Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

January 4, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on The Yardstick of Faithfulness

The Yardstick of Faithfulness

Yesterday, I was talking to a pastor who has been fighting discouragement. He wondered if it was worth serving God anymore, if it was worth his continued sacrifice and the sacrifice of his family. He wondered if he should have chosen the well-paying business leadership position offered to him years ago. At least, then, he would not have to try to please everyone. So, I reminded him of two verses: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

Perhaps you find yourself discouraged today. Take a moment to think about what the apostle is saying here. From these verses we learn of God’s one requirement for His servants: faithfulness. Though the context reveals that these truths were first applied to pastors, ministry leaders, the key principle applies to every believer who has a desire to serve the Lord.

Ministers are servants of God.

Servants (hyperetes) means “under-rowers” and refers to the ones who rowed in the lower part of a ship. These were the ones who worked in the stinkiest part of the ship and were unnoticed by others. The word was later used of domestic workers and referred to service of a lowly kind. Charles Hodge says the word refers to a “common sailor; and then, subordinate servant of any kind. It is generally and properly used of menials, or of those of the lower class of servants. This is not always the case, but here the idea of entire subjection is to be retained. Ministers are the mere servants of Christ; they have no authority of their own; their whole business is to do what they are commanded.” Pastors are under-rowers for Christ, completely subject to His authority. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament in the following ways:

  • Matthew 5:25 Jesus used the word to refer to the officer in the courtroom responsible for throwing the judged into prison.
  • Matthew 26:58 mentions the servants in the High Priest’s court.
  • Luke 1:2 used of servants of the word that handed down eyewitness reports of the ministry of Christ.
  • Luke 4:20 refers to the attendant in the synagogue who handed the OT Scriptures to Jesus.
  • John 7:32 the word is used of officers sent by the Pharisees to take Jesus captive.
  • Acts 13:5 Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch and took along John Mark as their
  • Acts 26:16 Paul says in his testimony that Christ called him to be a minister and a witness.

Pastors are first of all servants of Christ sent to feed, lead, and protect a flock. Christ is the One who will one-day judge a ministry and will say to those who faithfully serve Him, Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Ministers are stewards of biblical truth.

Steward (oikonomos) is a compound word from oikos meaning “house” and nomos meaning “law,” thus “the law of the house.” It refers to the manager of a household. In Paul’s day, wealthy landowners would entrust one of the slaves to be in charge of the others. They were given the responsibility of running the estate and were accountable to answer to the owner (See Matthew 25:14ff and Luke 16:1-2).

The concept of stewardship emphasizes responsibility, accountability, and delegated authority. Pastors are fellow slaves of Christ that God has chosen to oversee His household. Pastors possess a stewardship for which they are responsible and accountable. The same household imagery is used of church elders in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?). Elders are managers for God; stewards entrusted with the household of God. Pastors are primarily stewards of the mysteries of God. A mystery in the New Testament refers to truth that was once hidden and is now revealed. The primary sphere of the preacher’s responsibility is that of being a steward of God’s revelation in Scripture. We live in a day and age in which many pastors do not realize this because they have not been taught properly. There are too many seminaries in this land that are simply training men to be good administrators and “public relations experts” in order to bring in as many people as possible. They are not being told that they are primarily stewards of truth, managers of the Word of God, responsible to teach and preach and guard it with their life. The Pastoral Epistles are filled with the exaltation of Biblical truth and the responsibility of the pastor to fight for it. Consider numerous examples: 1 Timothy 1:10-11; 4:6; 4:16; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14; 2:15; Titus 1:9; 2:1.

There is one requirement for a steward of truth: that he be found pistos, faithful, and dependable. God doesn’t say he must be able to bring hundreds or thousands of people through the church doors. It doesn’t say he must be able to write fifty-two books a year and travel all over the world. Faithfulness is the one requirement. If a pastor is not faithful to manage God’s Word, he is an unfaithful minister. He may be sincere, but he is sincerely wrong. God doesn’t say it any other way.

As a servant, a pastor is to be faithful to God by loving and feeding His sheep. As a steward, he is to be faithful to God’s Word. By doing so, he will be faithful to the flock entrusted to his care. If a pastor is not faithful to the Word of God he cannot be faithful to the flock of God since biblical truth is where his authority lies. First Corinthians 9:16-17 reveals Paul’s passion for biblical truth and how seriously he took his responsibility: For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. As a steward of biblical truth, Paul could not fathom doing anything but preach. God doesn’t measure success by worldly standards. He measures it by faithfulness.

Recommended reading: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.

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January 3, 2017
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Timetabling


Waiting upon the Lord is one of the most difficult disciplines of the Christian life. It’s always been this way. Psalms 13 and 35, for example, both begin with the heart’s cry “How long, Lord?” Yet, waiting upon the Lord—trusting in His perfect timing for all things—is one of the most beneficial stimulants to growth and the testing of our faith. Waiting is hard, but when the Lord graciously reveals His will by letting us get a glimpse of His remarkable providence our heart is lifted in praise and worship.

For example, when my wife and I pause to think of how many circumstances the Lord wove together to get our family to move from Wisconsin to Ohio, we marvel at His wisdom and goodness. Frankly, it is breathtaking to now understand (in part) how many ingredients He was mixing together and details He was putting in place over a period of many years. God is so determined to carry out His sovereign will that He mixes together both good and evil, blessing and hardship, true friendship and betrayal, depression and joy, our own wicked hearts and the sins of others, and on-and-on to weave a tapestry of grace that exceeds anything we could’ve ever controlled.

These things are on my mind this morning because the past few days I’ve been in Psalms 35 and 36, guided by Alec Motyer’s devotional translation and commentary in Psalms By the Day. In his concluding thoughts, Motyer summarizes a few lessons to be learned from these two divinely inspired songs of faith. One paragraph in particular challenged my mind and encouraged my heart.

“Right through Psalm 35 runs a very practical truth—what actually to do during a difficult stretch of life. It makes no difference whether the difficulty arises from people, circumstances or within our own natures, Psalm 35 has a program for us. Take first what lies at the heart of the psalm and is also probably the hardest piece of its guidance: wait patiently and trustfully for the Lord’s timing. It may seem prolonged to us, and it is permitted to cry our ‘How long?’ (verse 17), provided the cry is made in faith and not in criticism. Timetabling is one of the major ways our thoughts are not his thoughts (Isaiah 55:8), but he always knows exactly what he is doing; the when, where and how have been in his mind since all eternity; all is well.”

Therefore, whatever your heart longs for, know this: God is for you in Christ, and is working out His good and perfect will in such a way that will one day cause you to marvel at His surpassing grace. Rest in this encouraging truth.

You may also be helped by an earlier post, 6 Truths about Waiting on the Lord.

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December 23, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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A Pause on Blogging

I’ve decided to take a break from blogging until January 3rd. Thanks for your interaction and encouragement throughout 2016. I really appreciate it. If you have benefited from this blog, would you consider sharing it with three others and encourage them to subscribe?

Mark 6:31 is a good reminder to me:

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

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December 20, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Beholding the Glory of the Son of God

Beholding the Glory of the Son of God

God created man to display His glory. Man was created to be the glory of God. He was made in the image of God, and he was made for the purpose of imaging God, to accurately represent His beauty and majesty. But sin entered our world and that glory was damaged and distorted—so much so, that the judgment from heaven is that each and every one of us falls short of being the glory of God.

Though distorted in the fall, the image and glory of God in man has not been so completely destroyed that we are nothing more than an animal. No. Man remains the pinnacle of God’s creation. We alone are made in His image. We alone possess a measure of glory unlike any other creature.

However; the glory for which we were created has been diminished by the darkening effects of sin. We who were originally created to be God’s willing image-bearers willfully became His enemies. And a dark veil covered His glory. But it did not end there. The sovereign plan of God was not de-railed. No. There is good news.

This God of holiness and justice chose to also reveal that He is filled with grace and mercy. So He began a mission to recover His glory by rescuing those who fell short.

  • He chose to rescue them from the damning power of sin.
  • He chose to redeem them for Himself.
  • He chose to renew His image within them.
  • He chose to restore them to their former glory.

But there was only one way to accomplish this rescue mission. God accomplished His redemptive plan by sending His only begotten Son to be the Second Adam—man as he was fully meant to be. But, in this case, also fully God. In Him, God became man and the fullness of God’s glory was put on display. Without any trace of sin, Jesus Christ revealed the character and nature of God. As Colossians 1:15 declares, He truly is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15).

He is “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and [He] upholds all things by the word of His power.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that after Jesus had “made purification of sins” [by being punished to death for the very things man had done to rob God of his glory], He was raised from the dead by His Father and presented to the world again. This time, as the one true, righteous, victorious man. Then He “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).

  • He sat down because His work was complete.
  • He sat down because He had fully paid the sinner’s debt.
  • He sat down because He satisfied the justice of God.
  • He sat down because He fulfilled the righteous commands of God.
  • He sat down because sinful man could now be restored.
  • He sat down because the glory for which man was created could now be recovered.
  • He sat down because now sinful man could be restored into the perfect image of the Son of God.
  • He sat down because He had reclaimed God’s glory.

This is the gospel. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is the glory of God. This is the message of John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The gospel is the glory of God made visible in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word who became human flesh. In the person of Jesus Christ, God made Himself known to the world—a world lost in the bondage of sin and Satan. The eternal Word became fully human in order to offer Himself as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. After offering Himself up, willingly, He was buried and rose from the grave three days later. Soon He is coming again to judge the world and rescue forever those who are His.

To behold the glory of Jesus Christ is part of what it means to believe. Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who behold the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

Are you beholding—by faith—the glory of the Son of God who came to bring you spiritual life?

*This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon.

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December 13, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Cared for Better than Lions (and birds)

Cared for Better than Lions (and birds)

The promises of God to His redeemed children are numerous, and He is faithful and true to keep every one of them. One promise, in particular, which we often rest upon is God’s promise to meet our needs. And if our memory is faint about how He has done that for us in the past then we should look to illustrations we see in the animal world.

For example, in Matthew 6, Jesus instructs us to look to the birds when we are worried about material provisions. He reminds us that, just as God provides for our feathered friends, He will meet our needs since we are of much greater value to God than birds (or any other creature that is not made in the image of God; i.e. that is not human). Therefore, we should trust God to care for us. But, this morning, I came across a verse that jumped out at me because it makes similar point, but in a different way. Like Jesus’s illustration, it includes something from the animal world. But unlike Jesus’s illustration, it makes its point by contrast not comparison.

For several months, I’ve been working slowly through Alex Motyer’s Psalms by the Day for my personal devotions. While reading and thinking about the second part of Psalm 34, I was struck by verses 9-10. Motyer’s fresh translation reads like this: “Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones, for there is nothing lacking to those who fear him. Even lions go in want and are hungry, but those who seek Yahweh lack nothing good.”

The promise is the same as that found in Matthew’s Gospel: God will meet our needs. But the illustration is different. Young lions sometimes are in want and hungry, but the righteous (believers who fear God) may rest in the Lord who has promised that we shall lack nothing we need. We should look to the birds because God always meets their needs, but we should also look to the lions which sometimes go hungry. God is faithful either way. Why? Because it is He who is sovereign over every one of His creatures. Notice that the psalmist took comfort in knowing that even if God sometimes lets lions go hungry, He will surely meet the needs of His redeemed children.

Now, the rub often comes from the difference between needs and “greeds,” between what sustains us and what entertains us. Knowing the difference between the two is something we must discern through applying God’s wisdom, and through prayer. God has promised to provide for those who belong to Him. His Word assures us that we will lack nothing we need. Today, take comfort in that truth.

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December 9, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Flashback Friday: Born to Give Us the Second Birth

Flashback Friday: Born to Give Us the Second Birth

[This week’s flashback comes from 2012.]

I will never forget the first time I sang Hark! the Herald Angels Sing as a genuine believer in Jesus Christ. It was Christmas 1984. I had been saved about seven months. For the first time, I understood the words I was singing and I could feel tears begin to well up. The message that had escaped me for nineteen years was now crystal clear as if a floodlight had been turned on.

This famous carol was written by Charles Wesley. Charles and his brother John were major instruments of the Lord’s work during the third great awakening in England. On Sunday, May 21, 1738, after reading Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, Charles was converted. He testified, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ…I saw that by faith I stood; by the continual support of faith.” John was converted three days later.

After their conversion to Christ, these brothers were filled with an unquenchable zeal for preaching the Good News. However, the established Church of England considered their preaching “old-fashioned” and became closed to their ministry. As a result, they mounted horses and took to open air preaching in the fields and streets. History records that John traveled over 200,000 miles on horseback in England  alone. Concerned that “converts” be properly discipled, John formed what became known as Methodist societies, which later developed into churches and eventually a separate denomination itself.

While both brothers were itinerant preachers, Charles possessed a love and talent for poetry, which he used in the writing of more than 7,000 hymns. John Woodbridge, in Great Leaders of the Christian Church, writes, “There was scarcely a day in the fifty years following his evangelical conversion in which he did not set down some lines in verse. His last hymn was dictated from his deathbed when he was too weak to hold a pen.”

Kenneth W. Osbeck writes in 101 More Hymn Stories, “’Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’ is … thought to have been written approximately one year after his dramatic…conversion experience of 1738.”  The tune for the carol, which we are familiar with, is called “Mendelssohn” and was written by “one of the master composers of the early nineteenth century, Felix Mendelssohn. He was born into a Jewish-Christian home on February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany, and died at Leipzig, Germany, on November 4, 1847.  Mendelssohn was a highly acclaimed boy prodigy, making his first public appearance as a pianist, at the age of nine. Felix Mendelssohn was not only a noted performer and conductor, but also a prolific composer throughout his brief life-time.”

Let’s think about the theology of this Christmas carol by noting the main theme of each verse and its developing points. I will then direct you to specific Scriptures which form the basis of these truths.


Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’  With th’angelic host proclaim. Angels are messengers of God who proclaim His announcements.

  • Angels brought news to Zechariah that he was to father the forerunner of Christ (Luke 1: 5-25).
  • Angels brought the news to Mary and Joseph concerning the birth of the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
  • Angels announced the birth of Christ to shepherds in the fields (Luke 2:1-21).

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14).

Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. The Jewish people were told by the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Luke 2:1-14 records the fulfillment of that prophecy.


Christ the everlasting Lord!

  • Jesus Christ is eternal God (Micah 5:2; John 1:1; Rev 1:8)
  •  Jesus Christ was born at God’s perfect time. Late in time behold Him come does not mean His birth was late. No, it was at the perfect time. “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
  •  Jesus Christ is virgin born. Offspring of the virgin’s womb (See Isa 7:14 and Luke 1:26-27). This of course was fulfilled by the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary so that she conceived the child supernaturally.
  • Jesus Christ is the God-man. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’incarnate Deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19).

Meditate on the humility of the Son of God, which moved Him to give us His life in order to purchase ours.


Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness.

  • Jesus Christ came to provide peace with God. Faith in the prophesied Prince of Peace is the only way for us as sinners to be at peace with God (Rom 5:1).
  • The resurrection of Christ ensures spiritual life for all who believe. Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Consider Romans 6:4.
  • God regenerates sinners by means of the new birth. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. The Scriptures are clear that God is the Author of the new birth. The Holy Spirit, by means of the Word of God, is responsible for the regeneration of lost, spiritually dead souls (See, for example, John 3:8 and 1 Pet 1:23).


Rise, the woman’s conq’ring seed, bruise in us the serpant’s head.

  • The indwelling Christ provides victory over sin and the devil. (See Gal 2:20 and Heb 2: 14-15).
  • The indwelling Christ replaces sin with righteousness. Adam’s likeness now efface, stamp Thine image in its place: Second Adam from above, reinstate us in Thy love (See Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 3:18).

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing is a concise theology. It has endured the test of time because of its solid, rich, biblical message which the angels announced.

  1. The eternal Son of God fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming when He voluntarily laid aside His glory, was veiled in human flesh, and born of a virgin in Bethlehem.
  2. He came to reconcile man to God by becoming the means to obtaining peace and righteousness through His sacrificial death on the cross.
  3. Having been raised from the dead, He ever lives to give life to spiritually dead sinners causing them to become new creations of God who can live in the victory of his resurrection power.

What a great message! What a great song!

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December 6, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Who Is the Word that Became Flesh?

Who Is the Word that Became Flesh?

According to the website,, it is hard to predict how many tourists will visit Bethlehem during Christmas, this year, since this number is always influenced by the tension and events in the region. The number of visitors during Christmas in 2011 was the highest in a decade, mounting to 100,000 tourists. It seems the little town of Bethlehem is always humming with travelers from afar. Not much has changed in 2,000 years…

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Scripture says the city of David was jam-packed with people. Of course, they were not tourists seeking the once in a lifetime experience of celebrating Christmas in the city of Jesus’s birth, or there to purchase a nativity scene carved out of its native olive tree wood. They were there for a different reason.

Luke’s Gospel tells us they were there because Caesar Augustus had ordered for a census to be taken. Since everyone was required to go to “his own city,” Joseph and Mary were required to register in Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David (Luke 2:1-5). The Bible says there were so many visitors when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the hotels were all booked. When Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, “she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Just as it was at the time of Jesus’s birth, most people will not grasp the magnitude of the event. Though as many as 100,000 people may celebrate this year’s Christmas in Bethlehem, one wonders how many of them will really understand the true significance of the incarnation. For many people, Christmas is not the most joyous time of year. Neither is it supremely about God. The ME-centeredness of the season and the pressure to meet everyone’s expectations robs many people of the joy of reflecting on God’s generosity in the giving of His Son.

For this reason, we must continually have our minds renewed by God’s perspective. Therefore, on each Tuesday of the month of December, I will share some thoughts on the significance of the incarnation, drawing from John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

It is never wise to place one Scripture above another, for all is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). But, in my opinion, John 1:14 ranks among the greatest Christmas verses of all. What John reveals to us is distinct in its focus. In the Gospel of Mark, the life of Christ begins when he arrives at the banks of the Jordan to be baptized by John. In Matthew, we are taken back from Jesus to Abraham. And in Luke, the earthly genealogy of Christ goes back to Adam. But John goes farther back—back as far as one can go—to eternity past, where there is no beginning.

Who or what is this Word that became flesh? John informs us that the Word is God, and in 1:1-2 he reveals four characteristics of his identity. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. In these two verses, John reveals three attributes of the Word which expose His divinity.

He is eternal

John says the Word was in the beginning. Here is the eternality of God, of the Christ, as is revealed in other Scriptures. For example, Revelation 1:8 records the words of Jesus, I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The Old Testament prophet revealed the eternality of the Messiah, But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2). The Word that became flesh is the eternal God.

He is revelational

The Word is the divine logos, the speech of God. Logos is derived from the verb lego, which means to speak. It refers to the manifestation of the one who is speaking. The Word is the speech of God; He is the divine Communicator. He is the fullest manifestation of God. The logos is the supreme revelation of God. Later in the same chapter, John says Jesus has made the invisible God visible (John 1:18). Hebrews 1:1-2 testifies to this truth as well: God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. The eternal Word became flesh in order to reveal God to man.

He is relational

The Word was “in the beginning with God.” The eternal Christ enjoyed intimate fellowship with His Father and the Spirit from all of eternity. In the beginning, He was with God. Literally, face to face with God. Illustration: In his commentary, Herschel Hobbs tells us that,

In ancient times if one entertained two guests of equal rank they must be seated on an equal basis. If one were tall and the other short, the latter was seated on pillows so that when he looked at the former their eyes met on an even line. Neither must look down upon or up to the other. They saw eye to eye. They were pros, face to face, with each other. They were equal.

The word was with God—in equality and intimate relationship. In what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, in John 17, He prayed, And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was (John 17:5). A little later, He continued, Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

True Christians believe God is One, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons eternally co-exist in relationship to one another. The Father loves the Son and has authority over Him. The Son loves and obeys the Father. The Spirit is sent forth from both the Father and the Son, and has a main purpose of glorifying the Son of God. All three live eternally in perfect unity—they always have.

What a marvel it is then that one member—the Son—willingly obeyed the Father’s will, and the Trinity’s plan of redemption, in order to become fully human. Eternal God became human flesh. The eternal Christ became what He had never been before. He became flesh—and He did so in order to become the sin offering that you and I needed (Read Hebrews 10:5-7).

The wonder of Christmas is that God became man. The eternal Son of God became fully human in the person of Jesus Christ. In His earthly body, He revealed God. He demonstrated His deity in numerous ways, lived a sinless life, and then presented Himself to God as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. After experiencing death on the cross, He was buried. Three days later, He rose from the grave as evidence of His deity. Today, He sits at the right hand of God interceding for those who repent and believe in His name.

This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, The Word Became Flesh.

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December 2, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Flashback – Does Romans 13:8 Teach It Is a Sin to Borrow Money?

Flashback – Does Romans 13:8 Teach It Is a Sin to Borrow Money?

[Almost 5 years ago, I posted this article. Since then it has been read over 18,000 times.]

Today, I am publishing an article I wrote to my congregation in 2006. Originally, it was written because our church was going through a financial stewardship curriculum that used Romans 13:8 to imply that all borrowing is sin, a misuse of the biblical text, which I sought to correct. Here’s what I wrote way back then.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8, NKJ).

Reading the above verse naturally raises the question, Does God’s Word prohibit financial debt? That is a very important question, especially in light of the following sentence from financial counselor and author, Ron Blue, “The financial area of debt is clouded with more emotion, misunderstanding, and poor teaching than any other area, with the possible exceptions of life insurance and tithing.”

To clarify the confusion surrounding a Christian’s relationship to financial debt we must let the sunlight of God’s Word burn away the fog by asking and answering two important questions.

DOES THE BIBLE TEACH BORROWING MONEY IS A SIN? – The simple answer is No. But first let me introduce the subject of debt by means of four biblical principles:

  1. The Bible teaches borrowing money automatically creates a servant/master relationship. This is a simple fact of life. Financial debt is a form of slavery (Prov 22:7; Deut 28:43-44). As a result of debt the borrower becomes the lender’s servant. The everyday reality of this is nakedly obvious. When we bring our paycheck home, after giving the first-fruits to our Lord, the bills piled up on the kitchen counter scream, “Pay me, or else!” Certainly we enslave ourselves through debt. Therefore, I think it is safe to assume most of us who are growing in stewardship also long for the day we are free from this servitude. We can all agree with Ron Blue that “…debt becomes a trap—getting in takes no effort, but getting out can be next to impossible….Getting into debt is as easy as getting down an ice-covered mountain. Getting out of debt is just as difficult as climbing that same mountain.” May God give us the perseverance to lace up the spikes and keep climbing!  The servant/master relationship created by debt can also build a wall between people. I remember, in times past, when I owed money to a family member and I could not go to a holiday gathering without thinking of my debt. I’m sure the other person did not think about it at all, but I, the borrower, certainly did and that perceived strain caused me to make every effort to pay off the debt as soon as possible. On one occasion I even took out a cash advance on a credit card so I could pay off a family member just so I could feel “free” in their presence. Talk about borrowing from Peter to pay Paul! Or was it “Borrowing from Citibank to pay Grandma”?
  2. The Bible does not denigrate financial institutions. Jesus often made reference to financial matters, however, He never painted the lender in a bad light. Instead He treated banks as a normal part of life and assumed the personal right to borrow money (Matt 25:27; Matt 5:42; Luke 6:35).
  3. The Bible warns against presuming on the future. One of the greatest spiritual dangers of debt is that it so easily allows us to presume upon God and the future. Ron Blue testifies, “I believe that in many cases, when we borrow money to fund one item, be it for the purpose of a new car, a television, a new home, a vacation, or whatever, we are putting the lender in the place of God. Who needs God to provide for us if someone will lend to us?” The Bible warns us to guard against making plans that presume on God’s will for our future (James 4:13-16).
  4. The Bible teaches that when money is borrowed there should also be a secure repayment plan. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives.” This text is clear. It does not say the person who borrows is wicked, but rather the one who borrows and does not pay back. In other words, what is condemned is not the borrowing itself, but the failure to repay. Therefore, the believer should desire to maintain a testimony for Christ by borrowing wisely, that is, by being sure he has means of repaying his debts. He should pay careful attention to the ratio between his debt and his income and assets. Commenting on Romans 13:8, James Montgomery Boice wrote, “There is no sin in borrowing the money as long as you are able to pay the interest and premiums according to that schedule.”

Therefore, borrowing money is always a matter of stewardship and good stewardship sometimes makes borrowing a viable option. As much as all of us would like to buy a house with cash the stark reality is that wisely managing a mortgage is better stewardship than spending the same amount of money monthly by renting a home. At the end of the first scenario you have a house that you actually own; at the end of the other you have nothing. Therefore, the issue is not always “to borrow or not to borrow,” but whether or not we can borrow wisely, thus ensuring wise stewardship is practiced and the testimony of the Lord is not harmed by foolishness or financial irresponsibility.

So, here is our first conclusion. The Bible does not teach that borrowing money is sin. However, it discourages debt and clearly warns against its practical and spiritual dangers thus compelling us to be wise stewards in the way we manage our finances. The basic conclusion is this. If you can avoid debt, avoid it. If you must borrow, borrow wisely with a secure repayment plan, paying it off as aggressively as you are able to, reasonably, in your present situation.

WHAT THEN DOES ROMANS 13:8 TEACH? We’ve already seen that the interpretation of the phrase, “owe no one anything,” as a complete prohibition of borrowing does not square with the whole counsel of Scripture. What then does it teach? That is the second question we must answer.

We need to recognize that when Paul instructs us to “owe no one anything except to love,” he is drawing attention to the supremacy and permanence of love, “for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” In other words, the one debt we will never be free from is the debt of love. Jesus said that the two supreme commandments–to love God and others–wrap up all God-pleasing decisions (Matt 22:40). In other words, if we always loved God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and if we always loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would never sin. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). Biblical love, therefore, is the consideration of others as more important than ourselves. This others-focusedness is a fruit of the humility of mind we are called to imitate in Jesus: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Phil 2:3). It means that love is permanently supreme because selflessness brings glory to our Savior who humbled Himself to the point of death (Phil 2:8). The debt to love others sacrificially is the debt we will never fully repay.

Is it possible then to be debt-free financially and still not obey the command to love? Yes, unfortunately, it is. For example, the Christian man who, coming home from a seminar where he was taught that borrowing money is sin, and got the impression that being debt-free is the most important goal in life, decides to sell his house and cars and move his wife and twelve children into a camper certainly has a strong desire to “owe no one anything,” but is he acting in love toward his family? Is he, according to 1 Peter 3:7, living with his wife “in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel”? Is he paying the debt of love? Or if I seek to pay off our debts so aggressively that I leave my wife with not enough money to run the household, or to put decent meals on the dinner table, I may become debt-free, but am I acting in love toward her? As much as we all want to reach the goal of being debt-free we must guard against Pharisaical, false measurements of spirituality that feed our pride and minimize or sacrifice God’s call to “the greatest of these,” which is love (1 Cor 13:13).

But that interpretation still does not leave us completely off the hook since the context of “owe no one anything” demands a monetary application. “Owe” is the same word that is used in the previous verse of the dues that citizens owe government in the form of taxes and is part of the call to believers to model obedience to God via good citizenship (unfortunately, some of the worst tax evaders in our country are Christians, which simply should not be!). “The connection [between verses 7 and 8]”, said William R. Newell, “is direct: when you pay up all your dues, whether private debts or public, and have only this constant obligation before you,–to love one another, ‘Love must still remain the root and spring of all your actions; no other law is needed besides. Pay all other debts; be indebted in the matter of love alone.’” Therefore, we as believers should be very careful to always pay our debts, whether to the government or private business or individuals. This is an occasion in which I find the NIV rendering helpful, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” This places the emphasis on the faithfulness of repayment. In other words, “owe no one anything” means, “Pay your debts, Buddy!”

Conclusion: What have we learned? God’s Word does not forbid financial debt, but discourages it and warns of its bondage and its tendency to encourage us to presume on the future. Jesus affirmed the personal right to borrow money and called His disciples to responsible stewardship. Faithful stewardship requires paying our debts and only borrowing what we can responsibly repay. The only debt we will never be able to fully repay is the debt of love we owe to one another because of the supreme love of Christ.

The practice of biblical love toward one another is of greater importance than becoming, or remaining, financially debt-free. As we strive to reduce debt and be financially responsible, let us be careful not to sacrifice the greater for the lesser.

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November 30, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on What is the “Sin Leading to Death”?

What is the “Sin Leading to Death”?

This week, a brother in Christ asked me this question. So, I thought I would pass on my brief answer. First John 5:16 is a difficult verse. However, before explaining its meaning, read the full context.

14 And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death (1 John 5:14-17, NAS).

It seems best to me that we understand the sin leading to death as being the ultimate form of God’s discipline of a believer. Let me explain. The immediate context contains instruction concerning how to pray for fellow Christians. After reassuring believers of the confidence we possess when praying according to the will of God, John instructs us to pray for fellow believers when we are aware they are committing sin (v.16a). We should, as John says, pray “God will…give life” to those committing sin, rather than death. In other words, we should pray the Lord will convict and lead them to repent of their particular sins, so they might once again experience the vibrant life of fellowship.

However, as much as we would like, this will not always be the end result. God’s commitment to His children includes discipline, which is sometimes severe (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:1-11). It seems possible that even a Christian can become hardened in sin to the point that he will not respond to divine chastening, and God’s ultimate discipline on such a believer is to take him home to heaven in order to protect the testimony of Christ, and limit destructive consequences in the lives of those whom he influences. This is God’s choice and we should refrain from praying for it, since only God knows the extent of one’s hardness of heart; only God knows when a person has reached that point of no return.

All sin leads to death, ultimately, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  In other words, biblically speaking, all sin is mortal.  However, not all deaths are the result of a specific state of sin. Yet there are examples of God taking the lives of believers because He would no longer tolerate their sin. Here are three examples.

  • Believers who practiced deception – Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit when they donated a portion of the selling price of their real estate while claiming to have given it all. They were not obligated to give all, but chose to deceive the apostles in an attempt to gain man’s favor and praise. The result was that God immediately struck Ananias dead. Three hours later, the same fate fell upon his wife. God used such severe treatment to bring “great fear” upon the whole church (v. 11).

  • Believers whose behavior warranted church discipline – 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

The church in Corinth included a man who was guilty of incest. Instead of removing the man from the church, the congregation boasted of its love and tolerance. The apostle’s response was to turn this unrepentant man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.

  • Believers who abused the Lord’s Supper – 1 Corinthians 11:27-30

The same church (Corinth) was keeping the local hospitals and funeral homes in business because so many were abusing the Christ-centered celebration of communion by turning it into a self-centered, gluttonous feast filled with contention. As a result, many were sick and others died.

These examples reveal that, even though God is exceedingly long-suffering, there are times His patience runs out with some believers. When this occurs, death is the final act of His chastening hand. This seems to be the best understanding of the sin leading to death. May the Holy Spirit keep all of us sensitive to His conviction, and repentant in our own spirit!

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November 29, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on 4 Reasons to Give Thanks to God Forever

4 Reasons to Give Thanks to God Forever

If you are a Christian, praise is not optional. The spirit of thanksgiving and the habit of thankfulness are to be part of what set you apart from the unbelieving world. For the believer in Jesus Christ, thanksgiving is not merely the focus of one day—as it is here in the United States—but it is to be a continual habit. In Psalm 30, David, the songwriter and king of Israel, resolves to thank God forever. The book of Psalms is the Hebrew hymn book, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit—as is all of Scripture.

Open your Bible to Psalm 30. Take a few minutes to read it and then walk through it with me.

Psalm 30 is one of the Thanksgiving Psalms which was sung at the dedication of the temple built by his son, Solomon. Here, David lifts up the Lord as the one who is worthy of praise. He resolves to give thanks to God forever, and his example encourages us to determine in our hearts to be people who are always thankful. He gives us four reasons.

Give thanks to God because He gives help when you are in danger (vv. 1-3).

“I will extol” the Lord, David says. The word extol is from the word meaning “to be high, exalted.” David is lifting God up in praise because it was God who lifted him out of all his trouble. “You have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.” The Lord had drawn up David, as one is drawn from a well. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure (Ps 40:2).

As the chosen leader of Israel, David encountered many trials and tribulations. At times, his enemies overtook him, overwhelmed him, and appeared to have destroyed him for good. But God was with David. God had a plan. David was a great sinner like you and I, but in the end, David was vindicated as a man after God’s own heart. In the end, his foes were not able to rejoice over his destruction.

Why? Because God lifted him up.

The inner pain of his suffering is honestly revealed in verse 2. “I cried to you for help…and you have healed me.” It’s interesting to me that when most Christians speak of healing their minds are solely fixed upon the human body—as if the focus and attention of our lives is on this temporary dwelling place. As if we are promised good health in this fallen world. As if that is to be our utmost concern.  However, there are other kinds of healing. There is a healing of spirit and soul which usually takes much longer than any of us realize. If you have ever been through a time of severe conflict, or have been personally attacked by hateful people—especially other Christians—you may find that the inner wounds take longer to heal than you had expected.

And yet, David speaks of God’s faithfulness even in this realm, too. Look at verse 3. It speaks volumes. Healing and restoration after a period of severe attack can only be fully brought about by the Lord, who is our healer. In times of danger, know this: God is your protector. Therefore, we must give thanks to God because He gives help when we are in danger.

Give thanks to God because He gives you a lifetime of favor, not anger (vv. 4-7).

“Sing praises,” David says, “O you his saints.” David calls those who trust in God to verbalize their thanksgiving. Saints are true believers, those who have been plucked from the pit of sin and given new life by the grace of God. The New Testament often designates believers as saints. The word is from hagios, meaning holy. Believers are those whom God has drawn up from the well of sin, and set apart for Himself. We are called to be holy since we are already holy (set apart) in position.

As saints, we must “give thanks to his holy name.” One significant reason God deserves our constant praise is found in verse 5. God’s anger is only for a moment and his favor is for a lifetime. You see, God’s anger is unlike ours. He is not quick-tempered, and His anger does not linger (Exodus 34:6).

God’s favor is for a lifetime. His goodwill and acceptance of us—in Christ—is forever. Ephesians 1:6 teaches us that God has accepted us in the beloved One, Christ. And Hebrews 2:11 encourages us by telling us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Why? Because, in Him, we are declared righteous.

Again, the psalmist’s honesty is clear: “Weeping may tarry for the night.” Strong weeping and bitter crying are part of extreme trials and tribulations. But…“Joy comes in the morning.” The more you live a life dedicated to the Lord, the more you will realize that this life is not the source of your joy. The book of Job reminds us that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Life in this fallen world will be filled with disappointments, even deep hurts—inner pain beyond description. But never forget this: When you know the Lord then joy will come. After your long walk through your God-appointed dark, foggy valley—when night never seems to end—there is a joy that will come in the morning.

O, suffering saint, know this. Believe this. Cling to this. One day, your sadness will turn to singing. This was a lesson David needed to learn. Previously, as verse 6 indicates, he trusted in himself, in his self-sufficiency. But God had to teach him that He alone is his mountain, his strong rock and, therefore, is worthy of praise.

Give thanks to God because He gives mercy when you are in despair (vv. 8-10).

Take a moment to read verses 8-10 again. In his moment of despair, David admitted that he needed a fresh supply of God’s mercy. When David sinned by counting the people it revealed that his faith was in his military strength, not in God. Therefore, Gad, the prophet, announced God’s judgment. In response, David said to Gad,

“I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam. 24:14). David knew that mercy only comes from God, ultimately. If you are in despair, don’t look to men for mercy. They will always disappoint you. Look to Jesus who is abundant in mercy. Remember the promise of Hebrews 4:15-16.

Give thanks to God because He gives you joy that surpasses grief (vv. 11-12).

Read (slowly) verses 11-12. It is God, and God alone, who is able to remove your garments of grief and sorrow and give you gladness in exchange. For a similar assurance, read Psalm 69:10-13.

Why has God done this for David? Why did God give him joy that surpassed his grief? So that, David said, “my glory (my soul) may sing praise your praise and not be silent.” God delights in our praise, and to generate that praise He walks with us through long, dark valleys of suffering in order to produce the kind of thankful hearts that bring Him pleasure. In Christ, there is a joy that surpasses all the griefs we have to endure in this life (Romans 8:18).

Look at the final sentence of Psalm 30. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Is this the resolution of your heart? Praise is not an option for the Christian. The spirit of thanksgiving and the habit of thankfulness are to be habitual in our lives.

This post is adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, Give Thanks to God Forever.

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