In 2 Peter 1:20, Peter states, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Then in 2 Peter 2, Peter addresses the issue of false prophets and false teachers who, like wolves, infiltrate, ingratiate, isolate, and then destroy by introducing “destructive heresies.”
At the same time, different Christian groups interpret some parts of the Bible differently, such as eschatology (things regarding the “end times”), pneumatology (things regarding the Holy Spirit), and ordinances or sacraments such as baptism and communion.
The Bible uses a few terms to describe what a relationship with God looks like, and how it is to work in practice. Some of these terms imply movement, such as walking with God (Genesis 5:22, 6:9, 17:1; Luke 1:5).
There are other terms however, which at first glance appear passive. A further look into these terms reveals that they actually imply action:
Wait on the Lord
The word “wait” conjures up thoughts of waiting at government offices, hospital waiting rooms, or waiting for Christmas to come. All of these are passive actions: you have no control over the outcome, and many times these experiences of waiting sap our energy. Waiting for 2 hours at the DMV can be exhausting, even if you spend the whole time sitting in one place and not moving.
However, to “wait on the Lord” is not a completely passive action. The word “wait” in Hebrew is the word Qavahwhich means “to hope” or “to expect.” It can also be translated “to bind up,” or “gather together.”
While on the one hand, the outcome is out of your control, you are not completely passive nor inactive; you are doing something because you know the God who controls the outcome.
It is in this way that Isaiah the Prophet could say,
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Whereas in many cases waiting can be an exhausting and energy-sapping experience, waiting on the Lord, Isaiah tells us, actually renews your strength and invigorates!
It is in this sense that the Psalm-writer says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5) This is not the waiting of passive inaction, but the hopeful expectation of trusting in God’s word and God’s promises.
Abide in Christ
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:5,8-9)
To abide means “to remain, to dwell.” In the picture of a vine and its branches, the branch has to merely stay attached to the vine.
Yet, while on the outside it may not appear that there is any movement involved in the branch abiding in the vine, under the surface there is movement of nutrients from one to the other, providing life, health, and growth, which is seen by the fact that this abiding produces something: fruit.
For us to abide in Christ, on the one hand, involves not moving away from Christ, but the actions of abiding are anything but passive. Another definition of abide is to adhere to a pattern of life. Practically speaking, abiding in Christ requires intentional action to pursue fellowship with God.
These intentional actions by which you abide in Christ are also referred to by the term spiritual disciplines, things like prayer, studying the Scriptures, fellowship with other believers, generosity and giving, and more.
In 2 Peter chapter 1, Peter urges the believers to “make every effort” to add to their faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5), stating that these things help us not to fall, and they help us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
The outcome may ultimately be the Lord’s work in us, but we are invited to participate in working out what God has worked into us, and we get to participate in cultivating our own spiritual growth.
May we be those who trust in, wait up, and abide in the Lord Jesus, not passively – but actively. May we be those who work out our own salvation, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and do to His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
In 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul the Apostle tells us that Jesus came to abolish death and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel. I looked at this passage yesterday in a sermon titled “Born That Man No More May Die,” as part of our Advent series, looking at who Jesus was and why he came.
In the sermon I looked at a story that has always intrigued me: Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel in John 1, in which Jesus declares that Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28) was a foreshadowing of Him: Jesus is the bridge between Heaven and Earth, between mortal humanity and immortality.
What Was Nathanael Doing Under the Fig Tree?
In John 1, we read that Nathanael is skeptical when he hears that Jesus is from Nazareth; he cannot believe that the Messiah could ever come from a place like that. In my sermon, I explained that the reason Nazareth was despised was because it was a generally poor, working class town, where most of the people worked for the pagan Greeks in the nearby city of Sepphoris.
Nathanael is then introduced to Jesus, and immediately he lets go of his skepticism and is convinced that Jesus truly is the Messiah. What changed his mind? It was something that Jesus said to him as soon as they met:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:47-48)
What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree? According to some Jewish rabbis, Jewish people would traditionally read the Scriptures under a fig tree because of the belief that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the tree Adam and Eve were told not to eat from lest they die), was a fig tree, because after they sinned and their eyes were opened to the fact of their nakedness, Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.
The statement about an Israelite in whom there is no deceit is likely as allusion to the story of Jacob, whose name means: “deceiver”, but after wrestling with God, he was given a new name: Israel, which means something like: “grapples with God”, “subdued by God” or “governed by God.”
These allusions to Jacob “the deceiver” whose identity was changed by his encounter with God, along with the mention of the fig tree lead many to believe that Nathanael must have been reading about Jacob in the Book of Genesis, and the fact that Jesus knew that, convinced Nathanael that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the promised Savior and king.
Cut Off from the Tree of Life?
Speaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve ate of it, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and an angel with a flaming sword was placed to guard the entrance of it, lest they – or anyone else – eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. (Genesis 3:22)
That verse might strike you as a little bit confusing: Doesn’t God WANT us to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever?
The answer is: Yes, but not in this fallen state. In other words, it was an act of God’s mercy that Adam and Eve were cut off from the Tree of Life, lest they eat from it and live forever in their fallen state. Instead, God allowed them to die, so that he might one day redeem them through Jesus, and ultimately resurrect them unto eternal life. For us as well, it is God’s mercy that he allows us to die “the first death” (physical death) and saves us from “the second death” (eternal Spiritual death, see Revelation 21:8).
Mike and I sat down this week and discussed these and other topics in our weekly Sermon Extra video. Check it out:
Dictionary.com defines the word “preachy” as: “tediously or pretentiously didactic.”
Apparently this is what the word “preaching” evokes in the minds of many people. Perhaps for this reason, some people I have encountered have suggested that churches abandon the word “preaching” in favor of the word “sharing.” Rather than someone “preaching a sermon,” they suggest we ought to have someone “share a message.”
Is this just splitting hairs? Does it even matter?
A Matter of Semantics…
Semantics: the branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings of words and sentences
Words do matter. Words not only convey meaning, but the reason we have synonyms, i.e. multiple words for a given thing, is because each of these words relates to a slightly different way of thinking about or portraying that thing, and different words convey different feelings.
At the same time, words are culturally shaped, and the meaning of a word can change over time – even if it refers to an objective reality which does not change. Western society, with its emphasis on equality, tends to be more inclined to a word like “sharing” as opposed to “preaching.”
A Biblical Matter
However, we must also recognize the fact that the Bible uses the word “preach” over 150 times (in the NKJV), and doesn’t use the word “share” at all in the sense of speaking with other people about God.
I remember talking to someone once who claimed that Jesus only “taught”, he didn’t “preach”. Her point was that Jesus wasn’t “preachy”; the only problem with her argument is the fact that there are dozens of verses which tell us that Jesus preached. In fact, not only does it say that Jesus preached, but Jesus himself said that the very reason He came was to preach, and then he trained and commissioned his disciples to preach.
“I must preach the kingdom of God…because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Jesus in Luke 4:43)
A Practical Matter
To preach means to proclaim. It means to announce and declare something.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that what makes preaching unique, is that the one who preaches “is there to ‘declare’ certain things; they are a person under commission and under authority… an ambassador [who] comes to the congregation as a sent messenger.” 
To preach, in the biblical sense, therefore, is not to speak on one’s own authority, or to share one’s own thoughts. Preaching, in the biblical sense, is to convey a message from God to people.
For this reason, I believe we should hold onto this biblical term. However, I believe it is important that our preaching should not be preachy, i.e. “tediously or pretentiously didactic.” It should not be condescending, and it should come from a person who understands and conveys that they are the equal of their listeners – and yet, they come to them not with their own ideas and musings, but with a message from God which deserves their utmost attention.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Role and Importance of Preaching
The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.
You cannot read the history of the Church, even in a cursory manner, without seeing that preaching has always occupied a central and a predominating position in the life of the Church.
At this point, Lloyd-Jones clarified that ministry to and care for the poor and marginalized is a ministry and a duty of the church, it must happen simultaneous to, not in place of, the proclamation of the Word of God. He points to Acts 6 to make this point, where the apostles appointed deacons, capable people full of the Holy Spirit, to ministry to the needs of the needy in their community, so that they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, deeming it improper for them to neglect those things.
Paul’s last word to Timothy was: ‘Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.’
What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching.
Preaching is logic on fire. It is theology coming through a person who is on fire.
The chief end of preaching is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.
Preaching should make such a difference to those who are listening, that they are never the same again.
The preacher cares about the people they are preaching to; that is why they are preaching. The preacher is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God. So they do it with energy, with zeal, and with obvious concern for people.
May God use us to preach, teach, and share His truth with others, so that hearts, minds, and lives will be changed for the better.
I’m teaching Genesis to the first year students, and Leadership in the Local Church to the second year students.
We’ve really enjoyed getting connected to Ravencrest; we’ve had one of their leaders, Frank Cirone, down to our church to teach on a few occasions (listen to Frank’s messages here)
In this interview with Frank which we recorded at our church office after one of his visits, he shares the history of the Torchbearers movement, and some of his ministry experience around the world. It’s pretty interesting! Check it out:
This week Mike and I made our weekly sermon follow-up video up here at Ravencrest, in which we talked about church discipline, laziness, and being a busybody. Check it out:
Pray for the ministry of Ravencrest! They are doing great work discipling, equipping, and sending out young people into the world for the mission of God!
The Expositors Collective is a growing network of pastors, leaders, and laypeople which exists to equip, encourage, and mentor the next generation of Christ-centered preachers through two-day interactive training seminars, a weekly podcast, and ongoing mentoring relationships.
If you can’t make it to Howell in September, considering joining us at one of our events in 2020:
February 21-22, 2020 – Las Vegas, Nevada
May 8-9, 2020 – Seattle, Washington
October 2020 – Honolulu, Hawaii
These 2-day interactive seminars are for young men and women ages 18-34 who feel called to teach God’s Word and would like to receive instruction and ongoing mentorship in this area. If that’s you, then you won’t want to miss this – or if you know someone else who would benefit from this, send them our way!
For more information and to sign up, go to: expositorscollective.com
On the website you can see a list of some of the Bible teachers who will be coming to the event to serve as group leaders and speakers.
The idea for the series comes from James 5:10, where James tells us to “remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.” In this series, we will be looking at a different Old Testament prophet each week, considering their lives and their messages and what we can learn from them.
We are moving through them chronologically, and so began with Amos, an interesting person with an important message. Click here to listen to that message: Amos: Faith that Works
This Sunday we will continue the series by looking at Hosea, a gripping story of adultery and faithfulness which gives us insight into God’s heart.
Resources for Studying the Prophets
Generally speaking, the prophetic books are not well known by many people who even regularly read the Bible. Part of the reason for that is because of the negative tone of some of the books, as well as the feeling that without understanding the context of the books, they don’t make sense.
People have asked me at times what books or materials are good to use if they want to get to know the prophetic books better. Here are my top two recommendations:
I had the pleasure of studying under Gordon McConville at the University of Gloucestershire in England, where he is professor of Old Testament theology. This was one of my text books, but is part of a great series from Inter-Varsity Press and is very accessible to the average reader and also scholarly at the same time.
On the scholarly side, this book tends to get a little bit into the weeds about theological discussions and debates, but the introductions and outlines of the books, their themes and their structures are very good. In other words, you can use it to go as deep as you’re ready to go.
When I first became a pastor, one of my mentors told me, “You’re going to need some books.” He then walked me into the book store at the church we were at and pulled Jensen’s surveys of the Old Testament and New Testament off the shelf and handed them to me.
The benefit to these books published by Moody Press is that rather than being a commentary that tells you information, they instead instruct you about how to ask the right questions. Thus, you are the one doing the exegetical work, or the inductive Bible study, rather than just passively receiving information. They do, however, give you important background information in order to get the context you need, but they also tell you where to go to get that context if it is found in other places in the Bible.
I hope these resources are helpful for you, as they have been for me!
In the month of December, we did a month-long series at White Fields on the topic of joy, and how Christianity gives a unique perspective on joy because it finds the source of joy in a unique place.
This past week, Mike and I sat down to discuss Christian joy and what it means when the Bible tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”, and what this means especially at the outset of the new year.
The message was on the topic of homiletics, which is the art of preaching well.
In the talk I described why it is that someone can present a message which is accurate and true, and yet so crushingly boring that it makes you want to cry. I also give some instruction on how not to do that, and how to teach and preach well by tapping into the power of narrative. Finally I give a few very practical tips about structure, illustrations and preparation.