“You are Free” vs. “You Must Not”

I recently listened to a podcast episode featuring Lysa Terkeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries, as she recounted her story of almost losing her marriage to infidelity and then almost losing her life to cancer.

Lysa’s story reminded me of the verse we’ve based our recent study on at White Fields, called Remember the Prophets, which comes from James 5:10 – “My brothers and sisters, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.” Lysa struck me as someone who is an example of patient endurance under suffering.

In the interview, Lysa mentioned something interesting: Compare the first words that God spoke to the man and compare them with the first words that the Enemy spoke to the people in reciting God’s message to them:

The first words God ever spoke to man were: “You are free”

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

The first words the Enemy spoke when reciting God’s words were: “You must not”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

Same Words, Different Emphasis

First of all, the serpent did misquote God by saying that God had commanded them not to eat from any tree in the garden.

But the other thing the serpent did was to change the emphasis or the tone of God’s words to the people.

Whereas God had emphasized their freedom, the serpent emphasized the restriction.

That’s an important difference! Does God give commands? Of course. Does God prohibit some things? Absolutely. But the reason for God’s commands and prohibitions is for our good, to promote our freedom!

God had told them that the reason for the the prohibition (eating from the one tree) was because if they did they would die. Nothing restricts your freedom more than dying! In other words: God’s prohibition was to protect their freedom.

True freedom is often found in submitting to the design for which you were made. For example: A BMW automobile gives you incredible freedom to get around, and do so very quickly! But in order for you to have that freedom, you have to follow a few rules due to the nature of the BMW. For example: it’s not made to go underwater, so if you drive it into a lake, you will lose the freedom the car provides! If you fail to change the oil, fill up the tires with air or put gas in it, you will lose the freedom it provides. All freedom, in other words, depends on following the rules of the design. Therefore the right prohibitions can serve to protect freedom.

The serpent’s emphasis was on the restriction, not the freedom. He painted God as an insecure, petty kill-joy, who was trying to restrict them merely for the sake of restricting them. Many people view God in this way today as well.

“For Our Good Always”

This past Sunday, in studying through Hosea (listen to that message here: Hosea: Living Out the Gospel) we talked about how God’s commandments are for our good. As I often say:

Sin isn’t bad because it’s forbidden, sin is forbidden because it’s bad.

In other words: When God tells us to do something, or not to do something, it is because He loves us and wants the best for us.

In Deuteronomy 6:24, in describing the God’s law, Moses describes it in this way: God’s law, which was for our good always… 

The emphasis is on our good and our freedom. The idea that God is petty and arbitrarily restrictive is wrong, and leads us to question God – as the serpent led the first people to do.

Consider this great quote from Charles Spurgeon:

When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so over-flowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have ever rebelled against one who loved me so, and sought my good.

When you clearly see who God is and understand His love for you, it makes you want to do what He says, because you know it’s for your good.

As Paul wrote to Titus: For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13)

Did you see that? It is the grace of God that teaches us to reject ungodliness! May we see God’s grace and love in his instructions to us.

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“If you can do anything else, do it.”

October has been Pastor Appreciation Month. I am thankful for those who have reached out to me this month, and I want to express my appreciation for those who have pastorally poured time, love and energy into me.

A question that people sometimes ask is, “How do you know if you’re called into pastoral ministry?”

“The Prince of Preachers”, Charles Haddon Spurgeon addressed this question to the students in his pastoral training school, recorded for us in the book, Lectures to My Students

Spurgeon’s advice to his students was: “If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.”

He continued, “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way.”

In other words, only those who believe they are chosen by God for the pulpit should proceed in undertaking this sacred, yet difficult, and sometimes wearisome calling.

Why You Should Do Anything Else if You Can

Earlier this year, I shared the tragic story of Andrew Stoecklein — see: Pastors, Depression and Suicide

Pastoral ministry is taxing on the pastor’s family. The church is not only the pastor’s “workplace” or place of ministry, it is also their family’s own faith community. There is a social element to it as well. When people leave the church, your kids suffer because they lose friends.

I came across these posts from pastors on social media recently, reflecting some of why people in pastoral ministry struggle:

https://www.facebook.com/cnieuwhof/posts/951599645028464

Why There’s Nothing Else I’d Rather Do

My point here is not to complain but to acknowledge that pastoral ministry can be difficult. There is something cathartic about hearing someone else say these things out loud.

However, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

This is the genius of Spurgeon’s statement: If you can do anything else, do it. There are plenty of other ways to serve God. The role of pastor is only one of many roles in the body of Christ. And yet, there are those who find themselves convinced that there is, in fact, nothing else they can rightly do but answer God’s call to serve His people through pastoral ministry.

These are those who say along with the Apostle Paul: For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if it is not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. (1 Corinthians 9:16-18)

They say along with Jeremiah: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, indeed I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

It isn’t only a duty, it is also a joy. It is an honor and a joy to be able to lead a group of God’s people and regularly get to be an instrument through which God helps people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is an honor and a privilege to get to be involved in the most meaningful moments of people’s lives as a representative of God’s Kingdom.

There are very few things in life that are truly meaningful, which are not also difficult.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  (1 Timothy 5:17)

So, to all you pastors out there:

Take joy in being a pastor! Keep fighting that good fight, keep running that race, keep looking to Jesus. Seek your acknowledgement, affirmation and appreciation primarily from Him. Go to Him with your frustrations and hurts. Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

And may we say along with the Apostle Paul:

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

Happy Pastor Appreciation Month!

Spurgeon Quotes

Charles Spurgeon’s hundreds of sermons are a deep well of eloquent and powerful quotes. Here are a few favorites I recently came across:

Calvinists are often criticized for not considering evangelism an urgent priority, since God is sovereign. Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but these were his thoughts on the importance of diligence in evangelism:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Spurgeon on the gospel which is worth living for, dying for and sacrificing for:

there used to be a gospel in the world which consisted of facts which Christians never questioned. There was once in the church a gospel which believers hugged to their hearts as if it were their soul’s life. There used to be a gospel in the world, which provoked enthusiasm and commanded sacrifice. Tens of thousands have met together to hear this gospel at peril of their lives. Men, to the teeth of tyrants, have proclaimed it, and have suffered the loss of all things, and gone to prison and to death for it, singing psalms all the while. Is there not such a gospel remaining?

Do you have any favorite Spurgeon quotes?  Leave me a comment below.

“He LIVED”

Continuing on the topic of George Whitefield, here is more on what Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers” – perhaps the single most influential preacher of recent centuries – had to say about him:

“There is no end to the interest which attaches to such a man as George Whitefield. Often as I have read his life, I am conscious of distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. He LIVED. Other men seem to be only half-alive, but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing, force. My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitfield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow in his glorious track.”

The more I read about Whitefield and his life, the more I desire that by the grace of God I might live like him.