You Are Not the Bride of Christ

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You won’t find the phrase “bride of Christ” in your Bible. Just like the Trinity, this concept appears in Scripture without the wording we now use.

Though the biblical authors use this image to refer to the collective people of God, many today misapply it to individuals. This error has far-reaching and unexpected consequences.

The Old Testament

Let’s begin with the Bible. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was the people of God by virtue of God’s gracious covenant. In Isaiah 54 (and elsewhere), God used the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people as a whole.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4–8)

The Israelites understood marriage, so God employed this language to explain his covenant. The prophets regularly used this image to point out Israel’s many idolatries. So we read of the people “whoring” after other gods and abandoning their faithful husband. (See Ezekiel 16 for a detailed and graphic example.)

The New Testament

With the coming of Jesus, the people of God are no longer confined to one nation. Now those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior make up God’s community, the church.

The theme of the church as the bride of Christ comes from three New Testament passages. The famous passage about marriage in Ephesians 5:22–33 compares husbands to Christ and wives to the church. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he bethrothed them to one husband, Christ (2 Cor 11:2). Finally, the picture John develops in Revelation 21 shows the New Jerusalem as the bride of the Lamb (see verses 2 and 9–10).

Whether Old Testament or New, these references are all collective, not individual.

The Importance of Getting it Right

Teaching that individuals are the bride(s) of Christ is not just an innocent mistake. It can have serious consequences for our worship, our outreach, and our own sanctification. I see at least four reasons why it’s important to cling tightly to what the Bible says about this image.

1. Biblical accuracy is important.

When the Bible speaks about something, even by way of images, illustrations, and metaphors, we must interpret accurately.

2. We use this language in worship.

When we worship God corporately, we naturally use language that captures our relationship with him. This is true in prayer, preaching, and singing.

The church has been infected with Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs for many years now, and I wonder if a misunderstanding of this biblical image is to blame. When we urge our congregations to sing about being in love with God (instead of loving God), we evoke a romantic image that echoes the brides-of-Christ mistake. I see these solitary, romantic notions nowhere in the Bible.

3. We risk emasculating men.

Some men already feel the church is too feminine. When we ask men—especially men new to (or outside) the faith who don’t yet know our strangeness—to profess being in love with Jesus, they may not come back. Since this brushes against the hot-button topic of homosexuality, we need to be clear about the sort of love men should have for Jesus.

4. We risk sending the wrong message to women.

Some of the single women in our churches long to be married. Trying to encourage them by teaching that they are “married to Christ” now is not helpful. It’s dismissive in addition to being unbiblical.

I suspect the Catholic church’s teaching about nuns has crept into the larger church culture on this point. The Catholic church’s catechism (scroll down to paragraph 923) teaches that nuns are “betrothed mystically to Christ” and that they are “an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ.”

This is nowhere in the Bible. We need to care for the single women in our churches with biblical comfort and love.

A Beautiful Image

The image in Scripture is clear: God is preparing and purifying his people for a great gathering at the end of time. The victorious Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, will meet his bride, the church, and there will be a great feast of celebration.

Let’s not dilute or distract from this great biblical image. You are not the bride of Christ; we are.


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Photo Credit: Andreas (2008), public domain

Love at Work: Malcolm Gladwell on Reporting

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What does it look like to glorify God at work?

Our answers will be as diverse as our jobs. I’m trying to figure it out as a college professor, but what I learn can’t be adopted verbatim by my friends who work for engineering firms.

Yet I’ve found it helpful to think through the principles by listening to people in different careers. So, while I know little about journalism, I can learn from someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

A Short Bio

Malcolm Gladwell is a writer for The New Yorker and the author of some mega-selling books. (My favorites of his are The Tipping Point and Outliers, though I haven’t read David and Goliath.) He has recently gotten into podcasting, releasing the first season of Revisionist History this summer.

I don’t know whether Malcolm Gladwell is a Christian. In a 2013 interview he said he would call himself a Christian but that he wasn’t part of any church or group at the time. He was raised in the Mennonite tradition.

Gladwell on Reporting

I listened to an interview with Malcolm Gladwell on a recent episode of the Longform podcast. He was promoting Revisionist History.

In an earlier appearance on the same show (back in 2013), Gladwell discussed some of his foundational commitments as a reporter. (These quotes begin around the 44-minute mark of this podcast.)

Gladwell: I try to follow the rule: if I write about you, I do not want you ever to regret having talked to me. In cases where I think the person will regret having talked to me, I usually don’t do the story or don’t use the person’s interview or don’t use the parts I think they’ll regret having said.

Gladwell clarified his position in the 2016 interview. (These quotes start at 6:40.)

Gladwell: The great temptation of a journalist is—you go in, talk to someone, and they say something in an unguarded moment, that they probably shouldn’t have said. And those kinds of statements fall into two categories. They say something that they didn’t mean. Or they say something that they did mean but didn’t intend to disclose. And when I’m writing, I’ve always tried very hard to identify those moments and never to use them.

He acknowledges this is a point of departure between him and other journalists. (These quotes are from the 2013 interview.)

Gladwell: I really object to this notion of journalism as a kind of…if they said it, you print it. NO. If they said it, you think long and hard about whether it’s necessary. And you think long and hard about the sense in which they were speaking, and you think long and hard about whether if you asked them that question again they would answer the same way. And if you don’t think they would answer it the same way a second time, you can’t use it. It’s not a game of gotcha.

Evan Ratliff (interviewer): And would you ask them again?

Gladwell: Absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times I call someone up and I say, “Well you said this. Did you really mean that?” And they’ll send me back an email and they’ll rephrase it and I’ll use the rephrase. Most people who do not explain themselves for a living aren’t expert at it. […]

Gladwell: Most people spend 95% of their time talking to people who are by definition generous listeners. Your wife is a generous listener. She knows what you mean. She’s not taking the worst possible interpretation of what you say. They’re not governing their speech in the way that you would if you’re Obama…If you’re talking to someone who is naive in that sense…you have to protect them. That’s part of the deal.

Did you catch that? Gladwell strives to be a generous listener when he interviews people for his job. He doesn’t play gotcha, he doesn’t use quotations offered in an unguarded moment.

He is practicing the Golden Rule. He is practicing love.

The Golden Rule at Work

Glorifying God at work means much more than praying for the conversion of our coworkers and customers. We need to think about doing good works and blessing others in ways that honor Christ.

I’m grateful for Malcolm Gladwell’s simple yet profound application of the Golden Rule to his work as a reporter. If you’re learning how to honor God with your job, that’s as good a place to start as any.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: United States Mission Geneva (2011), Creative Commons License

When God Promises His Presence

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Moses’ call is one of the most striking in the Bible. A miracle, dialogue (with God!), promises—it’s all there.

The whole story—from big plot points to small details—is fascinating. At the center, we see a man questioning his call. We have a lot to learn from God’s response.

The Background

The beginning of Exodus 3 finds Moses in Midian, the country to which he ran when Egypt was no longer safe. He has a wife and family, and he works for his father-in-law as a shepherd.

While carrying out his shepherdly duties, Moses is confronted not only with the famous burning bush but also with God himself (Ex. 3:6). God announces his compassionate intention to free his people and take them to a good land, and he plans to send Moses to do this enormous work. Moses isn’t exactly ready for this.

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11)

The Question

Moses might deserve some criticism for his later excuses (recorded in Exodus 4), but this seems like an honest, natural response. Who am I to do this? Consider some of the reasons behind his question.

Moses doesn’t have a great history with Pharoahs. Though he grew up in a previous king’s home, that same man tried to kill him (Ex. 2:15).

Moses has been away from Egypt for about 40 years. The Hebrew people last saw him as nosy and scared (Ex. 2:14). Will they remember him? Will they follow him?

Not being a military or political leader, Moses wasn’t an obvious choice for this job. He was just a shepherd in the wilderness. He didn’t seem prepared or qualified.

Finally, Moses tried to stand up to Egyptian oppression once before, and it did not end well. Moses killed an Egyptian he saw beating a Hebrew (Ex. 2:12). But instead of being grateful, the Hebrews resented Moses putting himself in the place of “prince and judge” (Ex. 2:14). What would they say if he tried to take charge, give orders, and lead the nation?

God’s Answer

On a first reading, it doesn’t seem like God answers Moses’ question.

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)

God gives Moses a personal promise and an outward sign. The promise is simply I will be with you. Is this answer supposed to be reassuring?

Yes! If we consider how God has revealed himself to Moses, we’ll see why this promise is comforting.

God is sovereign and mighty. He began to call Moses with a miracle (the burning bush). He makes the very place where he appears holy (Ex. 3:5). He is the covenant-keeping, faithful God of Moses’ ancestors (Ex. 3:6).

But God is also tender and compassionate. He has seen the hardships of his people, he has heard their cries. He knows their sufferings and has come down to deliver them. (See Exodus 3:7–9.)

God wasn’t concerned about Moses being lonely. His presence isn’t that of a stuffed animal, a guard dog, or even a best friend.

God promises his holy, fiery, powerful, loving presence. With his own background and qualifications, Moses didn’t know where to start. But with God’s presence, he would be unstoppable.

God Qualifies Us

There’s at least one lesson for us to learn here. By God’s presence, he qualifies us for our callings.

The Bible frequently uses Moses and the Exodus to point to Jesus and the cross, and this is no exception. The calling of Moses corresponds to Jesus’ baptism. God anointed Jesus for his saving task by sending the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:9–11).

God makes the same promise to each Christian that he made to Moses. By his Spirit, he will be with us. (See John 14:15–17 and Hebrews 13:5.) God calls us to himself and then to particular roles and tasks. His ongoing, holy presence with us qualifies us for our calling.

This doesn’t make our calling easy or even something we’re supposed to face on our own. But God’s abiding presence means we can face even the scariest challenges with confidence.

Naomi and the Names We Call Ourselves

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Despite our best intentions to resist, our circumstances inevitably affect our outlook on life. I’m stuck in this job. I’ll never get married. I must be a lousy father.

This isn’t new.

The Story of Naomi

Naomi is a central figure in the book of Ruth. After a famine-prompted move from Bethlehem to Moab, her husband and two sons died. Naomi was left with only her daughters-in-law.

Hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi headed back to Bethlehem. She freed her daughters-in-law from any obligation to go with her, but in a heart-warming statement of love and loyalty, Ruth stayed by Naomi’s side (Ruth 1:16–17).

Though she had a steadfast companion, Naomi’s life had fallen apart. Without a husband and with no other men in her family, she re-entered Bethlehem in low spirits.

The Story of Mara

Naomi already admitted her anguish (Ruth 1:13), but her bitterness boiled over when she met the women of Bethlehem.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21)

Naomi felt so crushed by God she rejected her given name (“Naomi” means pleasant) for another (“Mara” means bitter). How could she remain “Naomi” when life seemed anything but pleasant?

She was empty and God was to blame. From that moment on, her new name would announce her deep bitterness to everyone.

What Happened to Mara?

With this background, it’s surprising to reach the end of Ruth without another mention of the name “Mara.” Everyone uses “Naomi” without a second thought.

In Ruth 2:6, one of Boaz’s servants refers to Naomi. Boaz himself refers to Naomi in Ruth 4:3, 4:5, and 4:9. The women of Bethlehem, whom Naomi had urged to call her Mara, use her original name in Ruth 4:17. Finally, the author of Ruth doesn’t use the name Mara again.

What do we make of this?

Our Names

Like Naomi, sometimes we name ourselves based on God’s difficult providences or our feelings.

Sometimes we adopt new names out of self pity, sometimes out of outright defiance. We think these new names define us, that they tell a complete, set-in-stone story from now on and forever.

Victim. Fearful. Outcast. Impatient. Guilty. Angry.

These descriptions might be accurate. They might describe you. But if you are a Christian, they do not define you. You don’t have the authority to name yourself.

Christians are given new names by God Almighty. These names define us. His authority is greater than ours, so his names for us stick. What are some of those names?

Child.
Redeemed.
Free.
Heir.
Saint.
New Creation.
Righteous.
Chosen.
Holy.
Forgiven.
Alive.
Citizen of heaven.
Loved.

Whose Voice?

There’s a great quote by Martyn Lloyd-Jones about self-talk for the Christian. It contains this gem.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that we must speak essential truths to our souls: “…remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

Search the Bible. Embrace all that God has done for you in Jesus. Instead of the names spit out by your flesh, wear the names God gives you with thanksgiving.

Fireworks and the Gospel

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Like many other families in the States, we enjoyed fireworks a few weeks ago. As long as we can keep our hearing intact, my children love fireworks. But their reaction this year was off the charts.

One of my daughters was awestruck. She clapped, laughed, and shouted in delight. She cheered just as loudly at the end as she did at the beginning, thrilled at each explosion as if it were her first. It was 20 minutes of pure enjoyment—she did not hold back, and she was not embarrassed.

Lack of Joy

Adults rarely express such unashamed joy. Exuberance just isn’t cool; and we, of course, must be cool.

This distance makes sense in our culture, but life should be different within the church. Though we have the best of all reasons for joy, some Christians are the least joyful people around. We’ve taken sober-mindedness (see 1 Peter 1:13) in the wrong direction.

A Dangerous Immunity

We’ve developed a dangerous immunity to the wonder of the gospel. Though the good news about Jesus is serious and important, it should produce rejoicing not reluctance.

In most evangelical churches we hear the gospel a lot, and we start to tune out. We treat the most glorious, earth-shattering news like numbers on a stock ticker. If we’re honest, the gospel bores us at times. And nobody shares a boring message.

The gospel we believed at the beginning of our Christian lives is the same gospel we need every day. The good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what should energize our obedience and fuel our hope. The gospel is not the door to the house of God’s kingdom—it is the whole house. We live and move and have our being in the shelter of what God has done for us.

Cultivate Wonder

Some people, when bored with one message, add to that message or turn to another. Instead, we need to cultivate wonder at what God has done, how he accomplished it, and what it secures for us. In other words, the solution is not less gospel but more.

With the eyes of faith, and with the Spirit’s help, we need to look at the gospel again. We need to consider our sin and our hopeless state without Christ. We need to meditate on what Jesus gave up in coming to earth, his spotless obedience, and his suffering. We need to ponder the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look forward to the new heavens and earth, new bodies, and the end of the curse.

If you need to wonder afresh at the gospel, read through the two lists below. They are not exhaustive, but they survey how Spirit-inspired authors in the New Testament talk about the gospel. I grouped them into two categories. What is the gospel? And what does the gospel do?

If you find yourself bored with the gospel, listen to the way God describes its function and glory. Then dive back into the Bible and ask God to restore to you the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12).

The gospel is

  • to be believed (Mark 1:15)
  • a reason for long life (Mark 8:35)
  • a reason for leaving land and family (Mark 10:29)
  • to be proclaimed to all nations (Mark 13:10)
  • the message by which Gentiles believe (Acts 15:7)
  • a reason for Paul to be set apart (Rom 1:1)
  • the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16)
  • something to obey (Rom 10:16)
  • a means of spiritual fatherhood (1 Cor 4:15)
  • about the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4)
  • veiled to some people (2 Cor 4:3)
  • true (Gal 2:5)
  • about salvation (Eph 1:13)
  • the occasion for partnership (Phil 1:5)
  • to be defended (Phil 1:16)
  • the word of truth (Col 1:5)
  • a means of calling (2 Thess 2:14)
  • a means of bringing life and immortality to light (2 Tim 1:10)
  • eternal (Rev 14:6)

The gospel

  • reveals God’s righteousness (Rom 1:17)
  • predicts God’s judgment (Rom 2:16)
  • provides strength (Rom 16:25)
  • blesses (1 Cor 9:23)
  • provokes counterfeits (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6–9)
  • belongs to God (2 Cor 11:7)
  • must be entrusted to others (Gal 2:7)
  • was preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8)
  • involves mystery (Eph 6:19)
  • bears fruit (Col 1:6)
  • gives hope (Col 1:23)
  • comes in power and the Holy Spirit, with conviction (1 Thess 1:5)
  • brings suffering (2 Tim 1:8)

Photo Credit: Jill Wellington (2000), public domain

Why Do You Read?

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A few banner commands fly over each Christian’s life. As loved, redeemed children of God, these commands teach us how to act like God’s people.

First, we have the two-part summary of the law courtesy of Jesus. Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (See Matthew 22:37–39.)

Most Christians also know this sweeping verse from Paul: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). This wide umbrella covers all our work and all our play, every possible job or hobby.

This, of course, includes our reading.

Must We Only Read Christian Books?

For many, the act of reading is second nature. They don’t ask why. But faithful Christians need to ponder: Does my reading glorify God? What is my motivation to read?

We must avoid simplistic answers. It’s easy to justify reading Christian biographies and books of theology or Christian living. But must we limit ourselves to Christian titles and authors? Can we glorify God as we read “secular” fiction, for example?

Think about the reading pile in your house. Will those books help you love God? Will they help you love your neighbor?

Read for God’s Glory

If forced, readers might explain their hobby in a host of ways. Many would say reading helps them relax. Others want to engage the ideas or culture of our time. Still others want to learn or grow or laugh or think, and they meet these goals by reading.

Can these reasons for reading live in harmony with our duty to read to the glory of God?

Read with the End in Mind

The effect of our reading is more cumulative than immediate. Reading shapes us over time. Hence the phrase “reading diet”—as healthy eating bears good long-term fruit in our lives, so does healthy reading.

But what does “healthy” mean? Certainly the Bible should be at the top of our list. We cannot live without the bread of life, the very words of God.

Also, each person might have “allergies” (to continue the metaphor). Based on your history, station in life, and individual temptations, there are likely books you should not read. There might also be books/blogs/magazines which it would be unwise (though not necessarily sinful) for you to read. If you don’t know your reading allergies, seek counsel from a good friend.

With the negatives out of the way, now think broadly. Trace the connection between the reason you read to the God-glorifying person you want to be.

For example, suppose you read primarily to relax. You should embrace books that help you detach and unwind, because resting glorifies God. (He built rest into creation, after all.) You will love God—along with your family, neighbors, and coworkers—better as a rested person than as someone who doesn’t observe this creation rhythm.

Consecrate Your Reading

This isn’t to say you can justify every possible motive for reading. There are some legitimately bad reasons for reading, such as coveting, procrastination, ignoring others, or seeking distraction and titillation.

But if God has given you a love for reading, embrace it! Think about the reasons behind this passion, and select reading material that resonates with these purposes.

Finally, pray. Seek his wisdom. We honor God when we take our reading to God and ask him to use it for his glory.


Photo Credit: Henryk Niestrój, public domain

How to Ask Better Questions

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Asking questions is like sending email. We do it many times each day, mostly without thinking. Our patterns are familiar and comfortable.

But questions, like email, are a foundational way we interact with other people. We all have room to improve.

The Importance of Questions

Questions are the way we learn. Without questions, you’ll have no understanding, no wisdom, no growth.

This is obvious in the world of facts and ideas. Where was the bicycle invented? What are the drawbacks of socialism? We don’t often get answers without questions.

But this is also (and more importantly) true with people. Questions drive conversations, and better questions lead deeper. A good question sidesteps small talk and draws out ideas and passions—it makes space to hear a person’s heartbeat.

Because questions are a key way to get to know other people, they are vital for being a neighborly human. And for the Christian, they are essential.

We all want to grow in our love for other people. So how can we improve in this area?

How to Improve

I offer no cheat sheet. You won’t find “5 easy tricks” here.

Instead, I have some hard news: To ask better questions, you need to grow. For most of us, the barrier to good conversations is our selfishness and our lack of love for God and neighbor.

Be Curious

Curious people are a delight. Instead of making polite conversation, they take an interest in you. They make good eye contact, they follow up, and they think about your words before responding.

Curious people are always learning. They are intrigued by everything from sea turtles to Saturn, from the periodic table to the printing press. And curious Christians are fascinated by their neighbors.

Growing in curiosity begins with worshiping God as creator. If God is creative, infinite, and wise, then everything he makes—from bamboo to Barbara in HR—is worth investigating. Any Christian who loves God and worships him as creator will never be bored. Everything is interesting; everyone is interesting.

Curious people reject the simplistic reflex that files people in boxes. He’s a gun-loving Republican. She’s a liberal academic. God makes people individually, and love demands we get to know people instead of making assumptions.

Be Humble

Honest questions involve admitting we don’t know the answer. We speak up because we lack some knowledge or explanation.

But no one likes looking ignorant or naive. So, depending on the listening audience or our conversation partner, we keep silent. We don’t mind confessing our limitations in the abstract, but when a specific person learns of a specific deficit of ours, it feels like torture.

In order to ask better questions, we must make peace with looking silly. Take a sledgehammer to your fascade of omniscience. God knows everything and you do not. That doesn’t make you weak or stupid, it makes you human. You’re only weak if you care more about the opinion of others than seeking the truth in love.

Listen

Many of us need to hear this word from James again and again.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20, ESV)

So often we only listen up to a point. We think of a response or a connection to our experience, and we start looking to jump back in. We ignore the other person by looking out for ourselves.

We must repent of selfishness in conversations. We can only ask good questions as we hear the other person and advance the conversation accordingly.

Listening requires a loving focus on the other person. With man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God because of Jesus.

Love Your Neighbor

Christians must be concerned about loving our neighbors, and the skill of asking good questions is crucial for the spread of the gospel.

Evangelism is much more than keeping a tally of monthly gospel shares. This approach makes the gospel seem like a water balloon we’re just waiting to pop over a person’s head. (Got one!) It smooths out distinctions between people and implies our task is limited to one conversation. We’re tempted to shoehorn the gospel in where it doesn’t belong or where its introduction is premature.

The gospel is rich, full, and deep, and it answers all of life’s questions and difficulties. But if we don’t know our friend’s struggles, they won’t see how the gospel addresses them personally.

Think through your conversational patterns and repent of them where appropriate. Take up the task of asking good questions of your friends. And pray for opportunities to introduce them to Jesus.

This isn’t just strategic and winsome, it’s the loving way forward.


Some of the ideas in this post were inspired by an interview with the author Malcolm Gladwell on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Skip ahead to the 41-minute mark to hear Gladwell talk about the best question-asker he knows: his father.


Photo Credit: anonymous, public domain

How God Rebukes Us

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From eating vegetables to visiting the dentist, there are many things in life we need but do not want. To stay healthy, we endure needles, checkups, and the occasional cabbage, though we’d rather ignore them all.

As Christians, we don’t usually want God’s discipline. It’s painful, but we need it. Our disobedience is both offensive to God and bad for us. But God corrects us out of love; in fact, God proves we are his children through his discipline (Hebrews 12:7–8).

Fine. But how exactly does God rebuke us?

Providence or Revelation?

Many will point to circumstances. They cite the “difficult providences of God” (illness, loss of a job, natural disasters, etc.) as the way God shows his displeasure.

But outward suffering is no more evidence of sin than material blessing is a sign of obedience. (See Psalm 37, Psalm 73, or Luke 13:1–5.) We rarely learn the reasons behind God’s providence.

However, the Bible provides direct revelation of God’s will. Even in difficult circumstances, God rebukes his children through his word. This happens in three main ways.

1. God’s Rebuke Through Preaching

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he included these words about the Bible.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Since the phrase “man of God” recalls a common Old Testament term for a prophet, Paul probably had a pastor’s preaching in mind. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere that pastors/elders should rebuke those in error. (See especially 1 Tim 5:20, 2 Tim 4:2, Titus 1:9; 1:13; 2:15.)

Therefore, one of the purposes of a preacher’s message is to rebuke Christians.

Don’t get the wrong idea. You might dislike the idea of rebuke because you picture angry, fire-and-brimstone preachers heaping guilt on the congregation and bringing everyone to tears.

But rebuke is simply correction. God corrects us because it is better to obey than to disobey. Our blindness to sin (coupled with our forgetfulness) means we need a lot of correction.

Rebuke from the pulpit is the explanation and specific application of a Biblical text. This is what happened in Nehemiah 8, when the reading (verses 3–6) and explanation (verses 7 and 8) of the law prompted tears (verse 9) and extensive confession of sin (chapter 9).

2. God’s Rebuke Through Private Bible Reading

Though the words rebuke and reprove are often associated with preaching, the Holy Spirit can correct us in private. (See John 14:26 and John 16:13–15.) This usually happens during personal Bible reading.

We have a few Biblical examples. In Acts 8:26–40, we read that God prepared the Ethopian eunuch for Philip’s visit through private meditation on Isaiah 53. In 2 Kings 22:11–13, Josiah was convicted by a private reading of the law.

The Spirit convicts us as we read and study the Bible. To learn how to study the Bible, I recommend the book Knowable Word or this series of blog posts.

3. God’s Rebuke Through Other Christians

God also rebukes us through others. As examples, consider Priscilla and Aquila correcting Apollos in Acts 18:26 or Paul confronting Peter in Galatians 2:11–14. Jesus went beyond an example and commanded his disciples to rebuke brothers in sin (Luke 17:3–4).

Further, the language of reproof is all over Proverbs. Solomon assumes those seeking wisdom will give and receive correction.

Wise men love reproof (Prov 9:8), and there is honor for those who heed it (Prov 13:18). Rebuke goes deep into a man of understanding (Prov 17:10), and the wise reprover is like gold to those who will listen (Prov 25:12). In summary, fools resist instruction, but the wise seek it and grow.

This sort of rebuke happens when a friend applies Biblical truth to your life in a corrective way. By God’s grace, you see the need to change your thinking, your desires, or your behavior and you move forward in repentance.

Cultivate Humility

If God disciplines us in these ways, what does it mean for us?

In short, we should invite the Lord’s rebuke. That may sound scary, but encountering the Bible is a serious matter. Sometimes God’s correction is exactly what we need.

Before listening to the Bible taught or preached, before reading it privately or with your small group, pray that God would rebuke you as needed. Ask God to prepare you to receive correction from your friends.

This requires humility. We must acknowledge our weakness and sin; we should thank God for his wisdom and love in correcting us.

Any reproof we receive points us back to the gospel. The only correction Jesus justly received was the divine rebuke for our sin on the cross. His rebuke ensures that we are rebuked as forgiven children, not as exiled criminals. Further, Jesus’s perfect obedience secures the privilege we have of God’s fatherly correction.

And, thank God, it’s Jesus’s power that makes change possible.


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post is an affiliate link, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann (2006), public domain

Grandparents, We Need You!

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As I was leaving a restaurant recently, I walked past a booth where an older man was sitting with a young girl. (I assume this was his preteen granddaughter.) The girl put on headphones and played with her phone while the man sipped his coffee and looked off sadly in the distance.

This stuck with me all day. I couldn’t imagine a breakfast without conversation, especially with my grandfather! What a tragedy.

Abundant Opportunity

Though this was a sad scene, I was not entirely discouraged. I mourned for this man, but then I turned the scene around in my head. What is the best outcome of such a meal?

Grandparents carry tremendous influence with their grandchildren. Here are three ways I’m praying my kids learn from their grandparents.

1. Learn Through Conversation

Many children are eager to talk about themselves but unable to focus on others. Outside of immediate family and school friends, they aren’t great at communication.

Meanwhile, grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren, and they’re delighted to play games, go to the park, or chat over cookies. Your kids can learn valuable lessons during these visits.

Train your children to interact with older adults. Teach them how to ask questions (and follow-up questions), how to listen, and how to take interest in others.

In addition to growing in conversational and social skills, children will learn more about their family. They can hear about their grandparents’ jobs, families, and adventures, and they might even see their parents in a new light.

In grandparents, children have an eager, loving, attentive audience. We can bless both our children and our parents by encouraging these visits.

2. Learn Through Experience

Godly grandparents have a precious heritage to pass along. A lifetime of walking with God, learning from him, and seeing his work—these are all gifts for younger generations.

Older Christians often have moving stories of God’s redemption and provision. They have seen his love displayed in ways that come only with decades of faithfulness. These stories display in vibrant color some of God’s attributes that might only exist in black and white for children.

As children hear testimonies of God’s goodness, they grow in their faith. When we learn how God has worked and provided in the past, we gain confidence that God will work and provide in the future.

3. Learn Through Example

While children are at the beginning of life, grandparents are closer to the end. One of the best gifts grandparents can give is to show how to age, weaken, and die with a joyful hope in Jesus.

That took a dark turn, didn’t it? Stay with me.

Most children are insulated from the hard realities of the Fall. We prepare them for school and jobs, for a spouse and a church, but we don’t talk much about sickness, weakness, and frailty. However, death is more sure than a spouse is. Our children need to know how to die.

Children shouldn’t develop a fascination with the grave, but thinking about death brings our faith into sharp focus. We see what really matters.

As grandparents age, they can show their grandchildren the greatness of God and the liberating salvation Jesus has won. As their bodies ache, as moving and breathing become more difficult, they can guide children to the true source of hope.

It’s easy for children to focus on the latest toy, the approval of friends, or the perfect science project. In the end, these are all meaningless. With a steady gaze at the glory of God, grandparents can display the power and grace of God to save and love sinners. Toward the end of life, grandparents can point to God in ways that peers, teachers, and even parents cannot.

Look Ahead

Parents, if your parents (or parents-in-law) are no longer around, don’t despair. Most churches are full of godly men and women who love children. They would jump at the chance to visit with your family once a month.

Finally, by God’s grace, let’s be the older Christians we seek for our kids. Let’s pursue God with all that we have so he can use us to influence generations to come.


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Photo Credit: James Peters, public domain

How to Resist Sins of Conformity

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We’ve all been there. You’re cruising on the interstate and you take a casual glance at your speedometer. Whoa—you were NOT prepared for that!

How did this happen?

You were in the flow of traffic, going along with the crowd. Your speeding probably won’t lead to a ticket, but any police officer who stopped you would be justified. You were flat-out guilty.

What is a Sin of Conformity?

Many sins in our lives follow this pattern. We get swept along in the tide and can’t believe what we’ve done. We’re always responsible for our actions, but sometimes social pressure tempts us in powerful ways.

Sins of conformity happen when, because of the pressure to fit in, you adopt the sinful action or inaction of a group. Active sins in this category include gossip, coarse language, and spending above your means. (This is just a sample.) Sins of omission show up too—prayerlessness, failing to care for the poor, and failing to evangelize can be epidemic in churches.

An Incremental Slide

With good intentions, how can we end up with such rotten behavior?

The answer, as always, is our hearts. Though a Christian’s heart is being transformed by God, the old man lurks. He tempts us with empty promises and false treasures.

Most people crave the approval and acceptance of their peers. To secure this love, we adopt the practices, preferences, and values of our social group.

This happens by increments. Few people wake up one morning determined to gossip about a coworker. But after weeks of indulging office chatter, we slide from tolerating to agreeing with to participating in the sin.

Waking Up

In his mercy, God alerts us to sins of conformity in one of three ways.

Sometimes, God convicts us supernaturally. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the damage we’re doing to ourselves and others.

Other times we see a righteous example. A “slow” car in our lane obeys the speed limit, or an officemate speaks up for the slandered.

Finally, we might be confronted with our sin. A godly friend rebukes us for inappropriate joking or an audit uncovers dishonest use of money at work. Though it might seem severe, God can use the consequences of our sin to bring us to repentance.

Gospel Power

Even when you’re convicted about a sin of conformity, it can be hard to stop. Refusing the sin means resisting the social pressure that makes the temptation powerful. How will you handle upsetting the group?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the key. We all want to be liked and included, and if you’re a Christian, you are! You are a child of God, eternally a member of his family. Because Jesus was excluded for a time on the cross, you are loved and welcomed in the best way imaginable. Though your repentance may displease your friends, be confident that God is pleased with you. All the favor and approval you want from other people, you have in your sovereign, loving, heavenly father.

Avoiding These Sins

Though we think of peer pressure mostly for adolescents, sins of conformity are present in all social groups. Repenting of these sins is one matter, but how can we avoid them?

    1. Pray. Pray that God will sharpen your conscience and make you aware of your weaknesses, your temptations, and the group pressures you face. Pray for the Spirit’s help to stand firm in the gospel.
    2. Read the Bible. The Scriptures replace the loud, urgent messages of our peers with the eternal truths of God’s law and his love.
    3. Nurture close friendships. You need at least one person in your life who can—and will—ask you anything. He knows your struggles and tendencies, and you can talk honestly with him about your wider social circles. Sin is deceptive, so we must have devoted friends with whom we speak regularly and deeply about the most important things in life.

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Photo Credit: Brigitte Werner (2007), public domain