Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

June 27, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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The Throne of Grace

In our Older Testament, there is the account of a spiritual leader named Nehemiah who, in the providence of God, assumed a tough assignment. His burden was to regather the Jews who had returned to Judah after the exile to Babylon in order to rebuild God’s city, Jerusalem, and return the people of God to the Word of God.

The Bible says that, while Nehemiah served as cupbearer to the king in Susa, the principal city of the Persian Empire, certain men from Judah came to visit him. Therefore, he inquired of them “concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 1:2). And they answered, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).

“As soon as I heard these words,” Nehemiah wrote, “I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). As he prayed, he declared his faith in the covenant keeping promises of God, confessed the sins of his people, and asked God to regather and bless his people as they obeyed God’s commandments. Even more specifically, Nehemiah asked God to grant him favor in the eyes of the king.

The king asked Nehemiah about his sadness and said, “What are you requesting?” As Nehemiah described the needs of his people, he made three requests.

  1. A leave of absence to return to Jerusalem and oversee the work
  2. Authoritative letters from the king allowing him to travel abroad freely; i.e. passports
  3. Provisions of timber and supplies for the repairs and to build himself a house

The king granted his requests for the good hand of God was upon him (Nehemiah 2:8).

In this actual event in world history we have an illustration of prayer. Because of the work of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, believers have full access to the throne room of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says it this way.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The writer of the book of Hebrews demonstrates how the priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood and, in reality, is its full and final fulfillment.

OUR PRIEST
Two qualities of Jesus, our high priest, are presented.

His Deity guaranteed His victory (v. 14a). Jesus has “passed through the heavens;” that is, He has already passed through and is still there. This is a reference to His ascension. Forty days after the Resurrection, the Bible says that Jesus physically ascended to heaven. There He exercises authority at God’s right hand. Who is this Jesus? It is “Jesus, the Son of God.” Jesus accomplished His redeeming work on behalf of sinners and re-entered the presence of God the Father. We, too, can enter the presence of God at any time because we go there in the authority of King Jesus. Read Hebrews 10:19-22.

His humanity guarantees His sympathy (v.15). The word “sympathize” means to share in experience. Jesus can do this because He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Luke 4:1-13 describes one specific time when the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted/tested by the devil.

  • Jesus was tempted with pride. He could have turned the stone to bread. He could have taken matters into his own hands instead of waiting on the Lord. But He resisted.
  • Jesus was tempted by power. He could have throne Himself off the roof of the temple. He could have saved Himself, but He resisted. He knew it was not the Father’s will for Him to be saved, but to suffer for our sins.
  • Jesus was tempted by position. He could have reached out and taken authority over all the kingdoms of the world, but it was not the Father’ time. He will…someday. But Jesus resisted the temptation of being in a position of authority.

“But,” you say, “what about the trials and tests of life itself? Can He relate to my suffering?” Yes, a thousand times, yes.

  • Jesus was tested by poverty. He never owned His own home. A rock was His only pillow.
  • Jesus was tested by physical suffering. His abuse was beyond description (scourging, crucifixion).
  • Jesus experienced loneliness. One minute crowds gathered to hear Him preach. The next minute, He was alone—even His friends ran away.
  • Jesus knows the feeling of betrayal. His companions and coworkers forsook Him.
  • Jesus was mocked and falsely accused. His enemies utilized gossip and gang dynamics to attack Him and His reputation and put Him out of their midst.

OUR PRIVILEGES
There are two privileges mentioned in the verses from Hebrews.

We can hold fast to our confession (v. 14b). This confession is not merely individual or personal. We confess Jesus as Lord, together, as a body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We can draw near with confidence (v. 16). To draw near is to continually take advantage of our access to God through Christ, which is always available. We do this with “confidence;” that is, boldness and assurance, because our security is not in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ. We are encouraged to draw near to seek God’s help for continued mercy and grace.

For the one who is hiding in the safety and security provided by the Savior, Jesus Christ, God’s throne is not a throne of fear, but of grace. In Christ, the Father welcomes us into His presence. We may enter the throne room and make our needs fully known to our compassionate God. Let us draw near to Him with confidence and assurance in Christ. Let us bring our need for mercy and grace to Him.

[This post is drawn from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]

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June 26, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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10 Ways Church Leaders May Cultivate Gossip-Resistance

This is the final post in a series drawn from Matt Mitchell’s book entitled Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. Today, I summarize the Bonus Chapter written to church leaders, which gives counsel as to how to cultivate a gossip-resistant church. Matt recommends 10 ways leaders may protect their church from the devastating consequences of out-of-control tongues.

  1. Pray Hard. The church is God’s, not ours, so we need to take its needs to Him. Pray against gossip. Pray the flock you help lead will resist the temptations of ungodly speech and pursue up-building speech instead. Lead the people of the church in prayer against gossip.
  2. Set a Godly Example. Leaders are to be thermostats, not thermometers. We do not just measure the spiritual temperature of our congregations; we help to set it by our examples. If you do not already do this, improve your screening process for leaders by incorporating an evaluation of a candidate’s character, including his or her habits of speech.
  3. Teach Against the Sin of Gossip. Plan a sermon series or a special class on this subject. Have your small groups read Resisting Gossip (a participant’s guide and Bible study is now available). Don’t assume your people know what is right and what is wrong. Teach them.
  4. Encourage Loving Small Talk. While teaching against the sin of gossip, we also need to encourage the right kind of small talk. Remember, not all small talk is sinful. Loving conversations over the back of the pew about life in general are very important for the life of a congregation.
  5. Agree to Bear with, Not Bite, One Another. We are not only fallen but filled with natural differences. Therefore, church life requires forbearance. We need to agree in advance to bear with each other and not to bite one another. Some churches are including a “no gossip” commitment in their church-membership covenants.
  6. Be Extra Careful with Reputations. Criticism is inevitable within the church, but we can decide in advance to be careful with each other when we make our criticisms. This is especially true for leadership. The congregation should not listen to someone (especially an anonymous someone) who wants to share bad news behind a church leader’s back instead of bringing it out into the open. We should not allow this for anyone in the church, but because many pastors’ livelihoods and families depend upon the pastor’s reputation, we must take special care.
  7. Watch What You Say to Outsiders. If we need to be careful within the church with people’s reputations, how much more should we be cautious in how we talk about our fellow church members to those outside the church?
  8. Open Channels for Airing Concerns. Sometimes when there is gossip within a church, it is actually the leaders’ fault. Those who are gossiping should not be doing it, but gossip flourishes when there is an oppressive regime and a tyrannical atmosphere of silence.
  9. Call Each Other Out. Read 3 John 9-10. The church John wrote to was being hijacked by a Church Boss. Self-important Diotrephes had tried to take over the church. Worse, he was gossiping maliciously about John. If you think being godly will protect you from gossip, forget about it. You can be John the apostle, and people will still gossip about you. We need to call each other out when we see church members maliciously gossiping and, as a last resort, be willing to exercise church discipline.
  10. Remember the Gospel. Leaders have the responsibility to keep the gospel central to the life of the local church. As individuals, the gospel empowers us to resist gossip’s lure and gives us the ability to love instead. The gospel also covers us with grace when we have failed.

Matt concludes his Bonus Chapter for church leaders with a powerful illustration from Chris Bruce.

Gossip is a serious problem for churches, but it doesn’t have to be. If, as James says, the tongue can light a great fire, then we might think of the church as a tree. On the one hand, we can neglect to water the tree, and stand by with a hose to put out fires that threaten its dry and brittle branches. But the much better course is to continually keep the tree watered and moist with the truth of the Gospel and the Bible’s teaching on godly speech. A tree like that, even when it encounters the flame, will not easily catch fire. A tree like that will grow and bear much fruit.

As mentioned before, this 5-part series is drawn from Matt Mitchell’s book, Resisting Gossip, which our team of elders recently read through together. I trust this topic has been personally challenging and helpful to you, as it has been for me. My hope is that it will bear fruit by strengthening your local church and protecting it from the destructive fires of gossip.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

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June 24, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Unanswered Prayer Is a Means to Test Our Faith

As God performs his sanctifying work in us—conforming us to the image of his Son, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2)—there will be times when answers to prayer seem out of all possible reach. When we try to discern the cause for this, we may find that self-examination doesn’t help. Maybe we have been diligent in trying to kick our pet sins out of the house, we’re unaware of any ongoing conflicts or offenses with other believers, and we’ve been fighting diligently against self-righteousness and an independent spirit. Nevertheless, it seems that God has closed his ears to our cries. That’s when we may begin to ask a question that God’s people have been raising for millennia.

How Long, O Lord?

This question is asked in ten different portions of the book of Psalms. Isaiah sought an answer to it, as did Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zechariah. Surely the Hebrews asked it as they languished in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. Surely the Israelites asked it as they wandered in the desert watching an entire generation die off. Undoubtedly the captives asked it in Babylon during their 70-year exile. Perplexed and weary believers in Christ certainly ask it every day in various forms, and have been doing so since the resurrection. Indeed, all creation asks continually “How long, O Lord?” as it groans, yearning for the return of the Lord and the completion of all things (Romans 8:22).

One answer spans across every expression of that question, in whatever age it may be asked: the delay is there because God is at work, and the delay itself is serving his purposes. Let’s think about this matter of delay. Imagine if all our prayers were answered swiftly and we never had to wait. It would be as if we each had a genie in a bottle who gives endless wishes. Our prayers would be more like commands than requests, and God would be rightly called our servant in heaven.

We would never endure any lingering, ongoing, bothersome challenges and difficulties. Everyone would be healthy, wealthy, and biblically wise. We would feel great all the time, our jobs would be wonderful, the weather report would always be accurate, and even civil governments would work right. We would be living as if there had never been any original sin, as if we were still in the garden before Adam and Eve fell. And that means we would never have any reason to change. Unfortunately, in nearly every case, discontentment is necessary for our sanctification. God often leaves our prayers unanswered so that we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. Unanswered prayer is a gift from God for our growth—in holiness and in every other good and godly way.

[This is the final article in a series of posts which have all been short excerpts from my book on the reasons God does not answer our prayer. For deeper study, get a copy of Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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June 23, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Stubbornness Closes God’s Ears

God listens to those who listen to him. The proof of this is all over Scripture. Isaiah 66:2 offers a prime example when God says, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Even more direct is a warning given by Zechariah. Zechariah was a minor prophet who had a major impact, foretelling both the first and second comings of the Messiah. He was also employed by God to call the Israelites to repentance. Zechariah lived in the time following Israel’s exile, after the people had returned from Babylon. His name means “The Lord remembers,” and through his voice the Lord assured his own that, although he had chastened them for 70 years in Babylon, he had not forgotten them or the covenant he made with their forefathers. Undoubtedly, Zechariah had heard of the captivity from his father, Iddo, who had returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua.

Zechariah learned how the Persian king Cyrus had freed the captive Israelites and let them return to the Promised Land. By Zechariah’s time about 50,000 Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Temple, which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, had begun. However, the rebuilding effort quickly met with opposition from without and discouragement from within. As a result, all work on the Temple simply ceased for more than a decade.

God then appointed two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, to call his people back to himself. Both men confronted dead religion. Haggai’s message focused on the rebuilding of the physical Temple while Zechariah admonished the people, saying, “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). Two evidences of Israel’s backsliding were obvious.

First, they would not listen to the prophets whom God had sent. Zechariah had hardly picked up his quill when he warned: “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord” (Zechariah 1:4). Their rebellion displayed itself by an inattentiveness to God’s message. They had closed their ears to his prophets and effectively silenced God with their prideful independence. Second, their religion had degenerated into mere outward performance. Following eight visions concerning the condition of Israel and the judgment to come, the prophet exposed their hypocrisy by asking pointed questions.

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, when you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:4-6).

Rather than longing for God their hearts had become hardened against him. As a result, their fasting and feasting were done for their own pleasure, not God’s glory. Divine correction was required to lead the people to repentance. Their greatest need was not more religion, but brokenness, repentance, and faith. What was the root cause of their mechanical rituals and their refusal to listen to God? It was the stubbornness of pride. The prophet repeats his initial description of his people.

But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets (7:11-12; NASB).

There is a tragic progression to be found in this glimpse of Israelite rebellion. At first they were simply willful in their opposition to God. They “refused to pay attention … turned a stubborn shoulder … stopped their ears.” All this was under their control. But soon things moved beyond their control. Their hearts became rock-hard, “like flint so that they could not hear.” They started out refusing to yield to God and ended up unable to yield to God. Their could not was caused by their will not. It gets worse from there. As a result, “great anger came from the Lord of hosts” (v 12), and then, in the most sobering words in the prophet’s entire book, God said, “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear” (v 13).

And so it is with us. When I will not becomes I cannot, it is a sure sign we have become slaves to stubbornness and our hearts are hardened, and we must repent before it is too late.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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June 22, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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How a Husband’s Failure Short-Circuits His Prayers

Since my conversion from dead religion to the risen Christ in 1984, there is nothing I have wanted more than God’s profound favor upon my life. Therefore as a husband, I find 1 Peter 3:7 deeply sobering: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

The “likewise” at the start of this verse links this exhortation to Peter’s previous exhortations addressed to citizens (2:13-17), servants (2:18), and wives (3:1-6). In each case, Peter calls his readers to a life of submission motivated by the desire to imitate the example of Jesus, so that the gospel might be made visible (2:19-25). The teaching directed at husbands is a sober call to submit to God by being a considerate leader.

We must be clear what we mean by a husband who is considerate and understanding and honors his wife. It does not mean he is called to passively go with the flow and allow his wife to lead the marriage and household. Nor does it mean he is called to actively assure that she always gets what pleases her. Either approach would represent a relinquishment of the husband’s God-given authority and responsibility for which he will one day give an account to God. A faithful husband must lead his wife, loving her as Christ loves the church and actively looking out for her welfare—and sometimes this will mean making decisions that do not please her or even aggravate in her the willfulness each of us carries in our hearts.

The challenge facing every Christian husband who desires to be godly is to love his wife by both leading her confidently and loving her gently. Because every husband-in-the-making still wrestles daily with his own serve-me-first depravity, this challenge cannot be met without the empowering grace of God. But as a husband submits to the Lord and pursues obedience to this call by walking in the Spirit, his efforts will please the Lord. As he grows in this important role, his obedience will remove one principal reason for his prayers being hindered. Let’s look briefly at the two main components of Peter’s exhortation to husbands: that they understand their wives and honor them.

UNDERSTAND

For a husband to live with his wife “in an understanding way” means to dwell with her according to knowledge and consideration. The word translated “understanding” may refer to Christian insight as well as tact. This is a clarion call for a man to mix humility, kindness, wisdom, and clear biblical leadership into a single attitude of heart and mind. To live in ignorance of a wife’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical condition, or to be uncaring about what it means to lead and love her as Christ does the church, this is disobedience to God.

HONOR

A husband must also hold his wife in high esteem. In the culture of Peter’s day, women were considered inferior to men. Peter’s command was therefore a significant elevation of women and a bold challenge to the ungodly status quo. Through this passage, a husband of that era came to understand just how radical was this faith he had come to embrace. Instead of treating his wife as a second-class citizen, here he is commanded to grant her “honor.” This means to hold her in high regard due to recognition of her intrinsic worth. Of course, in a day when many husbands take better care of their cars than they do their wives, this command still has profound relevance.

As a husband learns to walk in obedience to God, by the Spirit’s empowerment, the Father’s ears will once again be opened to his prayers. May every husband commit to the ongoing process of becoming a gentle, considerate leader so that his prayers are not hindered.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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June 21, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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The Challenge to Younger Men in the Church

As we continue to think about the admonition to Christian men, the word “Likewise” (Titus 2:3, 6) connects to the godly example we thought about in the previous post. Please note: The Bible calls younger Christian men to the same high expectation of character as the older men. However, our culture does not do this. Instead the culture says to young men, “Take your time to grow up. Have all the fun you want. There’s no need to get serious about life.” The postponement of adulthood is becoming the new normal. Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick write,

“Social scientists have noticed that more young adults are putting off the responsibilities of adulthood. Adultolescence is the term that best describes this postponement of adulthood. This phase is characterized by identity exploration, instability, focus on self, feeling in limbo, and a sense of limitless possibilities.

Others have called this the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ because these kids just don’t want to grow up. The percentage of American children, or ‘kidults,’ in their mid-twenties living with their parents has nearly doubled since 1970. Some never leave.

One survey reports that only 16% of mothers and 19% of fathers say their children (ages eighteen to twenty-five) have reached adulthood. Even more alarming is that their kids don’t dispute it: only 16% consider themselves to be adults. Articles dealing with the complicated relationships between adults and their grown dependent children have appeared in many publications including Money, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. This trend is not unique to America. Time magazine points out that other nations are facing similar challenges. The British call them ‘kippers’—Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings. The Australians call them “boomerang kids”—you throw them out but they keep coming back. Nor has the church escaped this phenomenon.” (Newheiser & Fitzpatrick)

What is the solution to this growing problem of postponing adulthood? It is to return to the model of discipleship laid out for us in Scripture. Older men should be mature examples of Christian manhood so that they are equipped to train the younger men to be the same (Titus 2:6-8). As a young pastor, Titus was urged to not only admonish the older men of the church, but also to have the courage to challenge the younger men who were his peers in life. Like the younger women are to humble receive counsel and instruction from the older women, so the younger men are to receive training from the older men.

BE SENSIBLE IN ALL THINGS

“Sensible” is the same word we noticed in the call to older men. It means to be sober-minded and self-controlled. William MacDonald says this is “an appropriate word—since youth is the time of brimming zeal, restless energy, and burning drives.” Second Timothy 2:22 admonishes younger men, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” In all things, younger men need to live under the discipline of the gospel by guarding themselves from being led astray by their own temptations and the ways of the world. How are they to be sensible in all things?

  • Be an example of good works. The younger men are to be an example, a pattern. This refers to the mark left by a blow, an impression, or the stamp made by a die. An example is a model to follow. “Show yourself,” the apostle admonished. Titus was a young man, part of this age group in the church. As such, he was to hold himself alongside the other younger men as a mature example. Contrary to the pattern in today’s society, youth should not viewed as a time to be wasted in idleness or frivolity. It’s the time to use abundant energy build a sound foundation for the future. It’s the time to establish godly habits and priorities that will determine the rest of one’s life.
  • Be doctrinally-sound and serious-minded. Titus’ godly example needed to reinforce his teaching. In other words, he was called to faithfully teach the Word of God as he pursued becoming a godly example for others to follow. His teaching was described in two ways: sound and serious. He was called to be dignified in the manner in which he taught others the Scriptures. As a young pastor, Titus was called to conduct his ministry in a manner that reflects “the high moral tone and serious manner appropriate to his sacred task.”(Gaebelein). He was not called to fit into his culture, but to stand above it and speak into it.
  • Be faithful in speech. As a young pastor, his speech was to be an example of what the conversation of other young men in the church was to be. The speech of younger men is to be sensible, biblical, and pure. This kind of health-giving speech is described in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” If this is his pattern he cannot be condemned. Why should the younger men of the church pursue this kind of example? Because the testimony of the gospel is at stake.

BE CAREFUL ABOUT YOUR TESTIMONY

The reason the younger men of the church need to be sensible in all things is so that the testimony of the gospel is not put to shame (Titus 2:8). Notice that the same motivation was given to the women of the church (Titus 2:5). Therefore, every believer should take care to guard their Christian testimony.

God’s plan for disciple-making in the church is for grace to create a ripple effect across the generations. The older men of the church are to reflect the kind of character that Paul described so that their example may lead the younger men toward the same sensible maturity. Both groups are to be actively involved in the ongoing pursuit of sound doctrine and mature Christian character. As this kind of cross-generational disciple-making becomes more and more present in our church, we will experience the kind of Christ-like growth that God intends for us.

[This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church.]

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June 20, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on The Call to Older Men in the Church

The Call to Older Men in the Church

Our church’s mission is to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is not merely to lead people to “make a decision for Christ,” but to bring people to Jesus and help one another grow in Christ, toward maturity and obedience—together as a family. This requires ongoing instruction in sound doctrine and living the life together, which is biblical fellowship.

Mature believers understand the significance of the community of the local church as the primary place where spiritual reproduction and growth take place (Eph. 4:12-13). They value its relationships and invest in the spiritual growth of others. Kent Hughes, who pastored the well-known College Church of Wheaton for many years, spoke out against the growing, self-centered consumer mentality that he witnessed in churches when he wrote,“Undoubtedly a large percentage of people in the modern church are driven by a consumer mentality. They value only what is beneficial to them and partake only of what pleases them at the times that are not disruptive to their schedules, at costs not significant enough to burden their lifestyles. Such persons will pick the church activities that are attractive to them but never think of the impact of their actions on others. Only the most mature have a sense of personal investment in regular fellowship, disciplined worship, and church community life.”

Healthy growth for the Christian includes maintaining a vital connection to their local church, which is the primary place we find the godly examples we need to follow. In light of this, we understand why Paul told Titus to be a pastor who challenges the older men and women to be wise, godly examples to those who are younger; and the younger men and women to humbly receive instruction. Last month, we examined this instruction in relation to the female gender. In Titus 2:3 the older women are called to be reverent in their behavior, exemplary in their speech and self-control so that they could train the younger women in Christian living.

Today, we take a look at what the apostle says to the male gender in the church. Here we see a picture of mature Christian manhood. Titus 2:2 is a continuation of the apostle’s instruction to Titus in verse 1; that is, this is the content of the teaching that he was to give to the church—the community of Christ. “But” announces a contrast to the self-serving false teachers already warned against (Titus 1:16). Now, Paul instructs Titus to compel the men and women of the church to maintain the natural link between healthy doctrine and healthy living. When doctrine is unhealthy then it will show up in poor Christian living, but sound teaching leads to sound living. If faith is genuine then doctrine and life will harmonize. But when examples fail to lead in wisdom then those who follow after them will suffer. To make this point, Paul begins with those who are the natural leaders in the community of the church—the older men.

FOUR QUALITIES OF MATURE MANHOOD (Titus 2:2)

The word “older” literally refers to “an old man.” It is a different word than the one used in 1:5 to refer to “elder” as a leader, an office in the church. However, though different in function, the godly character of all the men should be the same. It is the same word Paul uses to describe himself in the book of Philemon, translated “the aged.” It is believed he was about 60 years old when he wrote that letter. Most commentators believe the “older men” referred to here are at least in their 50’s or 60’s. They are probably old enough to have raised a family and now see their children beginning to raise families of their own.

Paul mentions 4 qualities of this kind of mature manhood. Note these are specifically Christian virtues; that is, “they presuppose the dynamic of God’s grace working in the heart.” (Kistemaker, p. 326).

  • Be clear-headed. The word temperate originally meant “abstaining from wine.” It referred to soberness in contrast to drunkenness. However, the meaning of the word was broadened to refer to a man’s mental judgment, to self-control in one’s appetites and desires. Thus it is here translated “sober-minded.” Another word that is used is temperate, which implies mental alertness and sobriety of life, clear-headedness. It speaks of one who possesses wise caution, one who is the master of himself. This is the man who desires to master every area of his life, keeping it under self-control.
  • Be serious-minded. The word “dignified” means “with reverence.” It means to be serious-minded, which naturally leads to honor and respect. In other words, the older men of the church should be worthy of respect; they are not frivolous or silly. Of course, this does not mean they should be negative or ultra-critical, for that would be the opposite of maturity. Nor does it mean they have no sense of humor. But it does describe men who are serious about living for God in a frivolous world. We see a negative illustration of this in the Bible, the man named Lot. When it became clear that God would destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, ran to warn his sons-in-law, saying, “Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting (Genesis 19:14-15). Why, in such a serious moment, would Lot’s sons-in-law think he was joking? Is it because Lot never earned the reputation of being a serious man? The older men of the church should not be like Lot. The church must not be filled with silly old men. Instead, older Christian men are to be the kind of men who are worthy of respect.
  • Be sensible in judgment. This virtue is translated “self-controlled” in the English Standard Version. The word refers to mature judgment and proper restraint. It is self-mastery in thought and judgment. Older men should be balanced and discreet. They are mature, balanced men; not men of extremes, but reasonable. These three qualities, writes one commentator, “form an overlapping network of virtues that describes a life of respectability free from overindulgence, dissipation, and foolishness.” (Towner, p. 721).
  • Be spiritually healthy. The word “sound” means healthy. That is, mature Christian men possess a healthy faith. Paul mentions three qualities which are present in the man who is spiritually healthy: faith, love, and steadfastness. In the Greek, all three qualities are preceded by the definite article “the.” That is, the faith, the love, and the perseverance. In other words, these are genuine Christian virtues.
  1. The faith = sound doctrine consistent with true Christianity
  2. The love = true Christian love which is a fruit of the gospel
  3. The perseverance = true believers persevere through the painful trials of life

Scripture calls older men in the church to be sensible, examples of wisdom and Christ-likeness. If you are in this group, you need to see yourself as an essential link in God’s chain of discipleship in the community of the church. God wants you to be actively involved in discipling younger men in the church. So, men in your 50’s and older, who is one younger man you are intentionally discipling for Christ? Remember, there is no retirement for the task of making disciples. If God has done a work of grace in your life then you now have an eternal investment to make in the lives of younger men in your church.

[This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church.]

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June 20, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Religious Sins

Hiding beneath the cloak of our perceived goodness are religious sins, those that feed self-awareness of our spirituality. Instead of driving us to God in humble dependence upon his grace, they blind us, fuel self-righteousness, breed spiritual apathy, and often neutralize the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Religious sins are hazardous because they produce false confidence in the soul. In a vicious cycle of increasing self-worship, they steadily feed the pride from which they were born. This impels us to strive for godliness in the flesh, the deep irony being that the more we do this the less godly we become. Striving in the flesh only enslaves us further to the law’s conditional approval and its resulting condemnation, and increasingly cuts us off from the grace of God that is our only source of hope.

Under the influence of religious sins we become dangerously pleased with our own spiritual performance and become judgmental of others in our perceived superiority. This ultimately results in conflict with God, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Religious sins can provide us with an outward appearance of loving God, even as they cripple our capacity to truly be changed by transforming grace.

What is the solution? How do we escape from this cycle of self-congratulation and self-elevation? Just as you and I would never have conceived of the atoning death and resurrection of the Son of God as the answer to sin, the answer to this question is likewise one we would never have chosen ourselves. We generally escape from the vicious cycle of religious sins only when God spiritually breaks us.

The Pharisees—the hypocrites of Jesus’ day—were preoccupied with displaying their righteousness. They sought to impress others with their supposed spiritual maturity because they were impressed with it themselves. Such hypocrisy was a frequent subject for Jesus, for he knew that even those who would be filled with his Holy Spirit following his resurrection would continue to struggle with this religious sin. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector at prayer, we find an especially helpful lesson in the delusions of self-worth.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).

The Pharisee confidently justified himself, believing he had no need of God’s mercy. The Pharisee was self-righteous. His confidence was built on the great, awful lie that the righteousness which saves is found within the good or religious person. But the tax collector humbly offered to God his truckload of sin as he pleaded for mercy. He was just an average sinner, and well aware that righteousness could only come to him as a gift. If he was ever to be justified, God would have to do it. He realized that the only way anyone can ever be in good standing with God is if God counts the righteousness of Jesus to the credit of the sinner. Theologians call this imputation. Righteousness can only be ours if God imputes the righteousness of Christ to us. In this parable both men went to the temple to pray, but God only listened to one of them. The tax collector brought to God humility of faith birthed in brokenness, and he was heard and justified by God. But the Pharisee, while outwardly religious in many of the right ways, brought to God only an arrogant sense of superiority and confidence in his own flesh. The most meaningful difference between these two men was their hearts, not their behavior. The tax collector was a broken man who saw himself with a certain humble clarity. The Pharisee, full of religious sins, was blinded by the curse of self-honor.

To be sure, the Bible never teaches that outward manifestations of an inner righteousness are wrong in themselves. There is an outward righteousness that is legitimately connected to the true inner righteousness of Christ imputed to us by the Father. Jesus even says later in the Sermon on the Mount that outward manifestations can serve as proof of inner righteousness (Matthew 7:18-20). But there is also an apparent outward righteousness that is connected to nothing except its own sense of self-importance. It is the righteousness of independence and self-justification, a false righteousness that presumes to possess an inherent, self-contained goodness— something only God possesses in and of himself. The challenge we all face is that we tend to start congratulating ourselves. We place our confidence in our performance (our practical righteousness) rather than the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us (our actual righteousness).

So when Jesus warned, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people,” he was not diminishing the importance of practical righteousness or forbidding its outward display. The focus in that warning is on the Pharisaical quest for self-honor, the religious hypocrites’ motive “to be seen by [others]” as especially holy (Matthew 6:1). The Pharisees’ problem was not their practice of religion. It was not that they gave alms, or prayed, or fasted in public settings. It was that they did these things in public with a particular motivation—to draw attention to themselves so that people might think better of them (see Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). The best that such vain striving for approval can ever attain is the shallow, fleeting, and ultimately meaningless approval of man. It fails completely to achieve the eternal, glorious approval of God himself.

This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector provides us another clear category for unanswered prayer: God rejects the prayers of the self-satisfied and the self-righteous, but accepts the prayers of the humble and broken.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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June 19, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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Why Refusing to Resolve Conflict Hinders Prayer

Some sins are more passive than active. We may call these sins of omission rather than sins of commission because they are all about what we don’t do. These sins involve neglecting (and sometimes refusing) to do what is right rather than willfully doing what is plainly forbidden. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave pointed warnings against areas of neglect that are especially pertinent to this matter of unanswered prayer. Mishandling these warnings severely damages not only our horizontal relationships with others, but also our familial relationship with the Father and consequently the effectiveness of our prayers. One such area is the delay of conflict resolution.

As long as we live this side of heaven, we will continue to experience conflicts with others, and we will continue to hear God’s call to repentance and greater growth in the midst of conflict. Relational conflict, like everything else God puts in our path, is used by him for our good. When responded to with humility, long-suffering, grace, and forgiveness, such conflict leads to stronger, more Christ-honoring relationships. The transformative grace of God converts that which would weaken human relationships into something that substantially strengthens them—evil is turned into good, and cursing into blessing. This makes us more like Jesus and equips us to be better testimonies to the redemptive power of God in a world that is desperate for grace and peace.

The Delay of Conflict Resolution

The Bible is clear. Each of us is a selfish sinner. No exceptions. Therefore, conflict is simply inevitable. Conflict is more than simple disagreement. Peacemaker Ministries defines it as, “A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.” In a conflict at least one of the people involved, if not both, becomes upset because he fears he may not get what he wants—even if what he wants is simply to have someone else see a particular situation the way he does. James strikes at the heart of it when he writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

How we handle conflict reveals our heart’s true relationship to the gospel. Whether we are the offender or the offended, if we choose to delay the resolving of our conflicts with one another then we short-change ourselves—hindering our own spiritual growth and that of others. To resist or neglect the resolution of conflict, especially between yourself and another Christian, is a small but real rejection of the gospel itself. No wonder it can hinder our prayers. So, what do we do about it?

Have a Sense of Urgency

The Bible exhorts us to do everything in our power to resolve conflict ASAP (Rom. 12:18). The clearest scriptural call to this duty is found in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Those are radical words. The original Jewish hearers were able to place these words of Jesus into a familiar context. For them, the Lord was referring to animal sacrifice within the Temple. This was a solemn, somber, and deeply meaningful act of worship and trust that lay at the heart of the Old Covenant. For us, this would correspond to our most significant interactions with God as his children, including private worship through personal prayer as well as corporate worship. But here Jesus is saying there is one good reason to stop right in the middle of it all—because you have other, more important business.

Jesus considers conflict resolution among believers a higher priority than our worship of God himself! He tells us plainly that it is better to interrupt or postpone our worship than to engage in it under the wrong conditions. This passage does not explicitly say that unresolved conflict is a cause for unanswered prayer. But it does say that God is not interested in receiving our worship until we honestly face the wrongs we have committed against one another. While it is possible to argue distinctions between those two, they are distinctions without any real difference. To come before God aware of unresolved conflict with another Christian, when it is within our power to seek resolution to that conflict, renders our worship false and hypocritical. Unresolved conflict hinders our relationship with God, and this hinders our prayers.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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June 16, 2017
by Paul Tautges
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The Problem with Pet Sins

Yesterday, I mentioned that I would post six brief articles introducing you to the six most common reasons for unanswered prayer, which are explained more fully in the book, Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer. Here’s the first of those reasons, pet sins.

We often like having animals as pets because we believe they can enrich our lives. We like attending to them, interacting with them, and just having them around. Strangely enough, it’s almost exactly the same with pet sins. Somehow we become aware of a particular kind of sin and feel drawn to it. Maybe we have noticed that other people who own the same pet sin seem to enjoy its presence in their lives. We begin to imagine that having the same sin come live with us would be enriching or thrilling or a nice distraction from the patterns and responsibilities of daily life. And in the process of self-seduction we lose sight of the fact that this pet is not in fact something positive or even neutral. It is sin, a complete and unqualified negative, and a lot more like a coiled rattlesnake than a playful puppy.

Yet we invite it in, and it begins to live with us. Maybe we even have to go to some considerable expense or effort to acquire or keep it, but that’s okay, because we really want it around—at least some of the time. As we begin to feed it and groom it and play with it, it begins to integrate itself into our lives, and its presence comes to feel natural. But then one day it turns on us, or does something shocking or disgusting, and we recoil. Of course, we are only surprised because we have forgotten our pet’s true nature. But now we are so accustomed to having it around that we don’t think very seriously about getting rid of it. We return to caring for this pet sin, and after awhile the same thing happens. Once again we are shocked and repulsed, although maybe a little less than before. So we continue to keep it around; our pet sin is now part of us. We have come to cherish this addition to our lives, and it is actually difficult to imagine living without it.

Dogs Love to Eat Vomit

The Bible offers a vivid picture of our perverse tendency to love the very thing that has harmed us. “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). This is exactly how we behave when we keep on indulging a pet sin even when we see how bad it can be for us. We return to the same sins repeatedly, gobbling them up greedily even though we know they make us sick.

We all have these particular areas of weakness—pet sins we are strangely attached to despite the pain and grief they have caused us. What is it that prevents us from seeing the awfulness of our sin? Forgive the graphic imagery (you can blame Solomon), but what keeps us from smelling and tasting the vomit? Our fallen nature, which actively loves sin, blinds us to just how awful it really is. We fail to see that it brings us far more harm and pain than anything else. We fail to see it as so wicked that Jesus had to die for it. We fail to see how much it grieves the Holy Spirit. And we fail to see that every sin is a brazen act of rebellion against our loving Father.

One reason we might come under the chastening love of God arises from our natural inclination to rebel against God by cherishing sin. Psalm 66:16-20 says it plainly.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!

“Come and hear” is the psalmist’s invitation to fellow believers to observe the works of God in his life which occurred in answer to prayer. He wants us, the readers, to bless God as he does—to join him in “high praise,” for “truly God has listened” to the voice of our prayer and “has not rejected [our] prayer or removed his steadfast love from [us]!”

God Chooses Not to Listen to Our Prayers

Sandwiched between two powerful declarations of the faithfulness of God to answer prayer, however, is this sober warning: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Cherished sin—pet sins—can be a cause of unanswered prayer. To cherish sin is to look forward to doing what God forbids. It is the Old Testament equivalent of making “provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). It involves allowing certain thought patterns, habits of life, or questionable relationships to remain in order to provide opportunity for the satisfaction of fleshly pleasures. We could say it means our flesh prefers to keep a pet sin “on the side,” just in case God’s promise of something better does not pan out. In fact, the precise opposite is true: to the extent that we keep investing foolishly in satisfaction outside of God, we cannot and will not find the greater treasure that is to be found only in Him. And our prayers are hindered.

This deafness of God, of course, is intentional. Psalm 66 says that the Lord “would not” have listened, not that he could not. “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:2-3). This specific promise to the prophet Jeremiah nevertheless contains truth for all time. God can and will, when he chooses, do great and mighty things in response to prayer. But when he refuses to answer our prayers it has nothing to do with his ability. He could always answer, but at times he chooses not to. And sometimes it is because we cherish sin.

[This post is excerpted from Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer published by Cruciform Press. Also for Kindle.]

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