Category Archives: Sermons

Men and Women in the Church — Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8-15

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Recently, at Synod Meppel, our sister churches in the Netherlands decided to admit women to all the offices of the church.  So, effective immediately in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, women can serve as ministers, elders, and deacons.  They were warned not to make this decision.  Amongst others, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia warned the Dutch not to go in this direction.  We warned them because this direction is contrary to the Word of God.  Sadly, they didn’t listen to our warnings.  Next year, we have a Synod in Bunbury and it will be the responsibility of that synod to break the relationship with the RCN.  It’s very sad, especially for those who of us who’ve come from the Netherlands and still have family and friends there.

It’s also sad because the ways of thinking that led to this decision tempt us as well.  It would be so easy to follow the Dutch direction on this.  What the Bible says about women is offensive to modern ears.  Western society has seen three waves of feminism and it’s taken our world in a radically different direction to the Bible.  It would be tempting to find some interpretation of the Bible that allows us to look more attractive to those influenced by feminism.  The Dutch seem to have found that interpretation and you might be wondering if perhaps they got it right.

A related temptation is the feeling that we need to apologize for what the Bible teaches about men and women.  “I’m sorry, I don’t like it, but this is what the Bible says.  I have to believe it, even though I don’t like it.”  We just sang from Psalm 119.  Do you ever find a note of regret or apology in Psalm 119 about God’s Word?  No, quite the opposite.  The Psalmist expresses his delight in God’s Word.  He doesn’t care that God’s Word contradicts the world.  He doesn’t feel the need to apologize for that.  God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, a lantern for our path.  God’s law assures us of his love.  In Psalm 119, the Psalmist has the highest view of God’s Word, he loves God’s Word, all of it, and so should we.  So, loved ones, let’s not ever feel like we need to apologize for what God says in Scripture about anything.  Unbelievers and compromised Christians may find it offensive, but that’s their problem.  That’s not our problem, or the problem of Scripture.  They have rebellious hearts that refuse to accept what God says.  They should be the ones repenting and apologizing to God.  Never, ever apologize for what Scripture says, as if you’re ashamed of it.  When you do that, you’re really saying that you’re ashamed of God, embarrassed by him.

In the light of these temptations, we’re going to look this morning at one of the key passages in the New Testament about men and women in the church.  We’ll do it so that we’re completely confident with what it says, because we know the one who says it is trustworthy.  The world is full of lies, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.  He has given us the Scriptures as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.  When Scripture speaks, God speaks.  Let’s listen to his voice.  In our text we’ll see that the Holy Spirit reveals the roles of men and women in the church.

We’ll see what he says about:

  1. The role of men
  2. The role of women
  3. The foundation of these roles

Many times when I’m working on a sermon, I write a note to myself:  remember to preach the gospel.  I think that’s especially important with a passage like this where there’s a strong emphasis on what the church ought to be doing.  Even when the emphasis in a passage is on the will of God for us, we should never leave the gospel out or take it for granted.  We’ll see in these verses that Christ is definitely there, but I also want to lay some of that out right at the beginning here.

These words were originally written to Timothy who was serving more or less as the pastor of the church at Ephesus.  Timothy’s call was first and foremost to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As he indicates right before our text, Paul did that, and so did Timothy.  They preached that every human being, man or woman, has a huge problem with God.  We are sinful and unholy, but he is sinless and holy.  This radical contrast between us and God puts up a road block for us to have fellowship with him.  The gospel is good news because it deals with that road block.  Jesus Christ deals with that road block.  He has come and lived a perfect life in our place.  Jesus has come and made the sacrifice for our sins, he died on the cross in our place, to pay our debt.  This is how we are declared right with God – only through the perfect work of Christ.  When that gospel message was proclaimed in Ephesus, there were those who believed.  And after believing, they were further discipled in the ways of Christ.  They were taught Christ’s will for their lives.  They were taught how to live as Christians in response to God’s gospel grace.

What we have here in this passage is not about earning merit before God.  Instead, it’s about how Christians respond to grace.  They respond by following God’s will.  Christians take seriously what Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…”  What we have in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is the will of Christ for his church.  If we have been saved by him, how can we not love him?  If we love him, we will keep his commandments, also what’s laid out here for his church.

What’s laid out here has to do first with the prayers of the church.  Earlier in the chapter, we read of how the Holy Spirit wanted “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” to be made for all kinds of people, including rulers.  Now in verse 8, another question is addressed:  who should be doing this prayer?  Who should be praying when the church gathers together for worship?

There are a couple of things to note before we look at the answer.  First, this is about leading in prayer.  From 1 Corinthians 11, we know that it’s expected that women will pray in public worship.  Women are expected to pray, just as men are.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is:  who leads in prayer?

Second, verse 8 begins with “I desire…”  These words were written by the apostle Paul.  But not merely by Paul.  These words were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So what follows in verse 8 is not a human opinion or view.  How do we know this?  Because of what the Bible says in 2 Peter 3:16.  It says there that there are ignorant and unstable people who twist the Scriptures.  They do that to the Old Testament, but they also do that to Paul’s writings, which are also called Scripture by Peter.  Paul’s words in the Bible are the Word of God.  So, when it says, “I desire…”  you could legitimately say “the Holy Spirit desires.”  This is what God wants, not just what Paul wants.  If you disrespect these words, you disrespect God himself.

So then the question is:  who should lead in prayer?  The Holy Spirit’s answer:  “in every place the men should pray.”  Notice how he says, “in every place.”  This is not just for Ephesus.  This is on the same line as 1 Corinthians 14:33, “As in all the churches of the saints…”  Every church everywhere in every age is to follow this teaching from God that the men should be leading in prayer.

It says further that the men are to be “lifting holy hands.”  You might read that and say, “So how come we don’t take that literally?”  It’s true: we don’t normally lift up our hands in prayer.  And that’s okay.  It’s okay once you realize that the Bible describes numerous postures for prayer.  There’s standing, hands spread out, bowing the head, lifting the eyes, kneeling, falling down with your face on the ground, bowing, beating your chest, and so on.  Obviously some of these postures rule out the other ones.   Does the Holy Spirit mean to prescribe a certain posture?  No, instead, he describes the common prayer postures used by God’s people.  Certainly, whenever we pray we ought to be respectful not only with our words, but also with our posture.  But Scripture doesn’t insist that one posture is required over against another.

More important than the posture is the state of the heart of the one leading in prayer.  The hands are to be holy – which means that the person has to be in living communion with Christ through faith.  Living communion with Christ leads to holiness in growing measures.  It also leads to anger and quarrelling being set aside.  In the church, men are called to lead in prayer, and they’re called to do so as men who live holy lives at peace with their neighbours.

So the Holy Spirit says here that men are called to be prayer leaders in public worship.  If we were to go on to chapter 3 of 1 Timothy, we would find that men are called to be leaders in the church in general as well.  For example, the office bearers are to be husbands of one wife – “husbands.”  Clearly, the Holy Spirit did not intend that women should serve as office bearers, as ministers, elders, and deacons.  If God had wanted women as well as men to be office bearers, he could have said, “husbands or wives,” but he said, “husbands.”  Brothers and sisters, Scripture is clear.  Men are called to be leaders in the church.  They’re to lead in prayer in worship.  They’re called to lead as office bearers.  Men, and men alone, are given the responsibility of leadership in the church.  And lest there be any misunderstanding, please note again that the Spirit is especially speaking here in verse 8 about public worship.  This isn’t saying that women can’t lead in prayer at a Wednesday morning Bible study or something like that.  This is about what the church does as it gathers in the presence of God for public worship.

And what about women?   What does the Holy Spirit say about their role in the church here?  Verse 9 begins with the word “likewise,” which means that God’s Word here applies in every place, just as verse 8 does.  This is something meant for Christian women in every church in every age, including our own.  The Spirit says that Christian women should adorn themselves.  Isn’t that interesting?  Adorning is speaking about how you present yourself.  A Christian woman has to think about that.  The Holy Spirit tells you to adorn yourself – think about how you look to others.  But then he also tells you to do it in a particular way.

It’s not to be with “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”  These things are referring to extravagant clothing and accessories.  The braided hair of that time included expensive and eye-catching ribbons and bows.  The woman dressed in the way described here draws attention to herself with the amount of money that she’s spent on herself.  She wants to be the center of attention, have people notice her for all the wrong reasons.  A Christian woman is called to have other priorities in how she adorns herself.

Outwardly, with regard to clothing, she’s to have “respectable apparel.” That refers to modest clothing.  But note that the Christian woman is called to adorn herself with this.  She’s to make herself beautiful with respectable apparel.  It’s not that you have to wear ugly clothing, but clothing that is both beautiful and respectable.  Modest doesn’t have to be ugly.  You should still strive to adorn yourself.  This is also true when it comes to how we dress for church.  All of us, both male and female, have to remember what’s happening when we worship.  We’re meeting with the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  We’re meeting with someone splendid in majesty.  Malachi 1 impresses us with the importance of bringing our best when we worship God.  The Holy Spirit points out that God’s people were bringing less than the best.  He says, “Try that with your human rulers.  And yet you do that with God!”  The lesson is clear:  when we worship, we’re to bring our best.  That’s going to be reflected also in how we dress.

But it’s not just about the clothing – the heart is also in view here.  The Holy Spirit says in verse 9 that there’s also to be modesty and self-control.  These are inner virtues.  They express themselves outwardly, but they come from the heart.  Modesty and self-control means that a Christian woman isn’t about being the center of attention.  A Christian woman realizes that she has the power to use her appearance in a sinful way.  She could dress seductively, she could conduct herself like someone on the prowl, but a Christian woman restrains herself and acts modestly and with self-control.  She reflects who she is in Christ.  She belongs to Christ, has union with him, therefore she honours him with how she dresses, how she looks, and also how she behaves.

Verse 10 expands on that a little bit further.  What is proper for a woman who professes godliness?  All the things already mentioned:  respectable apparel, modesty, self-control, but then also good works.  Doing what is pleasing in the sight of God is what is proper for Christian women.

Now you might be asking yourself why there’s so much here directed towards women.  There’s one verse about men, and then seven about women.  There are two reasons.  One is that in every age there’s the impulse to rebel against what God has laid out.  Our age isn’t unique in that regard.  There’s always a tendency to throw out what God wants, and this is also true when it comes to foundational things like the roles of men and women in the church.  But the second reason has to do with particular challenges.  In the days of Timothy and Paul, there was this goddess named Diana or Artemis.  There was a well-known temple for her in Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering.  The worship of Diana included prostitutes, and Diana also had priestesses who led people in the worship of her.  When Gentile Ephesians became Christians, they would have to realize that the worship of the true God is different.  The true God has different standards and different roles for women than the goddess Diana.

In our day, we don’t have a goddess Diana that people worship anymore.  However, we do have something similar in feminism.  Feminism overturns God’s plan for men and women.  Feminism says that men and women are to be equal in every way, that there’s no difference between men and women.  According to feminism, a woman is not valuable unless she can do exactly all the same work that a man does.  So, men in the army go into combat, women in the army should go into combat too — that kind of thing.  The Ephesian Christians faced a challenge from their culture about the roles of men and women.  We face a challenge today too.  The challenge is to what God’s Word says, to what the Creator says about his Creatures.

God’s Word says that men and women are equal in worth.  We have equal value as human beings created in the image of God.  This is the point in Galatians 3:28 where the Spirit says that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.  However, equal value does not mean that men and women were created for the same roles.  That’s where the confusion sets in.  The Bible is clear that men and women are equal, but yet different.  The difference does not mean a lesser worth, but it does mean different roles.  For instance, in the home, a man cannot be a mother.  A woman cannot be a father.  When it comes to the church, men are called to be leaders, and women are called to be followers.

That brings us to verse 11.  Again, this is speaking about public worship.  In worship, a woman is to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” As fellow disciples of Christ, women are called to learn.  But their learning is to be done in a certain way:  in quietness and with submissiveness.  When it comes to public worship, a woman’s place is not at the forefront.  In its original context, this apparently envisaged the situation where questions would sometimes be asked out loud during the worship service.  Even into the early church in the days of Augustine, it wasn’t unheard of for people to ask questions of the preacher out loud during the sermon.  Here the Holy Spirit says that when that happens, it shouldn’t be the women raising their voices.  Men should show leadership also in the learning process in the church.

Verse 12 is about teaching in the church.  A woman’s place is not to teach men or to have authority over men.  That’s another way of saying that it is not the place of a woman in Christ’s church to be a special office bearer.  Teaching and having authority are connected with being office bearers.  Again if you look at chapter 3, an overseer or elder is to be able to teach.  That’s part of what they do.  An office bearer is in a position of authority in the church.  An elder oversees the congregation and shepherds it.  A deacon oversees the ministry of mercy in the congregation.  They are both positions that involve the exercise of authority.  Consequently, they’re not open to women.  Instead, women are to be in silence.  That means that in the church, women are to be followers, rather than leaders.  The Holy Spirit says that this is their place.  If you reject this, you reject what the Spirit says.  If you reject this, you slap God himself in the face.

Now again, the context here needs to be clearly understood.  This is speaking about life in the church, and especially about our worship.  When Scripture says, “I do not permit a woman to teach…” that’s not to say that a mother can’t teach her children.  Proverbs 6:20 says, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”  Proverbs 31 is well-known as that passage teaching us about the virtuous godly wife.  It says in verse 1 of Proverbs 31 that this came from the mother of King Lemuel.  She taught it to him.  Proverbs 31:26 says that with the godly wife, “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”  She’s teaching.  Scripture says that women can and must teach their children.  By extension, they can also teach other children at school.  There’s nothing in Scripture against that.  No, what it says here in 1 Timothy 2 is about life in the church, and particularly about public worship.  Here, in worship, this is not the place for women to be teaching and carrying out a leadership role.  It would be out of place, inappropriate.  As someone pointed out, it would be like taking a fish out of water and trying to make it live on the land.  The fish belongs in the water.  That’s the place where it was designed to live and thrive.

Now the natural thing to do would be to ask, “Why?”  Why does the Holy Spirit forbid women from teaching and exercising authority in the church?  Why does God say what he does about the role of women in the church?  The answer to that comes in verses 13 and 14.

The Holy Spirit first takes us to creation.  Adam was created first, then Eve, says verse 13.  At the beginning, God first created a man.  He created the first human being and that was a biological male created from the dust of the earth.  God then created a helper for Adam from one of his ribs.  Eve was created as a helper for Adam.  She was created for him, not the other way around.  The exact language is in Genesis 2:18, “a helper fit for him.”  Adam was created to be the leader, and Eve was created to be his helper and follower.  That was the way it was designed to be from the beginning.  Adam and Eve were created both as human beings, both valuable in the sight of God, but with different roles.

Then the Holy Spirit also takes us to Genesis 3 and the fall into sin.  This is in verse 14.  He points out that when the fall into sin happened, the woman was at the forefront.  Adam was not deceived, but the woman.  Eve was led astray by Satan.  She was the first human sinner.  She led the way in sin.  She should have been a follower, but she became a leader.  She led in the wrong direction and Adam followed.  She rejected God’s plan for her place.  So now the Holy Spirit has to remind women that their place in the family and in the church is to be one of following and submissiveness.  Had the fall never happened, this would be unnecessary.

Loved ones, I want you to notice something crucially important here.  When it comes to the rationale or foundation of what’s in this text about male/female roles in the church, there’s nothing about the culture.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t say, “Women should not teach, because that’s not how it’s done in your patriarchal culture.”  He doesn’t say, “Women shouldn’t have authority over men, because I know that your society won’t accept that.”  We’ve already seen that, in that culture, women did have authority over men in religion.  Women in Ephesus were priestesses for Diana/Artemis.  What’s said here was against the culture back in those days already.  And it still is today.  Look, it’s not grounded on culture.  It’s based on creation.  It’s based on what happened in Genesis 1-3.  God made the man first.  God made Adam and all men after him to be leaders.  God made Eve and all women after her to be followers.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be in the church.  It has nothing to do with culture.  It has everything to do with how God made it from the beginning.

That brings us to verse 15.  This is a difficult verse to understand, probably the most difficult part of our text.  The rest is easy to understand – it’s applying it that people struggle with.  But this is challenging.  What does it mean that “she will be saved through childbearing”?  There are different ideas amongst scholars and we don’t need to go through all of them.  I’ll just explain what I believe is the best interpretation.

In the original Greek, it literally says that “she will be saved through the childbearing.”  So it’s not about salvation through childbearing in general, but through the bearing of a specific child.  If we look at the preceding context, we find that there is a Mediator who came into this world as one of us.  Jesus Christ was born of a woman, born as a true human being to bring salvation for all, including for believing women.  Salvation comes through the bearing of children.  It starts in Genesis 3:15 with God’s promise that the seed of the woman will smash the head of the serpent.  There’s a whole line of children that follow and then, finally, Mary carries the Messiah in her womb and gives birth to him.  Childbearing and especially the bearing of that child, brings salvation to fallen women.  Jesus Christ comes through the womb of the Virgin to bring redemption from sin and its consequences.

However, there is a condition.  There’s an “if” in verse 15.  They must continue in faith.  Christian women must continue to look to Christ in trust, to believe that he is their righteousness before God.  And their faith must also bear the fruit of love, holiness, and self-control.  By bearing such fruit, their faith in Christ proves to be genuine.  A godly Christian woman knows her place in the church, but she also knows her Saviour through faith.  She places all her hope in Jesus.  She’s connected to him by faith, and that has a result in her life.  She loves God and her neighbour.  She pursues holiness, hating sin and loving righteousness.  She’s self-controlled – she doesn’t let herself go into ways of immorality, but keeps a rein on her lips, her heart, and her whole life.

For unbelieving hearts, all of this is tough to swallow.  The unregenerated heart doesn’t want to accept what God says about our need for redemption, or God’s design for men and women.  Sadly, some who profess to be Christians also don’t want to accept what Scripture so clearly and plainly says.  We can look at our Dutch sister churches and lament their apostasy on this point.  They have fallen away from God’s truth on this matter and that’s deplorable.  But we ought also to remember what Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Let’s examine our own hearts and lives, both as men and women in Christ’s church.  Men, are you showing leadership in your homes and in the church?  Or are you dropping the ball?  Our text is a wake-up call for men to be men.  Women, are you content with the place God has given you?  Does this passage irritate you or are you happy to follow what the Holy Spirit lays out for you here?

Brothers and sisters, there are many places in the Bible that run against the current of society today.  This is just one of them.  If we begin to cave in on teachings like this, it will not be long before we start caving in on all kinds of other teachings too.  We’ll soon find ourselves caving in on even more basic teachings regarding our salvation in Christ.  We’ll soon lose the gospel itself.  Listen:  we have to resist the temptation to adapt God’s Word to our culture.  Instead, God calls us to bring ourselves and our world into line with his Word.  He’s the Creator, he knows best.  He’s our Father, he loves us.  He’s the one who’s given us redemption through his Son.  Let’s follow his will, because it’s always good and right to do so.  AMEN.

 


Sermon for Day of Prayer

In August 2015, the Free Reformed Church of Launceston asked FRC Baldivis to declare a day of prayer in view of the pressures towards same-sex marriage and other breaches of biblical norms on sexuality and marriage.  FRC Baldivis agreed to declare a day of prayer for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia on 12 February 2017.  I chose to preach on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  

***********************

Beloved congregation of Christ,

If our federal government had gotten its way, yesterday we would have gone to the polls to vote in a plebiscite on so-called marriage equality.  We would have been voting on whether or not the Australian government should allow for same-sex marriage.  However, the other parties blocked the plebiscite.  They want to have a free vote in parliament on the matter.  We shouldn’t be thinking that this matter is done and dusted.  Labour, the Greens, and even some from the Coalition are still pushing for a free vote.  It would probably only take a change of Prime Minister to make it happen, and given how often this country has been changing prime ministers in recent years, don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, the media is also putting enormous pressure on our society to allow for homosexual people to get married.  While I was in Cairns, I watched a bit of a TV show called Bride and Prejudice.  Maybe some of you have seen it.  It’s about “forbidden marriages,” couples getting married against their parents’ wishes.  One of the couples is two men, Chris and Grant.  Grant is an American, and his parents are supportive.  Chris is an Australian, and his parents are totally against the marriage.  His mom is a Jehovah’s Witness and his ex-military dad is portrayed as just another Aussie bigot.  The show creates sympathy for Chris.  And also for Chris and Grant as a couple.  After all, they have to travel all the way from Australia to Palm Springs, California in order to exchange their wedding vows.  TV shows like this prepared the way for same-sex marriage in North America and TV producers know that this has power to change things here in Australia too.

In August of 2015 the consistory [of the FRC Launceston] sent a letter to the church at Baldivis asking for a Day of Prayer in view of efforts in our nation to allow for same-sex marriage.  The church at Baldivis is the church for calling Days of Prayer.  They considered the matter and agreed to call for a Day of Prayer in our bond of churches for today.  It’s not only because of same-sex marriage, but also because of other pressures on biblical norms regarding marriage and sexuality.  We think of sexual activity before or outside of marriage, pornography, divorce, gender confusion, and so on.  Today, we will pray for our nation.  We’ll pray here in church, but you’re also encouraged to pray at home with your family, and as an individual.  We must plead with the Lord to have mercy on Australia.  We have to beg him to restrain the forces of evil which continue to threaten our national well-being.

But in connection with that, it’s also good for us to be reminded from God’s Word about the norms that God has established for marriage and human sexuality.  That’s why we’re looking at this passage from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 this morning.  This should be a well-known passage to us.  When we’re faced with the issues we’re facing today, our thoughts should go to what God’s Word says here.  This passage is clear about what’s sinful.  It identifies various sinful behaviours and tells us what the consequences are.  But it also offers hope with the gospel.  Through the good news of Jesus Christ, there is a way for people to be delivered from sin.  There’s not only a way for us to be delivered, but also a way for this nation we love.

The passage tells us of two types of people:  unbelievers and believers.  It shows us not only how they are different in principle, but also how they must be different in practice.  You could say there’s both description and prescription.  And so I preach to you God’s Word from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 with this theme:  There’s to be a radical contrast between unbelievers and believers.

We’ll consider what characterizes:

  1. Unbelievers
  2. Christians

We sometimes think that our society must be one of the worst that’s ever existed.   Morally speaking, can there have been a worse time in human history?  Knowing your history helps you to keep everything in perspective.  If you know something about the history of Corinth, that helps you realize that the wickedness of our day is more of a revival than an innovation.  It’s a revival of evil, not the appearance of something that’s never been seen before.

The city of Corinth had a reputation, even amongst pagan Romans and Greeks.  It was originally founded in the time of the ancient Greeks, and then re-established in the time of the Roman Empire.  It was a port city and, as a result, also a party city.  It was a place to have a good time, a place to get drunk and go crazy.  Corinth had wide-spread prostitution, male and female.  Some of that prostitution was associated with the worship of Roman gods.  You’d go to a pagan temple and the worship involved sex.  Homosexuality was accepted as normal in Corinth, both for men and women.  Men would often be involved in homosexual relationships with boys.  Marriage was not really respected.  Corinth in the days of Paul was a cesspool of vice and the ugliest forms of paganism.

The gospel came to Corinth sometime in the early 50s.  Paul was part of the way in which that happened, but others were involved too, like Priscilla and Aquila, as well as Apollos.  The gospel came and there were people who heard the good news of Jesus and believed it.  They turned from their sin and turned to Christ.  By the time Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthian church had only existed for a few years – perhaps even only three years.  The people to whom he was writing were still baby Christians.

They were babes in the faith, “infants in Christ,” and it showed.  You just have to read through the first chapters of this letter to see the issues they were dealing with.  There was division and disharmony, infighting.  Then in chapter 5, we find that the church was even tolerating stuff that the world would find disgraceful.  There was incest – a man who called himself a Christian, a member of the church, sleeping with his step-mother.  The church turned a blind eye to it.  No discipline.  Then chapter 6 describes even more ugly stuff in the Corinthian church.  People who called themselves Christians were suing each other in court.  Church members were engaged in lawsuits amongst themselves.  It was shameful.  Look, the problem was not that the Corinthian church existed in the world, the problem was that the world was in the church.  In some key ways, the church was indistinguishable from the world.  In some ways, they were even outdoing the world’s wickedness.

That was the problem that the Holy Spirit was addressing in our text.  It wasn’t the world’s wickedness as such, but the fact that the church was joining in with the world, and in some ways even surpassing it.  It’s a pretty sad situation when the church is living worse than the world.  How can a church like that bring honour and glory to God?

Verse 9 has Paul asking a rhetorical question.  A rhetorical question is one where the answer is obvious.  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”  Of course, they know that!  They know it because Paul and others taught it to them.  When the gospel came to Corinth, the missionaries taught that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ in faith.  You can’t keep on living in sin if you become a Christian.  They knew that – they knew it with their minds, but their lives were saying that some of them didn’t know it with their hearts.  They didn’t really know it in the most meaningful way.  So this rhetorical question is meant to remind them.

They’re reminded that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.  What this means is that the person who lives in sin is not going to receive the blessings of living under God’s rule into eternity.  What it means is that the person who loves their sin and won’t hate it and fight against it is not going to have eternal life.  The person who clings to their sin and won’t let go of it is not going to heaven.  That’s true of people out there in the world, but here the Holy Spirit is especially applying these words to people in the church.  Today it’s still true, also for us:  the unrepentant and unrighteous church member will not inherit the kingdom of God — will not be saved.  You see, what first characterizes an unbeliever, whether in the church or outside, is the lack of repentance.  It’s the unwillingness to forsake sin.

What sin does is deceive us.  That’s why the next words of our text say:  “Do not be deceived…”  Sin is all about deception.  It’s about making you deny reality and live in a fantasy.  Sin came into this world through the deception of Satan with Adam and Eve.  Sin continues to exist because of lies and deceit all around us.  When the Holy Spirit says, “Do not be deceived,” he recognizes that there’s a real possibility that we might be deceived.  We need to recognize that too.  For the Corinthians, they lived in a society dominated by the lies of the devil.  We do too.  The world we live in lies to us constantly.  Do you see it?  Are you aware of the way the world is trying to bringing us away from God’s reality and into fantasies?  Think of that show Bride and Prejudice.  That show wants to deceive you.  It wants you to sign on to the cause of so-called marriage equality because you feel sorry for Chris and Grant.  It wants you to be okay with gay marriage because these men are feeling hurt when Chris’s parents won’t support them.  It plays on your emotions and tries to change your mind through your feelings.  Do not be deceived!  Be aware of the ways that sin lies to us, whether it’s our own hearts, or the lies of society around us.  Loved ones, see the lies for what they are and reject them.

In Corinth, the lie was that you can be a wicked and sinful person, and everything will be okay.  Our city tolerates just about anything.  No worries.  In the Corinthian church, the lie was that you can still live like the world, or maybe even worse, and you’ll still go to heaven, still inherit the kingdom of God.  The lie was that the holy God can’t be all that serious about sin.  In verses 9 and 10, the Holy Spirit emphatically speaks truth to the lie.

He’s finished with generalities.  Now he becomes very specific.  There are specific sins of the Corinthian world which characterize unrepentant unbelievers.  They’re named and we’re not left with any doubt.  The Holy Spirit could have left it vague, but he decided to have Paul lay it all out.  Now before we look at these specific sins, the list is not comprehensive.  Other habitual sins could have been mentioned:  like blasphemy, for instance.  But the focus here is on the predominant sins in the Corinthian context, sins which predominated in the world and were also challenging the church.  Some of these sins are also challenges in our world today.  Unless they repent, all who live in these sins remain under God’s judgment.  They will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Instead, they will inherit his wrath for eternity.

Verse 9 first mentions the sexually immoral.  This is the broadest term the New Testament uses for sexual sin.  It covers every way in which the Seventh Commandment might be broken.  The sexually immoral habitually lust after people they’re not married to – that includes through pornography.  The sexually immoral unrepentantly engage in sexual activity with people they’re not married to.  Sometimes that’s before marriage – pre-marital sex of any kind, not just the sexual activity that normally results in babies, if you get my drift.  Those who are sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God – they will not live with God in fellowship forever through Jesus Christ.

Then Paul mentions idolaters.  Remember that in Corinth idolatry and sex went together.  So there’s a direct connection between being sexually immoral and committing idolatry.  There’s not going to be any room for rationalization:  “Oh, I wasn’t really being sexually immoral because I was worshipping Aphrodite.”  For us today too, we have to realize that sexual sin also involves idolatry.  We may not have a temple to a goddess, but the nature of sexual sin is always worshipful.  Our society has turned sex into a god.  We’re tempted to do it too.  If we buy into that lie, there is no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

Adulterers will also not inherit the kingdom.  Adultery is when you’re married to someone, and then give yourself to someone else outside the marriage.  It usually starts with emotional adultery and then transitions to physical, sexual adultery.  Adultery accounts for a great number of the divorces in our world today.  In the church too, adultery is often the reason behind divorces.  God hates divorce and God hates adultery.  Therefore, he is not going to have unrepentant adulterers in his kingdom.  Are you tempted to commit adultery?  I beg you:  don’t.  If you get stuck in that sin — and it’s easy to get stuck in it — you won’t have a place in God’s kingdom.

Then we have “men who practice homosexuality.”  The original Greek actually uses two terms here.  If you look at the note in the ESV, it says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”  This then refers to people who are actively in homosexual relationships.  It’s not speaking about Christians who might struggle with same-sex attraction, but about those who are actually engaged in homosexual activity.  There’s a long background to the biblical view on this.  Let’s pause here and review that.

Homosexuality appears after the fall into sin.  It was not part of God’s original design for this world.  The first mention of homosexual behaviour is in Genesis 19 with Sodom and Gomorrah.  The men of Sodom wanted to have homosexual relations with Lot’s guests.  That was partly behind God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.  Now sometimes you’ll hear people say that it was their lack of hospitality that led to God’s judgment, not their homosexuality.  Well, the little book of Jude tells us different.  Jude 7 says that these cities underwent punishment because they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.”  You can’t get around that.

The rest of the Old Testament likewise describes homosexual behaviour as an abomination in God’s sight.  Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.”  Someone might say, “But that’s in the Old Testament.  It’s in the Mosaic law, so it doesn’t apply anymore.”  Anyone who says that needs to read Romans 1.  There, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit says that homosexual lusts and activity are dishonorable and unnatural.  Homosexual activity, whether among men or women, is shameful according to Romans 1.  Loved ones, the Bible is clear.  First Corinthians 6 is not the only place that says it.  The whole Bible testifies that God views homosexual lusts and activity as sinful.  When you give yourself over to that lifestyle, you’re not a Christian.  When you commit yourself to identifying as a homosexual person and living a homosexual life, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The world around us tells us lies about this.  The Bible tells us the truth.  The Bible teaches us that we can never accept this.  Since it goes against God’s plan for the good of our race, we should do everything we can to fight against efforts to normalize homosexuality, especially in regard to same-sex marriage.  Look, if the Bible tells us that homosexual behaviour is sinful and destructive, then obviously same-sex marriage is too.  If it comes to a free vote in Parliament, we’re going to need to mobilize.  We’re going to have to contact our elected representatives and present the case against it.  Do everything we can.

Let me say one more thing.  Following the biblical teaching on this doesn’t allow for us to be rude or mean-spirited towards our homosexual neighbours.  I know, by holding to what the Bible says, they’ll already think we’re rude or mean-spirited.  They’ll call us homophobic or bigoted or whatever else.  But we’re still to treat people with respect.  People who identify as homosexuals are still created in the image of God.  We’re called to love them, not hate them.  We can’t approve of what they do, but we can still pray for them and be kind to them as much as we can.  We ought to long for the opportunity to share the gospel with them, and to see them believe it and have their lives changed by it.

Verse 10 describes others who won’t inherit the kingdom.  Unbelievers characterized by thieving won’t.  Those who are greedy won’t.  Notice with this one how there’s a heart issue explicitly mentioned here.  Greed is something that lives in the heart and is not always visible on the outside.  You can hide greed.  But if you’re hiding greed in your heart and holding on to it and living with it, the kingdom of God is closed to you.  Drunkards are mentioned next.  If you think it’s okay to get drunk every weekend, you’re not a Christian bound for heaven.  If you think it’s okay to get drunk at any time, the Holy Spirit says you’re out.  Revilers are people who use abusive language.  They treat people with disrespect.  In connection with today’s Day of Prayer, it’s fair to say that if you constantly treat homosexuals (or anyone else) with abusive and hateful language, you will no more inherit the kingdom of God than they will.  Last of all, there’s mention of swindlers.  These are con-artists.  They trick people and defraud them.  As long as they don’t repent, swindlers are also barred from the kingdom.

It’s quite a list and again I remind you of two things:  the list is particular to the situation in that church in that time.  It’s not comprehensive.  You might go through the list and notice that your pet sin is missing.  You might congratulate yourself on still being an heir to the kingdom of God.  You’re deceiving yourself if you do that.  Read the whole Bible and you’ll find that any sin not repented of results in your name not being on the list of kingdom heirs.

Second, let me remind you that it is not the case that having committed any of these sins in the past automatically results in your disqualification from the kingdom.  I’m sure there’s someone here who’s been sexually immoral, who’s worshipped idols, been drunk.  Perhaps some have robbed or swindled.  We may even have people here who have engaged in homosexual activity.  The passage tells us that all these things are sinful, but that’s not all.  It also tells us that you’re only disqualified from a kingdom inheritance if you stay in these sins and don’t turn from them.  If you don’t repent and hate your sin, forsake it, then yes, I have to warn you:  you’re not going to heaven.  But if you hear this and you go, “Oh, I hate it that I did that.  I just hate it.  I hate it because I know God hates it.  I cast contempt on it.  I don’t want to ever do it again.  I want to live in Christ, I want to live for God’s glory.”  If you say that, you have absolutely nothing to fear.  You’re going to receive the inheritance promised to Christians.

That becomes all the more evident as we take a closer look at verse 11.  Here we find what characterizes Christians.

First of all, the Spirit says through Paul, “And such were some of you.”  Christians can have a past.  Some of the Corinthian Christians had a past life.  They used to be characterized differently.  Some were sexually immoral, others idolaters and adulterers.  Some had engaged in homosexual lifestyles.  Some had been thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers.  They had a past life.  But the past was in the past.  “Such were some of you.”  The word “were” here is crucially important.  They’re not these things any longer.  A change has come.  That change has everything to do with the gospel.  What characterizes Christians is what God has done for them in the good news.

There are three gospel things mentioned in verse 11.

“You were washed” – all those things mentioned in verses 9-10 are dirty and unclean.  When you do those things, you’re filthy in the eyes of God.  That’s true of any sin, not just the ones mentioned in our text.  Sin muddies us, pollutes us, soils us.  We need washing and the gospel is what provides that.  By believing in Jesus Christ, sins are washed away with his blood.  We are made whiter than snow in God’s eyes.  All the filth is gone, and there’s nothing but purity and holiness.  The washing is what God does for believers.  He did it for the Corinthians, he does it for us, and he’ll do it for anyone who takes hold of Christ by faith.  If anyone says, “I’m a dirty sinner in God’s eyes, I need washing with Christ’s blood – O God, please wash me and make me clean”  — if anyone says that, God will hear and answer.  He will wash and purify the dirtiest sinner.

“You were sanctified” – sometimes sanctification in the Bible is speaking about the process of becoming holy.  But there is another way that the Bible speaks about sanctification and that’s what we find here.  This is what we call definitive sanctification.  When God chooses someone, calls someone, works faith in someone, and so on – he is setting that person apart from the sinful mass of humanity.  He is setting that person apart as his chosen child.  All who truly believe in Jesus Christ are definitively sanctified in this way.  The true Christians in Corinth too were sanctified by God, marked as his, set apart as his own beloved people.  Formerly they were enslaved to sin, but now they’re God’s children.  God does that through the gospel.

Last of all, “you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Justification – I love to preach on it.  This is such a rich and beautiful part of the gospel.  This morning, we can only touch on it.  Justification is God’s one-time declaration that we are right with him because of what Christ has done in his life and death.  When we embrace Jesus as our Saviour, the heavenly Judge declares that we are righteous.  He says that we have everything we need to live with him forever.  We have perfect obedience in the life of Christ has lived for us.  We have forgiveness through the death of Christ on the cross for us.  All of it is guaranteed in the resurrection of Christ.  The resurrection was God’s way of saying that he accepted Christ’s work on our behalf.  The Judge says that believers are right with him, and we’re adopted into his family.  We are heirs of the kingdom of God!  Our Father has bequeathed us his kingdom.  We have this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and it also comes to us by the Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who gives faith so that Christians take hold of Christ for salvation.

So these Corinthians with a shady past had been washed, sanctified, and justified by God.  The gospel had changed their standing before God.  What characterizes Christians is the incredible work of God in their lives, bringing them to Christ through repentance and faith.

Implied in these verses is the idea that the Corinthians have to be who they are.  They can’t go back to being like the world.  They have to be different, because of what God has done in their lives by his grace.  God has called them to be different.  Christians in the church can’t walk like the world does.  If we’ve been washed, we can’t wallow in the muck.  If we’ve been set apart, we can’t try to erase the distinction God has made with us.  If we’ve been justified, we can’t act like we’re still accused sinners outside of God’s family, living under his condemnation.  So that’s one important take-away from this passage:  if you’re truly a Christian, more and more the past has to be in the past.  That’s a process, but it’s an essential one.  Without that process, no one is a Christian.

Another important take-away from this passage relates to our current situation.  We have real hope to offer this world.  Look at those words again in verse 11, especially at the beginning, “And such were some of you.”  There is hope for change in the gospel.  People’s lives can really be changed, and that happens through the good news of Jesus Christ.  On this Day of Prayer, just think of one or two people you know who are lost.  They’re not Christians.  Perhaps they’re living in one of the ways described in our text.  Maybe it’s a different way.  But they’re without Christ.  They haven’t been washed, sanctified, justified.  Do you know someone like that?  Think of that person.  On this Day of Prayer, I would encourage you to pray for that person by name, intently and specifically.  Pray for God to open their heart for the gospel.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to do his work of regeneration.  Pray for that person to see their sin and misery and their need for Jesus.  Pray that you would have opportunities or more opportunities to share your gospel hope with him or her.  Ask God to give you love for that person, and also courage to speak, wisdom to say the right words at the right moment.  Loved ones, God hears these prayers and he will do surprising things with them.  Expect it.  But pray.  If we want to see our beloved country repent and follow the Lord, it starts with us praying for individual fellow Australians, caring for them, and sharing the gospel hope.  No one is beyond that hope.  The Corinthian church testified to that.  “And such were some of you.”

Loved ones, our world is dark and seems to be getting darker.  You could look at that and just resign yourself to it.  You could be passive and just say, “Oh well, the Bible said it would get worse and worse, so there’s no point in fighting it or saying anything.”  That would be a wicked response.  It’s wicked because it shows no love.  Do you love your country?  Do you love your neighbours?  Shouldn’t we care about the welfare of our land?  If we care, shouldn’t we do something?  Shouldn’t we say what we can when we can to stem the tide of wickedness?  Shouldn’t we at least pray?  AMEN.

 

 


Bible Study Resources

Open Bible

A while ago, I received a request to provide a list of some trustworthy online Bible study resources.  The background to this is Reformed people venturing out into cyberspace to research passages, only to be led off the track by resources that are not faithful.  I replied to this request and thought it worth sharing here as well.  The list below does not imply my endorsement of everything published on each of these sites.  While all of these resources come from a Reformed orientation (all of them are managed by confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian believers) they still need to be used with discernment.  We ought always to have the spirit of the Bereans, testing everything against the Scriptures to see whether these things are really so (Acts 17:11).  Here’s the list:

  • http://theseed.info/ — presently has 1384 Reformed sermons on a wide variety of Scripture passages and Lord’s Days from the Heidelberg Catechism.  This resource should get more attention as a Bible Study aid.
  • http://www.ligonier.org/ — the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul.  
  •  http://thirdmill.org/ — has heaps of resources, both regarding Scripture and theology.  Some are at a seminary level, but I think a lot of it will be accessible to regular folk.
  • https://www.monergism.com/ — a comprehensive collection of older Reformed writings, including commentaries.
  •  https://reformedbooksonline.com/ — includes links to dozens of online commentaries.  Run by a couple of my acquaintances from the US, both solid men.    

I know there are only five links there, but in those five links are thousands of pages of biblical exposition and other study aids.  Enjoy!


Sermons in Afrikaans

I’ve just added a new page to the “Sermons” section — five sermons in Afrikaans.  Thanks to Len De Vente for translating these!


Got End Times Questions?

mark 13v33

One of the things I do with my catechism students is regular Q & A sessions.  Rather than having me ask all the questions with them (hopefully) giving the answers, we turn the tables around every now and then.  They’re welcome to come to class with whatever questions and I do my best to answer them.  Of course, the questions are limited to things pertaining to the Bible, theology, ethics, church life — you know, areas where I might be reasonably expected to know a thing or two.  I always enjoy these opportunities to engage the youth of the church and find out what’s on their minds.

Over the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed a pattern.  Many of the questions have to do with either the beginning or the end.  Young people seem to think a lot about what we could call the bookends of Christian theology:  protology (the doctrine of creation) and eschatology (the doctrine of the last things).  I suspect that young people are not alone in this regard.  Just yesterday, in fact, an 80 year old sister in the church approached me after the service with a question about the new heavens and new earth.

Today I want to share some of the material I’ve prepared on the topic of eschatology, particularly some of the sermons I’ve preached on it.

For my pre-confession students I’ve prepared this eschatology outline.  It’s basically a summary of Louis Berkhof’s eschatology chapter in Manual of Christian Doctrine.

I’ve preached at least four sermons on the doctrine of the last things:

Mark 13 includes Mark’s version of the so-called Olivet Discourse.  Is Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the world?

Who is the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2?  How can Scripture speak about his appearing first and yet describe Christ’s coming as sudden and unexpected?

What about the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation 20?  Is this a literal 1000 year reign of Christ?  Does it take place before or after his return?

Some day I hope to preach a series of sermons on the entire book of Revelation…but since I just started on John, I think that will be quite some time in the future.