A resurrection. For whom? Only for the witnesses to the Lamb who did not love their lives more than death, the martyrs. They come to life to rule with Jesus for one thousand years (another perfect number, this one suggesting immensity and long duration; see appendix 9, “The Millennium”).

Because the millennium is only for martyrs, one must wonder if there can actually be a time in history when martyrs rule with Christ, judging the world and becoming its priests. (We think this very unlikely.) Instead, it is better to read the millennium as simply a numerical symbol of victory and rule for those who have suffered under the rule of the dragon.

Richard Bauckham, a major advocate of this approach, concludes: “The theological point of the millennium is solely to demonstrate the triumph of the martyrs.” And consider: nothing was more encouraging for the seven churches than to hear that their own martyrs would be vindicated. Bauckham also wonders how such an event could occur in real history. John, he says, “no doubt expected there to be judgments, but his descriptions of them are imaginative schemes designed to depict the meaning of the judgments.”

How are we to read this? Again, the same rules of reading apply. This is a picture of the elimination of evil and evil forces so the new Jerusalemites can dwell in peace.

Are You Premill, Amill, or Postmill? – We are frequently asked what our “view” of Revelation is, and the question is often framed in terms of the millennium: Are you premillennial, or amillennial, or postmillennial? We answer back: Why is the so-called (literal, physical) millennium the interpretive framework for reading the book of Revelation? The millennium, regardless of your view, is a sideshow in this book (at best). Three verses are the grand sum of verses about the millennium in Revelation. The question itself builds on a premillennialist foundation. Assuming there is one, this group charges that the most common view of church history, amillennialism, denies the millennium (that’s what the a in amillennialism means). Another quite popular view in the history of the church is that Christ will return after the millennium (a postmillennial return). But to call one view amillennial is inaccurate, for the amillennialist believes in a millennium, just not a literal one, affirming that it refers instead to the church age. You could call amillennialists symbolic millennialists while the premillennialists are literal, physical millennialists. Postmillennialists tend to be literal too. The bigger issue is that Revelation should never be read through the framework of the millennium. Doing so is a colossal example of missing the whole point of the book. A better question is, “Ignoring the millennium entirely, what is your view of the book of Revelation?” Our answer: It is an apocalyptic-prophetic book revealing the evils of the empire and summoning readers to a discerning, dissident discipleship as we live into the new Jerusalem.

Which leads us to ask: Is “death” a person? Is “Hades” a god? What is actually being tossed here? A big furnace? A colossal casket? Again, these are all images of the dragon’s aim in its work: to kill and destroy. If the dragon and its minions are put away in the fiery lake, then death and Hades—the gods of the dead—can be tossed into the lake of final destruction as well. The fiery lake is the place where all evil—the dragon, the wild things, the false prophet, and their armies—is eradicated.

This is John’s finest hour. The day for which he longed. This is the day on which evil will be eliminated from God’s creation so the people of God can live in safety and peace and justice and so they can forever bask in the light of the Lamb. And his point is that these two belong together: eliminating evil and establishing justice. Nothing would be more chest-swelling to the seven churches than to know that someday the Lamb would rule, someday they would be safe to worship God, and someday the evils of Babylon would be erased into a long-forgotten history.

1. New Creation – At a macro-level, the book of Revelation is one more expression of the New Testament confidence that the kingdom has been inaugurated in Jesus but awaits consummation. George Ladd often says the kingdom is “present without consummation.” John’s new Jerusalem is that consummation.

A good reading of Revelation recognizes that the transition from the defeat of Babylon and the erasure of evil to the new heaven and the new earth with the glorious new Jerusalem is new creation itself.

In one sentence, we can define new Jerusalem as God present among God’s people in God’s place.

2. Theocracy – In comparison with Greek and Roman conceptions, Jewish sensibilities about an ideal state, about government, and about politics were very different. Jewish visions didn’t embrace a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a democracy. They believed in a theocracy, the rule of God.

The ideal for the Jew contradicted the ideals of Greeks and Romans: a theocracy governed in a temple by a law from God and mediated by priests. This system can be called a theocracy or might be better described as a hierocracy (rule by priests).

3. Ideal Temple – There are several points in the Old Testament where we find evidence of hope for an ideal temple in an ideal Jerusalem.

The most noteworthy description of the ideal temple is found in the prophet Ezekiel. He singularly prophesied the end of exile and a return to the land, where there would be an ideal temple in a massive (and ideal) Jerusalem of some fifty square miles.

Ezekiel does not see a rebuilt Jerusalem or a rebuilt temple; he sees a brand new temple where, as God tells him, “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people” (37:26–27).

This Qumran scroll anticipates a rebuilt Jerusalem and reworks the temple of Ezekiel, who himself had reworked Isaiah!

There is not a shred of evidence in the only passage about the millennium that there will be a temple rebuilt in Jerusalem (Rev 20:1–6).

4. No-Temple Temple – Rome was a forum. Jerusalem was a temple. John wipes both of these significant cities off the stage of history and ushers in the most radical part of his vision of the new Jerusalem. Here, he is clearly interacting with Ezekiel, in effect saying, “Anything you can do I can do better!”

Jerusalem was a temple city, and Jerusalem without its temple is just not Jerusalem. But the new Jerusalem has no temple—and yet it does. God and the Lamb are the temple! This is an escalation where Jerusalem becomes something new—Jerusalem times Jerusalem. A world without a sun and moon is not our world. But the new Jerusalem needs no sun or moon because God and the Lamb are its lights.

Theocracy, ideal temple, and a no-temple kind of temple—all key concepts John is presenting to the churches.

We would also add a brief comment to anticipate what comes later in the book: every time we experience the presence of God in Christ through the Spirit, we glimpse the new Jerusalem. Every time. Babylon is now and temporary; new Jerusalem is now and eternal. The seven churches at the table, the seven churches singing their redemption songs, the daily communion of the saints, and their ongoing allegiance with one another to the Lamb are all experiences of the new Jerusalem in the here and now.

5. Replacing Rome – Step back and look at what John tells us at the end of the book. Babylon, aka Rome, falls in defeat, and Jerusalem, aka new Jerusalem, replaces Rome as the world’s great power.

In summary, we have five cornerstones: new creation, theocracy, a new temple, a no-temple temple, and a city that puts Babylon into the rearview mirror. John’s vision is a promise that stimulates faith and courage, shaping the message he wants to communicate to the seven churches. New Jerusalem is the promise given to the faithful in the seven churches.

New Jerusalem as Promise for Victors Many readers of Revelation miss the connections between the messages to the seven churches and the new Jerusalem, a forgivable error since they are separated by eighteen chapters! Still, it is important that we connect the seven churches and the new Jerusalem by demonstrating that the new Jerusalem is the promise given to the victors—it is the final erasure of evil and the establishment of God’s ideal city. This chapter seeks to uncover the connection between the seven churches and the new Jerusalem, setting up the next section of this book, which looks at how to live faithfully as followers of the Lamb.

A fitting summary of all these promises, as diverse and varied as they are, is Revelation 21:7: “Those who are victorious will inherit all this [= 21:1–4], and I will be their God and they will be my children.” In other words, those who conquer in the conquest of the Lamb will get it all! To summarize we can say the conquerors in Christ will inherit (1) intimate, eternal presence with God and Jesus and (2) the new Jerusalem, a flourishing, growing, and vibrant city that embodies the ever-increasing fullness of God’s design for all creation.

In One Word: Blessed Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (1:3) Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (14:13) Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed. (16:15) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (19:9) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (20:6) Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll. (22:7) Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (22:14)

So, Who Are the Victors? – Life in Babylon for followers of the Lamb plays out in a battle zone between the dragon and the Lamb. The dragon will experience a few conquests, but measured against the Lamb’s victories the dragon’s are temporary and minor. God wins. The Lamb wins. The way of the Lamb wins. And those who walk in the way of the Lamb will also win, and this means they will enter the new Jerusalem. If you follow not the so-called arc of history but the arc of eschatology, you will discover new Jerusalem there at the end, an ideal city designed for the victorious followers of the Lamb.

As Thomas B. Slater demonstrates, the very word John uses—“conquer”—has been transformed from being the victor of a bloody battle to being victorious as a faithful witness to the way of the Lamb, even if that means losing.

The Victors’ “War Weapon” – This kind of resistant, dissident allegiant witness to the Lamb explains how the believers conquer and win. We italicize the critical words for you to take note of them: “They triumphed [or, conquered] over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their [witness]; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11). These believers do not conquer with the war weapons of Babylon, matching them or overmatching them with superior weapons of war. They do not, like the Romans who had no conscience, conquer with brutality and domination and violence and bloodshed and death. They conquer the dragon because they stand up, speak up, and speak out about the Lamb who is Lord of lords.

We have come full circle, back to where we began: the way of the Lamb is a form of resistance to the way of Babylon. Those committed to the Lord of lords do not wage war as the Romans do. They do not conquer as the Romans do. And they do not worship as the Romans do. They worship the One on the throne and the Lamb, and anyone worshiping God and the Lamb is being transformed into an agent of the Lamb’s peace and justice, which is the way of life in new Jerusalem.

Babylon in the Seven Churches – Christopher Rowland, who has plumbed apocalyptic literature as well as anyone in the modern era, counters much of the common interpretation of Revelation when he says, “We should not ask of apocalypses, what do they mean? Rather, we should ask, how do the images and designs work? How do they affect us and change our lives?” One of the recurring themes of this book has been our desire to address that question: How does Revelation change our lives? This is especially true for those who use Revelation to make predictions and encourage speculations.

Reading Revelation means knowing for whom it was written. We answer that by saying it was written for dissidents. We must also understand how it can best impact and transform us. As we have seen, it is through our imagination. And we must also recognize the book’s characters, beginning with Babylon, and its overarching story from creation and covenant to Christ and the church in Babylon and finally to new Jerusalem. The book of Revelation is written to shape a church surrounded by the swamping and creeping ways of Babylon.

So how does one live in Babylon? First, the dissident disciples of the seven churches had to learn to see how Babylon was impacting and influencing them. Like a fish in water, the way of Babylon is nearly invisible for the one swimming in it.

This entire book—don’t forget this please—is for each of those seven churches. Every vision, every interlude, every song is for each of them.

Their sins are rooted in a struggle to walk in the way of the Lamb because Babylon was penetrating the churches and they were no longer focused on the face of the Lamb. What were some of the signs of Babylon in the church? 1. Their love had become disordered (2:4). 2. Their teachings were distorted (2:14–15, 20–23). 3. Their worship was corrupted (2:14–15, 20–23). 4. Their behaviors grew inconsistent with the way of the Lamb (3:1–2, 15–18).

Disordered Love – The Colossus Christ looks upon the church at Ephesus, one of five greatest cities of the world at that time, and states forthrightly what he sees:

Whatever the case, their rugged, affective commitments to God and to one another have disappeared. Saying they “lost it” or it “disappeared” isn’t strong enough to capture what Jesus says to the Ephesians: “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” The word John uses is aphiēmi, and it means to “release.” This same word is behind the word “forgive” and refers to our sins being released from us. The Ephesians have released their love. It didn’t escape; they released it.

Distorted Teachings – From the very beginning of the church, there were problems with corrupt teachers.

The teachings of Balaam and Jezebel appear to be worship (whole body, whole life) of false gods.

The teachings of the Nicolaitans is even trickier because this could be a play on words: Nikao means victory or conquering, and laitans means people. Is this someone who had some secret solution for the people to find victory, or is this a specific teacher, a man named Nicolaus, who had a following?

But not so for John. Worshiping at a shrine for him embodied surrender to the way of the dragon.

Corrupted Worship – It must be said yet again: worship is more than praise choruses, though songs of praise are certainly one element of worship. Worship describes a whole life lived in devotion to the God on the throne and the Lamb who stands in the middle of that throne. If worship is one’s whole life devoted to God, then any dimension of life surrendered to anything else corrupts worship.

Either our devotion is to God or it is to the ungods, and if to the latter, then it is corrupted worship.

David Brooks, commenting on the workplace, once said, “Never underestimate the power of the environment you work in to gradually transform who you are. When you choose to work at a certain company, you are turning yourself into the sort of person who works in that company.”

But before too long they really did belong in Babylon because Babylon had formed them into good Romans.

All of this leads us to one central question for our own lives today: How much of our faith is tied to our own nation and its power? Forms of Christian nationalism have been infecting the church since the fourth century. It has long been a matter of Rome plus the church, a church ruled by the state, by the nation, or by the military. In such an idolatrous mixture, the symbols of empire morph into symbols of nationalism and religion, and religious nationalism wants to incorporate Christ into its powers. Idolatries will use religion to sanction the nation. So how present or prominent is your nation’s flag in your church? Those who have been discipled in the way of the Lamb discern the symbols of nationalism and resist them as dissidents.

Inconsistent Behaviors – Babylon and new Jerusalem have two different moralities.

John’s world, for rhetorical purposes, is either-or: either you follow Jesus or you follow the dragon. John knew that discernment was required in particular cases, but he hasn’t time for nuance. His absence of nuance derives from his purpose: to challenge indecisive Christians to full devotion. His language is reminiscent of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s either-or language in his book Discipleship: “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.”

Jesus uses several metaphors in his white-hot words to Laodicea as he speaks of their inconsistency, duplicity, and hypocrisy. We should also notice that Jesus’s most piercing words were aimed at frauds (Matt 6:1–18; 23:1–39).

Laodicean water becomes a metaphor for their works: neither healing nor refreshing. Jesus will “spit them out” or “vomit them out.” These are words of judgment, and they reveal that Babylon is seducing the Laodiceans into lives of cheap grace.

Here we have two mistakes in one: we need to bring Babylon back into the picture and recognize that the problems in the seven churches were, at the root, compromises with Babylon.

Disorder, Distortion, Corruption, and Inconsistency Become Destructive – Babylon is creeping into the seven churches because . . . Babylon gonna Babylon. Always. And Babylon always has one goal: domination. And always at the expense of faithfulness. It took three centuries for Babylon—the way of Rome—to take over the church, and in some important ways it destroyed the church.

Constantine unquestionably operated at times with a charitable tolerance, but the dirty deed had been done: the state became the power of the church. States do what states do, and they do this through war and violence. An expert on Roman history, Ramsay Macmullen, states it this way, “The empire had never had on the throne a man given to such bloodthirsty violence as Constantine.” Though he was a supposedly Christian emperor, he was known for violence and was a man with a sword in his fist, not the word of God. But Constantine only began the turn to Christendom. It was not until Theodosius I, emperor from 379 to 395 AD, that the full integration of church and state into Christendom occurs. This is perpetuated and passed on as tradition for centuries.

Christendom was the most tragic mistake in the history of the church.

And here is the tragedy of tragedies: the cross became the symbol for his military might, his palace, and his churches. Constantine became “their redeemer, saviour and benefactor” (1.39) even though in truth he was a brutal warmongering emperor whose goal was dominance and whose method was power through intimidation and violence. This is not to say his Christian profession was entirely fraudulent. Nor are we saying that he never acted with benevolence and tolerance. We do not deny that he built some wonderful churches (like Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre). And we’re not saying he was not a Christian or that he only “converted” for political advantage. What is clear, however, is that the man with a cross for a banner was a bloodthirsty man who defaced the way of the Lamb as he ruled in the way of the dragon. Violence, empire, and power would forever mark the churches that bound themselves to the state.

Worshiping in Babylon – How does one live in a world that is anti-God, devoted to opulence, consistently opposed to the way of the Lamb, full of itself and intent on being impressive, protected with the might of its militarism, aiming to become the international power, living on the precipice of constant internal betrayals, driven by economic exploitation of anyone and everyone, structured into a mysterious hierarchical system of power and honor, and at the bottom of it all is driven by arrogance and ambition? How is one to live “in” Babylon and not be “of” Babylon when boxed in by Babylon?

But John offers a way for followers of the Lamb to live in Babylon, and it begins with worship.

John wrote up the entire Apocalypse for those seven churches. This means the book of Revelation is not a timeless vision using the seven churches as a mask for some future world but is instead a timely revelation about Jesus for those churches (and for churches of all times).

Worship – Before we explain how worship is at the heart of Christian living in Babylon, we call your attention to a growing (and healthy) trend among evangelical thinkers, namely, the importance of habits in the formation of character. The proper name for this trend is “virtue ethics,” and the theory is that if we practice the right habits—like worship—they will form us into the right persons, and right persons will do the right things in the context of the right story.

The major habit of the book of Revelation is worship. One of the most interesting writers about Revelation in the last fifty years is Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and we believe she asks the right question for understanding this book: “What does a reading of Revelation do to someone who submits to its world of vision?” We can now ask this even more narrowly: What does it do to the person who turns constantly to God in worship? And the short answer is that worship changes us—worship as a whole body, whole voice, whole mind, and whole life lived in gratitude to God for redemption and a whole life surrendered to the way of the Lamb.

Spirituals, Not Hymns – Yes, the book of Revelation contains visions that can make us cringe. Interrupting those visions, however, are songs that have themselves generated thousands of additional songs sung by over a billion Christians.

There are nine songs in the book of Revelation (4:8–11; 5:8–14; 7:9–12; 11:15–18; 12:10–12; 15:3–4; 16:5–7; 19:1–4 and 19:5–8; cited at appendix 11, “The Songs of Revelation”). They are often called “hymns,” but we join others who think that term is not entirely accurate. Why? Because hymns are the music we sing in a life of comfort.

Actions in the Nine Spirituals of Revelation – Worship is not passive; it is active, coming into expression. Worship is not sitting quietly with a Mona Lisa smile. Worship is act, and there are various acts of worship that are described in the nine spirituals of Revelation. There are several terms used, so we want to list them with corresponding verses for those who want to look them up in context: 1. Saying: 4:8, 10 2. Singing: 5:9; 15:3 3. Ode: 5:9; 14:3; 15:3 4. Crying out: 7:10 5. Uttering “Oy!” or “Woe!”: 12:12 6. Splendoring the name of God: 15:4; 19:7 7. Shouting “Hallelujah!”: 19:1, 3, 4, 6 8. Rejoicing exuberantly: 19:7

Here is yet another list, this one of various embodied actions found in the worship scenes of Revelation. 1. Bowing down: 4:10; 5:8; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4 2. Tossing their crowns to God: 4:10 3. Encircling the throne of God: 5:11; 7:11 4. Standing: 7:9, 11; 15:2 5. Holding date palm branches: 7:9 6. Using instruments to make music: 5:8; 15:2 7. Uttering “Amen!”: 5:14; 7:12

Here are three implications from studying this list: the worship of Revelation (1) is rooted in redemption over and over (5:9, 12; 7:10), (2) worship comes to expression in verbal praise and thanksgiving, and (3) worship leads to a life of allegiance in the way of the Lamb.

Reducing worship to Sunday at 11 a.m. violates the heart of worship. Worship is Sunday through Saturday, 24-7.

Worshiping this God inevitably leads to resisting Babylon’s gods and converts the people of the Lamb into dissidents in the world. Those who worship the Lamb do not worship the emperor and his gods.

Words turned into music, combined with other voices, combined with instruments, turn words into an aesthetic, emotional experience that lifts the spirits of the believers from their mundane reality into this wonderfully sensory alternative world called God’s throne room. In singing, the believer transcends her reality and enters a new reality—God’s reality, the kingdom of God, the new Jerusalem. Singing these spirituals is an act of resistance, dissidence, and what some call “foot-dragging” and obstructing.

Worship as Witness – When your faith’s motto is that the dragon’s kingdom is destined to become the Messiah’s kingdom, when you know that Jesus and not the emperor is the Lord of lords, and when you know the story of everything that leads you to worship the God on the throne and the Lamb in the center of that throne, you are summoned to walk in the way of the Lamb.

Which leads us back to the question driving John. How does one live in a world that is anti-God, devoted to opulence, consistently opposed to the way of the Lamb, full of itself and intent on being impressive, protected with the might of its militarism, aiming to become the international power, living on the precipice of constant internal betrayals, driven by economic exploitation of anyone and everyone, structured into a mysterious hierarchical system of power and honor, and driven by arrogant ambition? His answer is worship, yes. But what kind of worship? John points us to a life of embodied worship, a worship of both words and works.

Worship as a Witness of Works – Along with “worship,” another word pulls the Christian life in Babylon together: “witness.”

To live in Babylon as a Lamb-follower challenges Babylon’s dragon and the dragon’s efforts to hook and drag Lamb-followers into the realm of the dead. The response to the way of the dragon is to worship God and the Lamb and to live faithfully as allegiant witnesses to the way of the Lamb.

Worship as the Words of One’s Witness – Let’s think more about this term “witness,” which in Greek is martus, from which we get our English word “martyr.” Some interpreters today mistakenly think this term and the verb like it (martureō) can be reduced to the witness of one’s life. But this turns the meaning of the word upside down! “Witness” describes a person speaking up or out about one’s experience. At times it refers to the language of a court witness, but more fundamentally it is about what one says about what one believes or has experienced.

A witness verbally affirms the lordship of the Lamb in public, walks daily in the way of the Lamb, and faces suffering for resisting the way of Babylon. A full witness to the Lamb is one of both words and works, and often involves suffering.

Being a witness has two sides: it is public affirmation in word and life of the lordship of Jesus, and it is public resistance in word and life to the way of the dragon embodied in Babylon.

It required a daily, ongoing, fluctuating capacity to discern the presence of the dragon. Followers of the Lamb were regularly called on to express their allegiance.

Allegiance flows directly from worship and is attached to our witness. We witness to Jesus as Lord in the daily routines of life as well as the tests and trials of life.

The Aim of All Worship: Christoformity – How shall we sum up the major themes of the Christian life as we find them in Revelation? Walking in the way of the Lamb means worshiping God on the throne and the Lamb in the center of that throne.

Three times in Revelation Jesus is called allegiant, and twice this is connected to witness. Jesus is the Allegiant One and Jesus is the Witness. For the Christians of western Asia Minor to be allegiant witnesses it meant participating in who Jesus is and entering into the work he has given us in extending the gospel. It is to be Christ’s presence in Babylon. Especially today. In the USA.

Four Marks of Babylon – Today The ways of reading Revelation that spend time speculating about the questions When will all this happen? and Who is the antichrist? fail the church in discipleship. Instead of a discipleship that teaches us to discern Babylon among us and shows us how to live in Babylon as dissidents instead of conformists, these speculative questions teach Christians how to wait for the escape from Babylon. They encourage questions like Will I be left behind or raptured? and Am I “in” or “out”? or Am I saved or not? By making future-focused judgments central to reading Revelation and treating Babylon as a world-class city of the future or giving the USA and Israel a central role in the divine plan, this speculative method teaches adherents to trust in the wrong things—especially the false safety of the all-powerful American military.

If we want to live out the message of Revelation today, we need to develop eyes that discern Babylon’s power, violence, and injustice in our midst today. We must recognize the Babylon all around us.

Arrogance – The heart of Babylon will always be arrogant self-sufficiency that has no need for God, no care for the people of God, and no commitment to the ways of God. The haunting words of Babylon, perhaps only muttered in the privacy of one’s mind and heart, are “There is none besides me” (from Isa 47:8). John’s Babylon says, “I will never mourn” (Rev 18:7). This gives us insight into how Babylon thinks: it thinks of itself, for itself, about itself, and everything revolves around itself. This is an empire called “narcissism.” It thinks of itself in comparative terms and is always on the hunt for potential competitors. It either draws others into its circle and under its power, or it works to silence, exploit, and kill all rivals. Opposition prompts rage. Discerning eyes detect Babylon by its arrogance.

We can confidently say that American arrogance comes not from new Jerusalem, but from Babylon, and any claim that we’re on the road to new Jerusalem while living like Babylon unmasks our hypocrisy.

So, what are the marks of national arrogance that Revelation teaches dissident disciples to discern? First, there is a sense of grandiosity, thinking you live in the world’s greatest nation. Second, there is competition with other nations in a vain quest to dominate. Third, there is the exercise of power by cutting off relationships with other nations who desire their own autonomy and sovereignty. What America wants for itself, in other words, is too often not what it wants for other nations, a denial of the principle of the Golden Rule. Fourth, there is an irredeemable inability to empathize, sympathize, and show compassion for “less fortunate” nations. And finally, there is rage and retaliation when criticized.

Economic Exploitation – Arrogant Babylon also economically exploits others for its own prosperity. Money and status are power and the love language of Babylon, what we might call a “meritocracy.” In America’s meritocracy, the wealthy are considered wealthy by virtue of their work ethic while those in poverty are poor because of their lack of a work ethic. The “virtuous wealthy” look down on the “unvirtuous poor.” The wealthy lack gratitude for their achievements and grow proud and arrogant, while the poor are shamed as “deplorables” and resent the “elites.” Money means power, status, and virtue in the Babylons of this world.

In rejecting Calvinism’s determinism, the capitalists built a system on the following three ideas: (1) self-interested freedom, (2) a self-interested freedom that was to be disciplined or constrained by competition in the markets, and (3) a belief that self-interest and competition would lead to the common good with economic benefits for the most. But what is driven by self-interest and competition and then measured by the economy is not a Christian system of economics. A Christian version of common-good competition requires a people of character. That is, the citizens need to be just and generous, and they need to aim for an equitable society. Capitalism alone has no character.

But the free market does not produce disciples on the way to the new Jerusalem. It produces Babylon.

Babylon has made its home in the American economy. The church can lead the way out of this by forming a culture of economic justice for the common good.

Militarism – Nothing is more overtly akin to Babylon than an addiction to militarism.

This is a sign of Babylon. The dragon loves war because wars produce death.

We had the hubris to remind the world of “our” victory in World War II. Peace through strength intimidates others with power and evokes the myths of Babylon’s ungods. It is reminiscent of Rome of the first century, and if you doubt this, read Julius Caesar’s The Gallic War or Josephus’s The Jewish War.

The way of the Lamb is the way of peace, through peacemaking and reconciliation. It means dropping the sword and beating that sword into a garden tool. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said, and he meant it.

Christian “realists” counter the biblical vision of peace by claiming that if we really live that way we will lose and emphasize that each country has a responsibility to defend itself. They argue that in a sinful fallen world, a military is both a necessity and a last resort. Their contention is that the way of the Lamb is for another world, not the real world in which we live. In this world militarism will always be needed.

Oppression – John writes from Patmos because he spoke up and spoke out. He was a witness. And Babylon still oppresses today. Take China. Reports are that there are around a million Muslims in prison. In North Korea, a country that tolerates less freedom than any nation in the world, some 70 thousand Christians are in prison. Six million Jews were exterminated under Hitler. Looking even further back, medieval Europe was Catholic and intolerant of reformers.

Intolerance draws battle lines for Babylon. And even though American freedom combines that freedom with tolerance for others, Babylon responds with various forms of intolerance and oppression: silencing, obstructing, boundary marking, exploiting, manipulating, harming, causing suffering, persecuting, killing, and narrating an ungod story of everything.

In a bold move by an even bolder writer, Isabel Wilkerson proposed that the fundamental term we use in the USA should not be “racism” but “caste.” America’s treatment of non-white persons is nothing less, she contends, than a race-based system that has now become a caste system.

Isabel Wilkerson’s Eight Pillars of the Caste System in America 1. Caste expresses God’s will and the laws of nature. 2. Caste is inherited from birth. 3. Caste is controlled by restricting marriage to one’s caste. 4. Caste guards the pure caste from the polluted castes. 5. Caste creates a hierarchy of occupations with lowest castes at the bottom. 6. Caste intentionally dehumanizes and stigmatizes. 7. Caste is enforced by terror and controlled by cruelty. 8. Caste segregates superior persons from inferior persons. Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (New York: Random House, 2020), 97–164.

The Apocalypse teaches us that the dragon loves racism because it brings death, the wild things enforce racism because it coerces into conformity, and Babylon embodies racism. In both South Africa and the United States, Christianity was welded from toe to head with racism until it became systemic in these so-called Christian countries.

Our goal in this book, however, is to learn to read Revelation through the lens of Babylon’s timeless presence in the world to understand how Christians are to be allegiant witnesses to Jesus amid Babylons. This is a message of discipleship that turns hot lights on every Babylon in the world—including the USA and the complicity of American Christians in the ways of Babylon. American evangelicalism has lost its way and is suffocating in its own urp. We apologize for being graphic, but we are motivated by something deep in our hearts to teach and disciple Christians to go where they may not have gone in the past. Even if you aren’t sure of the connections we make, give us a couple pages to explain and set up the case we wish to make.

Premillennialism, Politics, and “Christian” Nationalism – Though there are many historical factors at work, one touchpoint that helps us understand the larger narrative begins in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, and in the decades that followed, the evangelical movement became politicized to the point that the very term “evangelical” began to lose its core meaning. In recent years, one thinker after another has concluded that the term “evangelical” today is largely equivalent to “Republican.” And in some cases, it may even be more Republican than Christian.

Today, the word “evangelical” now largely overlaps with “Republican” and “anti-Democrat” and alignment with other GOP platform positions.

A crucial part of this story is that the term “evangelical” has, I believe, become somewhat detached from its theological roots and morphed into a term that seems to capture political sensibilities as well.

In other words, evangelicalism has increasingly become identified not by its theology, its mission, or its evangelism, but by its politics. And the problem is that these political motives are rooted in Babylon and not new Jerusalem.

The implication is that for many of those who self-identified as “evangelical,” it is not just about devotion to a local church, but to a general orientation to the world. As Republicanism and the religious right have become more enmeshed, it seems logical to assume that these less religiously devout people may consider their evangelicalism to be a question of political identity, rather than religious beliefs and customs.

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University, in her book Jesus and John Wayne, demonstrates over and over that American evangelicalism can no longer be defined by its theological convictions but by its cultural impulses, desires, and politics.

Having replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with a vengeful warrior Christ, it’s no wonder many came to think of Trump in the same way. In 2016, many observers were stunned at evangelicals’ apparent betrayal of their own values. In reality, evangelicals did not cast their vote despite their beliefs, but because of them.

In their book Taking America Back for God, a book about how Christian nationalism is at work among evangelicals, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry make this stunning observation: “Holding to beliefs most associated with premillennial eschatology is one of the leading predictors of Americans’ adhering to Christian nationalism.” If you ask those most associated with premillennialism—from Billy Graham on—what their politics are, you will find a clear correlation with conservative politics that often veers into American Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism is: A cultural framework that blurs distinctions between Christian identity and American identity. . . . It is undergirded by identification with a conservative political orientation (though not necessarily a political party), Bible belief, premillennial visions of moral decay, and divine sanction for conquest. Finally, its conception of morality centers exclusively on fidelity to religion and fidelity to the nation. This is Christian nationalism—Christianity co-opted in the service of ethno-national power and separation.

Whitehead and Perry, and we could mention others like John Fea, have offered compelling evidence and arguments demonstrating that what is happening today among many evangelicals is a perversion of biblical Christianity. They name some of the most visible culprits: Jerry Falwell Sr., D. James Kennedy, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Michele Bachmann, David Barton, Wayne Grudem, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee (and we would add Eric Metaxas).

Christian nationalism is a new iteration of wannabe Christendom, led by its own versions of Constantine and Theodosius and some of the Puritans (to get closer to our time). Those who don’t recognize Babylon in Christian nationalism need a new reading of Revelation.

But while the rogues change, it is fear upon which evangelical leaders always trade. That’s how all too often they build their platforms, secure donations, justify their reasons for existence. And fear is what drove the past two national election cycles: fear of Hillary Clinton, fear of various agendas, fear of Black Lives Matter, fear of “socialism” and AOC, fear of “losing our country.” Fear is what has caused evangelical believers to fall for QAnon and will keep them from receiving the COVID vaccine.

For them, the world has become apocalyptic and they are on the downside of this shift, viewing the other political party as the dragon, the wild things, and Babylon.

Some thirty years ago, sociologist Robert Wuthnow said that the basic intellectual and cultural divide among Christians in America is not the fault line of their theology but the cultural divide between a conservative and progressive worldview, a chasm deeper and more formative than any theological debate. I agreed with him in the 1980s. And I think today his point could be made with much greater emphasis. A divide has become a chasm. Dominant political and cultural values, left and right, have washed over churches and come to dominate their respective worldviews.

An Eschatology of Hope – It is not our aim to take sides among the two major approaches to Christian engagement in politics (conservative and progressive). Rather, we are urging Christians to comprehend what is happening in this cultural moment and find ways to discern the good and the bad on both sides. Revelation’s portrait of Babylon gives us the tools we need for discernment and hope.

Christian Eschatology’s Major Themes 1. A linear view of history: beginning and goal 2. Resurrection of the body 3. A universal judgment 4. Judgment at the end of each person’s life 5. Retribution or redemption 6. The dead are involved in this life From Brian J. Daly, The Hope of the Early Church, 219–23

The church has lost its voice because it has lost its eschatology. If we were preaching or lecturing right now, we’d slow down the pace, pausing to grab your attention. And we’d say this to you: We need discipleship, that’s what we need. We need political discipleship, that’s what we need. Now a third sentence, a little slower and a little lower: What we need is a manifesto for dissident discipleship.

A Manifesto for Dissident Disciples – The book of Revelation requires us to take a stand for the Lamb in this world. To read it well we must learn to think “theo-politically,” or to say this another way, the entire book of Revelation is about public discipleship. Revelation “reveals” God’s perspective on God’s world, and it does this by showing us how to discern the dragon, the dragon’s wild things, and the dragon’s Babylon.

Churches and pastors, professors and authors, and citizens and children are looking for a leader who will demonstrate a different Christian posture toward politics, asking for discipleship that challenges politicization in all its forms. They want pastors to preach a gospel that subverts Babylon. They ache for a clear, courageous voice of conviction. They believe in a gospel that forms dissidents who follow the Lamb and who have the courage to speak up and out about partisanism as capitulation to Babylon. We have not been discipled to think like this.

We must come out from Babylon and live in new Jerusalem by witnessing to the truth of the Lamb. This does not mean we abandon work in the public sector or cease advocating for the common good. This would be irresponsible. Instead, we do these things with our eyes open, discerning the ways of the dragon. Babylon will never be the new Jerusalem; it cannot be Christianized.

Today, some American Christians are worshiping false gods and their politics have replaced their faith. After forty years of partisanism, their knees have grown accustomed to bowing before the dragon and his wild things as they walk arm in arm—both unconsciously and consciously—into Babylon. There is much we, as American Christians, can learn from Barmen and Barth.

We encourage any who read this to take what follows as a manifesto for dissident disciples, a manifesto that riffs off Barmen’s paradigmatic declarations. First the Word of God God has spoken. God’s speech is the Logos, Word. That Word is Jesus, and in Jesus we see the essence of God.

Christian dissident discipleship begins right here: with a commitment to the Word of God in Scripture as the revelation of God for God’s people. Take and read. Eat this scroll, John was told. That is, look at it, hold it in our hands, embrace it, listen to it, chew on it, digest it, and let it do the work it alone can do. Those who surrender to the Word of God become disciples who are dissidents in Babylon.

They cease being prophets and instead become ideologues and demagogues. Such persons cannot disciple people in the book of Revelation but instead they disciple people into partisan politics.

Jesus Is the One True Lord The dragon seduces humans to worship the wild things and thereby to reject worship of the Lamb and the God on the throne. The Lamb is the Lord and Savior. His redemption, by God’s grace and through the power of the Spirit, transforms us as we gaze into the face of our Lord.

Jesus—Lord, Lamb, Logos, and Light—is over all, all the time.

We have surrendered some parts of life to Babylon and other parts to New Jerusalem. Here we follow Jesus, there we follow the US Constitution. Here we are generous, there we pay what’s due. Here we live in love, there we live in vindictive judgment. Here we are at peace, there we wage war.

Fawning over an opportunity to be in the limelight, stirred by closeness to power, and excited about making America more Christian, these sycophantic leaders have led a nation away from the gospel. Thinking proximity to power will make the church more influential is as likely as the corner shop thinking Amazon will be the source of that business’s flourishing again. Babylon tolerates no rivals.

Dissidents Discern – For some this may sound too suspicious. No government is entirely toxic, but no government is entirely good either. The US government does enough good to stir admiration and gratitude, yet corruptions infiltrate every department every day. No government is the new Jerusalem. Babylon extends its reach into every legislature, every justice system, and every executive branch. We do not live in new Jerusalem, and that means we must have the suspicion of a discerning dissident.

The Church Transcends – Fawning over Babylon’s leaders divides the church. Nearly half of the American church votes one way as one half votes the other. If one’s allegiance is to a party, if one thinks one’s party is truly Christian, one has cut off one’s sisters and brothers. Each group, because political alliance forms so much of their convictions, divides the church by appealing to Caesar. This violates our confession: the church transcends party and politics because, as the book of Revelation says often, those who worship God and the Lamb are from every tribe, nation, and tongue. The church is universal—politics and parties are local and national. Any allegiance to Caesar is nothing more than idolatrous worship of the wild things that will create division.

The dragon loves division, and the church divided loses its witness. Nothing is more obvious to America’s commentators, columnists, and editors than the church’s limpid presence in culture. No longer does our society wait for a word from the church. Our society no longer cares because the church no longer has a clarion witness.

Dissident Disciples Proclaim the Gospel – Babylon has seized the church’s heart. Its grip is so tight many can no longer distinguish their politics from the gospel. The church must return to the gospel and make the gospel the message of the church—the one heard each Sunday, the one heard in each Bible class, the one heard on the Christian’s podcast, the one heard through the Christian’s social media.

Dissident disciples tell people about Jesus, about his life, about his death and resurrection and ascension, and the redemption he has accomplished. This text in 1 Corinthians reminds us of Revelation: the Lamb who died for us becomes the Lord who wields the sword of the Logos that slays the dragon, whips the wild things, and beats Babylon. This is not about speculation or winning but about the victory of God and the Lamb over the dragon so we can live in justice and peace in the new Jerusalem. That is our gospel message. Babylon despises the gospel.

A Christoform Power – Power, one might think, is a neutral energy. In some world it might be, but in our world, power is not neutral. Power in our culture exerts power over for the sake of power for one’s agenda.

Instead, the dissident disciple, following the way of the Lamb, serves the other. Their politics is a politics for others.

The church is neither a democracy where each person votes, nor is it a monarchy with changing human leaders. The church is a mutual indwelling body of different persons living together under Christ, the Lord, Lamb, Logos and Light.

Heresy lurks when the pastor appeals to and exerts power and authority, when the pastor sees leadership as imposing his will on the congregation.

We Live in a World of Government – We are not only the church. We are also citizens in a country. Jesus, Peter, and Paul each recognized the government, and not always in affirming ways! Yet, as Paul taught the Romans to use their freedom with wisdom and not reckless rebellion (Rom 13:1–7), and as Peter instructed empire Christians in Asia Minor to respect the emperor and to do good for the sake of others because such goodness would reap benefits for the church (1 Pet 2:11–17), so we are called to do our part, to be good citizens, and to become public Christians in a way that brings good reputation to our Lord—without fawning over the wild things or trying to make Babylon the new Jerusalem. In the last forty years the church has done irreparable harm by insinuating itself into government. Instead of doing good as witnesses, we grabbed for power. Instead of witnessing to Jesus, we have become known for political allegiances, so much so that our politics are reshaping our witness into a corrupted witness.

Each act of worship, which leads as we have said to a whole life of allegiance, is an act of dissidence and subversion of the way of the dragon, who desires the worship of the wild things and loyalty to Babylon. Dissident disciples live with government but do not surrender the lordship of Jesus to any part of it. Disciples reject the lordship of the president and of Washington DC and call government to be a servant for the people in a way that mimics the service churches provide in their communities. Disciples reject the state’s powers to control the church and dissident disciples shaped by Christ refuse to let the way of the dragon’s power take hold in the churches. Disciples reject becoming an agent of government and discern when political leaders want to use the church as a tool for their own power.

The Church’s Mission Is Gospel Mission – Babylon wants us because the dragon wants us. If Babylon gets us, it knows we are no longer the Lord’s. Our mission is to declare the glories of Christ, to preach the gospel, to teach the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to live in fellowship with one another as a signpost of the new Jerusalem.

As such we don’t make mission stations in the world outposts of colonialism, nor do we attempt to colonize other countries. Instead, we preach the gospel about Jesus and call those peoples to follow Jesus in their country in their way. Mission is organic and not colonial. Missionaries are not agents of a country but agents of Jesus. That mission, then, ties us back to the gospel and to the lordship of Jesus.

J. Nelson Kraybill therefore contends that the “rapture” more accurately describes not being whisked away into heaven but our going out to meet Jesus to welcome him back to earth!

John J. Collins puts it like this: “By enabling people to let off steam by fantasizing divine vengeance, it relieves the pressure toward action in the present and enables people to accommodate themselves to the status quo for the present” (321).

Despite the varying theological systems that have been constructed to try to explain the thousand-year reign (premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial), which deserve respect even when we completely disagree, the millennium, like all other numbers in the book of Revelation, functions not as statistic but as potent symbol.

The millennium symbolically demonstrates the triumph of the allegiant witnesses: those who have suffered on account of the Jesus Christ witness will in the end rule universally and receive the special rewards promised to those who have paid the highest price (first resurrection, reign, escape from second death). John uses the symbol of the millennium to depict “the meaning, rather than predicting the manner of their vindication.”

The Progress of Progressivism – Right-wing Christians have politicized the gospel into Christian nationalism in the Republican party, while progressive evangelicals lean Democrat or social Democrat, and at times themselves wander into thinking political power is itself redemption.

Today’s progressivists then have taken progressivism’s central impulses into new places, but they still churn their energies from the same four chambers of the heart: social justice ideals, federal government’s power to get things done, centralization of power, and the agitation of the electorate. With a big chunk of verses taken from the prophets and Jesus.

Progressivism is on the left side of the political spectrum. As something political, as is the case with right-wing Christian nationalism, it too comes under the scope of Revelation’s vision for dissident disciples discerning the progress of Babylon’s powers. A standard story is that ‘right-wingers are religious’ and ‘left-wingers are secularists,’ but this has been dealt a fatal blow.

Having said that, I do want to register a final observation: both Christian nationalism and progressivism are species, some more secular than others, of Christian eschatology, and both tend to lack the discerning dissidence of the book of Revelation.

This is not a commentary on Revelation. It is rather a theology of political discipleship rooted in Revelation and how best to read it.

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Transforming Prayer – Daniel Henderson

Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, by Daniel Henderson and Jim Cymbala (Please support the authors by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A “new normal” had occurred and my soul was re-calibrated to move beyond perfunctory prayer lists and to set my heart to seek His face.

One thing I know–once you have tasted this kind of prayer experience, nothing else satisfies and everything else is seen in a new light.

I say often that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. I get that. It is very easy for me to forge ahead on Christian autopilot, relying on the reserves of previous learning and last week’s worship, and not abiding in Christ in a constant, moment-by-moment reliance.

We look around church and assume everyone else must be praying more and better than we are. With rare exception, they are not.

According to George Barna, the majority of born-again Christians admit that their bi-weekly attendance at worship services is generally the only time they worship God. Eight out of ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God or experienced a connection with Him during the worship service. Half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him in the past year.

This leads to a core inquiry. Who taught you to pray? Has anyone provided a positive and life-changing model of prayer for you? Do you feel that you even know how to pray effectively? What is the purpose behind your praying? Is it working for you? Are you sure it is a biblical approach?

Theologian D. A. Carson makes the observation: “Christians learn to pray by listening to those around them.”1 I must admit that I had to unlearn prayer.

The exhaustive requests continued until someone happened to glance at their watch and exclaim, “Oh, we’re almost out of time! We’d better pray.” Hurriedly, we would slide our folding chairs into smaller circles, yellow pads in hand, and start praying for the myriad of documented needs.

This praying minority would seldom miss a week. As much as I did not appreciate their pattern of prayer, I loved their hearts and willingness to persevere. These prayer warriors really did make prayer a priority. They saw some wonderful answers to prayer and were careful to thank the Lord for it all. It did seem, however, that they were inadvertently stuck in a long, deep prayer rut.

The rut occurs when we allow requests to serve as the foundation of our praying: focusing on our problems rather than actually engaging with God in a multifaceted biblical prayer experience.

Worship is the response of all we are to the revelation of all God is. J. Oswald Sanders describes worship as “the loving ascription of praise to God for what He is, both in Himself and in His ways. It is the bowing of the innermost spirit in deep humility and reverence before Him.”

Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God. God’s face is the essence of who He is. God’s hand is the blessing of what He does. God’s face represents His person and presence. God’s hand expresses His provision for needs in our lives. I have learned that if all we ever do is seek God’s hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.

transformation. In the discovery of these realities, a Christian is then empowered and enlightened to pray about issues and needs in a whole new way.

As a pastor, I have seen firsthand the power of worship-based prayer to bring healing and restoration to hurting congregations. I have watched it reinvent a staid, traditional church into a church-planting, mission-oriented force.

Prior to the retreat, he was asking, “What am I going to talk to God about for three days?” Afterward he noted, “I was asking the wrong question. What I should have said was, ‘What was God going to talk to me about for three days?’

Peter Lord, one of my personal mentors and a pastor for over five decades, states, “Most Christians pray out of crisis or from a grocery list–period.” His point is that God has much more for us in our walk with Him when we learn to seek His face, not just His hand.

Too many times we become preoccupied with the tools, techniques, and even the finer points of theology when it comes to prayer. All of these are helpful, but prayer is not so much an issue of fine-tuning the regimens but of enjoying the relationship. It is not so much about fixing all the peripheral issues of our lives through prayer, but allowing God to change us through prayer. When we get the man right, by His transforming grace, it is amazing how so many other things seem to line up and make sense.

What created this spiritual movement? Not a program. Not a pastor. Not some new church-growth strategy. All of these blessings came because people learned to seek the face of God in prayer.

Personal prayer lives were ignited and changed as well. Ultimately things changed because people changed.

Christ’s evaluation, both now and in eternity, is based upon the fruit evidenced in the lives of the people to whom we minister.

It means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is working in me, around me, and through me to make me holy, more like Jesus.

The early disciples, who “filled Jerusalem” with their doctrine and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 5:28; 17:6), truly mystified the religious people of the day.

The world is not transformed by relevant Christians, strategic Christians, visionary Christians, leadership-savvy Christians, wealthy Christians, attractive Christians, educated Christians, active Christians, or articulate Christians. These are all interesting qualities, and might be helpful on occasion–especially in building big religious organizations and selling books. Ultimately, the world is transformed by sanctified Christians through whom the life of Jesus becomes a mystifying manifestation.

People changed by Jesus cannot help but change the world.

But when our Savior “puts the man together” to make us right first, then in so many ways the world comes together. God is glorified. We are sanctified. The church is edified. The world is mystified. The enemy is notified.

All true prayer Exists for the glory of God And is Based in the worship of God Focused on the face of God Shaped by the Word of God Inspired by the Spirit of God Offered through the Son of God Aimed for the Will of God Experienced by true children of God – DANIEL HENDERSON

“Prayer was simply asking, pleading, seeking action from God on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of others,” Connie says. “I participated dutifully but did not recognize the hole in my heart as the lack of a truly personal, intimate relationship with God. He was there, but distant, and I did not know life could be any different. I did not know God’s purpose for prayer.”

Spiritual Warfare – Clearly, prayer is an area where believers experience spiritual warfare. Our spiritual enemy is fully aware of the power and promises available to us in prayer. He knows that every major spiritual revival began with prayer. He knows we are all called to be “praying menaces” to his cause. Therefore, he fights us from every angle to keep us from praying effectively.

Fear of Intimacy – Some falter in prayer because of a fear of intimacy. I often say that we live in a culture of spiritual AI DS (Acute Intimacy Deficiency Syndrome). Some of us still carry the baggage from parents or other authority figures in our childhood who were distant, negligent, or even abusive. These experiences can leave us with distaste for emotional vulnerability and transparency. We protect ourselves from getting too close to anyone, even God.

Misguided Focus – Many of us maintain a misguided focus in our prayers and miss the life-giving reality God intended. Instead of our first resolve, we view prayer as our last resort. We see prayer as our spiritual e-mail sent to God, with instructions as to how He should manage the affairs of our life each day. We attempt to use prayer to get our will done in heaven rather than His will done on earth.

Counterproductive Tradition – Countless believers have learned to pray, from a counterproductive tradition, forms of prayer passed down through the generations without much critical evaluation and biblical investigation. Some traditions in prayer rely mainly on “prayer lists” and others on rote expressions, rather than upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. The primary content of many prayer gatherings is juicy information about other people rather than the foundation of God’s Word. We tend more toward discussions about the problems of people than the real experiences of the presence of the Problem Solver.

David Butts, chairperson of America’s National Prayer Committee, says, “The reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is that they have been to prayer meetings at their church.”

Boredom – All of these factors can fuel a deep-seated feeling of boredom. As a Christ-follower for over forty years, I am resolute to banish boredom from my prayer life. As a pastor for almost thirty years, having led multiple weekly prayer times, I have declared war on sleepy prayer meetings.

Lack of Positive – Models One colossal reason we have not experienced transforming prayer is the lack of positive models. I have learned that people do not arrive at a new, powerful, and life-changing place in their prayer life through information. It happens more by “infection.” It is not accomplished through explanation, but by experience.

D. A. Carson confirms this truth when he writes, “Many facets of Christian discipleship, not the least prayer, are more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. . . . We should choose models from whom we can learn.”

I heard a Brazilian proverb years ago: “The heart cannot taste what the eyes have not seen.” This experience of praying with a pastor, church, and congregation that authentically value the priority and power of prayer has accomplished much to help me and many other believers understand a truly biblical paradigm.

I had discovered that prayer truly has only two purposes. First, it is the means to developing a true love relationship with God by communication with Him, not to get His ‘stuff ’ but to get to know Him more deeply. Prayer is intended to develop a two-way love relationship. Second, it is to receive His assignments for me, both daily and long term–by listening to Him–then acting, not only in how I live but also in how I pray for myself and others.”

What’s in a Face? What is meant by face? It is the representation of the real essence and character of a person. It is the unique identifying characteristic of an individual. It is also the key to really getting to know someone.

An Intimate Encounter – God’s face really speaks of His intimate, manifest presence. I like to speak of the teaching about God’s presence as His general presence, His indwelling presence, and His intimate presence. Psalm 139 speaks of His general, invisible presence in this world. While unseen, He is present everywhere.

Yet God calls us to an intimate encounter as we pursue Him with all our hearts. In my understanding, to seek His face today means to set our hearts to seek Him in worship with biblical understanding, submitting completely to the control of His Spirit with a longing to know and enjoy Him more. Again, it is not about rehearsing a quick list of needs with God, but seeking Him because of who He is, with a passion for a deeper intimacy and experience of His presence.

The Old Testament followers spoke of God “hiding His face” or even setting His face against people. This reflected those times when His intimate presence and favor was hindered because of sin (Deuteronomy 32:20; Job 34:29; Psalm 13:1; 30:7; 143:7; Isaiah 54:8; Jeremiah 33:5; Ezekiel 39:23–24; Micah 3:4).

First Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Clearly we understand that intimacy with God means life and blessing. For His face to be withdrawn or set against someone (Psalm 34:16) is misery of the worst kind.

God’s Invitation – The Scriptures are clear that God desires that His people know and enjoy Him. He is ready and responsive to restore His people, if they will again seek His face. We know the familiar call of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In a similar way, God made the offer through the prophet Hosea: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hosea 5:15).

We need His face to shine upon, bless, and envelop us–because all that we are and all that we do in obedience to His commands and commission is the overflow of intimacy and the fruit of His blessing.

Here is what God wanted everyone to understand, from His heart to ours, every time His people worshiped: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. NUMBERS 6:24–26 Face time with the Almighty was the key to blessing, protection, grace, and peace. It is still true today. Let us join our voices and say, “Amen!”

With a second copy of the Decalogue (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) in hand, Moses arrived in camp–GLOWING ! God’s presence was so real that it left its mark on Moses’ face. The brightness was so overwhelming that it frightened the people. Moses had to put a veil over his face. Every time he went back to meet with God, experiencing His intimate presence and receiving His truth for the people, Moses would remove the veil in unhindered divine fellowship.

The greater the revelation, the greater the transformation. Unveiled in his worship and given incredible access to the presence of God, Moses also became a changed worshipper who glowed with the glory of God.”

Paul makes this potent declaration, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1). I urge you to read that passage again, because I believe it is the core of effective, enduring Christian ministry and the source of daily transformation.

Yet at the core of Paul’s theology of life and ministry is this amazing truth that communion with Christ changes us! This is no superficial rearranging of the activities, approaches, and attitudes of life. This is inside-out change. Transformation. The English pronunciation of this Greek word is metamour-foumetha–very similar to our idea of a metamorphosis.

This all occurs by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in our lives. We are captivated by Christ, changed by Christ, and conformed to Christ.

Paul understood transforming prayer from the moment of his first encounter with Christ. He never got over it and never stopped growing in it. He saw it as the core of his credibility and the life-source of all Christian living.

In relation to prayer, we want to use all we know from the Scriptures to discover the best practices. We want to learn to understand the leading of the Spirit to experience and achieve the desired result–the glory of God (we will talk more about this “desired result” as you continue to read). This would be “best-practices praying.”

Accordingly, we need to thoroughly know and understand what it means to seek God’s face in worship-based prayer. We need the Spirit to give us holy dissatisfaction and the motivation to change. We need to know how to engage in transforming prayer.

Unfortunately, we seem to give God our spiritual leftovers in prayer.

When we engage in the great privilege and joy of prayer with a “leftovers mentality,” the likelihood of spiritual blessing is slight. The Lord says, “Love me with all of your heart,” worship me “in spirit and in truth,” present your bodies as a “living sacrifice.” He calls for our passionate best. Instead, we bring spiritual leftovers to the throne of grace.

The Lord did not require great quantities–but He did ask for their first and best as a demonstration of their gratitude to God as the source of all their blessings and an indication of their reverence for God as the One worthy of worship. Instead, they were bringing leftovers. They offered blind, lame, and sick animals at the temple.

Even today, not all sacrifices are created equal. From a New Testament standpoint, acceptable sacrifices include: • A commitment to worship in spirit and in truth ( John 4:22–24) • A genuine sacrifice of praise, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15) • The presentation of our bodies in complete surrender (Romans 12:1–2) • A life of love that produces right living (Philippians 1:9–11) • Doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” with thanksgiving (Colossians 3:17) • Service conducted in supernatural power (1 Peter 4:11) • Generosity that flows from a heart of love (Philippians 4:10–19)

Relating to prayer, God is not looking for a dutiful contribution of time or energy in the spirit of religious observance. He is looking for a hungry heart that seeks after Him in praise, gratitude, and loving surrender, with a readiness to pray, think, and live like Jesus as the expression and overflow of that intimacy.

We must continue to grow so that we understand prayer as more of a transforming experience in the Holy of Holies and less like a rushed trip to the grocery store to grab what we think we need for the day.

There was not one single prayer for revival or awakening in our church, community, or nation. Sad. As I surveyed the results of this prayer snapshot, my gut reaction is that this is typical of the average prayer list, whether compiled in a Sunday school class or a personal journal. Thank God, people are praying, yet I believe something more powerful and purposeful can be discovered about the reality of prayer. No one really wants to serve God leftovers.

Frankly, I admire those who manage long lists of needs, answers, commentary, and details. I found that I was spending more time organizing, rewriting, or trying to find my list than I was actually spending time in prayer.

Yet in group settings, the focus on lists of needs and prolonged discussions about details can distract from the purpose. Some groups spend significant time talking and taking notes about issues, people, and problems. This has two effects. First, a gathering that was announced as a prayer meeting becomes mostly a discussion session. At times, those discussions border on gossip. This is not a best practice. Second, we can tend to be operating simply in the realm of our own human thoughts, our own observations, and our own ideas about what we should pray about. We often ask the question, “What do we need to pray about?” This is followed by long discussion of detailed situations in our lives, the lives of others, the church, community, and society. Sometimes the discussion occurs as if the Lord was not even in the room, aware of the problems, or had any opinion about the subjects at hand.

Now, I do not want to offend or anger anyone by what I am about to say, but I have to put it on the table: I find little evidence in the Bible for our routine emphasis on extensive prayer lists focused almost entirely on temporal concerns.4 I do not want to be legalistic here. But I do want to jolt us out of a rut of thinking that lists are the key to effective prayers.

I am not suggesting that everyone stop using prayer lists. But we must recognize the possibility that our prayer lists are replacing the Scriptures and the Spirit as the primary content providers for our prayer times.

We spend more prayer energy trying to keep sick Christians out of heaven than trying to keep lost people out of hell. – JAMES WALKER

We often pray to escape our difficulties rather than embrace discipleship.

Like anyone, I love it when God answers my prayers in ways that make my life more pleasant or pain-free. Yet I am learning that my deepest needs are met when my heart is most closely aligned with the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God, and the purposes of God.

Yet, it is so easy to reduce our focus in prayer to the typical “organ recital” concerns about Paula’s pancreas, Larry’s liver, Sarah’s stomach, and Artie’s appendix. Our Father knows, cares, and is fully capable of taking care of all these needs according to His will and glory. Yet the privilege of prayer offers so much more.

Amid all our worries about our health, finances, family, job, education, and ministry concerns, are we seeking first His kingdom and not our own?

What might Jesus have in mind with His commands to ask, seek, and knock? A pay raise? A new car? An all-expenses-paid vacation? What are the good things He promises? In the context, Jesus spoke specifically of the basic provisions of bread and fish, with no mention of fishing boats, lake cabins, or new video games. Perhaps the answer is in the point He has already made, that the truly “good” things we seek first are the issues pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Clearly, these teachings, like other instructions about prayer, are not carte blanche encouragements to concoct a long list of anything our heart desires. Rather, it is a promise of basic provision, spiritual empowerment, and guidance for His kingdom purposes.

Comparing the Content – We know we are supposed to bring our requests to God. Yet one of the most important questions we need to ask is how the content of our prayers differ from the biblical patterns and teaching about the things we should be praying about. I would suggest that the prayer requests we find in the Bible are shorter, deeper, and fundamentally different in nature than the lists that can tend to dominate the prayer approach of modern Christians.

Praying Just Like Jesus? – Scripture records numerous examples of Jesus’ prayer life. We find six references to Jesus’ prayers that give no clear indication of the content of what He said (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 3:21; 9:18, 28; 11:1). We find He often withdrew from activity in order to enjoy private communion with the Father. While we do not know the substance of His prayers in these times, it appears they were directly related to fresh empowerment for His self-less, sacrificial service. There are also occasions where Jesus blesses people, but His exact words are not given (Mark 10:16; Luke 24:50).

Many modern-day teachers encourage us to “do” like Jesus, lead like Jesus, and speak like Jesus. Our passion must also be to embrace these truths so we can pray like Jesus.

We see the early church in prayer most often seeking the advancement of the gospel through any circumstance. They prayed daily as part of a vital regimen of spiritual growth–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 2:42). In the face of attack, they gathered to pray from the Scriptures, requesting fresh power for boldness–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 4:31). When they were persecuted, they rejoiced in God for the honor of suffering–for the sake of the gospel–rather than asking for a reprieve (Acts 5:41). When Peter was in jail, they prayed for his release–for the sake of the gospel (Act 12:5). When Paul and Silas were in jail, they rejoiced in prayer and singing, trusting God–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 16:25).

Every one of Paul’s model prayers sprang from expressions of thanksgiving, truths about God, and notes of praise. They are the fruit of his worship and intimate, experiential knowledge of the person of Christ. Paul’s requests were focused on the growing faith and love of believers with the goal of God’s glory.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes. Worship-based prayers set the foundation for something other than “me” prayers, because they start with a “Thee” focus. This changes the nature of how we pray.

Psalm 70:4 had taught Bill that prayer is about seeking God, rejoicing in Him, and continually focusing on His glory. Yes, let God be magnified!

Suntan Lotion in a Snowstorm – Unlike Bill Sheehan, many of us fail to focus our prayers on the core motive: that God would be magnified in everything we seek or say. If we were to be honest, our prayers are often motivated by a desire for comfort and convenience. Many times our prayers are viewed as a divinely ordained way to get what we want out of life, or to avoid what we don’t want. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking prayer exists so God can be used to help us preserve our glory rather than our being used to promote His glory.

In John 14:13, Jesus gave us a standard for all of our praying, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” What motivates us to ask can often be all over the map. What motivates our Father to answer is that He would be glorified in our prayers through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Work in Us for His Glory – No one ever lived with more passion and intentionality than Jesus, our Master and model. Everything in His life was for the glory of the Father ( John 11:4; 13:31–31; 17:1, 4–5). He is our ultimate example for everything we do, including our prayers.

An Agonizing Alignment – Inspiring as these reminders are, our flesh struggles to pray in alignment with the truth of God’s glory. Our prayer lists can easily become so saturated with our desires for ease, comfort, convenience, and accomplishment, that the goal of God’s glory becomes obscured. Our human tendency to avoid pain, loss, and difficulty can dilute our passion for God’s glory. When our goals and God’s glory are in conflict, it can be hard for our hearts to choose.

Think about this exchange. Jesus describes a very undesirable death as part of Peter’s destiny as an obedient disciple. If we could rate our old age or death scenarios, what Jesus described here is “dreadful.” Yet John says it is a death that will glorify God.

As good as this process was for me, I still drew this conclusion: The hardest thing about the Christian life is that it is so DAILY

There is a sense that every day we live with one hand on the perishables of this life: family, health, job, home, hobbies, plans, etc. In the other hand, we grasp the unseen and eternal reality of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, and praying, all for God’s glory.

Grace to “Go for the Glory” – I define grace as God doing for us, in us, and through us what only He can do through the person, power, and presence of Jesus Christ. I have learned that God has tailor-made grace for everything we face. I need the grace to long and pray for His glory.

Just as God’s Word must reform our theology, our ethics, and our practices, so also must it reform our praying. D. A . CARSON

Mark describes it as a profound, life-changing experience. The power of praying from the Scriptures in the company of other believers brought healing and hope to their hearts–as spouses and parents. Mark discovered an incredible unity with leaders from other churches in the Lord’s presence.

Prior to this weekend, Mark says his prayer life was “mostly focused on request-based praying.” His attempts to pray with others were often “dry and boring.” He notes, “I knew that praying with others was important, but it was a real chore!” This dynamic young pastor explains, “More than anything, worship-based prayer has made me a more passionate lover of Jesus. I see His Word and prayer as means, not ends. Worship-based prayer has helped me to see that the ultimate aim of my time with the Lord or with others before the Lord is worship. It is the starting point and the goal.”

Calvin Miller explains, “Too often, we go into God’s presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us ‘one big mouth’ and God ‘one grand ear.’ But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us as the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise.”

One core focus of worship-based prayer is the commitment to always start our prayers from the Word of God. This is the key to abiding. Jesus emphasized, “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” ( John 15:7–8).

Abiding and Abundance – What does it mean to abide? The word means to “continue, remain, dwell, or stay.” It is the idea of a life-giving connection with Christ that produces His character and accomplishes His will in us. As Charles Spurgeon noted, abiding means “yielding ourselves up to Him to receive His life and to let that life work out its results in us. We live in Him, by Him, for Him, to Him when we abide in Him.”

Pastor John Piper gives the right perspective when he says: There are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness, etc. My point is not that those desires are wrong. My point is that they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires; kingdom desires; fruit-bearing desires; gospel-spreading, God-centered desires; Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to these greater desires, then they become the proper subject of prayer.

A. W. Pink described this fruit as “Christlike affections, dispositions, grace, as well as the works in which they are displayed,”5 adding that fruit is “the outflow of our union with Christ; only thus will it be traced to its true origin and source.”

George Muller, the renowned man of faith and evangelist who cared for thousands of orphans and established dozens of Christian schools in the 1800s, spoke about the vital role of Scripture in his prayer life. He noted that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. Inevitably, his mind wandered sometimes for ten, fifteen, even thirty minutes.6 Then, when he began to start each morning with the Bible to nourish his soul, he found his heart being transformed by the truth, resulting in spontaneous prayers of confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. This became his daily experience for decades, resulting in great personal growth and power for life and ministry. In his autobiography, Muller noted that this kind of prayer is . . . . . . not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God.Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us.

John Piper says, “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.”

When we get into a routine of simply praying our own ideas and thoughts, our prayers are increasingly misguided. The longer we do this, the further we travel from God’s design for prayer.

Pastors speak with me often about the unreasonable resistance they face when trying to move people in their church from a request-based paradigm to a worship-based approach.

Who Starts the Prayer Conversation? In a sense, prayer is a continual conversation between our hearts and God’s. Nevertheless, when we stop to spend time in focused prayer, it is important to know who should start the conversation. If prayer is simply the discharge of my own will and thoughts, in the hope that I can help God run the universe, then I should start the prayer conversation. On the other hand, if prayer is about my heart becoming intimate and aligned with the heart of the Savior, then I should let Him start the conversation. This is the reality of abiding in Him and letting His words abide in us.

Our Father, with His unlimited resources, and His commitment to teach us to pray, has given us a supernatural tutor. The Holy Spirit is available to us and resides within us 24/7. Our Father longs for intimacy with us and knows that real prayer is impossible apart from the indwelling Spirit.

Worship-based prayer brings us to a greater sensitivity and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As a result, our prayers become Spirit-fueled. And we are transformed.

Worship-based prayer brings our hearts into intimate harmony with the person of the Holy Spirit and enhances our surrender to His control, wisdom, and power for our prayers. The Spirit then enables us to worship more fully. This worship, in turn, brings us into a deeper reality of the Spirit’s life, thus continuing the circle.

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan writes, “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.”2 He continues, “If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit . . . but when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”

Word is a stimulus to worship and a tool for worship.

Those who have adopted a worship-based approach of seeking God’s face first and foremost have experienced this amazing reality. God’s Spirit takes God’s Word and ignites our heart with truth, wisdom, direction, focus, and passion in our prayer experiences. Once you have tasted this kind of prayer, you never want to go back. This is why God longs for us to pray in the Spirit.

Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest noted: “Praying in the Spirit is praying in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is prayer exercised in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, motivated and empowered by Him.”

Spirit Scriptures Eastern religions, and even some teachers of the Christian faith, propose that the best way to hear from God’s Spirit (or maybe some other spirit) is to empty your mind, accompanied by various breathing exercises. That might be a great way to get a D in Prayer. Rather, the Scriptures affirm the best way to hear from the Spirit is to fill the mind with the Word of God, accompanied by careful reading and meditation on the sacred text. That’s the best way to receive what the Spirit is speaking clearly.

Even the apostle Paul confesses that in our mere human intellect, we are not able to pray effectively. Our minds and hearts are weak. The Holy Spirit moves and prays within us, in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and the Son. The Spirit works in us to tutor us in prayer according to the will of God, as we have assurance of God’s goodness and sovereignty in the unfolding of the events of our lives (Romans 8:28).

Oswald Sanders wrote, “Prayer in the Spirit is prayer whose supreme object is the glory of God, and only in a secondary sense is it a blessing for ourselves or for others.”

Of course, the reason many of us tune out the pre-flight orientation is that we have heard it so many times before. This familiarity can lead to ignorance and perhaps tragedy. The flight attendants are there to prevent this. Prayer is a very familiar idea to many of us. We are also accustomed to the truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like the road-warrior frequent flyer, we may tune out the instructions we need because we are so familiar with the experience. However, unlike a flight, where the instructions and routines are usually predictable, there should be nothing mundane or standard about our prayer times.

Every one of us is confronted with a choice. Will we allow familiarity to breed apathy and ineffectiveness as we tune out the vital instructions? Will we be content to simply pray from our own intellectual framework of understanding, with potentially careless and endless lists of ideas that have not been surrendered to the power of the Word and the Spirit? Will we merely seek God’s hand to get what we think we need to get by for another week as we hurry in and out of His presence? Or will we seek His face, from His Word, by His Spirit, as we learn to pray in a life-transforming fashion?

Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

There is no name like the name of Jesus Christ. Knowing the power of His name, most of us remember to tack it on to our prayers virtually every time we pray. However, like Carnegie’s students, our reason for remembering His name may be for our own purposes, not His.

It is the traditional thing to do. In group or public prayers, it is a given that whoever prays better wrap it up “in Jesus’ name.” When they fail to do so, they may get a few raised eyebrows and words of doubt about the spiritual legitimacy of their prayers. After all, will God really hear their prayers if they fail to include this three-word add-on?

A popular worship song says, “It’s all about you, Jesus,” and leads us to acknowledge that our lives are really not about our own agendas. We recognize that Jesus is God and our response is to surrender to His ways. In my years of learning about and leading others in prayer, I have found this to become the heart reality of what the Lord accomplishes as we pray. This is the path to praying in Jesus’ name.

This is God’s gracious work in drawing us to a deeper knowledge of Him and a greater response in prayer. He excited their worship, for example, with the “I am” statements Jesus made in the gospel of John: • “I am the bread of life” ( John 6:35). • “I am the light of the world” ( John 8:12; 9:5). • “I am the gate for the sheep” ( John 10:7, 9 niv). • “I am the good shepherd” ( John 10:14). • “I am the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25). • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” ( John 14:6). • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). Later, the New Testament books will explode additional truths about our Christ, telling us that He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the chief cornerstone of the household of God (Ephesians 2:20), the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), the very Word of God (Revelation 19:13), and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Again, these are more than name tags on the lapel of His robe. These are powerful revelations of His character that empower our worship and prayers.

Samuel Chadwick wrote, “To pray in the Name of Christ is to pray as one who is at one with Christ, whose mind is the mind of Christ, whose desires are the desires of Christ, and whose purpose is one with that of Christ.” Chadwick further clarified, “Prayers offered in the Name of Christ are scrutinized and sanctified by His nature, His purpose, and His will. Prayer is endorsed by the Name when it is in harmony with the character, mind, desire, and purpose of the Name.”

In his excellent book The God Who Hears, W. Bingham Hunter summarizes the New Testament teaching about praying in Jesus’ name with these four truths: • It seeks the glory of God. • Its foundation is the death, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus. • It is offered by Jesus’ obedient disciples. (Hunter points out that praying in Jesus’ name is virtually synonymous with obedience to Jesus.) • It asks what Jesus himself would pray for.

Frustration comes from bombarding heaven with our own ideas of what God should do to accomplish our will in heaven. Fulfillment comes from knowing that His will is being implemented in our lives.

People talk as if prayer is the way we get God to give us what we want. Those who think this way seek prayer promises, techniques, locations, mediators, and other methods they believe will influence God or place Him under obligation. But Scripture points in virtually the opposite direction, indicating prayer, communication with the living God, as a means He uses to give us what He knows we need. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

When anyone is in the presence of something very powerful and experience, it is difficult to remain the unusual to their normal experience, it is difficult to remain the same.

Four common and essential responses are: a believing faith, authentic confession, conformity to His will, and empowerment for spiritual warfare.

Worship-based prayer is a powerful spark that produces a response of faith. When we begin our prayers with a passionate pursuit of the character of God, we are gripped with the reality that “He is” and are soon reminded that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Again, notice the focus on “seeking Him,” not just trying to solicit His help or provision. This is an emphasis on His face and a key to faith.

We are familiar with Romans 10:17, where it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer is the foundation that fills our minds with the truth of God’s Word and great thoughts about God.

Confession means “agreeing with God” about our sin and failure to align with His person, purpose, and plan.

Lasting Restoration – One of the many ways I have seen this truth on dramatic display is at prayer summits. These multi-day “worship fests” are marked by spontaneous Scripture reading, singing, and heartfelt response, bringing people into an encounter with the living Christ that is incredibly intimate and moving. The more the truth of the Scriptures is read, heard, cherished, and applied–the more deeply the Spirit begins to expose needs, habitual sin, and broken relationships.

A. W. Tozer described this reality: “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Our Lord and Master has a will. It is the specific and intimate expression of His heart. His Word is His will. The application is revealed by His Spirit. Our requests that have not been surrendered to His Word and Spirit in intimate pursuit may simply reflect our will, not His.

John Piper describes it well: “The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission.”

I may be naïve compared to the warfare experts, but I have discovered that a life of passionate worship–one that delights in biblical truth about God’s character, seeks the empowerment of the Spirit for application and articulation, then surrenders in every way as prompted by this intimate encounter, is equipped to “fight the good fight” every day. Jesus, on the heels of forty days of prayer and fasting, wielded the truth of God’s Word in facing down the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4–11). We, too, are equipped by His sufficiency to brandish the “sword of the Spirit,” which is the spoken word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We have His perfection and power living in us. He has given us the victory in His finished work of redemption. As we abide in Him, with hearts fully responsive to His intimate revelation of truth and insight, we overcome temptation and are delivered from evil.

In a similar spirit, some today repeat the Lord’s Prayer verbatim as some kind of magical charm. Jesus’ intention was not that we simply recite this prayer to manipulate some blessing. It is not a celestial secret password to opening the treasuries of eternity.

Guilt–the belief that if I do not pray, I will not be an acceptable Christian.

Approval–the belief that if I do pray, I will be an acceptable Christian in the eyes of others.

Church growth–the belief that prayer can be a useful tool to meet my tangible ministry goals.

Revival – the belief that God will bring revival if I will just “work Him” enough through prayer.

So we pray because God is worthy. But there is a second side to the motivational coin: I am needy. As I said earlier, prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. The heart of real prayer is, “Lord, I need you. I cannot do it on my own. I must seek you today.”

I heard a speaker say once, “You can tell someone how to do something and they may keep it up for awhile. But if you show them why they are doing it–it will take a brick wall to stop them.”

So as we prepare to clearly understand and apply a pattern that can enliven our prayer life and give us a biblical, balanced approach to prayer, let’s review a quick list of “pray this, not that” principles: • Pray to seek God’s f ace, NOT just His hand. • Pray with your heart fixed on God’s glory, NOT just for personal satisfaction. • Pray from the treasury of God’s Word, NOT from a list of your own ideas. • Pray according to the Spirit’s instruction, NOT only from human reason. • Pray with a heart completely surrendered to His will, NOT with a hurried personal agenda. • Pray in anticipation of living triumphantly in the war zone, NOT in satisfaction with your comfort zone. • Pray that God would change you, NOT simply change things.

Prayer is not asking God to do my will. It is bringing myself into conformity with His will. It is asking Him to do His will and to give me the grace to enjoy it. – JOHN MACARTHUR

The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate pattern of prayer Jesus gave to His disciples. He repeated it twice in the gospels. The first delivery (Matthew 6) occurred near Galilee before a large crowd in the context of an extended sermon. His second iteration (Luke 11) occurred near Jerusalem after the disciples observed Him in prayer. He repeated this specific pattern after they made a request to learn how to pray.

In keeping with Jesus’ instructions, prayer begins with the character of God as we take time to focus our entire being on the wonders of who God is.

If our prayers are not focused on God, we are guilty of idolatry, as we are putting someone (or something) else in God’s place.”4

A. W. Tozer said it famously: “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

This response to God’s character in prayer involves yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit and recommitting ourselves to God’s kingdom purposes.

Scottish writer Robert Law said, “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.”

I often say that we do not really know what to ask for until we have worshiped well and surrendered completely.

As our prayer continues, the outward stroke reminds us of the spiritual contest before us and, more important, reassures us of the spiritual resources within us. We know the time comes when we must get off our knees and reenter the warfare zone. We must be battle ready.

I often say the comfort zone is the danger zone. As we come to the concluding moments of a prayer time, we not only anticipate but also embrace the responsibility to “fight the good fight.” We are called to be praying menaces to the devil. Prayer is not an escape from the battles of life but a great equipping to fight them in supernatural power. The very fact that we are seeking God’s face and engaging in life-giving prayer alerts the enemy to our increased threat to his dominion. When we pray, we pick a fight with the devil at a completely new level. Yet this is why we are on earth–not to cruise along on a luxury liner until Jesus comes, but to stay actively engaged in our “search-and-rescue mission” in the midst of the global spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people.

At the beginning of our Christian life we are full of requests to God. But then we find that God wants to get us into relationship with Himself – to get us in touch with His purposes. – OSWALD CHAMBERS

I like to call it Christianity in its purest form, as there are no celebrity speakers, music groups, bulletins, or agendas. In fact, for me this is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of the sufficiency of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God in active and practical ministry. My faith in God’s desire and power to lead us into life-changing, Christ-exalting prayer has grown immensely over the years.

So let’s see how we can make this approach very practical. Again, we always begin with the Scriptures, and then I use four key questions to bring focus and stimulate specific prayers. I call these the who, how, what, and where questions of practicing this pattern. • Who is God? (reverence) • How should I respond? (response) • What do I pray about? (requests) • Where do I go from here? (readiness)

Individual + Community = Transformation We know that God wants our prayers to be transformational. If you were to ask, “Which is more important, private prayer or corporate prayer?” My answer would always be “yes”! It is like asking which leg is more crucial to walking–the right or the left?

It says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” You could not learn the apostles’ doctrine by downloading a message to your iPod! You had to be gathered in community. The same was obviously true of fellowship and the breaking of bread. And how did they learn to pray? Together.

The church was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting (Acts 1:14; 2:1). They coped with crisis and persecution together, on their knees (Acts 4:24–31). As the church grew, the apostles refused to become embroiled in administrative problems because of their resolute desire to model prayer in their leadership team (Acts 6:4). Through united prayer, they trusted God for miraculous divine interventions in times of extreme trouble (Acts 12:5–12). They received ministry direction through intense seasons of worshipful prayer (Acts 13:1–2).

What a contrast to our individualized culture. Most of us were taught prayer is something we do almost exclusively on our own in a closet somewhere. In reality, early Christians learned to pray largely by praying together.

In our Western culture, we have come to believe that it is more important to pray alone than with others. This is a symptom of our basic view of society. In his book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee describes our culture of individualism. He explains that we are no longer born into a culture of community but a “way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything.”2 Frazee documents this as a problem especially for those born after World War II . He laments the impact on the church by observing that we have “all too often mirrored the culture by making Christianity an individual sport.”

Therefore, if I were the devil, I would use my best deceptive tools to keep Christians from praying in transforming ways–and especially to keep them from praying together. I would keep them busy and isolated from one another. I would do everything possible to keep them distracted and disinterested in biblical, balanced, revival-style prayer gatherings. To accomplish this, I would do the following: Fuel the spirit of rugged individualism. By keeping Christians independent of each other, I would keep them independent from God. I would keep them frustrated in their personal prayer lives by preventing them from learning to pray by praying together. Dig ruts of boring prayer. When they did try to pray together, I would make sure the prayer meetings were based more on human needs than on God’s power. I would do everything possible to encourage boredom and gossip in these gatherings so that most people would stay away from these passionless “prayer” times. Delight in theological orthodoxy without spiritual passion. I would know how effective it is to get Bible-loving Christians to delight in theological correctness without spiritual intimacy. It worked very well in Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1–7), a once-great church that fell out of love with Jesus, even though they had great theology and teaching. I would let them be content with good sermons and grand theological ideas, as long as they stayed off their knees in trying to make it real in their hearts. Encourage idle preaching on prayer. I would know that sermons on prayer frequently fall on deaf ears, especially when the leaders do not model prayer. I would keep pastors content with talking about inspiring prayer ideas as long as they did not actually lead their people into extraordinary gatherings of prayer. I would know that prayer information without prayer action anesthetizes Christians from spiritual reality. Promote “success” in the ministry. Crazy as it sounds, I might even promote church growth as a replacement for real revival. I would encourage an interest in numbers, activities, strategies, and events. This would keep them away from brokenness, repentance, and passion for God’s transforming presence. This would distract them from a real pursuit of the awakenings that have undermined my nefarious efforts.

As long as Christians were sincere but isolated, active but powerless, entertained but shallow, I would win.

If Jesus answered all of your prayers from the last thirty days, would anything change in THE world or just YOUR world? – JOHN W. BRYSON

We need an Acts 6 revival. Revival is not a week of evangelistic meetings or a televised healing crusade. It is a period of unusual blessing when God brings a supernatural re-enlivening to His people. Dr. A. T. Pierson, pastor and missionary leader from the 1800s, observed: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”2 It is broadly believed that whenever God wanted to bring a great work of revival, He always began by sending His people to their knees.

Ultimately, the goal is not only that you experience transformation or that your circle of friends feels the change or even that your church becomes spiritually reawakened. If these realities are authentic, it will spill into the community and beyond in powerful, Christ-exalting fashion.

Honestly, I find myself wondering if this is really the Lord’s best plan for reviving His church. In the rush of getting God to show up at another revival event, I wonder if we might not need to slow down, tone down, and get down to the humble, quiet, grassroots spiritual transformation that revivals are made of in intimacy and obscurity.

The vision for organic revival that moves my heart today looks like this: “Pastor-led, local church-oriented movements of Christ-exalting, worship-based prayer–leading to a full-scale revival, supernatural evangelism, and cultural transformation.”

Change Starts Now You can be a vital part of this compelling and essential vision. Ultimately, this kind of revival starts with my heart, my home, my church, and my community. If you pray that for me–and I pray that for you–and we act in faith to seek His face, something organic and glorious might just occur. It is worth dreaming about, worth seeking after, and worth living for.

My friend Byron Paulus says, “The biggest billboard for revival is a changed life.” That is the beautiful outcome of transforming prayer.

Related Images:

What if Jesus was Serious About the Church

What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended, Skye Jethani (this is a must-read book, please support the author by purchasing his book) Below you will read some of the highlights from my reading through the book.

Few doubt the dominance and effectiveness of corporations. For that reason, over the last fifty years, churches—both large and small—have increasingly copied the values and strategies of corporations as well.

Most pastors now stay inside church facilities all week managing programs, and ministry happens when people come to them.

Success is measured by the growth of the institution itself, not how it benefits a community or even its industry. Starbucks doesn’t just want you to drink coffee;

This emphasis on institutional church growth has even changed our language. Earlier generations spoke about Christians and non-Christians, or believers and nonbelievers. But in the era of the church-as-corporation, we now talk about the churched and the unchurched. These invented words reveal a shift in our missional goal. It’s no longer to connect a person with Christ; we want them connected to our ministry.

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

What we’re seeing in the church today—pastoral burnout and immorality, abuse and cover-ups, financial impropriety, toxic leadership cultures, and the elevation of effectiveness over faithfulness—matches what we’ve come to expect from giant businesses. It also explains why the age of the corporate church has not only added churched and unchurched to our Christian vocabulary, it has also given us a new word— dechurched. Some church members now feel more like replaceable cogs in a ministry machine rather than essential members of the body of Christ.

Most, however, express a frustration with the corporate machinery of the church—the institutional upkeep, systems, programs, and a general fatigue over the dehumanizing cultures they foster. As one exhausted middle-aged woman said to me, “Is this really what Jesus intended the church to be?”

They’re not leaving the church to renounce their faith, but to preserve it. They worry that prolonged exposure to the toxicity within their church structure will sour their view of Christianity itself.

“I became a pastor,” one told me, “because I honestly believed the local church is the hope of the world. But now I’m not so sure.” Explaining his exhaustion and fatigue, he continued, “It breaks my heart to admit this, but when I meet non-Christians in my community, I honestly think their lives will be worse, not better, if they come to my church.”

They want to know if the church must be an exhausting corporation, or if it can be a “fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ” as it was in the beginning.

Therefore, while it’s wrong to read the modern idea of the church as a corporation back into Scripture, we can apply to our modern setting the ancient biblical idea of the church as a family.

Recent surveys have found that young people are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Despite the endless entertainment and engagement accessible to them via screens and social media, they desperately long for real, incarnate community.

A church that embraces the value of being a spiritual family, more than anything else, is equipped to meet this generation’s relational and spiritual thirst.

Which is the right definition? That’s not really the best question. Depending on the context, any one of these four definitions may be appropriate. The better question to ask is: How did the writers of the New Testament define the church?

And while the early Christians did meet weekly for prayer, teaching, and encouragement, these events were not called “church” but rather were understood to be gatherings of the church.

It is very possible to dedicate your time, treasure, and talents to an institution called a “church” but never know the mutual love, joy, hope, and support that comes when united with God’s people.

In our highly systems-oriented, institutional age we need the discernment to recognize the difference between serving the church, serving the church through an institution, and merely serving an institution.

Businesses recruit, hire, promote, fire, and replace in order to assemble the best team. And while many churches also apply these marketplace strategies in an effort to get the right people on the bus, they often forget one critical fact—it’s not their bus. The bus belongs to Jesus, and He decides who is on it even if we think they’re not the “right people.”

To make matters worse, they didn’t even share the same values, background, or politics with one another. They had no earthly reason to be together.

No one thought a tax collector and a Zealot belonged on the same bus.

Unity is not something we find through a common interest, a mutual ethnic identity, a shared political ideology, or even a joint mission. It only comes from abiding in the same Lord. Left to ourselves, we would never associate with people we do not like.

If your church is a homogeneous group who all share the same vision of society, politics, and culture, and if you chafe at the thought that you may be worshiping alongside someone who voted for a candidate you despise, or if anger arises when you discover a leader in your church prioritizes issues differently than you do—it’s a pretty good indication that you haven’t gotten onto Jesus’ bus. Instead, you may have invited Him onto yours.

Our culture champions the independent spirit of the explorer, the cowboy, the pioneer, and the entrepreneur. So, it makes sense that in the religious realm, American culture would also emphasize the individual’s connection to God.

But a closer inspection of Scripture may reveal that the “me and God” framework is one we’ve imposed on the text rather than one we’ve learned from the text.

It’s because Daniel recognized a facet of relating to God that we often overlook. While we have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” we also have a collective relationship with Him. It’s not just “me and God,” it’s also “us and God.”

THE CHURCH IS CALLED to courageously and prophetically overcome the divisions of the world, but all too often it merely reflects and reinforces them.

In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.”

But even in more diverse communities, most congregations remain homogeneous, and this is not fueled by overt or even subconscious racism. Instead, it’s driven by pragmatism. It’s far easier to lead, manage, and operate a single-culture church where there is broad agreement about music styles, program structures, leadership, and values, and historically churches have grown faster and larger when they are homogeneous. Birds of a feather, the data says, like to fellowship together.

Just as the pandemic taught us of the difference between school (an institution) and education (the institution’s purpose), we need to have a similar awakening about the church.

The church has a vital and undeniable role to play in our spiritual formation—one that too many Christians ignore. At the same time, the institutional church cannot be the only source for our development as Christians and it cannot encompass the entirety of our life with God.

Likewise, the institutional church is an incredible gift, but we must remember that it is a means to an end. The institution does not exist for itself.

Therefore, when we encounter the word “you” in these writings it is most often plural, but the English reader has no way of knowing that apart from the wider context and an awareness of the apostle’s original audience. Simply put, in most cases, the apostles are not speaking to me, but to us

Our minds are simply not trained to think collectively, so we tend to confine and individualize the text.

What if I am a fool following the imaginary calling of a nonexistent God? What frightens me most isn’t facing hardship or pain, but the possibility that my pain has no purpose. What if everything really is meaningless?

Some think that to believe in God means no longer struggling with these deep questions of meaning, that somehow the true Christian never knows doubt. That is untrue. Being a Christian simply means we’ve shifted the focus of our struggle. As Eugene Peterson said, “Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.”

Jacob’s story epitomizes the life of faith. God’s people trust Him, but it’s often a struggle because we are flawed, fearful creatures. A church—being an assembly of believers—is simply a community that wrestles with God together. It’s where we struggle openly rather than privately, and where questions are asked and sometimes answered. But when no answer is found, the church is also where we find comfort, support, and encouragement.

There is no question we are a deeply divided society, and the divisions are more than political. With the proliferation of social media and algorithms that severely narrow our vision of the world, we seem to occupy completely different realities.

With the aid of technology, divisions today don’t merely separate us, they dehumanize us.

Rather than reflecting the divisions of society, the church is called to reflect the unity of God’s kingdom.

We cannot implore our Lord to both bless and curse our opponent. In prayer, goodwill grows to eclipse malice in the heart of the Christian toward her enemy.

Justin Martyr understood that praying for our enemies is the first step in changing how we see them. And once we see them differently, they might just come to see us differently as well.

That means the church’s greatest weapon against evil isn’t how we vote but how we pray.

Anger is so visceral, and far more accessible for most of us than empathy or reason, that it’s the emotion we usually experience first when challenged. When we feel out of control, fearful, or even mildly uncomfortable, anger appears almost instantaneously. And this anger isn’t generalized—it’s focused on whatever or whomever we perceive to be the cause of our struggle.

For this reason, anger has been elevated to a virtue in much of our culture. With it, we are able to define ourselves by who we stand against, rather than the ideals we stand for. In a twisted way, we have become dependent on our enemies.

Imagine the shock, therefore, when a new community emerged where Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, shared a table, and called one another “brothers and sisters.” It was scandalous and even shameful.

The early church was not driven by anger, nor were Jesus’ followers defined by their enemies. Instead, they were compelled by God’s love and defined by the cross where Jesus willingly gave up His life to save His enemies.

And yet, across every generation, every ethnicity, every economic and denominational barrier, the simple elements of the bread and the cup have endured as marks of Christ’s people.

Sharing a table is how we form bonds and establish a common identity. It’s why every culture uses a meal to celebrate marriages. Two families share a meal to acknowledge their new bond as kin.

But for Christians who recognize the formative power of the table, it can be used by God to shape their lives and community in unimaginably beautiful ways.

Being a symbol always makes something more important and never less. The same is true for Christ’s table.

In each case, the covenant symbol was directly related to the nature of the covenant itself, and each symbol pointed to something powerful about God’s relationship with His people.

A shared meal is a powerful reminder that what Jesus accomplished on the cross wasn’t a sacrifice merely to redeem me, but the way God has reconciled a people to Himself.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg says it this way: “We have in these meals the central symbolic action of Jesus in which his message of the nearness of God’s reign and its salvation is focused and vividly depicted… . Everything that separates from God is removed in the table fellowship that Jesus practiced.”9 In other words, the essence of Jesus’ message was manifested in His meals.

But for Jesus, this was more than a message, and the table was more than a sermon illustration. It was the pattern and practice of His life.

Customer focus groups showed its symbolism was a barrier to newcomers, and the logistics of serving ten thousand or more attendees each weekend proved too cumbersome. Ironically, for attendees of some churches, the central component of Jesus’ ministry is now seen as an impediment to theirs.

When Christians no longer form these bonds around the bread and cup, which represent Jesus’ sacrifice, we shouldn’t be surprised when something else takes its place. According to Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of theology and culture, the coffee bar has replaced the Communion table in many churches, with unintended consequences.

As Metzger recognizes, “Both the coffee bar and Lord’s Table affirm community, but the kind of community they affirm differs significantly”

At the Lord’s Table, we are guests; we are each invited and welcomed by Christ. We do not choose who we share the meal with. We do not place an order. We do not customize our beverage. Instead, we all receive the same bread and drink from the same cup. At the Lord’s Table, we are all humble recipients of the same unmerited grace.

At the coffee bar, by contrast, we are in control. We review our options. We order what we want, when we want, and how we want. We decide whom to share a table with, and whom to avoid. The coffee bar is not designed to form us into Christians, but into consumers

The researchers called it the “Homogeneous Unit Principle.” What they intended as an observation, however, was made into a prescription for church growth by ambitious pastors. Ministry professionals took the data and said if you want your church to grow, avoid diversity. Of course, it was rarely presented that negatively.

There is no doubt the Homogeneous Unit Principle works, but a more important question rarely gets asked—is it right? Does it fit with the church we find in the New Testament?

But that’s not the church Jesus wanted. Instead, He called Jews and Gentiles to share one faith, one church, and one table. As a committed Jew, the apostle Peter struggled repeatedly with seeing Gentiles as his equals.

Like us, Peter wanted a comfortable church filled with the people he preferred. He wanted the Communion table to be occupied by people who shared his identity and his views.

Parker Palmer wrote: In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives

In the ancient world, remembrance was not merely the mental recollection of past events. Rather, it meant recalling a past event so that the power of that event may enter the present. For Jesus and His disciples, the redemptive work of God was not something to reminisce about. It was not just a story to be mentally recalled. The redemption of God, and His power to deliver His people, was continuing right into the present.

The meal was not just about remembering what God had done in the past—Jesus was inviting that saving power into the present.

The table was to be more than an edible history lesson.

The table is a time machine through which God’s saving power from the past is transported into the present.

What if it’s about experiencing His redemption today? What if, in remembering, we bring the salvation from the past into the present?

These words reveal that Jesus was not just focused on God’s past faithfulness or even His present work of redemption through the cross. He was also looking to the future—the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

When we come to the table as Jesus did, we will discover it is where the past, present, and future converge into a single point of grace.

Rather than the open-armed Jesus of the Gospels who welcomed sinners to His dinner table, too many of us imagine Jesus to be an intimidating maître d’ ensuring only the right people get a seat and the unworthy are judged for even trying.

Paul’s primary concern with the Lord’s Table was unity, not purity. Rather than gathering at the table as a sign of their oneness in Christ, the Corinthians were using the table to reinforce social divisions—particularly the divide in their culture between rich and poor.

This is why Paul was so upset. Through their disunity, they were betraying the meaning of the meal. They were mocking the sacrifice of Christ, which had made them one family.

Are we coming as one people united in Christ or as those still divided by the categories of our society? And while self-examination is always beneficial, here Paul is asking us to examine whether we are estranged from a sister or brother, and to heal that division before coming to the table.

To use his words, communities that make the table about me rather than about us are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

To share the same table, partake of the same bread, and drink from the same cup is a bold declaration of our equality before God. The Lord’s Table, when faithfully and biblically practiced, shatters the heresy of white supremacy.

And churches that are determined to maintain or ignore the unjust systems of the world must still contend with the revolutionary implications of the Lord’s Table.

As a result, sharing the bread and cup became a way for Christians to express gratitude for their redemption from darkness, as well as a way to celebrate their Lord’s triumph over the world. That’s why early Christians didn’t merely “take Communion.” Instead, they “celebrated the Eucharist.”

The Pharisees saw a rabbi defiling Himself among sinners who were the enemies of God, but with His response, Jesus was trying to open their eyes to see something more. Not a rabbi among sinners, but a doctor healing the sick. Somehow, by simply sharing a table with Matthew and his ungodly friends, Jesus was bringing healing.

Our acceptability is always conditional, and every human soul carries the wounds of rejection from not meeting someone’s standard.

Rejection always leaves a wound—not a visible one, but a cut in our souls whose scar we may carry for the remainder of our lives. It’s at Christ’s table, as we gather to remember His wounds, that we discover ours are welcomed as well.

Sometimes the bread and cup may become so important to a community that they may become idols. The table itself can become an object of worship replacing the One who calls us to it.

As a result, some modern descendants of these traditions have defined the table as an important ordinance of the church, but not a sacrament of God’s grace and presence. Others, however, have gone much further and marginalized the table or abandoned it altogether.

We crave a visible, sensory encounter with God and if the table no longer fulfills this function in the church, we will find something else.

The awe and reverence some churches exhibit toward the bread and cup are instead projected upon the pastor to the point that in some congregations the line between worshiping Christ and worshiping the pastor becomes blurred.

When people view their pastor sacramentally—as their link to Christ and His grace—very often their faith in God Himself is shattered when the pastor is revealed to be a fraud or even just a fallible human being.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT from a church service? What have you been taught to expect? I often hear church leaders make bold promises about what will happen during their gatherings on Sunday morning.

But there is a significant difference between acknowledging these things could happen and promising they will happen. The former is a humble recognition of God’s power and mystery. The latter is a prideful and downright pagan attempt to control God for our purposes.

I wonder if the promises of some church leaders and our inflated expectations are partly responsible for the disappointment so many have with the church today.

Both church leaders and laity have come to believe these external experiences are the primary vehicle for encountering God and growing in faith.

Rather than emphasize external elements, like mountains, Jesus said true worship is an inner posture of Spirit and truth.

The transformation Moses experienced, while real, was only temporary.

It is an ever-increasing change, and this power is not conducted through a sermon, or song, or service. It comes from the Spirit. In other words, for those who belong to the new covenant in Christ, God and His transforming glory are no longer found through external events, but through internal communion.

This truth should profoundly change our expectations for our church gatherings. It means we don’t find communion with God by attending a worship event. Instead, we express our communion with God by attending a worship event.

We live in an age of Christian pragmatism. The influence of business and industry has seeped into the church and convinced many that the church ought to adopt the methods and metrics of the marketplace. Likewise, in many places, the Sunday worship gathering is designed with customer feedback in mind. How many came? Did they like the music? Was the sermon helpful enough? How much did they give? Of course, it’s not just church leaders who are constrained by pragmatism. Many church members approach worship with a similar calculation. Did I receive enough from the church to justify giving up my Sunday morning?

Alec Guinness had it right—if we’ve encountered the holy, mysterious, and infinitely loving God then there will be things about our communion with Him that defy usefulness and that are utterly nonsensical. This is true of love even on a human level.

And if our primary goal for Sunday worship is self-improvement or institutional growth, then we should admit we aren’t really there to worship God at all, but to use Him. And if our worship is always driven by pragmatism, let’s confess that it isn’t really worship. It is witchcraft.

Increasingly, I’m hearing Christians question the value of their church’s Sunday gathering, and the move to online streaming services during the pandemic only accelerated the discontent. I wonder if earlier generations were equally frustrated with church gatherings but carried a greater sense of duty to persevere.

Regardless of the cause, if we are serious about our faith but struggling with attending church, then at some point we must wrestle with what Scripture says about it.

number of reasons for gathering—to offer our worship to God, to learn sound doctrine from our teachers, to be equipped for our mission as Christ’s disciples. But he lists none of these. Instead, the author of Hebrews offers a more basic, human, and pastoral reason. We are to meet regularly to encourage “one another.”

The kind of faith-building encouragement commanded in Hebrews, however, is personal, relational, and reciprocal. It’s not accomplished by passively sitting in a theater seat watching a performance.

He promises to be with us, just as we are with each other. This means we may encounter Him just as easily, and maybe more so, in a small gathering than in a large one.

It’s important to see that Jesus did not condemn John for doubting.

Rather than condemning John’s doubts, Jesus responded by encouraging his faith. He said to John’s friends, “Go and tell John what you have seen” (see Luke 7:18–23). Jesus knew that in Herod’s dungeon John’s vision was severely limited. He saw only darkness, evil, and injustice.

Sometimes our circumstances make us blind to God and we become vulnerable to doubts and fears. In such times we need our friends, we need our community, we need the church.

That is what it means for the church to gather and encourage one another.

On any given Sunday, those of us with vision are to become the eyes of those who are blind, knowing the next week we may be in the dungeon needing to borrow the eyes of our brother on the mountaintop.

MANY HAVE COME TO SEE the church primarily as an event rather than as a community. It is something they attend rather than something they are

What all of these experiences share in common is the general passivity of the audience. They gather to be entertained, informed, or amused by the performers on the stage or the field.

Sally Morganthaler writes: We are not producing worshipers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave

Remember, Jesus did not say where two or three are gathered I will stand before them. He said, “I will be in the midst of them.” The presence of God is revealed in the relationships between His people, not on a stage in front of them.

What we find in the New Testament, however, is that anyone can preach. For example, Jesus sent His disciples out into the villages of Judea to “preach” the kingdom of God when they were still confused about the most basic facts.

In most of our churches, these men wouldn’t be allowed near a Sunday school class let alone a pulpit. So why did Jesus command them to “preach the kingdom”

The problem is that we confuse teaching with preaching. Teaching requires proficiency with a set of knowledge; it requires comprehension. Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to “teach” until after His resurrection when they finally understood his identity and mission. Preaching, on the other hand, simply means “to proclaim” or “to announce.” Preaching requires one to have experienced what is being proclaimed, but it doesn’t mean you completely understand it.

Far too many of God’s people neglect this calling because we have incorrectly made it the domain of trained experts, and this has profoundly warped our church gatherings into a time when nearly everyone is silent and only one person—the one possessing the most knowledge—is permitted to speak.

But when only one person is expected to arrive to the gathering with something to share, what are we communicating about the value of everyone else?

Jesus was raised to life on a Sunday because His resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. Easter was the start of God “making all things new” in Christ.

We worship on Sunday not merely to acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. We worship on Sunday not simply to celebrate our own redemption and access to eternal life through the cross and empty tomb. We worship on Sunday because through Christ we have become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and we have become a people of the new creation.

Like the creation account in Genesis, which began but did not end on the first Sunday, God’s re-creation began on Easter Sunday and continues to unfold even now.

Sunday is about creation and new creation, and it captures the essence of God’s mission, and ours, to make all things new.

At its core, Sabbath is about freedom from bondage, not merely rest from activity. Once we see the link between Sabbath and slavery, Jesus’ controversial actions on the Sabbath also begin to make sense.

The religious elites were narrowly focused on the command to not work, but Jesus was focused on the reason for not working.

He understood that the Sabbath itself was a sign of freedom from bondage, and there was no real Sabbath rest for those still enslaved by disease. By healing, Jesus was fulfilling the meaning of the Sabbath, not violating it.

Therefore, Christians have commemorated the world’s freedom and our deliverance on Sunday—the day our slavery was ended. And the way we now practice Sabbath isn’t merely resting from work one day a week.

For the Christian, the Sabbath isn’t just a day of rest or worship; it’s a day for mission and justice.

Some churches, however, operate more like ground control by utilizing Sunday to recruit more people to do more work. The work is too important, church leaders say, and time is too limited. There’s no time for rest. There’s no time in our church service for silence. We can’t slow down to reflect or meditate—we have things to accomplish in these seventy-five minutes together. Goodness, in many of our churches there isn’t even time for prayer or Communion anymore. Rather than lifting our eyes to the horizon, some church gatherings are designed to keep our noses to the grindstone.

But we are not machines, and God has not redeemed us merely to put us to work.

In other words, Israel’s God did not need us. He does not need your service, offerings, praise, prayers, or your Sunday morning.

Because of our consumer mindset, we assume that worship must have a concrete outcome; some practical purpose that measurably benefits either us or God. In this formulation—which is the hallmark of paganism—worship is a means to an end; it is a transaction in which we offer to the deity what he needs (praise, prayers, sacrifices) and in response, we expect to receive what we need (blessing, protection, wealth, etc.).

That being said, his tweet perfectly captures a transactional understanding of worship. He offered God his praise 24/7, and in exchange he expected divine help catching footballs. Steve Johnson had kept his end of the deal but felt God had failed to uphold his. This is not Christianity. It is paganism. And it is not biblical worship. It’s an attempt to control God with offerings, sacrifices, and incantations.

Properly understood, true Christian worship is never transactional. God delights in our praises, but He does not need them.

What His disciples saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What they interpreted as selfish, Jesus received as worship. The woman had poured out her most precious possession at Jesus’ feet to honor Him. He understood her intent and therefore did not interpret her actions through a lens of practicality.

Real love sees the intrinsic value of that which it adores rather than its transactional value.

She saw Jesus’ intrinsic value, and He affirmed her for it. This is what we, like the first disciples, often miss about worship.

Unlike religions fueled by superstition or fear, true Christian faith does not worship God with a practical goal in mind. It is not transactional. It is not useful. Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.

Our consumer society has formed us to associate value with usefulness, and when something is no longer useful we do not hesitate to throw it away and acquire something else.

That’s why the church’s worship gatherings should be full of beauty, art, and all sorts of impractical things. They serve to counteract the utilitarian impulse of our culture and remind us that the most important things in the world—God and people—do not exist to be used but to be adored.

If the church’s worship communicates, directly or indirectly, that the Creator exists to be used, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an indifference among Christians toward people we have determined aren’t useful either.

We do that by learning to value what is not useful. We do that by cultivating beauty in our worship. Beauty is the prelude for justice, and justice is true worship.

Pragmatism had infected their worship just as injustice had infected the land. The two always go together. That is why God tells His people to honor the poor, set free the oppressed, and show dignity to those the world calls useless, and “then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (Isa. 58:9).

The church’s impractical worship not only reveals God’s character to us and teaches us to value Him and others apart from their usefulness, but our worship also confronts the sinfulness of our world.

Worship, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness.

We are creating an oasis of beauty amid the dehumanizing ugliness of our world.

If we recall the strict structures of worship commanded in the Old Testament, David’s words appear shocking and even blasphemous—especially coming from Israel’s king.

All of these very precise, liturgical, and formal structures of worship were set up by the Lord Himself through Moses and outlined in the Torah, Israel’s Law. But in Psalm 51, David, Israel’s king, dismisses this entire, God-ordained system of sacrifices and rituals—not because the system itself was wrong, but because David understood it was always intended to express a deeper reality. He says God does not delight in these external performances and symbols, because what He really desires is our hearts.

David recognized that if we do not genuinely want God, no amount of singing or sacrifices will make our worship acceptable.

In modern societies, we tend to see God as a machine, and therefore we engage worship as a program or formula. As long as we provide the right inputs (sacrifices, prayers, rituals), then we believe we will get the right outputs (forgiveness, blessings, and euphoria).

What He desires is us. True worship is the expression of a relationship, not merely the performance of a ritual.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in a church? What binds a Christian community together? What is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation upon which everything else depends?

In both letters, Paul is unambiguous—Jesus Christ Himself is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation of the church. At first, this may not strike you as surprising, but upon closer inspection, it profoundly challenges many of our modern assumptions. Here’s why—many churches today have been deeply influenced by corporate business values.

If corporations have proven strategies for selling coffee and chicken sandwiches, why shouldn’t the church use them to sell Jesus Christ? One corporate value the church has been eager to adopt is the centrality of “the mission.”

Everyone wants to be “missional,” “mission-centric,” or “mission-driven” these days.

What is not ambiguous, however, is that what binds the true church together is not a task but a person

When the church copies their values, we can’t help but make our mission foundational as well, and in a subtle twist of idolatry, the work of Jesus comes to replace the person of Jesus in our lives and in our churches. In the process, we cease to be a true temple of God and instead become just another organization with a product to sell.

With this dire warning, Paul is speaking directly to those who are provoking divisions and factions among the Corinthian believers. Through their actions, they are scheming to dismantle the temple of God; to divide and destroy it. And those who destroy God’s temple, God will destroy. It’s the strongest warning Paul unleashes on the Corinthians anywhere in his letter.

Unity is essential to the mission of God in the world. When the world sees formerly divided people who used to be filled with hatred, envy, anger, and rage, transformed and united into a people of love, goodness, and kindness—they will believe. When the world sees people once divided by race, color, class, and tradition, now embracing one another as brothers and sisters—they will believe. But if church unity is lost, if the temple of God is divided, His mission will not be accomplished.

Therefore, those within the church who are causing divisions are actually working to undermine the very mission and purpose of God.

Simply put, the church is supposed to preview the new world God is creating, not preserve the one that is passing away.

Sadly, the church has often abandoned its calling to reflect God’s kingdom in order to reflect the kingdoms of this world. In doing so, it worsens and solidifies the divisions of society rather than heals them.

There may be churches today that are deliberately rejecting the call to reflect God’s kingdom and consciously bowing to the values of consumerism, nationalism, or some other idolatrous kingdom of this world. But I suspect the more common error today is the same one made by the Corinthians. We simply don’t slow down to examine our cultural values and habits and ask whether they are reinforcing the divisions of our society or healing them.

The problem is not that we hear God’s call for the church and disobey it, but rather that we are so immersed in the ways of our culture that we do not hear His call at all.

Society where the categories of rich/poor, male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile, black/white, young/old, native/immigrant, liberal/conservative, and every other social division or hostility are mended. And any church designed—intentionally or not—to reinforce the divisions of society rather than heal them has betrayed the call of Christ.

IN OUR INCREASINGLY DIVIDED CULTURE, there is one thing that Americans still share in common—we all like to be comfortable. Our uncontested desire for comfort, however, has a dark side. Too much comfort is not only harmful, it can be downright dangerous.

For decades, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable setting for both Christians and non-Christians to gather and hear Jesus’ message. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders to the spoon-fed, three-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes—the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the autopilot.

Require discomfort—the very thing many churches work hard to remove from their gatherings.

System two must be turned on, and the autopilot of system one turned off, in order to learn. The brain shifts gears from system one to system two when it is forced to work—when we are challenged, stretched, and made uncomfortable.

I’m certainly not opposed to clear sermons or a safe Sunday morning environment, but our current cultural obsession with comfort in the church may have unintended side effects that disrupt our mission rather than advance it. If our goal is simply assembling a crowd or increasing the membership of our institution, then comfort should be our highest value. But if our mission is to make disciples of Jesus who obey all that He commanded, then we need to rethink our dedication to comfort.

I’ve spoken with countless pastors who believe in the mission of “disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.” But it always provokes in me the same question: What is a disciple?

The goal of most MLMs isn’t merely to sell the products but to recruit more people under you to sell the products and receive a percentage of their revenues.

Some have identified this verse as Jesus’ marching orders for His church, and it’s often cited by church leaders as the biblical and theological justification for their goal of “making disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.” The problem occurs when a church or ministry can’t actually define what a disciple is. At best they may define a disciple as someone who is plugged into the machinery of the ministry itself and therefore participating in its mission of making more disciples. But this is hardly a satisfying answer.

Are there broken things in this world over which the Creator does not grieve? When we say certain things “break God’s heart” we’re implying there is also a category of things beyond His concern.

And yet, that is how many churches function. We assume that God cares about redeeming souls but not bodies.

When the church narrowly defines “what breaks God’s heart,” it ends up producing narrow disciples who do not recognize the reign of Christ over every part of their lives and every atom of creation.

THE APOSTLE PAUL SAYS Jesus “emptied himself” when He took on flesh to dwell among us (Phil. 2:7). This means He willingly surrendered some of His divine powers and qualities, like omnipresence, in order to possess a physical body.

Technology, however, gives us the illusion of disembodiment and omnipresence. It allows us to escape the physical limitations of our bodies to transport ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks to the seemingly omnipotent corporations in Silicon Valley, I am no longer limited by time and space. I can transcend my body, my thoughts, and the irritating people in my physical presence. Our phones have become genies that grant us godlike powers, but what are we losing in the process?

The analog church of the past was slow. The gathering of actual bodies was messy and inefficient. The word was transmitted person to person, face to face. And care for souls required shepherds to be physically present with their sheep to listen, comfort, and pray. How old-fashioned.

The church can mass-produce disciples via YouTube, and tweets, and livestream its sermons to anonymous sheep anywhere in the world at any time. Dis-incarnate church is so much cleaner, more cost-effective, and massively more marketable.

Standing with that broken couple, I realized evil makes no distinction between us and our bodies, and neither can the church’s mission to overcome it. Jesus became fully human to redeem every part of us—mind, soul, and body. Any church that claims His name must do the same. Participating in the work of Jesus means accepting, and even embracing, our embodied limitations. It means assembling as physical creatures to care for one another as whole people, and not just as immaterial souls or online avatars.

effectiveness at the cost of our embodiedness. Christ’s mission for the church does not require us to be everywhere, do everything, and engage everyone. Instead, the mission happens when we are fully present with the broken people right where we are.

IN ORDER TO MEANINGFULLY PARTICIPATE in the church’s mission, many Christians assume they are required to dramatically change their circumstances. For example, for those who say the church’s mission is to “make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples,” the best, most devoted disciples of Jesus must be those who give their full energy to this work.

If His goal encompasses all things, then fully participating in Christ’s mission does not require us to change our circumstances.

Paul’s reluctance to remove believers from their existing relationships, vocations, and circumstances reveals how skewed our modern vision of the church, ministry, and mission has become. We assume fulfilling Christ’s call means telling people to abandon their ordinary lives and activities to do more in the church, and we often define disciples as those who forsake earthly things to focus on heavenly things. But that’s exactly backward. For Christ to rule over all things means welcoming the presence of heaven into the earthly things we are already doing.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean becoming a Jewish rabbi. It doesn’t mean becoming an itinerant preacher. It doesn’t mean becoming a first-century carpenter. And it certainly doesn’t mean doing more church work. Being a disciple who participates in God’s mission means living your life, doing your work, engaging your relationships, and inhabiting your community with Christ and in a manner that manifests His rule right where you are.

By leaving his fishing business and following Jesus, Peter was declaring, “From now on I am linking my identity with rabbi Jesus. From now on, what the world thinks of Him is what they’ll think of me.”

If my Master takes the lowest, most shameful position in society, Peter must have thought, what does that say about me? At that moment Jesus wasn’t just humiliating Himself, He was humiliating Peter. He was deconstructing Peter’s pride, destroying his honor, and exposing Peterʼs unholy ambition.

Applying John 13 isn’t about church leaders accepting menial tasks, but about church leaders accepting ridicule and embarrassment, about not being respected in society, and not needing the affirmation of their peers. It’s having their ambitions exposed and extinguished.

By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was not showing us a more effective way to lead others. He was showing us what it really means to die to ourselves.

Jesus affirmed godly authority, even as He denounced corrupt religious leaders. Likewise, throughout his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul repeatedly calls on believers to honor their leaders.

The ancient Near East was an honor-based society where respect and deference to elders and leaders was largely unquestioned. In his command to honor leaders, Paul was simply asking Christians to do what their culture already affirmed.

We’ve seen so many hurt by their leadership and burdened by the dehumanizing systems they’ve overseen, often for personal gain. As a result, rather than affirming or honoring those who seek authority in the church, my instinct is to question their motives for wanting it in the first place.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Paul to draw from his Jewish heritage and reapply the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12), to the new family of God redeemed by Christ. Within the household of faith, we are to honor our leaders as our spiritual mothers and fathers.

Both our physical and spiritual lives are dependent on others.

The fifth commandment to honor our parents, and the instruction to honor church leaders, reminds us of our frailty and contingency—that we cannot obtain the most valuable things in the world without the help of others. These commands confront and unmake our illusion of autonomy and independence.

I desperately need others to lead me closer to Christ. The call to honor church leaders, therefore, isn’t about inflating their pride, but diminishing my own.

I’ve visited some churches where I’ve wondered who is really the object of devotion—Jesus Christ or the pastor?

Ever since Mount Sinai, it has been the tendency of God’s people to replace our invisible Lord with a visible idol. Today, we are not tempted to worship a golden calf, but a pastor with a golden tongue. Some Christians simply cannot imagine their faith without their favorite leaders standing in the gap between themselves and Christ.

With sad predictability, we hear reports of pastors tumbling from their pedestals. These stories are often accompanied by quotes from stunned church members naively unaware of how the pedestals they constructed contributed to their pastor’s inevitable fall.

To be fair, not every pastor who falls slipped off their pedestals; some are pushed. If we have foolishly relied on them as our primary connection with God, then when our leaders disappoint us, and they all will, we are more likely to turn on them just as the crowd in Lystra turned on Paul and Barnabas.

Too many of us grant a leader authority in our lives and over our faith based on popularity alone, rather than through the personal knowledge gained by living in proximity with a leader where true character can be observed.

It’s personal knowledge of the other’s character that establishes the trust necessary for a healthy relationship. This is what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that false teachers would be known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15–

When authority cannot be granted on the basis of proximity, however, our celebrity-obsessed culture will grant it on the basis of popularity alone. In these cases, we do not allow a leader authority based on a track record of faithfulness—because we don’t actually know the person—but, instead, authority is granted based on the magnitude of the person’s platform.

Our obsession with dynamic, effective celebrity pastors leads to a shallow authority based on the size of their platform rather than the gravity of their soul.

The belief that a church must have a compelling vision is now so accepted and ubiquitous in American Christianity that it’s questioned less than most matters of doctrine or theology.

Contemporary church leaders have interpreted this verse to mean that a community must have a shared sense of purpose, a common goal to draw people and align them.

Our culture uses the word vision to mean an inspiring idea employed by a leader to motivate others to action. However, you won’t find that definition of vision in the Bible. Better translations of Proverbs 29:18, for example, use the word revelation or the phrase prophetic vision

Instead, when the writers of the Bible spoke about visions, they meant a supernatural form of communication received by a prophet or apostle in a dream.

With this understanding, we can see that Proverbs 29:18 isn’t saying anything about effective leadership or goals at all. Instead, the verse is reminding us that without God’s words and self-revelation His people would perish.

Simply put, vision is about God revealing Himself to His people, it’s not about a leader motivating people to accomplish a goal.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who opposed the Nazis, recognized the danger of adopting the world’s understanding of vision. He wrote: God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. … He acts as if he is the creator of Christian community, as if his dream binds men together

Rather than a leader and his vision, the church is to be bound together by Christ. He alone is what unites the church, and any leader seeking to replace Christ with themselves or their vision is not serving the church. They are hijacking it.

Simply put, the whole point of Jesus’ mission—His birth, life, death, and resurrection—was so He could rule over everything. Grasping the cosmic scale of Jesus’ mission is critical if we are to understand what Paul says about the gifts He has given to the church.

We define ministry as church work, and therefore we assume that Jesus has given leaders to the church in order to equip others to serve within the church as well. But that is not what Paul meant.

Paul’s concern is much, much wider. He’s asking, How does Jesus expand His rule over everything? His answer: By giving the church leaders, filled with His power, to equip His people to love and serve Him everywhere. Not just inside a church building.

Ultimately it’s not about how many people attend to hear a sermon on Sunday, or even how many volunteers are engaged in the church’s programs. Instead, it’s about whether people are deepening their life with God and manifesting Christ’s kingdom everywhere they go Monday through Saturday.

Rather than empowering people to manifest God’s reign in the world, too many churches seek to use people to advance the goals of the institutional church.

Success is assumed when a person is plugged into the apparatus of the church institution rather than released to serve God’s people and their neighbors out in the world.

Packard interviewed hundreds of Christians who’ve given up on institutional churches. Remarkably, he discovered those most likely to leave the church were also the most spiritually mature and often had years of deep church involvement.

If those at the center are consistently burned out, exhausted, anxious, bitter, and unable to keep their core relationships healthy—be careful. Remember, the reason vampires want to suck the life out of you is because it’s already been sucked out of them.

I suspect that in many places we have created very fragile churches, and we know—although rarely admit—that even a small challenge could destroy them.

The inherent fragility of our churches, ministries, and schools helps explain, at least in part, why so many Christians carry so much anxiety today, and why we’re conditioned to see a threat behind every cultural or political change.

And when the church faced genuine persecution, as it did in Jerusalem following the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, rather than extinguishing its mission, the church only grew stronger and its mission only advanced faster. And even today, we see that where the church is growing most in the world is often where it is most challenged. The church of Jesus is without question the most anti-fragile system in world history.

Why do we build ministries that rely upon a single fallible leader, one dynamic speaker, or that require massive and unsustainable amounts of money? Our devotion to fragile systems means that as the pace of cultural, political, and technological change increases, so will the spirit of fear among Christians.

Related Images:

Whenever You Fast – Isaiah 58:1-8

Matthew 6:16-18 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face

18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

We have come to the section in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus decides to talk about fasting. At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus says, “But WHEN you give alms…” (Matthew 6:3). Sounds like he is expecting his people to be givers. He didn’t use the word, IF you give. Then he moves to prayer and says, “And WHEN you pray…” (Matthew 6:5, 7). We can all agree that Jesus expects his people to pray, since he also did not use the word IF. Then Jesus moves to the topic of fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. In good Jesus form, he again uses the word “WHEN you fast…” (Matthew 6:17 – WHENEVER is used in Matthew 6:16).

The first place we need to stop is to ask the question, “What in the world is fasting and why is Jesus talking about it?”

Usually, fasting is the abstaining from food for a certain period of time. There are different types of fasting in the Bible, however, and not all of them involve food. Many people in the Bible fasted, including Moses, David, and Daniel in the Old Testament and Anna, Paul, and Jesus in the New Testament. Many important figures in Christian history affirmed the value of fasting, as do many Christians today.

Biblical fasting is often closely linked to repentance, as in the examples of David, the nation of Israel, and the city of Nineveh. Fasting is also related to passionate prayer, as in the examples of King Jehoshaphat and Queen Esther. Biblical fasting comes from a humble heart seeking God (Isaiah 58:3–7).

In Matthew’s context of the Sermon on the Mount, apparently Jesus noticed something in the way the religious leaders exercised their spiritual disciplines. They seemed to fast with impure motives, seeking the attention of the people around them more than the God for whom they were fasting. But, before we get too hard on the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, let’s go back about 700 years before Jesus to see what the people were doing in their fasting.

Isaiah 58:1-8 – (NLT) – “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins!

2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.

5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Did you get all that? Perhaps you already checked out because this chapter is all about fasting and you are not a fast-er, so this is all about OTHER people. But I want you to exchange the word FASTING with WORSHIP and see if any light bulbs come on for you.

These people in Isaiah’s day were playing church, they were not really committed to their God. They showed up because of tradition and habit, not because they were seeking the face of God. To put it bluntly, as we learned in the Communication Experience on April 1, these people were seeking the HAND of God rather than the FACE of God. They were chasing after what God would GIVE them rather than chasing after the God who redeemed them, and therefore, giving to God what he desires the most, a people who were sincerely and holy devoted to God for WHO he is rather than for WHAT he can do for them.

Wow, that seems harsh to say all that about God’s chosen people some 2700 years ago. But maybe, just maybe, we feel it is harsh because we see OURSELVES in this indictment, and these words are making you very uncomfortable right now. When we finally “get it,” WE feel guilty because we are not as sold out to Jesus as we first believed or have come to realize.

While I am not an expert on the topic of fasting, I am quite diligent at research, so I created a booklet on Prayer and Fasting, and updated it for this occasion.

I am also going to share with you a few things that I discovered while reading a book on fasting by Elmer Towns (pastor, writer, educator, and co-founder and past vice president of Liberty University in 1971).

THE FASTS GOD CHOOSES:

From the beginning people have sought after God. They wrongly built the Tower of Babel to reach Him (Genesis 11:1-9). They rebelliously carved images to please God. They arrogantly conceived and lived by legalistic laws to impress God. They constructed monasteries and isolated themselves to please God. They even fasted wrongly in an attempt to divert His attention from other things they should have been doing but were neglecting.

Religious practices such as fasting have always been less important than actually doing God’s will. Micah 6:8 tells us what the Lord truly requires of us: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Fasting is not an end in itself; it is means by which we can worship the Lord and submit ourselves in humility to Him. We don’t make God love us any more than He already does if we fast, or if we fast longer. Even if we wanted to, we could not manipulate God. We fast and pray for results, but the results are in God’s hands.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR FASTING:

I already read a well-known and often quoted passage on fasting (in Isaiah 58), which gives a veritable laundry list of warnings as well as positive results that can occur when we submit ourselves to the discipline of fasting.

It is very important to learn from this passage the kinds of fasts that do NOT please God as well as those fasts He wants. God’s people in Isaiah’s day had been fasting, but without results. The reason, God says, is that they ignored the way fasting should change their lives, treating it as an empty ritual:

3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. (Isaiah 58:3-4, NLT).

Like so many Christians today, God’s people considered worship to be merely a private and inward act. All of the focus on fasting was on the personal dimension. Listen to God’s rebuke:

5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? (Isaiah 58:5, NLT).

The purpose of all worship, including fasting, is to change the WORSHIPER in ways that have social and interpersonal impact. We worship not just to please ourselves, but also to become empowered by God to change ourselves and the world! God goes on to specify the kind of fast He DOES want:

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 58:6-8).

God wanted the people to continue fasting, but to extend the result of their fasting through their actions in everyday life.

I discovered in Isaiah 58, a model for the FRUIT that God expects to see from genuine faith and devotion and fasting. Rightly used, fasting can help us present God with those fruits.

Therefore, as I learned from Elmer Towns, Isaiah 58 presents NINE kinds of fasting Christians should rediscover today–not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of other people.

NINE FASTS GOD CAN USE:

To better illustrate and reveal the significance of these nine reasons for fasting, Towns shares (and I want to pass on to you) nine biblical characters whose lives personified the literal or figurative theme of each of the nine aspects highlighted in Isaiah 58:6-8. Each fast has a different name, accomplishes a different purpose, and follows a different prescription.

1. The Disciple’s Fast

Purpose: “To loose the bonds of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – freeing ourselves and others from addictions to sin.

Key Verse: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21, NASB).

Background: Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus cast out a demon out of a boy whom the disciples had failed to help. Apparently, they had not taken seriously enough the way Satan had his claws set in this young man. The implication is that Jesus’ disciples COULD have performed this exorcism had they been willing to undergo the discipline of fasting. Modern disciples also often make light of “entangling or ensnaring sins” (Hebrews 12:1) that could be cast out if we were serious enough to take part in such a self-denying practice as fasting, so, the term used here is “The Disciple’s Fast.”

2. The Ezra Fast

Purpose: To “Undo the bands of the yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – to solve problems, inviting the Holy Spirit’s help in lifting burdens and overcoming barriers that keep ourselves and our loved ones from walking faithfully with the Lord.

Key Verse: “So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:23).

Background: Ezra the priest was charged with restoring the Law of Moses among the Jews as they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem by the permission of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, where God’s people had been held captive. Despite this permission, Israel’s enemies opposed them. Burdened with embarrassment about having to ask the Persian king for an army to protect them, Ezra fasted and prayed for an answer.

I have discovered three causes of problems that might need an Ezra Fast:

(1) Change causes problems – the early church had to change their strategy and sent out missionaries, so after they fasted and prayed, they appointed Paul and Barnabas to the work (Acts (13:2-3)

(2) Differences cause problems – people are different ethnically, doctrinally, politically, socially… Ezra gathered the people at the river to show them the threatening wilderness; then they could have a united front to work on the problem.

(3) Circumstances cause problems – whether these situations are personal, family, marriage, small group, community, or church problems that arise out of circumstances.

3. The Samuel Fast

Purpose: “To let the oppressed (physically and spiritually) go free'” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – this is about revival and reaching a lost world, to identify with people everywhere who are enslaved literally or enslaved by sin, and to pray to be used of God to bring people out of the kingdom of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

Key Verse: “They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” (1 Samuel 7:6).

Background: Samuel led God’s people in a fast to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant from its captivity by the Philistines, and to pray that Israel might be delivered from the sin that allowed the Ark to be captured in the first place.

This is a formal fast that has necessary steps to carry it out:

(1) Call the body together – Samuel had to gather the people from 12 tribes, who were are divided on many topics (spiritual, internal, political, military, social)

(2) Demonstrate true repentance – Samuel used the word IF in 1 Samuel 7:3, “IF you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods … from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

(3) Separate from secret sin – this is more than being convicted of sin while you’re here at church but being convicted that the sin you’re doing is really wrong, that it goes against God’s Word, and that you repent of it.

(4) Have a corporate confession of sin – the people in Samuel’s day cried out, “WE have sinned against the Lord.” They didn’t cast blame onto someone else.

(5) Acknowledge the power of God’s Word – earlier 1 Samuel 3:1, we are told that the Word of the Lord was rare (or precious) in those days. Last weekend at the presentation of the play about Jonah, we were reminded of that 1-line message from God (40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown). The power of God’s Word would bring the entire wicked city to repentance.  

4. The Elijah Fast

Purpose: “To break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – conquering the mental and emotional problems that would control our lives, and retuning the control to the Lord.

Key Verse: “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He arose and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights” (1 Kings 19:4,8).

Background: Although Scripture does not call this a formal “fast,” Elijah deliberately went without food when he fled from Queen Jezebel’s threat to kill him. After this self-imposed deprivation, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah in the wilderness.

In Elijah’s case, his mental health was in crisis, so maybe this fast is for those needing to break negative attitudes and bad emotional habits. We know that Don is skilled at dealing with the emotional and mental health of people, but we all can read about Elijah and notice his fear and depression.

Although Elijah had a tremendous victory over the prophets of Ba’al, he was exhausted ran for his life when Jezebel said he was going to be a dead man. Perhaps he had some insecurities and chose to run away.

Noah preached against the drunkenness of a whole generation yet his own children were judged and cursed because of his drunkenness. Abraham trusted God by faith, yet lied about his own wife. Moses was the most humble man on earth yet was not allowed to enter the promised land. Peter experiences the Last Supper and within 24-hours, he denies he even knows the Lord.

I guess the moral to this story is, be careful after a spiritual victory, because the enemy will come at you without remorse. As Paul tells us, “If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

5. The Widow’s Fast

Purpose: “To divide your bread with the hungry” and to care for the poor (Isaiah 58:7, NASB) – to meet the humanitarian needs of others.

Key Verse: “The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.” (1 Kings 17:16, NLT).

Background: God sent the prophet Elijah to a poor, starving widow–ironically, so the widow could provide food for Elijah. Just as Elijah’s presence resulted in food for the widow of Zarephath, so presenting ourselves before God in prayer and fasting can relieve hunger today.

This poor widow was willing to go without food to feed the prophet of God, basically, she met a humanitarian need in the life of another person. While fasting is not specifically mentioned here, the spirit of giving is consistent with that of those who deprive themselves of something for the benefit of others.

Paul experienced this with the churches in Macedonia: “that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, (2 Corinthians 8:1b-4)

Since I brought Paul into the conversation, let’s go there next…

6. The Saint Paul Fast

Purpose: To allow God’s “Light [to] break out like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB), designed to bring clearer perspective and insight as we make important decisions.

Key Verse: “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:9).

Background: Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the apostle Paul after his conversion to Christ, was blinded by the Lord while in the of persecuting Christians. He not only was without literal sight, but he also had no clue about what direction his life was about to take. After going without food and praying for three days, Paul was visited by the Christian Ananias, and both his eyesight and his vision of the future were restored.

God provides guidance through reading his Word and hearing it preached, and studying it in a group context. Here are a few Scriptures on God’s guidance:

(1) He directs through the counsel of friends (Proverbs 11:14)

(2) He sovereignly guides his people (Romans 8:28)

(3) He directs us inwardly (Acts 16:6, Romans 8:14)

(4) He directs us by opportunities (1 Corinthians 16:9)

(5) He directs when we have a yielded spirit (Romans 12:1-2)

(6) He directs through our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7)

(7) He directs through our common sense (Proverbs 16:9)

(8) He guides us through prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2-3)

The point is, when you have to make a big decision, perhaps we need to add fasting into our prayer life.

7. The Daniel Fast

Purpose: So “your recovery will speedily spring forth” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB) – to gain a healthier life or for healing.

Key Verse: “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank;” (Daniel 1:8).

Background: Daniel and his three fellow Hebrew captives demonstrated in Babylonian captivity that keeping themselves from pagan foods God had guided them not to eat made them more healthful than others in the king’s court.

When we pray and fast for healing, we must always remember that it is the Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26). The Daniel Fast might be done for two reason: (1) as therapy when we are sick and need healing, and (2) as prevention to keep us from getting sick.

Preventative fasting might be abstaining from certain “bad” foods, like sugar, fatty foods, desserts, alcohol, salt, or most anything found in the center area of the grocery store.

Curative fasting can affect the fast-er or someone else, like in James 5:15, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

8. The John the Baptist Fast

Purpose: That “your righteousness will go before you'” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB) – that our testimonies and influence for Jesus will be enhanced in front of others.

Key Verse: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15, NASB).

Background: Because John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, he took the “Nazirite” vow that required him to “fast” from (or avoid) wine and strong drink. This was part of John’s purposefully adopted lifestyle that designated him as one set apart for a special mission.

The believer’s righteousness (which comes from the righteousness of Christ) or the believer’s testimony will extend far beyond physical limitations. A John the Baptist Fast enables us to ask God to reach those who do not know him. Perhaps seeing us (or the Jesus in us) they might be drawn to God. If we want this sort of influence on other people, the Holy Spirit needs to be prominent in our lives.

How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

(1) Empty sin from your life.

(2) Yield yourself to God.

(3) Ask the Spirit to be evident in your life.

(4) Have faith that God will come through.

(5) Obey God’s revealed Word.

(6) Walk consistently in the Spirit.

(7) Allow the Spirit to empower you.

It only makes sense that God wants us to influence the world toward salvation in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Pray that we can surrender, submit, and sacrifice ourselves to allow Jesus to shine through our lives.

And finally…

9. The Esther Fast

Purpose: That “the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Protecting us from the evil one) (Isaiah 58:8, NASB).

Key Verses: “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) AND “When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight;” (Esther 5:2).

Background: Queen Esther, a Jewish woman in a pagan court, risked her life to save her people from threatened destruction by Xerxes, king of Persia. Prior to appearing before the king to petition him to save the Jews, Esther, her attendants, and her cousin Mordecai all fasted to appeal to God for His protection.

We go through many dangers in this life, many are just because we are followers of Jesus. There are places all around the world where it is illegal to preach the gospel or even have a Bible. When Satan attacks, perhaps the Esther Fast is in order.

This fast is not designed to exorcise demons or break a bondage of sin, although it could be used as a protection against demonic forces.

This fast is not for daily protection from the temptations of life. The protection here is similar to the protection God provided as the children of Israel fled Egypt (the armies of Egypt chasing after them) and wandered through the desert for 40 years. Peter reminds us that the devil is out to get us (1 Peter 5:8 – the roaring lion).

Something to remember in this Esther story:

(1) Fasting did not change the decree (so your fasting may not produce any magical wonders).

(2) Fasting did not make the king call the queen into his presence.

(3) Fasting did not guarantee her life would be spared.

(4) Fasting did not solve the crisis.

But we know the end of this story, the Jews were saved from extermination.

SO, PRAYER AND FASTING, AND A GUIDE TO HELP YOU:

I mentioned this guide earlier. In this guide you will find various articles about fasting and other teaching on the topic. It is to be a resource for you in case you want to experiment in the spiritual discipline of fasting. By the time you get to page nine, perhaps you will be ready to commit to this spiritual exercise for any of the nine reasons and types of fasts that I mentioned today.

  • What are you being asked to do?
  • What is the conditional nature of prayer?
  • What promises can you embrace?
  • What are the conditions to answered prayer?
  • What is prevailing prayer?
  • What is a plan to begin or grow your prayer time?
  • What can we pray over? Included is a list of specific things for which we can pray.
  • What are some good prayer Scriptures?
  • What are the seven steps to fasting?

As we conclude here, what is God impressing upon you? What changes need to be made in your life? Or will you just check worship attendance of your list and not even remember what was talked about today?

Let’s pray…

Lord God, we are your children, those who have chosen to walk on the path of discipleship and spiritual maturity. Forgive us of our complacency and apathy in our spiritual lives, May we NOT be those people of whom Isaiah writes in chapter 58. Don’t allow us to play games in your church. May we continue working toward living the Great Commandment and fulfilling the Great Commission. Convict us of sin. Mend our broken relationships. Listen as we cry out to you. May we fulfill the vows we have made to you and recommit ourselves into your service. As we stand and sing these words, Lord Jesus, have thine own way Lord. Amen.

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Leaders Who Are PROVEN

Leaders Who Are PROVEN

There is talk all the time about leadership. Leadership in the government (having just come out of an election year), leadership on the football team (listening to commentators talking about various players each Saturday), leadership in the home (that whole marriage roles conversation), even leadership in the church (like the role and function of a pastor, the staff, deacons, and teachers). Leadership is not necessarily all about control and authority, because leadership expert Dr. John Maxwell says that leadership is influence. When you have influence over a person, group, a company, or a church, you are a leader.

It’s about influence that moves people to do things that they likely could not have done without leadership. I suppose a glaring biblical example of the lack of leadership may be found in the Book of Judges. There are two verses that tells us that everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25, it’s even found in Deuteronomy 12:8). By the way, Proverbs offers a little commentary when it comes to people doing what is right in their own eyes… “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15) and “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).

In the Titus 1:5-11 passage we read earlier, Paul is coaching Titus on leadership. We can learn much from what we read in Scripture, if we only we take the time to read it, understand it, and seek ways to apply it. Here is how Paul describes church leaders:

Blameless (above reproach) – Their work for the church, as well as their interactions with others outside the church, are to be of such moral quality that they do not bring shame or in any way disgrace the body of Christ or the name of Jesus.

Above reproach, however, does not mean without sin. No Christian lives an entirely sinless life, nor will we until we get to heaven. Above reproach means that the leader’s life is free from sinful habits or behaviors that would hinder his setting the highest Christian standard and model for the church to imitate (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). Remember that leadership is influence.

In the same way, the leader must not give reasons for those outside the church to challenge its reputation or integrity. Being above reproach means that no one can honestly bring a charge or accusation against the Christian leader (Acts 25:7; 1 Peter 3:16).

Husband of one wife – this does not mean that a church leader must be married, or even male, but probably means the person is faithful to the vows he’s made to his wife, and not a polygamist.

Has children who believe – this does not mean that a church leader must be a father or have children walking with the Lord. How many of us have raised our kids in the church yet they today have nothing to do with the church, maybe even nothing to do with God? At some point all human being must make their own decisions about who they will serve. What I mean is that since children have soul competency before God, their rebellion and wild nature cannot disqualify a church leader from effective service to God and this church.

Paul throws in some negative qualities:

Not accused of dissipation (which is indulgence, immorality, depravity, corruption) or rebellion – basically the leader is not overbearing, quick-tempered, given to drunkenness, violence, dishonest gain.

Then on the plus side:

The leader is hospitable, he or she loves good, is self-controlled, holy, and disciplined, holding firmly to sound teaching and doctrine.

So, as we look at leadership today, leaders are to be PROVEN. I am going to share with your six qualities of PROVEN leaders…

PASSION = Passion of Jesus, his mission, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission:

Passion is not a word often used in our culture, unless it is in the romantic sense of being passionate with or about your spouse, but the word is very accurate when it comes to our connection with Jesus.

This word passion fits right in with God’s greatest commandment, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, to love our God with all of our being (heart, mind, soul, and strength). Let me share some guidance from Scripture about how to awaken that in your life:

1) Get to know God. It goes without saying that we cannot love someone we do not know, so the place to start is to get to know God and understand what He has done for you. Before the command to love God is given in Deuteronomy 6:5, the statement is made, “Hear O Israel, The LORD our God is one LORD.”

One aspect of this statement is that the God of the Bible is unique, and the better we get to know what He is like, the easier it will be for us to love Him with our whole being. This also involves getting to know what He has done for us. Again, before the first command is given in Exodus 20:3, God states what He had done for Israel in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. Likewise, in Romans 12:1-2, the command to offer our lives as living sacrifices is prefaced with the word therefore–a word meant to remind us of all of the mercies of God toward us recorded in the previous chapters.

To grow in love with God, a person needs to get to know Him. God has revealed Himself in nature (read about that in Romans 1), but so much more through His written Word. We need to make daily Bible study a personal habit—as much a part of our lives as eating food every day. It is important to remember that the Bible is more than a book; it is actually God’s love letter to us, revealing himself through the centuries, especially through the ministry of Jesus Christ, His one and only unique Son. We must read the Bible, asking His Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts about what He wants us to learn from it that day.

2) Pray like Jesus did. When we examine the life of Jesus (as well as that of Daniel and others who had a passion for God) we find that prayer was a vital ingredient in their relationships with God. You cannot imagine a man and woman growing in love without communicating, so prayer cannot be neglected without expecting your love for God to grow cold. Prayer is part of the armor we use against our greatest enemies (Ephesians 6:18). We may have a desire to love God, but we will fail in our walk with Christ without prayer (Matthew 26:41).

3) Walk closely with God NOW. Daniel and his three friends chose to obey God and refused to compromise in even the food they ate (Daniel 1). The others who were brought from Judah to Babylon as prisoners with them caved in, and are never mentioned again. When the Jewish prisoners of war had their convictions challenged in a far greater way, it was only these few who stood alone for God (Daniel 3 and 6). In order to ensure that we will be passionate for God LATER, we need to walk with Him NOW and begin to obey Him in the smallest details of life!

Peter learned this the hard way by following God “at a distance,” rather than identifying himself more closely with Christ before his temptation to deny Him (Luke 22:54). God says that where a man’s treasure is, there his heart will be also. As we invest our lives in God through serving Him and being on the receiving end of persecution for Him, our treasure will increasingly be with Him, and so will our hearts (1 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 6:21).

4) Eliminate the competition. Jesus said it is impossible to have two masters (Matthew 6:24). We are always tempted to love the world (those things which please our eyes, make us feel good about ourselves, and gratify our earthly desires – 1 John 2:15-17). James tells us that embracing the world and its friendship is enmity (hatred) toward God and amounts to spiritual adultery (James 4:4). We need to get rid of some things in our lives that compete for our alligience (friends who would lead us the wrong way, things that waste our time and energy and keep us from serving God more faithfully, pursuits of popularity, possessions, and physical and emotional gratifications). God promises that if we pursue Him, He will not only provide for our needs (Matthew 6:33) but will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4-5).

So, leaders are to be people who are passionate about Jesus and his mission and spiritual disciples.

RELATIONSHIPS = Relationships resulting in accountability and application in small groups:

A small group at church consists of a handful of believers who are connected by our common faith in Jesus. They meet together for Bible study, service projects, encouragement, prayer, and fellowship. As churches grow larger, these small groups keep people connected with one another. The goal of a biblically faithful church is to create authentic community through our small groups ministry, which fosters discipleship, prayer, connection, and accountability. The number of participants in each small group is generally limited so that deep and long-lasting relationships are cultivated and maintained.

The model for small groups is found in the book of Acts when believers met together in homes to eat, fellowship, and take communion (Acts 2:41–42, 46). They would read the apostles’ letters, discuss them, pray, and challenge each other to keep the faith (Acts 20:7–8). A small group that functions correctly is a little church within a larger congregation.

It is within these small groups that the “one anothers” of Scripture take place. When the Bible tells Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), pray for one another (James 5:16), accept one another (Romans 15:7), and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), it implies that we are in close relationship with other believers. On a practical level, in a church of several hundred, the pastor cannot visit every sick person or take a meal to every new mother. Regardless of how friendly or outgoing a member may be, he or she cannot personally know an entire crowd seen only for an hour on Sunday morning. Community doesn’t happen when we are looking at the back of someone’s head. Community happens in circles, not in rows. So, the pastor and staff rely on small group leaders to take care of the members of their groups. They are the shepherds of the small flock of members who are in their charge.

In many ways, the first-century church was a series of small groups. They all studied the same Scriptures (Acts 17:11), read the same letters from the apostles (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27), and obeyed to the same standards for community lifestyle (1 Corinthians 11–14). They met in homes throughout the week (Acts 2:46) and established close, personal relationships with each other (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17). When modern church groups strive for the same unity (Ephesians 4:3; Psalm 133:1), they are fulfilling the expectations Jesus has for His church (Matthew 16:18).

OBEDIENCE = Obedience to the Commands of Christ and the Teachings of the Bible;

The Bible has a lot to say about obedience. In fact, obedience is an essential part of the Christian faith. Jesus Himself was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). For Christians, the act of taking up our cross and following Christ (Matthew 16:24) means obedience. The Bible says that we show our love for Jesus by obeying Him in all things: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). A Christian who is not obeying Christ’s commands can rightly be asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Obedience is defined as “dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands of one in authority.” Using this definition, we see the elements of biblical obedience. “Dutiful” means it is our obligation to obey God, just as Jesus fulfilled His duty to the Father by dying on the cross for our sin. “Submissive” indicates that we yield our will to God’s will. “Commands” speak of the Scriptures in which God has clearly presented His instructions, these “commands of Jesus, which I have studied over past decade. These are grammatical imperatives that must be obeyed, because they are not suggestions. The “one in authority” is God Himself, whose authority is total and unmistakable. For the Christian, obedience means complying with everything God has commanded. It is our duty and privilege to do so.

Having said that, it is important to remember that our obedience to God is not solely a matter of duty. We obey Him because we love Him (John 14:23). Also, we understand that the SPIRIT of obedience is as important as the ACT of obedience. We serve the Lord in humility, singleness of heart, and love.

If we love God, we WILL obey Him. We won’t be perfect in our obedience, but our desire is to submit to the Lord and demonstrate our love through good works. When we love God and obey Him, we naturally have love for one another. Obedience to God’s commands will make us light and salt in a dark and tasteless world (Matthew 5:13–16).

VICTORY = Victory over sin through ongoing sanctification and integrity:

The key to victory in our struggles with sin lies not in ourselves, but in God and His faithfulness to us: “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18; see also Psalm 46:1).

There’s no getting around it: we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). Even the great apostle Paul grieved over his ongoing struggle with sin in his life (Romans 7:18-20). Paul’s struggle with sin was real; so much so that he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).

Yet in the very next breath, he answers his own question, as well as ours: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a).

Our key to victory in our struggle with sin lies in the promise of God Himself: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If God provides a way of escape, it seems to me, that victory over sin is a matter of making better choices with the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside every believer.

The Proven disciple (and the Proven leader) will have this desire to please God in his or her life and victory will come over a lifetime of obedience to God’s Word. When we understand the battle and the enemy’s battle strategy, we can better live victoriously in this fallen world.

ETERNAL FOCUS = Eternal focus resulting in Evangelism and the Example of Jesus:

Personal evangelism appears to be a scary thing for a lot of believers. It is simply the act of a person sharing the gospel, the good news, with someone else. There are many different methods of personal evangelism, and it is a hot topic within Christianity. Books, classes, and seminars are dedicated to the subject of witnessing, soul-winning, and helping others find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Not every method is effective or biblically supportable; according to Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur, “Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know.”

According to a 2016 Barna survey, 73 percent of Americans claim to be Christians. However, after applying scriptural tests to those claims, only around 31 percent actually qualify as practicing Christians. The Bible knows no other kind of Christian (Matthew 7:19–21; 1 John 3:7–10). Clearly, what has passed for personal evangelism for the last several generations has not been effective. It’s time for something new. Not a new message, but a new method of reaching people for Jesus.

I’ve shared this before, but I like the BLESS strategy; I call it “How to BLESS your neighbors.”

  • BEGIN with Prayer. Helping someone come to faith in Jesus is a God thing, don’t leave home without prayer.
  • LISTEN to the people around you. Discover their needs, hopes, dreams, cares, problems, frustrations, joys, and desires by simply having a conversation and listening to them.
  • EAT with them, sharing a meal. Find a time to share a meal. People will open up when they are across the table of fellowship.
  • SERVE them in some way, meeting a need. After all this listening to them, how can you make a practical difference in their lives? Serve them.
  • STORY means earning the right to share YOUR story or HIS story. After you have earned the right, find a way to share one of two possible stories: YOUR story, which is your testimony, or HIS story, the plan of salvation in the Bible.

In our personal evangelism, it is good to remember that we are only responsible to God for our obedience, not the results of that obedience. We may present the gospel thoroughly and lovingly, and the person to whom we witness may hear and understand, but still choose to walk away. We are not responsible for that reaction, but only for the level of obedience involved in our presentation. Acts 1:8 tells us that we will be his witnesses, the only choice we have is will we be a good witness or a poor witness?

NURTURING = Nurture others in the faith through example, teaching, and leadership:

As I think about nurturing others, I think about family and parenting. While the Bible has much to say about physical parenting, we are also called to spiritual parenting.

When God led the Israelites out of bondage, He commanded them to teach their children all He had done for them (Deuteronomy 6:6–7; 11:19). He desired that the generations to come would continue to uphold all His commands. When one generation fails to teach God’s laws in the next, a society quickly declines. Parents have not only a responsibility to their children, but an assignment from God to impart His values and truth into their lives.

While the home is primary place for raising children (Sunday School and VBS is not enough) the church is also a place to nurture those around us. And it is not just for kids. Women get together on Tuesdays. Men of Steel gather at Denny’s on Wednesdays and the Noble Men meet in the fellowship on various Saturdays. Leaders are nurtured and actively nurture others. The growth never ends, not until Jesus calls us home.

So, these six characteristics will help us to be a PROVEN leader, and a PROVEN disciple of Jesus. A lost world is watching us, ad waiting for us to prove that we are who we say we are. We expect more out of our leaders. Remember that being above reproach does not mean we are perfect, but that we live in such a way that no one can honestly say that our behavior would bring shame on the name of Jesus or his church.

Maybe you heard something today, and you need to make some changes in your life. We’re here to help, no one does this Christian life thing on their own. At King’s Grant, we are first of all, a community of faith. You can grow into the disciple and leader God desires for you to be, and the church can help, you’re not alone.

Let’s talk to God about it…

PRAY: Lord Jesus, this time is yours. You know our hearts, motivation, and attitudes. You know where we fall short better than we know ourselves. May we rekindle our passion for you, your Word, and the mission you have in our lives. Help us to live a life of significance and influence. Help us to know your will and your ways and give us the courage to stand up for the cause of Christ. Lord Jesus, may you be glorified through your PROVEN people. AMEN.

Thank you for being a part of this worship and study time. If we can help you in any way, please reach out to us through the church website (kgbc.us/more). If you live in the Virginia Beach area, we invite you to stop by for a visit on Sundays at 9:30am or 11am or join us for midweek activities on Wednesday evenings (kgbc.us/midweek). Until next time, thanks for joining us. We hope to see you soon.

Related Images:

Identifying with the Apostle Paul

Paul: Apostle of Christ (2018 Film)

Conflict in the church. A member caught in some sinful behavior. Church discipline. What does it mean to forgive? Is church discipline just a self-righteous way to hold a grudge? Or do we have a vendetta against the offender? What about taking the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck in the other person’s eye? What about letting the one who is without sin cast the first stone? What about, turn the other cheek? How many times must I forgive my brother, seven times? Jesus said not to judge others, so who are we to judge? He also said to forgive others or the Father won’t forgive you.

  1. In our local context, who are the ones giving the church and the name of Christ a bad name? Can we honestly say that the defenders of truth are giving Jesus a black eye? Or those who are acting ungodly? Are the deacons causing all this conflict by being unforgiving or are they the ones dealing with it? Do we have members masquerading as godly leaders? 
  2. Is the issue our lack of forgiveness of the unrepentant offender? Do we just let it go? Is that the most loving thing to do, just forgive, forget, and move on?
  3. Are we supposed to just accept deception and lying and ungodly behavior in our church leaders?

Why don’t we take a walk through the New Testament to discover what the apostle Paul did when he confronted sinful activity in the church…

What are Paul’s disciplinary steps in Corinth? What did he say about ungodliness? What is the church to do to maintain it’s witness and holiness?

  1. How do we explain 1 Corinthians 5:1-2? Did Paul just tell them to forgive the bad behavior? Are we supposed to rationalize this away as a misunderstanding? Do we just agree that nobody’s perfect? Do we quote Jesus and say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” What other interpretation can there be for the phrase, “remove him from your midst”?
  2. I have already judged this offender (Wait a minute… Jesus said we are NOT to judge [Matthew 7:1]. I don’t sense a holier-than-thou attitude in Paul, we prefer the word “discernment”) – 1 Corinthians 5:3
  3. Deliver that person to Satan (this seems extreme but it is apparently in the realm of possibility) – 1 Corinthians 5:5
  4. Your boasting is not good (do we boast that we are not the leaven of which Paul speaks?) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  5. A little leaven raises the whole lump (this is a reality that when we give an inch, the enemy will take much more ground. We must stand for the truth and godliness. One principle of relationships is that we become more like those people we pal around with, the same with leaven in dough) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  6. Clean out the old leaven (we need the new leaven of godliness, positive peer pressure if you will) – 1 Corinthians 5:7
  7. Don’t associate with that immoral person (more than likely, that person will drag you down more than you will help that person to rise up, again, another principle of relationships) – 1 Corinthians 5:9
  8. Don’t even eat with this so-called brother (Paul is emphasizing the “so-called” brother, questioning whether that person has experienced regeneration) – 1 Corinthians 5:11
  9. We are to judge those inside the church (Jesus said NOT to judge, but this refers to dealing [Matthew 7:1] with internal matters inside the body) – 1 Corinthians 5:12
  10. What part of “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” is ambiguous? – 1 Corinthians 5:13
  11. Are there no wise men among you to settle disputes (godly people are called to act in the midst of conflict) – 1 Corinthians 6:5
  12. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (while we love to side with forgiveness and the blessings of everlasting life, the consequences of ungodliness cannot be overlooked) – 1 Corinthians 6:9
  13. The goal of church discipline is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, and restoration (not to kick anyone out of the church) – 2 Corinthians 2:3-4
  14. “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.” (they did not just forgive and forget, they dealt with the sin in the camp) – 2 Corinthians 2:6
  15. Forgiveness follows repentance (we can personally let it go without repentance, but leaders need time to recover and rebuild trust) – 2 Corinthians 2:7-8
  16. We are not ignorant of the schemes of Satan (we know who is the real enemy here, and Satan desires to take down church leaders to discredit the gospel and the witness of the local church) – 2 Corinthians 2:11
  17. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, (they don’t see how their actions are wrong) – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
  18. “This fight” may be momentary light affliction, producing an eternal weight of glory (so stand strong in the battle, don’t give in to the darkness) – 2 Corinthians 4:17
  19. In fear of the Lord, we persuade men to leave sinful activity – 2 Corinthians 5:11
  20. Cleanse yourself from all defilement (accountability is a great asset) – 2 Corinthians 7:1
  21. Paul did not regret his letter that brought godly sorrow, (the sinner must be addressed or nothing changes) – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10
  22. We are ready to punish all disobedience (“punish” appears to be quite a strong word) – 2 Corinthians 10:6
  23. Paul acknowledges there are Christian workers who are false apostles, deceitful workers, and even Satan disguises himself as an angel is light, and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (apparently, this is not a new strategy of the enemy) – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
  24. Paul does not want to show up in Corinth only to mourn over those who have not repented of their evil, who were still acting like pagans (confrontation is for getting people back on track, moving toward repentance and restoration, it is not for condemnation) – 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
  25. Test yourselves to see if you are even of the faith (for those who so easily exhibit ungodly behavior, Paul’s challenge is to see if you are really saved) – 2 Corinthians 13:5

What about in Romans?

  1. Paul rails at those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness – Romans 1:18
  2. God and his truth are self-evident (primarily regarding the existence of God) – Romans 1:19
  3. People (primarily unbelievers) are without excuse and cannot say they have never seen God, didn’t know about him, or know that he is revealed through his creation – Romans 1:20
  4. Their foolish heart was darkened (the light of Christ was not shining. How can a member of God’s forever family walk in such darkness? Well, the short answer is that when someone is in the dark, they figuratively cannot see that they are wrong) – Romans 1:21
  5. Professing to be wise, they became fools (their arrogance was their downfall) – Romans 1:22
  6. They exchanged the truth for a lie (we know that the truth sets us free) – Romans 1:25
  7. God gave them over to a depraved mind (in our stubbornness, sometimes God lets us have our own way, and we suffer the consequences of our poor decisions and actions) – Romans 1:28
  8. They not only participated, they gave hearty approval to those who practice these things (don’t allow yourself to be dragged into the darkness with them) – Romans 1:32
  9. Because of stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself (Paul thought he was all about God’s work until he had the Damascus Road experience) – Romans 2:5
  10. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil (the issue may not be losing one’s salvation because perhaps, some church people have never experienced regeneration. Check out Matthew 7:21-23) – Romans 2:9
  11. The law is written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness; we know what is right and true (perhaps this can only be stubbornness in not allowing God total control over our lives) – Romans 2:15
  12. Shall we continue to sin? (Paul’s answer is in 6:2, that we are to live as people who are redeemed, not like the world) – Romans 6:1-2
  13. We are to walk in newness of life (if we are saved, act like it and live like it, or at least are on the road of sanctification; we are to look and talk and act differently than the world) – Romans 6:4
  14. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, or obey its lusts (exercise discernment, sin is a choice, this reminds me of James 4:8) – Romans 6:12
  15. The mind set of the flesh is death (in addition to “flesh,” we might include other things on which we set our minds, those things become idols in the true sense of the word) – Romans 8:6
  16. The mind set of the flesh is hostile toward God (or any idol that we create and becomes a barrier between God and the church, his people, his flock) – Romans 8:7
  17. Seeking to establish a righteousness of our own, we do not subject ourselves to the righteousness of God 9we discern proper behavior by reading the Bible. We cannot elevate our sanctuary furniture or leadership attire to the level of idolatry) – Romans 10:3
  18. Do not conform to the world’s standard (the Phillips translation: don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold) – Romans 12:1-2
  19. Resisting authority opposes the ordinances of God (the context here is governmental authority, but we are to also live as people under the authority of Christ and his earthly leaders) – Romans 13:2
  20. Let us behave properly as in the day (not living one way at church and another way in the world, on the golf course, or the marketplace) – Romans 13:13
  21. Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to sound teaching, and turn away from them (this reminds me of Titus 3:10-11, these people are enemies of church unity) – Romans 16:17

How about in Galatia?

  1. Paul is amazed that they are deserting Jesus for some other gospel (much of the problem is Jesus plus something else, like becoming a Jew first. What we might do today is more subtle; saved by grace through faith, plus a pulpit, a choir, pastor in a suit, an American flag in the corner of the sanctuary, a hymnal in the pew – Galatians 1:6
  2. There are some people who are disturbing those in the church and distorting the gospel. Trouble-makers in the church is nothing new – Galatians 1:7
  3. Let that person be “accused” (Strong’s G331 a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction, anathema, a (religious) ban or (concretely) excommunicated (thing or person):—accused, curse. In Romans 9:3 (this is equivalent to doomed and so separated from Christ) – Galatians 1:8
  4. By doing the right thing, am I seeking the favor of men or of God? (Peter and John dealt with this before in Acts 4:19-21) – Galatians 1:10
  5. Even Paul had to put up with those who would defame his character and accuse him of lying – Galatians 1:20
  6. False brethren sneaked in to spy out our behavior, but we did not yield to them – Galatians 2:4-5
  7. Paul opposed Peter to his face when he did wrong – Galatians 2:11
  8. The rest of the Jews joined in their hypocrisy (we cannot blindly follow a leader without exercising discernment) – Galatians 2:13
  9. Paul saw they were not straightforward about the truth (of the gospel, some believers can be deceptive) – Galatians 2:14
  10. You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched (deceived) you? (it’s like Paul is telling them that they should know better) – Galatians 3:1
  11. Paul fears for them, that perhaps he has labored in vain – Galatians 4:11
  12. Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth? – Galatians 4:16
  13. Paul wished he could change his tone in their presence, but adds he is perplexed about them – Galatians 4:20
  14. Keep standing firm and don’t give in to compromise – Galatians 5:1
  15. The one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment – Galatians 5:10
  16. Would those who are troubling you mutilate themselves (the topic at the moment was circumcision) – Galatians 5:12
  17. If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (read that verse again) – Galatians 5:15
  18. The deeds of the flesh are evident (immorality, impurity, sensuality, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions) and are not to be tolerated – Galatians 5:19-20
  19. Those who are spiritual are to intervene when someone is caught in sin – Galatians 6:1
  20. Whatever a man sows, he will reap (actions have consequences) – Galatians 6:7
  21. As Paul and Barnabas spoke the truth, devout women of prominence and leading men of the city instigated a persecution against them – Acts 13:50
  22. Jews who were disobedient stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and Barnabas – Acts 14:2
  23. The multitude of the city was divided between the Jews and the apostles (apparently, factions are nothing new) – Acts 14:4
  24. In Lystra, they were accused of being gods, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing and had to set them straight (we must confront false teaching and false statements) – Acts 14:12, 14-15
  25. In Antioch, they appointed elders in every church (leaders to protect and strengthen the flock, and further the mission of the church) – Acts 14:23
  26. in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement, they parted ways – Acts 15:38-40
  27. in Galatia, Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teaching errors, and they took him aside to explain the way of God more accurately – Acts 18:26

How about in Ephesus?

  1. Change your behavior, walk in a manner worthy of the calling (this is not optional) – Ephesians 4:1
  2. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit (unity cannot be present when the church has divisive leaders usurping authority and control) – Ephesians 4:3
  3. No longer walk as the Gentiles walk (as believers, we have a new character, desiring to conform to the image of Christ) – Ephesians 4:17
  4. Lost people walk in darkened understanding, excluded from the life of God (as children of the light, we cannot be content to walk in darkness) – Ephesians 4:18
  5. Paul expects better behavior since we are saved, you did not learn Christ this way, if indeed you even know him (as believers, we should know better) – Ephesians 4:20-21
  6. Lay aside all falsehood and speak truth (deception has no place in the congregation) – Ephesians 4:25
  7. Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth (as believers, our speech is different than those in the culture around us) – Ephesians 4:29
  8. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (this is the result of believers behaving badly and the church gets a black eye from the culture, we are supposed to be different) – Ephesians 4:30
  9. Forgive one another (but that comes after one has repented; never exercising retaliation or vengeance) – Ephesians 4:32
  10. Do not allow impurity or immorality among you (as believers, we can’t just let sinning go on unchallenged) – Ephesians 5:3
  11. Don’t let others deceive you with empty words (many people talk a good game but believers embrace the truth) – Ephesians 5:6
  12. You are of the light, so walk like you’re children of light (live what you say you believe) – Ephesians 5:8
  13. It is disgraceful to even speak of the things done in secret, but need to be exposed to the light (above reproach is not being perfect, but we will not bring shame on the Lord or his church) – Ephesians 5:12-13
  14. Be careful to walk as wise men (let’s not embrace the opposite) – Ephesians 5:15
  15. Our struggle is with the forces of evil more than the other person (the enemy seeks to drag us down, taking the church’s credibility with him) – Ephesians 6:12
  16. The seven sons of Sceva are confronted by an evil spirit, knowing these men were not authentic followers of Jesus (I recognize Jesus and I know about Paul, but who are you?) – Acts 19:15-16
  17. Paul challenged the Ephesians elders to be on guard for the flock (elders or leaders of the congregation have a duty to protect the flock from ungodly influences) – Acts 20:28
  18. Paul tells them that wolves will come in to lead people astray (these wolves came into the congregation and deceived the people, they looked much like the rest of us but were in fact, wolves) – Acts 20:29
  19. Paul tells them men from among themselves will arise, speak perverse things, and drawing others away (our speech can draw people away from the gospel message or the church) – Acts 20:30
  20. Paul did not cease day and night to admonish them (this sounds like a lot of admonishment by Paul) – Acts 20:31

How about in Philippi?

  1. We must help fellow believers progress in sanctification, in being sincere and blameless at the coming of Christ – Philippians 1:10
  2. We are to be filled with the fruit of righteousness – Philippians 1:11
  3. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Philippians 1:27
  4. Don’t be alarmed at those who oppose you, which is a sign of destruction for them – Philippians 1:28
  5. You should prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation – Philippians 2:15
  6. Beware of the dogs and evil workers with false theology – Philippians 3:2
  7. We press on toward the high calling of Christ – Philippians 3:12, 14
  8. Have this attitude in you, and if you don’t, may God reveal that to you – Philippians 3:15
  9. Those who set their minds on earthly things are enemies of the cross of Christ – Philippians 3:18
  10. The things you have learned, seen, heard, and received, practice these things – Philippians 4:9
  11. Paul confronted and rebuked the slave-girl who was interfering with their ministry and was annoying them – Acts 16:18

How about in Colossi?

  1. Constantly bearing fruit and increasing – Colossians 1:6
  2. Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects – Colossians 1:10
  3. We are delivered from darkness – Colossians 1:13
  4. We are redeemed so we might be holy and blameless and beyond reproach – Colossians 1:22
  5. Paul says to admonish every man and teach every man that he may be presented complete in Christ – Colossians 1:28
  6. Paul wants no one to delude the church with persuasive arguments – Colossians 2:4
  7. Set your mind on things above – Colossians 3:2
  8. Your body must be dead to sin or expect the wrath of God – Colossians 3:5
  9. Don’t lie to one another – Colossians 3:9
  10. Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you – Colossians 3:16
  11. Whatever you do in word and deed, let it be for the Lord Jesus – Colossians 3:17
  12. He who does wrong will receive the consequences of that wrong – Colossians 3:25
  13. Let your speech always be with grace – Colossians 4:6

How about in Thessalonica?

  1. Our gospel did not come in word only but in power, with full conviction, proving what kind of men we are – 1 Thessalonians 1:5 – Our walk must match our talk or our credibility and reputation and witness suffers.
  2. You became imitators of us and of the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – Paul expects behavior to be different than when we were in the world.
  3. You all became an example to all the believers – 1 Thessalonians 1:7 – Can people look at you and declare that you are their example to one walking closely with the Lord?
  4. We imparted not only the gospel but our own lives as well – 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – We are not all about theology and Bible study without our lives giving evidence that we are who we claim to be.
  5. We behaved devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly before you – 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – This is the essence of being above reproach.
  6. Walk in a manner worthy of the God who called you – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 – When God calls us to be perfect as He is perfect, conforming to the image of Christ has to be our lifelong goal.
  7. Paul wants to present these believers holy and blameless to the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – The longer we are in Christ, the less the world will be seen in our lives.
  8. God’s will is your sanctification, abstaining from sexual immorality – 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 – Sanctification is that churchy word that means becoming more like Jesus over a lifetime.
  9. If we continue in worldly behavior, we are rejecting the God who gave us the Spirit – 1 Thessalonians 4:8 – God means business when it comes to our sinful activity.
  10. Protect your heart and mind for when Christ returns – 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – We don’t just fall into sin. It enters through our heart and mind, so guard them both.
  11. Paul urges that we admonish the unruly – 1 Thessalonians 5:14 – Yes we forgive, but this command in instructs us to not allow poor behavior in the church.
  12. Examine everything carefully and hold onto what is good – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – Let the Spirit of God guide you in the truth through examination and discernment.
  13. Let no one deceive you, the apostasy will come first – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 – This is true for today. Don’t believe all that you hear (even in the church) since Paul tells us that as the end time comes, people will leave their first love and listen to deceptive voices.
  14. God will send a deluding influence so they might believe that which is false – 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – How else can believers choose to believe and pass on lies over the truth?
  15. God chose you for sanctification – 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – Believers simply cannot act like the world around us, we are called to sanctification, acting like Jesus himself.
  16. Stand firm in what you have been taught – 2 Thessalonians 2:15
  17. Keep aloof from any brother who leads an unruly life – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 – Does this actually say to stay away from those who are behaving in an ungodly manner?
  18. You know that you are to follow Paul’s example, who did not behave undisciplined – 2 Thessalonians 3:7 – We must follow the example of our godly leaders and behave in a disciplined manner.
  19. If anyone does not obey our instruction, take special note of that person, and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 – What part of “do not associate with him” is acting in unforgiveness, and therefore considered ungodly or unchristian behavior?
  20. Yet do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother – 2 Thessalonians 3:15 – We always pray that such drastic actions will lead to godly sorrow for the offender, which leads to repentance and restoration, and eventually reconciliation.

Paul addresses Timothy and Titus.

  1. Keep the faith with a good conscience – 1 Timothy 1:19 – the Holy Spirit will tell us when we are missing the mark, and we must listen, unless our conscience is seared.
  2. Some believers have rejected and shipwrecked their faith – 1 Timothy 1:19 – that’s right, some BELIEVERS have shipwrecked their faith.
  3. Paul names two guys that he delivered over to Satan – 1 Timothy 1:20 – this appears to be somewhat extreme, does it not? At what point is this the course of action?
  4. Paul must have again been accused of lying – 1 Timothy 2:7 – since the devil/Satan is the father of lies, even Paul was accused of lying, so those of us standing up for truth are in good company.
  5. Paul gives a standard of conduct and qualities for the church leader – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (in particular, be above reproach and be of good reputation; don’t bring shame to the Lord or on his church).
  6. Paul talks about deacons (to have a clear conscience, be beyond reproach, first tested, dignified, have a high standing in the faith) – 1 Timothy 3:8-13 – this is something we all ought to strive for.
  7. Some will even fall away from the faith – 1 Timothy 4:1 – at what point does a believer walk away from the faith? I’ve heard it said, “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.”
  8. Some will have a seared conscience – 1 Timothy 4:2 – this may happen when sin does not bother us as it once did.
  9. Godliness is always profitable – 1 Timothy 4:8 – living out what we say we believe is always a good thing!
  10. Accusations against a leader should have 2 or 3 witnesses – 1 Timothy 5:19 – some would like to slander a leader but Paul emphasizes two or three witnesses, perhaps to inhibit those with an ax to grind, and choose to make up stuff (like in Nehemiah 6:8).
  11. The sins of some men are quite evident and are not concealed – 1 Timothy 5:24-25 – most believers can see the deception of a few when confronted with the truth.
  12. Godliness (plus contentment) is a means of great gain – 1 Timothy 6:6 – those who cause relational conflict are not content nor behaving in godliness. Let’s strive for these two qualities.
  13. Serve God with a clear conscience – 2 Timothy 1:3 – When you know God’s call on your life, when you know you are listening to the Lord Jesus, when you walk in obedience using the principles of the shared mission to which God has called his church, we can serve the Lord with a clear conscience.
  14. No soldier entangles himself in the affairs of the world – 2 Timothy 2:4 – when we are all about the mission, the enemy will throw out all sorts of distractions and chaos to sideline the effectiveness of the church.
  15. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed – 2 Timothy 2:15 – diligence means that we have to work toward being effective in ministry. Godliness does not come naturally, but comes supernaturally.
  16. The walk of some men will spread like gangrene – 2 Timothy 2:17 – we know that unchecked disease spreads. Poison will move from the snake bite and eventually damage or even destroy the limb, or even take the person’s life.
  17. The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Timothy 2:19 – we might claim to belong to God but God knows those who are his. One of the scariest verses in the Bible may be Matthew 7:21-23. MANY, on that day…
  18. Flee from youthful lusts – 2 Timothy 2:22 – when godlessness comes calling, don’t flirt with it, run away from it.
  19. Paul desires men to come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil – 2 Timothy 2:26 – we trust that one day those who stir up conflict will come to their senses, repent, and seek reconciliation and restoration. That’s what godly sorrow is meant to do.
  20. In the last days, Paul describe those in the church, concluding that they hold on to a form of godliness yet deny its power (so avoid such men as these) – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 – how true is this statement in the world and also in the church. The Pharisees had a form of godliness but were actually working against Jesus and his mission.
  21. Some men will always be learning but do not come to the knowledge of the truth – 2 Timothy 3:7 – knowledge does not always lead to spiritual maturity; some will still not understand the truth even when they have experienced decades of Sunday School attendance.
  22. Timothy followed Paul’s teaching and conduct – 2 Timothy 3:10 – godly behavior is to be imitated; ungodly behavior must be avoided.
  23. Paul tells them that there are some in the church who profess to know God but their deeds deny him, so they are disobedient and detestable and worthless – Titus 1:16 – Lord Jesus, let this not be us, but, since Paul had to write this to Titus, there is a real possibility that any of us might also fall into this trap.
  24. Always show yourself to be an example of good deeds – Titus 2:7 – live out what you say you believe, let your walk match your talk.
  25. Reject a man who causes factions, after a first and second warning – Titus 3:10-11 (for such a man is perverted and sinning, condemning himself). Paul is talking about a person who is divisive and stirs up conflict.
  26. Paul in Cyprus: Confrontation with Elymas the magician – “You are full of deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness” – Acts 13:10 – Paul was not afraid to confront deception and fraud, speaking truth that needed to be heard.

Paul in Jerusalem:

  1. Don’t make it hard for people who are turning to God (like enforcing the traditions of men onto Gentile converts, just abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, the blood of animals, and engaging in fornication) – Acts 15:19
  2. As believers, we must repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance – Acts 26:20
  3. Paul’s message was not popular but he told Festus that he spoke words of sober truth – Acts 26:25

So, in summary, we forgive personally, because that is what Christians do; but to hold someone accountable for their actions does not mean there is some self-righteous vendetta present. When the sin is against the body of Christ, sinful actions have accountability. We don’t just turn the other cheek, forgive and forget, or keep that person in a position of leadership. We cannot condone that sort of behavior in the church. 

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