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July 20, 2019, marks the fiftieth anniversary of perhaps the crowning achievement of human creativity and ingenuity. On that day in 1969, two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, landed their spacecraft on the surface of the moon.
This mission was the culmination of an expansive national effort initiated by John F. Kennedy’s bold challenge to the nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely home before the end of the decade. In spite of the fact that the United States had a mere fifteen minutes of manned space flight at the time of Kennedy’s challenge, the task was accomplished when Armstrong, Aldrin, and command module pilot Michael Collins splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.
This remarkable achievement of engineering and ingenuity is worthy of reflection. Here are four lessons we can learn from the Apollo moon missions fifty years later.
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27–28)
After God created Adam and Eve, he commanded them to fill the earth and subdue it, but he did not give them detailed instructions on how to fulfill their mission. When God created humanity in his image, he gave us remarkable creativity with which to fulfill our God-given tasks. This creativity has enabled humans to use plants, animals, and materials from the earth to create tools, shelter, clothing, art, literature, music, and other objects that bring glory to God and joy to other human beings. While creativity is too often used for evil, this does not diminish the magnificence of the creative abilities that God has bestowed on humanity.
God-given creativity and ingenuity allow humans to harness the power of animals, plants, and the rest of creation to subdue the earth in ways that are outside the realm of what we can accomplish by human power alone. Horses can be trained and controlled to move heavy loads. Minerals can be extracted from the ground, purified, and formed into useful devices. Plants can be harvested and processed into materials with many different beneficial properties. These materials can be creatively arranged into a sweater, a bicycle, the computer I am typing with, the smartphone many of you are reading with. They can be used to build cities and create things no human has yet imagined. Solids, liquids, and gases can be extracted and refined into fuels that power machines that can literally move the face of the earth — or fly away from the earth.
One of the most awe-inspiring examples of human creativity and ingenuity is the immensely powerful Saturn V rocket that was used to transport human beings to the moon. Anyone who has stood next to one of the three Saturn Vs on display at museums in the United States can’t help but feel overwhelmed by this mammoth of engineering muscle. The Saturn V is still the most powerful rocket ever assembled, standing 363 feet high, producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust, and burning a staggering twenty tons of rocket fuel per second. It was transported to the launch pad by a Mobile Service Structure almost five hundred feet tall and larger than a baseball diamond. The launch pad included a six-story-tall flame deflector pit to prevent the immense exhaust flame from deflecting up and destroying the rocket.
In addition to engineering muscle, the quest to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth required remarkable creativity. As powerful as the Saturn V rockets were, they weren’t nearly powerful enough to launch a rocket on a direct round trip to the moon and back. So a lunar orbit rendezvous mission strategy was devised in which a small lunar module landed on the moon while a larger command module remained in orbit around the moon until the two modules rendezvoused and the astronauts traveled back to earth.
Communications technologies were developed to send spacecraft telemetry data to mission control, measure the vital signs of the crew, relay video display back to earth, and enable the astronauts to talk to the president while 240,000 miles away. Space suits were developed to sustain life in the vacuum of space and shelter astronauts from the extreme temperature range in the shade and sunlight of space (from colder than 250 below zero to hotter than 250 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to safely return the astronauts to earth, a heat shield was developed using specialized materials that could withstand the temperatures that the spacecraft was exposed to during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere — temperatures nearly half that of the surface of the sun.
In the words of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “The legacy of Apollo is when a group of people seize a challenge, human beings can accept a challenge and chart a course and do just remarkable things” (When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions).
As amazing as human creativity and ingenuity are, our creative powers are very limited. We cannot create matter out of nothing; we simply can reorder it (albeit in some pretty remarkable ways!). The sum total of all human ingenuity in the history of mankind is insufficient to create even a single grain of sand. God’s creative powers are unlimited — he created the entire universe out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3). He merely says, “Let there be . . .” and it is (Genesis 1:3). God spoke, and light, gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force which binds quarks together to form protons and neutrons, the weak force without which stars could not form, and everything else that brings order and beauty to his creation came into existence.
God’s creativity was primary in the Apollo moon landings; our creativity was derivative. We turned minerals into useful alloys, but God made the ore that the minerals were extracted from. We developed a fuel mixture capable of powering rockets, but God made the kerosene and oxygen used in the fuel. We developed the complex spacecraft, but God made the brain we used to create it. We created the mission plan, but God made the moon.
The creativity of God is like a jewel with many facets. The beauty of God’s creativity is displayed through delicate flowers of the field (Matthew 6:28–29) and the immense Orion Nebula (Psalm 19:1–4). The power of his creativity is seen in light generated by nuclear fusion occurring in our sun and in infinitely dark black holes that hold together galaxies by the power of their gravity. The wisdom of his creativity is seen in the working together of the members of the human body — eyes that allow us to see, ears that allow us to hear, nerves that allow us to feel, white blood cells that fight off disease, taste buds by which we enjoy chocolate chip cookies and milk, digestive enzymes that turn food into useful energy, and a brain that is able to comprehend how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made (Psalm 139:14).
The mercy of his creativity is seen on the cross, where he upheld his justice while finding a solution to the problem of our guilt due to sin (Romans 3:23–26). Who else would have conceived of such a plan of salvation? So much more can be said about God’s creativity. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36).
In the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, astronaut Jim Lovell says,
We learned a lot about the moon, but what we really learned was about the earth: The fact that just from the distance of the moon, you can put your thumb up, and you can hide the earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the earth itself — all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the earth itself.
Most people think that the crew of Apollo 11 were the first human beings to travel to the moon, but that is only partly correct. In December of 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 (Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman) traveled to, but did not land on, the moon. On Christmas Eve of that year, Apollo 8 entered into orbit around the moon. The crew read from Genesis 1 as they transmitted to approximately one billion people worldwide a breathtaking view of the earth rising above the surface of the moon. Our immense earth — a little blue jewel in the vast darkness of space. Our earth, one little speck in the solar system surrounding an ordinary star. Our sun, one of approximately four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Our galaxy, one medium-sized galaxy among a couple of trillion galaxies!
We rightly marvel at the extraordinary Apollo moon missions that transported human beings to our nearest cosmic neighbor. The Apollo spacecrafts traveled at a top speed of approximately twenty-four thousand miles per hour on their journey to the moon. How incredible that such machines were created fifty years ago and accomplished so much while being controlled by a computer with far less computing power than your cell phone! What an accomplishment. Yet what a small fraction of the universe we have explored. What a small fraction of the universe we can explore. Even traveling at the top speed of the Apollo spacecraft, it would take 122 thousand years to reach the nearest star other than the sun. It would take more than seventy billion years to reach the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy.
As big as the creation is, the Bible shows us that our Creator is even bigger. The vast oceans of the earth, which when perturbed by an earthquake create tsunamis powerful enough to wipe out provinces, all can be measured by God in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). The enormous heavens are described by David as the work of God’s fingers — not even his whole hands (Psalm 8:3). Whether we are in the heavens or in the depths, our God will be there with us (Psalm 139:8). He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The creation is big; our God is unfathomably bigger.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. (Psalm 113:4–9 NIV)
The picture of God given to us in Psalm 113 is of One so awesome and big that he has to stoop down to see the heavens and the earth he created (“Let me stoop down and find that beautiful blue earth. Oh, there it is down there! Wow, that is a pretty one!”). Jim Lovell was rightly humbled by how small we and our earth are in comparison to the expanse of God’s creation. Yet amazingly, we are precious in the Creator’s eyes.
The biblical picture of God is not merely that of a powerful and omnipresent Creator, but also of a God who actually cares about seemingly insignificant people located in a tiny corner of the universe. He is a compassionate Father who cares for the poor and needy, and draws near to them (Psalm 34:4–7). He takes note of weak and vulnerable people, and works for their good (Psalm 147:3–6). Lord, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” we ask with David (Psalm 8:4).
God so loved weak and sinful sinners like us that he sent his one and only Son to the tiny blue speck orbiting an ordinary star on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. What an amazing God.
Nothing will help us fight temptation like intimacy with the promises of God. To overcome the seductive force of sin’s deceit, we need to know the sweeter, stronger, and surer voice of our Father in heaven. One way he trains his children to escape the entanglement of sin, however, is to study the awful and intoxicating voice of our enemy. He wants us to know our enemy’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), and recognize temptation wherever we find it.
When the sage of Proverbs imparts wisdom to his son, he begins with a warning: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10). One mark of godly maturity and wisdom is a heightened awareness of, and vigilance against, temptation. But how will the boy know when he’s being enticed?
What would you say to your own son? How would you prepare him to recognize and reject temptation when it inevitably comes? Sin preys with subtlety and ambiguity, even when the sin itself is not subtle or ambiguous. The wise father wants his vulnerable son to be able to discern enticement in all its disguises, so he goes on to rehearse several of the promises of sin:
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse . . .” (Proverbs 1:11–14)
Do you hear the enticement — the seductive power of this kind of corruption? Do you recognize the deception — how each honeyed promise hangs on some lie? Ask yourself what makes these evils appealing to the human heart, to a heart like yours. God, in his word, teaches us to meditate on the promises of sin, so that we are not fooled, allured, and destroyed by them.
The first temptation may be the hardest for many of us to relate to: “Let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit” (Proverbs 1:11–12). Who secretly wants to ambush and murder anyone, much less the innocent? How would such a violent and vile thought ever entice someone?
When King David writes about the wicked, he provides a key for understanding this kind of temptation:
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” . . .
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” . . .
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent. (Psalm 10:4, 6, 8).
Pride has the power to make even murder intoxicating. Only a heart who says, “There is no God,” can plot, and hide, and wait to harm the harmless. Do you hear the exhilaration in his monstrous voice? “I shall not be moved.” I can kill an innocent person for no reason, and still not be punished. Nothing will happen to me. There is no God — no god but me. The height of wickedness is believing God will not have his vengeance against our sin, that he will not judge our every thought, word, and action with perfect justice.
As I began to see how violent pride can be, I thought of a mystifying headline I read about a horrible viral video of a gang attacking an innocent, unsuspecting stranger. Why would anyone ever do that? I thought. “There is no God. . . . I shall not be moved.” The wicked relish doing the worst they can imagine to prove no one can punish them. They even recorded the crime, and then posted it for all to see, including the police. Pride desperately tries to prove itself.
Worse, even still, we are all grossly acquainted with the murder of innocents in our day, at least in America — millions of innocents. Abortion persists because of the prideful illusion of anonymity. Planned Parenthood (and others) survives on this gospel: No one will know, and there are no consequences. “You are the god of your body” — not the God who composed the masterpiece playing in your womb (Psalm 139:13). Pro-choice preachers may not recite the words of Proverbs 1:11–12, but the merciless insanity is written across every pretty pink ad and billboard: “There is no God.”
But there is a God. He sees every speck of our evil, and we will all meet him. On that day, he will call every ounce of wickedness to account until he finds none (Psalm 10:15). Solomon highlights the irony in the wickeds’ cruelty: “These men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). When sinners lure us, saying, “You are the only lord of your life,” they are enticing us into an ambush of our own making. Our pride whispers us toward self-destruction.
Do you see this impulse in your own heart — to pretend that God does not see your secret sins, or that he will not really do anything about them? How quickly have we murdered in our hearts (Matthew 5:21–22), telling ourselves that no one knows the anger we’ve nurtured? How often have we draped the flag of grace over our shoulders while we plunged back into lust, or greed, or selfishness, assuming God must forgive us? If God must forgive us no matter what we do, then we believe we are god. Perhaps the horror in this temptation is not so foreign after all.
When Satan whispers otherwise, remember that God will account for each and every sin we have committed, either in the blood of his precious Son or in unrelenting waves of wrath. He will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7), and the cross will not be prostituted. If God has forgiven our pride, it will and must die.
Having fueled and inflamed our pride, temptation turns in the next verse to our desires, where greed and covetousness often disguise themselves. “We shall find all precious goods,” the wicked say, “we shall fill our houses with plunder” (Proverbs 1:13). The allure here is more obvious: We can satisfy all your secret desires for more. The chorus is as old as it is familiar. As Satan slid up to Eve in the garden, he held out the precious good God had forbidden: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
This is one of sin’s favorite promises: I can give you more than God. How many of our besetting sins are rooted in the twin beliefs that we’re entitled to more than God has given, and that God alone cannot satisfy our souls? Satan seeds the disturbing idea that we deserve so much more than we have. That God will hold back his best from us. That holiness and purity are safe paths to boredom and regret. Our flesh desperately chases that sinful fantasy, but we will lose everything in our search for more than God.
The wise man warns later in Proverbs 1, “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (Proverbs 1:19). Greed steals even more than it promises. Instead of satisfying the restless hunger in our hearts, it cuts off all the oxygen. Just like pride, when the wicked give in to greed, they set a deadly trap for themselves:
The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)
While they lie in bed, with their eyes closed, imagining themselves indulging in the next comfort or luxury, they stab themselves over and over and over again.
As I write, another billionaire is in the news for this wicked, insatiable search for more. Unsatisfied with enormous success, wealth, and fame, he preyed on dozens of young girls. And when the United States Attorney agreed to a horrifically soft plea deal in 2008 (the attorney has since been forced to resign over the case), the billionaire thought he had gotten away with his evil — “There is no God. I shall not be moved.” He did not stop plundering the innocent then, and so he’s back in court for charges of sex trafficking. Enticed by sin, there was no price too high — even his soul. The only consolation is knowing that God, unlike human justice systems, can and will punish every evil committed. The billionaire will realize then that the price for abusing those girls — for ignoring God to steal sinful gain — was far higher than he ever imagined.
The secret to discontentment — in plenty or in hunger, with billions of dollars or without — is to place our hope and joy in something or someone other than God. To believe that precious good lies anywhere outside the beauty of God’s commands. For followers of Christ, death, not sin, is gain (Philippians 1:21). Because in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures — real, intense, unrivaled pleasures — forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
One of the easiest phrases to overlook in the father’s warning is also one of the most revealing. “If they say, ‘Come with us . . .’” (Proverbs 1:11). Loneliness quietly terrifies many of us. And the plague is spreading in America, not only among Baby Boomers, but across younger generations too. Satan spreads the plague in a thousand ways, separating the weak from the rest of the pack, and then feasting on our fear and self-pity.
The wolves in Proverbs 1 circle back to this vulnerability in us: “Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” (Proverbs 1:14). The lie should be so obvious — why would we entrust ourselves to the ones murdering the innocent to satisfy themselves? — and yet the promise is undeniably enticing: You never have to feel left out or alone again.
It’s not simply the appeal of community, but of community without judgment or boundaries. We can hear them whispering, “We won’t judge or reject you. We won’t confront you over sin; we’ll sin with you!” Their “friendship” makes sin feel so safe (we’re hidden and protected by one another), satisfying (everyone else is doing it and loving it), and even sentimental (we’re enjoying this together). Sin’s promises weave a stronger and stronger fabric of lies that become harder and harder to discern.
We need not avoid our fear of loneliness, because God told us we were not made to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In fact, to the degree we try to deny our need for others, the words become even more enticing: “Come with us.” No, we need to know our need well, and recognize the counterfeit community sin offers — the kind that falls apart when trials come.
Everyone who follows Christ will feel left out and alone at times in this life. If others shared the gospel with you and failed to ever mention that, they did not prepare you well to walk with Jesus. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). We will not only be ignored, neglected, and left out; we will be hated — not by some, but by all. Again, he says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Being chosen by God means being rejected by man. Even Jesus’s promises remind us we will feel snubbed and shunned: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22).
So, we should expect to feel left out and alone — even by our families (Mark 10:29). But not ultimately alone. Jesus also says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Even when we feel the most alone, we are not alone if we are in Christ. And along with him, we are adopted into a deeper, wider, and forever family. Christ says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
As part of your war against sin, meditate on its false promises. Don’t live there, but don’t let them catch you by surprise, either. We can confront the enticing lies head-on, without insecurity or trepidation, because we have far better promises — and because we have a Savior who has already fought and won the war against temptation.
When sin says to our starving desires, “I can give you more than God,” we can say with Christ, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). When sin says to our lonely hearts, “I will keep you safe, and you never have to feel left out or alone,” we can say with Christ, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7). When sin says to our pride, “You are the lord of your life,” we can say with Christ, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
Having memorized the promises of sin, we conquer them with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which is the word of our God.
A born-again person cannot be unborn again. If God has called you by name, he is faithful to keep you until the end.
Few things poison the church, and sully her reputation in the world, like arrogant pastors. Manifest arrogance in politicians, lamentable as it is, we might expect. But arrogance in the pulpit — this is a great blight on the church and in the community where she is to shine her light.
It’s not as though the New Testament didn’t foresee the danger, or that somehow this is a recent development for the church. Christians have always known to keep conceited men from church office. If the Scriptures’ pervasive condemnations of pride and arrogance weren’t enough, then the express qualifications for pastor-elder make it all the clearer:
He must not be arrogant. (Titus 1:7)
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6)
“Recent convert” (Greek neophytos) means, literally, “newly planted.” It’s a fitting image for a new convert to Christianity. New plants haven’t yet had time to grow their roots deep and wide. New plants — whether transplanted or from the seed — are much easier to uproot than trees that have grown deep into the soil over a matter of month and years, rather than days and weeks.
Elsewhere, when Paul addresses the formal appointing of pastors and elders, he charges Timothy, and the churches, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22). This principle of patience in appointment to office applies not only to pastors, but to deacons as well: “Let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10).
A thread holds these warnings together: Swelling pride in a leader endangers the whole church, and the longer a man has faithfully walked with God, the less likely the remaining pride in him is growing rather than shrinking.
Pastoral ministry can be very trying emotionally — not typically at every step, but acutely so in crisis moments. It’s only a matter of time until pastoral ministry proves more emotionally challenging than anticipated. Certain kinds of spiritual trauma are inevitable because pastors are more regularly exposed to the depths of human depravity.
The surprising depths of indwelling sin in professing Christians, multiplied across a congregation, can be enough to damage, if not uproot, young plants. New plants aren’t yet ready to endure every kind of storm. They need to send roots down and out and strengthen stalks and sprout leaves and bear some initial fruit. Soon enough they will be ready for the hard winds and driving rains of pastoral ministry, but not right away.
Added to that, Satan loves to target the opposing lieutenants, and all the more when one is manifestly young and weak. A new convert among the pastors can be an easy target, a convenient foothold for the devil’s efforts (Ephesians 4:27). Wise churches arm themselves against such schemes (Ephesians 6:11).
These are real dangers with putting new plants in leadership, but the specific danger Paul mentions — and so deserves the most attention — is that the new plant might be “puffed up with conceit” (1 Timothy 3:6). Such conceit apparently had become a problem in the Ephesian church (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:4). The false teachers there may have arisen in precisely this way. Newly converted, and manifestly gifted in teaching and looked to as natural leaders, perhaps they were hastily ordained to the pastoral office, which may have produced two effects at once: (1) they were not given sufficient testing to see what these men were really made of spiritually and (2) the appointment itself, and serving in office, may have altered the trajectory of what otherwise could have been healthy growth and development.
In the first case, the new convert’s arrogance may simply remain from his former life of unbelief. Paul lists “swollen with conceit” as characteristic of those outside the church (2 Timothy 3:4). Accordingly, new converts need some time in the faith to let the swelling go down. The caution may be more than simply the concern that being put in leadership may make an immature man arrogant, but that being a new convert, he hasn’t yet had as much conceit pounded out of him yet. His mind is still being brought under the authority of God in fundamental ways. Not only does the dust need to settle; the roots need to go down deep.
Pastors must not be arrogant (Titus 1:7), among other reasons, because they are to be men under authority, stewards of, and under, the words of Christ and his apostles. Paul identifies one who is “puffed up with conceit” with one who “teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3–4). The very heart of the pastoral task is teaching — and not teaching self or preference but teaching “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul mentions “the condemnation of the devil,” who in his pride and swollen conceit was unwilling to bow to God’s authority.
But not only does a new convert need time for the swelling of his old pride to go down, but also we should consider how the appointment to leadership might affect a man. Will being put forward as a church officer be the occasion of a new kind of puffing up? This seems to be the main concern Paul has in mind in 1 Timothy 3:6: not just getting over former conceit, but will he be puffed up by the leadership role itself and thus fall into the same (prideful) condemnation as Satan?
In seeking to fill positions and opportunities for leadership, we often take one of two approaches: “man for the job” or “job for the man.” “Man for the job” means the need is such that the candidate should fill the role and its expectations from day one. “Job for the man” means the role is an opportunity for a developing leader to grow into the role and expectations as he serves. While the pastorate is never fully a man-for-the-job scenario (who is sufficient for these things?), we should not approach our search with a job-for-the-man mentality when it comes to pride and arrogance.
A man may be able to grow into teaching, and aspects of pastoral manner, and a host of other things while serving, but not so with humility. We are not to think of the pastorate as a helpful crucible that might make an arrogant man humble. The pastorate is indeed a crucible. It will make a humble man all the more humble (2 Corinthians 12:7), but it is not a lab for arrogant men.
Keeping new converts from the council serves not only the church but also the new convert. It is healthy to be established for a season as a Christian, to first soak in one’s identity being in Christ, not his office. Before attempting, in ministry, to have the spirits subject to us, we first need a good, solid season of rejoicing that our “names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
But how recent a convert? How new a plant? Here the wisdom of plurality in local-church leadership is on display. The New Testament doesn’t give us a particular timeframe, whether a year or five. As with the other elder qualifications, “not a new convert” is analog, not digital. It’s not that a man goes to sleep one night a “new plant” and wakes up the next day ready to weather the storms. Rather, such maturity — and in particular, humility — is incremental and on a spectrum. And Paul leaves such to be determined collectively by the plurality of elders, confirmed by the church, given the age and maturity of both the candidate and the church and other relevant circumstances, not least of which is the present needs of the church.
Observe the differences between the well-established Ephesian church (1 Timothy) and the fledgling Cretan church (Titus). When writing to Ephesus, Paul specifies “not a new convert.” The Ephesian church was old enough, likely a decade old or more, that relatively new converts would not be needed in leadership. Crete didn’t have the same luxury. The whole church was newly planted, and as Titus went to appoint elders, it was inevitable that they all would be, in some sense, new plants. However, the underlying concern remained: conceit. And so Paul specifies for the Cretans, “he must not be arrogant” (Titus 1:7).
An important qualification is that “not a new convert” does not necessarily mean “not young.” We know that Timothy himself was relatively young, likely in his upper twenties or early thirties. Yet Paul writes to him not to let the church look down on him for his youth, but to set an example (1 Timothy 4:12), including fleeing youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22). As Elihu spoke truthfully to Job, it is not age that makes a man wise but the Spirit of God (Job 32:8–9). Pray that the passage of time increases the Spirit’s work of wisdom in a man, but don’t assume such merely by the passing of years.
To make the pursuit of pastoral humility tangible — for churches and councils searching for a pastor and for men aspiring to ministry — consider two particular manifestations of humility essential in pastors and elders:
Here the question is not only about sober judgment in general (which is vital, called sober-mindedness, 1 Timothy 3:2), but in particular related to self-assessment. Romans 12:3 says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Is he self-deprecating? Is he willing to admit faults? Is he regularly angling to build himself up in others’ minds with his own words? Does he give evidence of thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think?
Paul writes to all Christians in Philippians 2:3–4 a word that is especially pressing for church leaders: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Counting others more significant than self cuts to the very heart of the pastoral calling, and to the heart of the faith. Jesus himself, the great Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), is the paradigmatic humble leader who took note of, looked to, and gave himself for the ultimate interests of others (Philippians 2:5–8). Pastoral labor never eclipses or replaces the perfect humility of Christ, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), but it does seek to echo his humility, and so point to it, in our daily efforts.
When God does the double miracle of producing humble men and giving them as pastor-teachers to local churches, what kind of men might we expect to find teaching and leading our churches? Humble pastors love the Scriptures and “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3). They receive their calling as undershepherds, gladly embracing their role under the authority of their Chief. Humble pastors love preaching not themselves but Christ Jesus as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Humble pastors give benefit of the doubt and expect the best (not assume the worst) from each other and from the flock. They don’t let cynicism about their people develop and fester in their hearts. They have a kind of gentleness of spirit, and no less zeal for God’s honor, that keeps them from being afraid of being wrong and, therefore, feeling a constant need to self-protect.
Humble pastors are transparent rather than evasive; authentic (in the best of senses) rather than superficial. Not defensive but eager to learn and grow and improve. Humble pastors listen. They are the kind of men not inclined to absorb others’ attention, more interested in hearing from others than telling others about themselves. If we could sum up, in one word, what one attribute we need most in the pastorate today, as in every generation, few would come close to humility.
God, give us humble pastors.
God has called us sons and daughters, but his people sometimes talk as if we were still slaves. What does it mean to talk like children of God?
Our worst days have a way of making the future feel impossible.
Perhaps we wake up to a depression that makes our chest cave in. Or a relationship on the verge of collapse. Or pain in our bones that makes the smallest focus a feat. The thought of enduring for a lifetime, or even another week, can send us searching for an escape.
We do not, however, need to know on our worst days how God will sustain us for a lifetime. We do not need to know even how he will sustain us tomorrow. We need to know, even with a mustard seed of faith, that he will get us through today.
We might think that God, creator of continents and stars, would be too big to notice our days. Don’t a thousand years pass before him like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4)? Yes. But God’s care for his world is as intricate as it is grand. He keeps inventory of every hair (Matthew 10:30). He catches every sigh (Psalm 139:4). He slows down to walk through every 24 hours with his children.
And so, he not only gives us promises that cover the span of our lives, but also a precious few that meet us on our worst days, and remind us what he will do for us today.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. (Psalm 68:19)
Our salvation does not rest merely somewhere in the past, at that first moment of repentance and faith. God did save us then. But as long as we are in this world, we need daily saving. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up.”
For David, Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Psalm 68:4–10) and conquest of Canaan (Psalm 68:11–18) write in big letters the story God writes every day, though it often goes unnoticed. Every day, he guards orphans and protects widows (Psalm 68:5). He settles the solitary in a home and leads prisoners to freedom (Psalm 68:6). He meets the needy in their trouble and gently bears them up (Psalm 68:10).
If the exodus and conquest wrote God’s care for his people in big letters, then the cross of Jesus writes it in letters bigger still (Romans 8:32). If Christ has carried our sin to the grave, will he not also carry us through today? If God has raised Jesus from the dead, will he not also raise our heads above today’s high waters?
Our sorrows can sometimes make today feel unbearable. And that is the point of this promise: when we meet the unbearable, God himself will bear us. Even to old age, even to gray hairs, even when our legs can no longer bear our bodies (Isaiah 46:4).
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
Some comforters, for all their good intentions, eventually withdraw when they find our sorrows to be deeper and more complex than they imagined. Even the best of friends sometimes grasps for sympathy. But God’s compassions never fail. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies “are new every morning.”
When I hear this promise, I naturally imagine a scene of calm and peace — the sun rising over a mountain lake, birds chirping in the background. But Jeremiah wrote these words as the sun rose over a different scene: men cut down in the streets (Lamentations 1:20), infants dead on their mother’s bosoms (Lamentations 2:12), priests slain in the temple (Lamentations 2:20). The destruction was enough to make him vomit (Lamentations 2:11).
How could Jeremiah look on such devastation and then speak of God’s new mercies? Because the wreckage of our lives is never the final word about God’s heart toward those who hope in him. Even when God disciplines us for sin, mercy, not wrath, is the banner that trails behind each morning’s sun. Jeremiah knew it because God declared his mercy at Sinai (Exodus 34:6–7; Lamentations 3:21). We know it because Jesus demonstrated God’s mercy at Calvary (Romans 5:8).
Our dreams falter and fail; God does not. Our hearts grow weak; his steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. Our hopes rise and fall; God’s mercies come at their appointed time every morning — and they will carry us through today.
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Many of us would be content simply to know that God will get us through our worst days — that we will come to the end of them still sane, still trusting in Christ. But God does not want us to stop there. He also wants us to know that no day endured in faith will be wasted. Even on our most miserable days, when our outer self is wasting away, God is on his potter’s wheel, shaping us, forming us. “Our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
As with the new mercies Jeremiah proclaimed, our inner renewal is largely hidden from us in the moment. From the outside, we may feel, like Paul, “afflicted in every way, . . . perplexed, . . . persecuted, . . . struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). We are left looking like a city under siege.
But even as body and mind are battered, God is at work on the inside, building something that will last forever. “This light momentary affliction,” which wreaks such havoc on our outer self, does something quite different to our inner self. As we keep our eyes on things unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), our afflictions become the furnace where God renews us and prepares “for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We sometimes catch glimpses of the new self God is fashioning through our trials. But the great unveiling lies on the other side of this life. The saints of God walk into the Jordan furrowed and torn; they arise on the other side new, never to die again. Until that great day, God will be fitting us for our eternal home. He will daily make us new.
How shall we respond to such unflagging love, such daily mercy? We can take our stand with the psalmist, and say, “It is good . . . to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (Psalm 92:1–2). Every morning, look ahead and remember: God will show me steadfast love today. And every evening, look back and declare his faithfulness.
If you are in Christ, God will bear you up today. He will show you mercy. He will make you new. And when tomorrow comes, he will do it all again.
We cannot respond however we want when we suffer. Though we can grieve and mourn, if we never get to worship, we’ve stopped short.
On July 16, 1999, twenty years ago today, John F. Kennedy Jr’s single-engine Piper Saratoga crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, killing John (38), his wife Carolyn (33), and Carolyn’s sister, Lauren (34). All investigations into the cause of the crash point to a phenomenon called “spatial disorientation.”
Spatial disorientation occurs when a pilot flies into darkness or weather conditions that prevent him from being able to see the horizon or the ground. Points of reference that normally guide his senses disappear. His sensory perceptions become unreliable. He no longer knows which way is up or down. The danger of such disorientation is obvious.
That’s why most planes are equipped with navigational instruments designed to inform pilots of the plane’s attitude, altitude, and groundspeed. If a pilot enters into dark or cloudy conditions where his natural orientation senses become unreliable, he can “fly by the instruments.”
Learning to place more confidence in a plane’s instruments than one’s own intuitive senses, however, requires training. When our mind senses potential danger, especially mortal danger, and urgently commands, “bank right,” while instruments on a dashboard indicate we should, “bank left,” it is very difficult to trust the instruments. As one expert stated, reflecting on the Kennedy crash, “You have to be well trained to disregard what your brain is saying . . . and fly by the instruments.”
John had not received this training. He was certified to fly in conditions where he could visually distinguish the ground from the sky. However, en route to Martha’s Vineyard he flew into a hazy fog at night, experienced spatial disorientation, and trusted in his perceptions to guide him. Three days later, the Coast Guard located the remains of the plane, and its young passengers, on the floor of the Atlantic.
There is a spiritual parallel. I’ve experienced it. On a spring day in May 1997, I flew into a very dark faith-fog. I lost sight of the points of reference that under normal conditions had kept me flying right. I became spiritually disoriented, and I began to spiral down.
More familiar Christian terms for my experience are a “crisis of faith” or a “dark night of the soul.” I’ve often described it as an eclipse of God. For the first time since I had come to an earnest faith in Christ, he suddenly became completely obscured from my spiritual sight.
This was more than a fog. It was a major storm. The tempest of doubt was like nothing I had experienced before. It grew very dark in my soul, and swirling winds of fear blew with gale force. The turbulence of hopelessness was violent. I couldn’t tell which way was up or down. I was no longer sure about anything I had believed about God or the world or my soul. I lost my senses.
And a lot was at stake. If I chose wrongly: disaster. Choosing wrongly would mean flying the plane of my life on some false course, which sooner or later would end tragically. Knowing the danger, my brain was barking urgent (and sometimes contradictory) commands. I lurched back and forth, banking first one way, then another, trying to regain some sort of reliable direction.
Then one day, after long months in this storm, a thought hit me with unusual clarity: “Jon, fly by the instruments.”
The thought set me thinking over what pilots must do when they can’t trust their sight. They must force themselves to stop trusting their subjective perceptions, and place their faith in what the objective instruments tell them. They must fly by faith, not by sight.
This storm was the darkest, most confusing I had experienced up to that time, but it was by no means the first storm I had flown in. In previous years, God had trained me in various ways to trust his promises over my perceptions, and I had always found his promises more reliable. So now, during this raging storm, when everything seemed uncertain, when I was disoriented and at times near panic, I had a choice: trust my doubt-filled perceptions of reality or trust the instruments of God’s promises. I had received some training; now my very life depended on putting the training into practice.
When our skies are clear and our feet securely on the ground, and we’re just imagining flying through such a storm, it’s easy to envision ourselves calmly relying on the instruments — flying by faith. However, as pilots who’ve undergone training for instrument flight certification will testify, the real experience is nothing like we imagine. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our own perceptions until they are screaming something different than our instruments; when we actually feel the confusing disorientation, all the powerful, compelling impulses, and the fear coursing through us; when it feels absolutely crazy to trust the instruments.
In my dark night of the soul, I decided to fly by the instruments — to steer by the Bible’s direction until I had enough evidence to determine that it was a faulty instrument. My doubts and fears were only leading me into deeper confusion and darkness. And God’s promises had always given me more light and hope than anything I had ever known. My previous training pointed to the wisdom of doubting my doubts.
It was still hard. I still had to steel myself against the fear. And it took a lot longer than I hoped it would. Many times I fought the temptation to ditch the instruments and go with my felt sense of what was true. But I had enough experience and knew enough Bible to know where such “sense” can lead: to nonsense.
So, I kept my focus on the instrument panel. I continued to pursue God in Scripture, I continued to pray, I continued church and small group attendance, whether or not they felt helpful in the moment (and often they did not). I kept on with the work God had given me to do. I opened my heart to trusted friends and mentors, and sought counsel. At one point, John Piper said to me, “The rock of truth under your feet will not long feel like sand.” My thought was, “I hope you’re right. But I doubt it.”
My doubts proved wrong. Eventually, God’s promises proved again to be reliable instruments, and my fears proved again not to be. I didn’t crash. God pierced my cloudy darkness with his light, and I’ll never forget how he did it. The eclipse ended, and God, the great Sun of my life, shone again, illuminating my world (Psalm 36:9).
Now I thank God for every minute of that horrible storm. For it taught me far more than I had previously understood what it means to “walk [fly] by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). That year influences in some way almost everything I write and speak about.
Having told versions of this story before, I know my metaphorical descriptions raise questions, especially for those experiencing something similar. I’ve had many people contact me, asking for more specifics. What was the nature of my crisis? What caused it? How long did it last? How did God bring me out of it? I understand why they ask: they’re looking for hope while flying in the midst of their own scary storm. I really understand.
Not only is the full story too long to recount here, however, but the specifics are not really necessary, and can even prove unhelpful if another’s experience is different than mine. The truth is, the nature and causes of such crises or dark nights are as varied as the people who experience them, just like there are almost endless variations and gradations of meteorological conditions that can make flying difficult and dangerous. Your storm will likely be different than mine.
If anything, it’s most important to remember that Jesus understands what our particular stormy darkness is like (Hebrews 4:15). His storms, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, were far worse than anything you and I will ever know. And he entered them willingly for us, so that we would be rescued from all of our storms, particularly the ultimate storm of God’s wrath against our sin. That’s why he came. His storm crushed him so that our storms would become redemptive for us.
Comparing storms is typically not what is needed. What’s needed is sharing crucial principles and protocols that help keep our planes flying in whatever disorienting conditions we find ourselves. And the one I want to leave you with is this: when your perceptions tell you something different than God’s promises, always, always, always trust God’s promises over your perceptions.
There are too many stories of people whose spiritual spatial disorientation led to a tragic crash because they didn’t trust the instruments. When you are disoriented and confused, remember: always fly by the instruments.
When we are saved, we’re united to Christ by the Spirit. Our old self — our unbelieving, rebellious, sin-loving self — dies, and we live by the Spirit.
ABSTRACT: To many people, the word jealousy is laden with negative connotations. In Scripture, however, we read that “the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God is rightfully jealous for his own glory and for the devotion of his covenant people. Holy jealousy also characterizes the most godly men and women, from David and Elijah to Jesus and Paul.
Hear the word jealous, and images of an insecure, abusive husband may come to mind. Indeed, sinful human jealousy has been the cause of countless difficulties and heartache in human relationships. For many today, the word jealousy is always a bad one.
It can be perplexing for Christians, then, when they come across a passage like Exodus 34:14: “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” How could a perfect, loving, patient God call himself jealous? Is God insecure? Do passages like this simply represent a primitive, Old Testament idea of God that is thankfully done away with by the time we get to the New Testament? Maybe this is just a human way of talking about God that should not be taken seriously, or perhaps jealous is a bad translation of a Hebrew word that could allow for a less troublesome English word?
Despite confusion and aversion to this attribute of God, we must not reject or neglect this important aspect of God’s character. The jealousy of God is an attribute that pervades the pages of Scripture and is an essential part of God’s covenant love. To understand why God would call himself jealous, and even intensify this description by turning it into one of his divine names, we need to see Exodus 34:14 in its biblical context. This is also true for the hundreds of other times God declares or displays his jealousy in the Bible.
While all human words are frail and limited in describing God, we need to allow God’s verbal revelation to hold the power and meaning he intends for it to have. Jealous is actually a very good English word to translate the Hebrew word kana in Exodus 34. Kana (as well as the Greek equivalent zelos) could be translated as zeal or envy in other places in the Bible. Zeal is a general strong feeling to see something come about. Envy is a desire to gain possession of something that does not belong to you, and it is always sinful. Jealousy is a strong desire to maintain relational faithfulness that you believe does belong to you. Jealousy can be sinful if it is unwarranted or expressed in wrong ways, but it can also be an entirely appropriate and righteous emotion. We don’t usually make any distinction between envy and jealousy, which contributes to the public-relations problem jealousy has.
God’s jealousy is his righteous and loving demand of exclusive faithfulness from his covenant people. Because God rightly loves his own glory, and graciously loves us, he demands that we worship and serve him above all. In human history, God is most glorified by the undivided devotion of his redeemed people, and his ultimate jealousy for his glory demands this devotion. If he does not care when we love idols more than him, he would allow himself to be dishonored and let us settle for so much less than he intends us to have from life. God’s jealous love demands the best of us and our relationships.
In Exodus 34, God is giving Moses the central demands of relating to him as his covenant people — a covenant he compares repeatedly to a marriage (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 2:2–3; Hosea 2:2). God is the husband of his people, and we are his bride. This metaphor only intensifies when we get to the New Testament (Matthew 9:15; Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:6–9). To worship any God but the true God is spiritual adultery, and any husband who does not care that his wife committed adultery most certainly does not love her. Right at the heart of the laws of the covenant, God wants his people to know that this covenant relationship is permanent and exclusive. He wants them to realize that he is a personal God establishing a personal relationship with his people, and that his people should relate to him as he is, not as a more user-friendly god of their own making.
Throughout the Bible, God is rightfully jealous when he is dishonored, as we can see in the reason God gives for the second commandment:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:3–5)
God demands the fidelity of his people because he loves them, but ultimately because he is most glorified when they ascribe to him the honor that belongs to him alone. God achieves this goal of making himself known so that people will acknowledge, fear, worship, and obey him as the one and only Lord. Every key stage of salvation history points to this supreme aim. God’s covenant love and compassion are no less operational than his jealousy; he is jealous for the devotion of his people because he has the loving heart of a father, but ultimately because he desires to protect the honor of his name.1
God has a unique right to seek his own glory, a right none of us should seek to take for ourselves. Only God deserves absolute honor, worship, and glory, and he reacts with jealousy and anger when those he has created do not ascribe it to him, or when they desire it for themselves. God is righteous and therefore values above all else what is of ultimate value. He loves most what is most worthy of being loved, which is his own character, being, and perfections. Therefore, God’s jealousy for his glory does not conflict with his love. Indeed, his perfect justice and love necessitate his own self-exaltation.
We see the same jealousy for God’s glory in the ministry of Jesus. The portraits we often get of Jesus tend to be limited to his attributes that we find comforting, like his compassion and mercy. Jesus certainly is compassionate and merciful, and tells his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies (Matthew 5:39). But what do we make of Jesus flipping over tables in the temple (John 2:14–15)? That doesn’t seem to be the Jesus most hear about on Sunday morning! The godly jealousy of Jesus stands behind his righteous indignation as he drove out the money-changers with a whip. His disciples recognized this attitude as the same one that drove David. They recalled his words from Psalm 69 after Jesus cleansed the temple: “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘zeal [zelos] for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17).
Jesus is often thought of as very different from the God of the Old Testament. But he spoke often of hell, and one of the last images we have of Jesus in the Bible is so terrifying that unrepentant people are crying out for rocks to fall on them rather than face “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Jesus is indeed gracious and loving, but his grace and love are ultimately driven by God’s glory. His jealous love caused him to hate sin and all that dishonors God so much that he gave his life to vanquish evil and idolatry once and for all.
The prevalence of a consumer mentality and human-centeredness in contemporary society easily leads our agendas and takes greater priority than God’s glory. A desire to be relevant and attractive can encourage a marketing mentality in the church that lacks jealousy for God’s honor. The heavy influence of secular psychology, with its therapeutic, self-centered approach to ministry, also can detract from God’s glory being the supreme objective when Christians gather. These influences can lead the church to become a pragmatically oriented self-help group rather than a God-glorifying community.
On the other hand, when God’s people deeply desire that he be glorified so that nothing competes with him for our devotion and worship, they should experience a godly jealousy that mirrors his. The Bible includes many examples of godly people who are jealous for God’s honor. Whenever religious reform and revival was brought about in Israel, behind it always stood a jealous leader. Whether it was Hezekiah smashing the sacred pillars and cutting down Asherah poles (2 Kings 18:3–4; 19:15–19), Jehoiada tearing down the house and altars of Baal (2 Kings 11:17–18), or Josiah removing the high places (2 Kings 23:19), jealousy on behalf of God’s name, and his exclusive right to receive worship and covenant fidelity, was a primary motivating emotion.
Among the many examples and individuals who express godly jealousy, five of them stand out as the strongest: Phinehas, David, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul. The key passages that epitomize this attribute for each of them are Numbers 25 (Phinehas), Psalm 69:9 (David), 1 Kings 19:10–14 (Elijah), John 2:13–17 (Jesus), and 2 Corinthians 11:1–4 (Paul). Each shows his intense desire for the preservation of God’s honor in the face of a challenge to that honor.
Consider Phinehas, for example. Phinehas is not a well-known Old Testament figure today, but he should be. He killed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who were flagrantly rebelling against God in the midst of Israel’s repentance for rampant unfaithfulness (Numbers 25:6–9). God responds by saying that Phinehas atoned for the sins of the people, stopped a plague, and saved many lives because he was jealous for God’s honor in a way that reflected God’s jealousy (Numbers 25:10–13). He stands as a Christ type when it is said that he is given a perpetual priesthood in addition to being a source of atonement (Numbers 25:13).
God calls Christians today to feel the jealous anger and indignation that all of the godly leaders in the Bible (like Phinehas) experienced. However, in this day of terrorist attacks in the name of God’s honor, we will be quick to acknowledge that there are significant distinctions between the Old Testament saint, operating under the law-based theocracy, and the New Testament Christian, operating under the new covenant and the lordship of Christ. In addition to the roles of men like Phinehas, David, and Elijah, their theocratic context was based on Old Testament law-covenant and direct commands of God. This limits the bloody expression of their jealousy to their historical situation. Phinehas’s killing of Zimri and Cozbi, David’s killing of Goliath, and Elijah’s destruction of the prophets of Baal were appropriate manifestations of their godly jealousy for their contexts, but they no longer represent God’s methods under the new covenant.
In the New Testament, we still see God himself taking drastic, physical action on those who dishonor him (Acts 5:5–10; 12:23). But when it comes to humans, a shift takes place in the New Testament where jealousy for God’s honor is now channeled through gospel proclamation and is, in some measure, put on hold until God unleashes his final judgment (Romans 12:19–21). Jesus himself frowned upon violent reactions to behaviors that were dishonoring to God. He rebuked Peter when he cut off Malchus’s ear (Matthew 26:52). His response to James and John when they wanted to call down fire to consume the inhospitable Samaritans seems to teach the same idea. He rebuked them and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56).
Paul provides the same perspective: “Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3–4). And again: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The godly Christian hates idolatry no less than Phinehas, yet Christ calls him to fight with different weapons. Phinehas’s spear has been replaced by Paul’s epistles. The enemies of God deserve the same bold indignation David felt, but righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit have replaced his stones.
Christian leaders may think godly jealousy has little to do with most ministry endeavors, but central to our calling is that we abhor and denounce false teaching, even if we will be considered divisive, intolerant, and uncharitable (Titus 1:9; Romans 12:9). Any distortion of the truth of God’s word among God’s people amounts to idolatry and spiritual adultery. A faithful pastor will react with godly jealousy, among other virtues (2 Timothy 2:22–26), whenever the clear teaching of Scripture is violated. In a proper effort to be irenic, gracious, and fair, it nevertheless will be impossible to remain ambivalent when God’s word is ignored or distorted, especially by those who claim to be his covenant people. God, whose name is Jealous, demands that his people remain devoted to the true gospel without compromise. The church is to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and its leaders are to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to us (2 Timothy 1:14), so its theological gatekeepers must remain vigilant in these efforts.
What a staggering and wonderful truth — that the God who is perfectly self-sufficient (Psalm 50:12; Acts 17:24–25) has chosen to enter into an intimate relationship with his people to the point where he feels jealous anger if we are unfaithful to him! And what a blessed joy to know that, by faith in Christ, the only perfect covenant-keeper, we can rest assured that one day we will be presented to our Lord pure and conformed to his image (1 John 3:2–3).
Until that day, may the God whose name is Jealous be honored through the surprising faithfulness of his bride, even when she is prone to wander.2
Some key passages that show God’s jealousy for his own glory are Exodus 10:1–2; Isaiah 48:9–11; Ezekiel 20:42–44; 36:21–23; 39:25; Matthew 4:10; Mark 8:38; John 12:28–29; 17:1–5; Acts 12:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7, 15; and Hebrews 1:4–14. ↩
For more on godly jealousy, see Erik Thoennes, Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005); Erik Thoennes, “For the Sake of the Name: Godly Jealousy as a Foundation of Evangelism and Discipleship,” in Fulfilling the Great Commission in the Twenty-First Century: Essays on Revival, Evangelism, and Discipleship in Honor of Dr. Robert Coleman, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Ajith Fernando (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2015); Erik Thoennes, “Sinners in the Hands of a Jealous God,” interview by Matthew Barrett, Credo Magazine, July 1, 2015. ↩
Sunday: 9:30 am
Nursery service is available at the 9:30 service.
Sunday School is on break until September. Have a great Summer!