I hadn’t noticed it until recently, but Paul says something unexpected in the first chapter of Romans. The apostle first introduces himself to the church (1:1), then underscores his theological and spiritual credentials (1:2-7), and expresses his genuine love for the believers in Rome (1:8). Paul longs to see these brothers and sisters, and he reports that he has prayed toward that end (1:9-10).
Paul had good reasons why he wanted to see the Christians in Rome; he desired to strengthen them through the impartation of a spiritual gift (1:11) and the preaching of the gospel (1:15). That makes sense. What I find remarkable is what Paul says immediately following verse 11.
For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:11-12; emphasis added). Continue reading “The Pursuit of Mutual Encouragement: A Mark of Spiritual Maturity”
Discipleship, in the words of Mark Dever, is helping another person follow Jesus. Said another way (by Dever): Discipleship is doing deliberate spiritual good to another Christian.
Jesus commands Christians to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), and Christians should count it a privilege to come alongside others to aid them in their walk with the Savior. We should also receive discipleship from others with gratefulness and a desire to learn. In light of Christ’s command in Matt 28:18-20 and, for that matter, the entire structure of the New Testament where believing relationships are an indispensable means of spiritual growth (e.g., Rom 15:14; Heb 3:12-15), discipleship should be central to our individual Christian lives and our corporate church life. Continue reading “Age, Humility, and Discipleship”
Jesus, the embodiment of Divine wisdom and the source of all knowledge, sat as a young man among the religious leaders and listened carefully and asked questions (Luke 2:46). In the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God humbled himself and took on the fullness of humanity. What man truly is, Jesus truly is. And as he grew in age, he also grew intellectually as any other human would: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Continue reading “"Listening to them and Asking Them Questions": The Humility and Wisdom of Jesus”
Derek Kidner, in his book The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, makes some helpful observations about Job’s friends and why God was angry with their counsel. Kidner’s words are a stern reminder to us to proceed very carefully in matters of sympathetic grieving (“weep with those who weep”) and counsel.
It is possible to dismiss these friends of Job too lightly, for the book does no present them as hypocrites arriving to gloat (see 2:11-13), nor as heretics offering manifestly false doctrines, nor again as fools producing no serious arguments…Yet these men are ‘miserable comforters’ not only in Job’s estimation (16:2) but even more strongly in God’s (42:7-9)…A closer look at the material shows that the basic error of Job’s friends is that they overestimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume. That being so, if the book is attacking anything its target is not the familiar doctrines of other Scriptures, such as God’s justice and benevolence, his care for the righteous and punishment of the wicked, or the general law that what one sows one reaps. Rather, it attacks the arrogance of pontificating about the application of these truths, and of thereby misrepresenting God and misjudging one’s fellow man. (60-61).
Thus we must be careful not to misapply God’s Word to specific situations in which we are called to comfort and counsel. One example of this could be the misapplication of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it,” when we grieve alongside of parents whose child is out-of-control. We could begin to question otherwise godly parents, and suggest that they have been disobedient to the Lord and negligent in their parenting. But this would be the wrong way to apply this verse, since the Proverbs are given as general principles as to how the world works, not absolute promises. In such a case, we could have godly parents, who, overall, raised their child in a Christ-centered, God-honoring fashion, and yet have to endure the outright rebellion of a sinning child. Yet if we are not careful, we could come alongside of these parents in their grief and only deepen their pain by misapplying the truth of God’s Word. So the story Job’s friends serves as a (true) cautionary tale to us and exhorts us to use great care when we grieve with and counsel others.
Proverbs 18:2 is a verse seminary students (like me) would do well to memorize: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his own opinion.” How easy it is for me to convince myself of my theological expertise, waxing eloquent with friends, explaining things to professors (as if they needed my instruction!) and taking every opportune moment to give my opinion in this or that issue. But I think much of this is pride and, as this verse indicates, foolishness. Scripture would tell us that maturity is seen in one who is slow to speak, quick to listen, and in one who always ponders their answer before they give it. Fools, on the other hand, can’t stop blabbing. And unfortunately, this is a vicious circle. The more I spout my opinion, the less I learn. The less I learn, the more empty and groundless my opinions become.
Yet, quiet thoughtfulness is not something that should only characterize my time in seminary. Throughout my life I anticipate my growth in understanding and knowledge to be in direct proportion with my ability to be quiet and listen. There will always be people more wise than us, and the moment we forget this vital truth, we put ourselves out of the reach of genuine instruction and in a spiritually precarious position.
This is not to discourage good discussion in the classroom or the sincere asking of questions; nor does it mean that we are obligated to thoughtlessly swallow every last word our professors speak—this would also be unwise. But the overall tenor of the classroom should be, for the students, one of diligent and thoughtful learning. There is a reason why they are the teacher and we are not.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.–Proverbs 18:13
What if I told you that we are not entitled to critique something or someone until we have demonstrated understanding of what we are critiquing? If we took this little rule to heart, it would probably change the way we typically evaluate and talk about the world and people around us. How easy (and self-gratifying) it is to evaluate, criticize and pick apart people and ideas–to be quick to form and give our opinions on various issues–only to later look like a fool because we really do not know what we are talking about. Continue reading “Hearing Before we Answer: Thoughts on Proverbs 18:13”
The life of Solomon, although tragic, is an excellent warning to American Christians. His spiritual life began well: he was the son of a great and godly king, he was beloved in the sight of God, and, in his role as the new sovereign of Israel, desired wisdom above earthly riches in order to rule God’s people well. It was this desire after wisdom that caused God to not only bless Solomon with the wisdom he requested, but to also grant him riches that he did not request. God was pleased with his new king.
Solomon displayed his wisdom in not only public demonstrations of justice, but also by producing thousands of proverbs; nuggets of practical wisdom that were divinely inspired, approved and preserved in the canon of Scripture.
It was not long into his rule, however, that Solomon began to cast aside his God-given wisdom and pursue folly; the same folly that he so adamantly spoke against in his own proverbs. Soon, his life was engulfed in materialism, idolatry and sex; far from the God to whom he used to draw near. Solomon’s turn from God eventually led to the split of his own kingdom.
So why do I say that Solomon’s life is a warning to American Christians? Because, from the life of Solomon we see that it is possible to pray for, receive, teach, and write about wisdom, and yet totally forsake it ourselves. Look around you. How many Bibles do you own? How many spiritual books full of wisdom are on your shelf? How many wise and instructive sermons have you heard? How many people have you instructed yourself? None of these things guarantee that you will live a life of wisdom. So take Solomon’s life as a gracious warning and seek diligently to not just pray for, not just know, not just teach, and not just write about wisdom, but to truly live it yourself.