Things I’ve Learned

I went to church sporadically growing up. I remember occasionally going to a small Southern Baptist Church about fifteen minutes from my childhood home when I was in elementary school. While I was in middle school, I remember intermittingly going to a larger Southern Baptist Church in West Mobile. And by the time I entered high school, I was rarely going to church at all . . . I only went to church when I was dating a girl that had a family that was going to church (how pathetic is that)!

Needless to say, I didn’t grow up with a relationship to pastors and deacons. Nor did I have any familiarity with AWANA, VBS, youth summer camps, mission trips, or anything along those lines. Really, regarding church life, I didn’t know much of anything.

Growing Familiarity with the Church

By the time I entered college, God began to graciously call me to Himself. Deep into the fall semester of my freshmen year, He mercifully saved me and freely gave me the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. With a genuine work of God in my heart, I began to become more active in the local church.

This allowed me to get close to pastors and deacons, to become familiar with Vacation Bible Schools, youth summer camps, mission trips, and other church related things. And though I wasn’t knowledgeable of all that was going on in the church that I was attending, I started becoming more familiar with the church.

Much More Familiarity with the Church

After college, my wife and I moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina, in January of 2015. On August 16, 2016, I was hired on full time as the Director of College Ministry at First Baptist Church of Durham (a healthy local church in downtown Durham). This was my first ever ministry position, and I joyfully served in this capacity for three and a half years.

While I was doing college ministry, a friend of mine from Louisiana asked if I would be interested in being his associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Longville. This seemed like a good opportunity to serve the people of God, so in December of 2019, I moved to Longville, Louisiana, to begin serving full time as an associate pastor. I’m still serving in this capacity. This means that, as of August 16, 2021 (today), I’ve been doing full time ministry for five years. And at twenty-nine years old, I’m much more familiar with the church than I was in my childhood and teenage years.

Things I’ve Learned

Though five years isn’t a very long time, I thought it’d be neat to reflect on some things that I’ve learned while serving in full time ministry. Since ministry largely involves ministering to people, most of the things I’ve learned have to do with people. So, here we go:

People Need Christ

Christ is the incarnate Word, the image of the invisible God, the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and the light for the nations. He is the only mediator between God and man, and it’s only in Christ that one can find reconciliation and peace with God. Jesus is a never-ending source of other-worldly satisfaction and joy, and it’s Jesus that people need. 

After five years of ministry, I’m even more mindful that one of the most important things that I can do is place Christ before people’s eyes. And no, I’m not merely talking about placing Christ before unbelievers’ eyes. I’m also talking about placing Christ before believers’ eyes. I’ve learned that the children of God desperately need to behold and savor Christ afresh every day.

People Love Handwritten Cards

We live in a day and age where our emails are bombarded with advertisements, and where our cell phones are constantly receiving mostly insignificant messages from friends, family members, and acquaintances. And even though communication is remarkably easy, people are rarely receiving well thought out handwritten cards that are expressly written for the purpose of encouraging others.

This means that when people do receive a handwritten card, it is both encouraging and memorable! In all seriousness, I don’t believe I’ve ever had somebody thank me to my face for an encouraging text (though I’ve sent many). But almost everybody that I’ve written a card to goes out of their way to thank me. It’s evident that people love handwritten cards!

People Need to be Encouraged

There are people in the church that sacrifice their time, energy, and money for the cause of Christ. They give up their weeknights and Sundays for the purpose of sacrificially serving others. They diligently study so that they can properly teach the Word of God. They read books and listen to podcasts so that they can better counsel folks that are hurting and suffering. They open their homes to get to know other members of the church. And these people need to be encouraged. They need to know that I, as their pastor, see their ministry, am grateful for their ministry, and that our church is better off because of their ministry.

People are Hurting

Sure, people put on a socially acceptable smile on Sunday mornings, but deep down inside most people are hurting. And they are hurting because of their own sins, someone else’s sins, or because of all that comes with living on a cursed earth. There’s a family unit that has a rebellious child. There’s a marriage that is on the brink of disaster. There’s a youth that’s beginning to indulge in sexual sin that will have consequences for decades to come. Somebody has gone to the doctor and received a life altering diagnosis. A couple is doubting if they will ever be able to get pregnant. A widow is trying to figure out how to go to sleep by herself every night. All over the church, people are hurting, and they need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help them.

People Need Parlor Preachers

We don’t really hear the term “parlor” anymore, but most churches in the old days had them. It was a room in the church that was especially constructed for receiving guests. And a parlor preacher is a Christian that can speak about heavenly things in social settings (not just from the pulpit). Charles Bridges defines it as “the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social discourse.”

It’s important to be able to do this as a pastor, and it’s important to have fellow church members that can do this as well. Reflecting on the importance of this Spurgeon says, “To be a holy talker for Jesus might be almost as fruitful an office as to be a faithful preacher.” In five years, I’ve learned that we vastly overestimate what people learn from their pastor in the pulpit, and that we vastly underestimate what people learn from a spiritual conversation in the parlor.

People Need Church History

The Catholic Church teaches that both Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative. While the Baptist Church has rightly rejected this, most Baptist Churches have made an equally deadly error by flat out rejecting church history and tradition. There are so many people that are ignorant of the early church and its creeds, the Reformation and its confessions, the historical development of Baptist ecclesiology and doctrine, the Great Awakening, and so much more. 

This means that, within many Baptist Churches, most people’s concept of church is built around the church that they grew up in rather than the historic church that has existed for thousands of years. This isn’t healthy at all, and it leads to a multitude of problems. People really need church history.

People Need Sound Doctrine

This should not surprise anyone because one cursory reading through the Bible reveals that sound doctrine is important. Nevertheless, when I ministered to college students in North Carolina, and as I’ve ministered to people in Louisiana, it has become clear that many people grow up in Baptist Churches that are indifferent to doctrine. And it seems like most churches promote doctrinal indifferentism for the sake of maintaining unity. It’s as though pastors think to themselves: “If I don’t preach meaty doctrine, then my people won’t divide over anything.” 

What these pastors are failing to realize is that keeping people ignorant of doctrine cultivates what J.I. Packer calls “a deceptive appearance of unity.” Just because a church seems to have inter-party peace doesn’t mean they’re unified. Instead, it means that division is right around the corner. . . .as soon as people start talking about doctrine! So, people need sound doctrine, and Baptists Churches would be better off if they made every effort to cultivate doctrinal unity within their congregations rather than a deceptive appearance of unity.

Church Family IS Family

Kahlie and I both have awesome families. As a matter of fact, almost every vacation we take involves going to see our families because we enjoy being around them so much! With that said, one of the things that God has really taught us since we have moved away from our families for the sake of the church is that church family IS family! We knew this mentally before we moved away from home. We understood that other Christians were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We knew that older Christians could become spiritual fathers and mothers to us. We could mentally assent to these truths.

But once we moved away from home, we quickly came to understand this experientially. While we were in North Carolina, Kahlie and I immediately had our hearts joined together with other Christians. We were eating at each other’s houses, celebrating holidays together, serving together, serving each other, praying for one another, learning from one another, taking vacations together, helping each other bear up under trials, and so on and so forth! Older Christians invested in us, discipled us, cooked for us, and counseled us. And sure enough, when we moved eighteen hours from North Carolina to Louisiana, we immediately had our hearts knitted together with other Christians here. As we have moved across the Southeast, it’s become clear that church family is family. Thank God for the church!

Church Friendly Families are Awesome

Most families are looking for family friendly churches. This is completely understandable. It’s good to look for a church that’s going to strategically strive to serve each member of your family in a manner that’s worthy of the Lord. But as a pastor, one of the greatest blessings to the church is a church friendly family—a family that prioritizes healthy involvement in the church over athletics, hobbies, and other extracurriculars. In both churches that I’ve served in, I’m always blessed and encouraged by healthy family units that make healthy involvement in the church a main priority.

Godly Deacons are a Blessing

I’ve had the pleasure of getting close to godly deacons at both churches that I’ve served at. The deacons I’m talking about account their lives of little value, have hearts that go out to the hurting, and see it as their God given role to glorify Christ by fulfilling both menial and significant tasks for the church and the community. About these men, I echo Spurgeon’s words: 

“The church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble as well as prosperity remain faithfully at their posts…Deprive the church of her deacons and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house and would cause desolation on every side.”

Still Learning

I could keep going. I’ve learned a great deal about people and ministry over the past five years. But, like I said early, I’m not so naïve to think that five years is a long time. It’s very brief in the grand scheme of things. With this in mind, I’m still learning, and I’m greatly anticipating God to continue educating me.

Two Hopes

“The hope of the righteous brings joy, 

but the expectation of the wicked will perish.”

Proverbs 10:28

Hope is grounded on the certainty of future blessing. It springs up inside of people as they think about all the good that is going to come to them at a later date. And to some extent, everybody has hope. Everybody expects that, at some point, things are going to get better. . . . either now or after death. Biblically speaking, though, there are only two types of hope — a definite hope and a fabricated hope.

The Definite Hope of the Righteous

For the righteous, those who believe in Christ and are spiritually enabled to walk in accordance with His commandments, our hope is certain. The certainty of our hope is grounded on the very nature of our God. For our God is a God who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), and He has promised His people an unspeakably bright future.

The Bible teaches that our exodus from this cursed earth to a new heavens and a new earth that is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God is right around the corner (Luke 21:28; Romans 13:11). Before long, Christ will descend from the heavens with the sound of a trumpet. At His command, we will receive imperishable resurrection bodies that are raised up in power, honor, and glory (1 Corinthians 15:42).

These future resurrection bodies will enable us to dwell on the new earth with our Triune God forever (Revelation 21:2-3). Sin and its devastating effects will be done away with. As we dwell with God on the new earth, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The blessed happiness that comes from perfect communion with the one True God will constantly fill our hearts. It will be both euphoric and Edenic. This is why “the hope of the righteous brings joy” (Proverbs 10:28).

The Fabricated Hope of the Wicked

For the wicked, those who are apart from Christ Jesus and living in darkness, their hope is a fabricated hope. They fool themselves into thinking that their future is bright when, in reality, it is unbearably dark. This is certainly the case for religious hypocrites. Though religious hypocrites walk contrary to God’s will, they convince themselves that they are heirs of the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21-23; 25:11-13). As they perpetually sin against the Lord, they hear words of both promise and warning and say, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:18-19).

This false sense of hope remains with the religious hypocrite all the way to the great white throne judgment. As they stand before Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, they will sincerely believe that they are about to receive the blessings of the righteous (Matthew 7:21-23). This will not be the case though. Christ, with blazing eyes of omniscience, will reveal to them that he never knew them in a covenantal way (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:22-30). 

After revealing to religious hypocrites that they had a fabricated hope, Christ will publicly condemn them before the eyes of all. He will then justly sentence them to a life of eternal conscience torment. They will never know the blessed happiness of perfect communion with God. All they will ever know is “the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger” (Revelation 14:9-11). As they perish eternally, their fabricated hope will perish with them.

Hear Both Sides!

“The one who states his case first seems right, 

until the other comes and examines him.”

(Proverbs 18:17)

Within our sin nature, that old self that we inherited from Adam, there is a tendency to deceive others. This is especially true when we state our case to other people with the aim of getting them to agree with us about someone that we are not particularly happy with.

In an intense desire to get somebody to agree with us, we passionately pour out our case to others. Our hope is that they will see that we are in the right and that the other person is in the wrong. We want them to join us. We want them to defend us and accuse the other person. We passionately want other people to begin viewing us as the innocent party and the other person as the guilty party.

We Seem Right

However, in doing so, we deceptively and perhaps unconsciously “cast a shade over, or even omit, what might seem to balance on the opposite side.” Because we are so zealous in our effort to get others to agree with our case, we deceptively portray the other person in such a way that those who are listening to us will inevitably agree with us. And because we are the lone person that has stated our case against this particular person, those who listen to us think that we are right. They do exactly what we were hoping they would do – they begin thinking that we are innocent and that the other person is guilty.

Until Cross Examination

Until, as the proverb says, “the other comes and examines him.” Those who are acquainted with both the person and situation come and shed light on everything that we misconstrued and omitted. Perhaps even the person that was originally being talked about comes to give their side of the story.

This reveals to all that we were not as in the right as we originally seemed to be. As Charles Bridges said, “The first tale is good, till the second is heard.” The verdict changes once all the facts are known. Through our deception, they joined us for a while. With increasing clarity, however, they begin to realize that everything isn’t as it originally seemed.

Played Out Everyday

Because this is the inspired word of God that exegetes the sinful nature of man with incredible precision, we see this played out every single day. Cops see this played out during arrests. Judges see this played out in court hearings. Marriage counselors see this played out in sessions with embittered married couples. Parents see this played out with their children. And pastors see this played out within the church. When the first person states their case, there is almost always truth mixed with error – there is almost always just enough deceit to get the other person to agree with them! God is not ignorant of this. This is why Proverbs 18:17 is in the Bible.

Applying This Today

First, if we are stating our case, we must realize that it is very difficult to “state facts and circumstances with perfect accuracy where our own name, or credit is concerned.” More often than not, our sin nature wants to portray facts and circumstances in such a way that we appear to be absolutely right and others appear to be absolutely wrong. We must realize how susceptible we are to this and strive to fight against it. We can do this by distrusting ourselves, examining ourselves to uncover any prejudices that we have, and asking God to search our hearts for any hidden evil that lies within. In turn, this will rid us of deceit and lead us to increasing truthfulness.

Second, we must not establish a verdict too quickly when we are listening to someone make their case. We must hear both sides before we come to a verdict. This is something we have heard since we were children, but it is something we still need to hear today. It is always wise to postpone the casting of a verdict until both sides have been heard. This will keep us from being deceived and led astray. This will also keep us from viewing a particular person wrongly. Therefore, when somebody makes their case, be sure to search for another person that can shed further light on both the person and situation being talked about. Perhaps even approach the person that was being talked about directly to get their side of the story. This will ensure you have all the facts before you cast a verdict.

Applying this proverb in these two ways will allow us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. For in seeking to apply this proverb in these two ways we ensure that we are loving our neighbor well. I’ll end with some advice from Charles Simeon. The more he aged in wisdom and grace, the more he sought to abide by these rules that he laid down earlier in his life.

The Day Riches Won’t Profit

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, 

but righteousness delivers from death.”

Proverbs 11:4

The great temptation in our day is to cast aside the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. Some preachers have simply discarded it as an archaic doctrine that carries no weight for our contemporary culture. Other preachers mention divine wrath so infrequently that their hearers know nothing about it. This leaves many Christians sincerely believing that God does not burn with righteous anger against both sin and the sinner. Biblically speaking, however, “the idea that God is not angry with sinners belongs neither to the OT nor to the NT. God is a personal moral being who is unalterably opposed to evil and takes personal actions against it.” 

Because the God of the Bible is the thrice holy God, he is absolutely opposed to sin and evil (Psalm 5:5; 11:5). The culminating display of this holy opposition that God has to both sin and evil is his wrath. Though modern ears do not like hearing this, the wrath of God is the only appropriate ethical and moral response that an infinitely pure and holy being can have towards evil. Therefore, as our proverb above says, there will most certainly be a day of wrath. It is more certain than the rising up the sun tomorrow morning.

Days of Wrath

We see days of wrath all throughout the Bible. Early on in the book of Genesis, God justly judges the world by sending a flood that wipes out all but eight of the inhabitants of the earth (Genesis 6:5-8). Later in Genesis, God justly judges the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by causing fire and sulfur to rain down upon them, thus killing the occupants (Genesis 19:23-29). In Exodus, God judges the gods of Egypt along with those who worship them through a series of ten disastrous plagues (Exodus 7-11). Afterwards God judges Pharaoh and his army by causing the Red Sea to overwhelm them (Exodus 14:26-29). And space does not permit us to talk about all the other times God’s wrath consumed those who sinned against Him. 

The Day of Wrath

These days of wrath serve as microcosms of THE Day of wrath that is spoken about in Scripture. In a way, these displays of God’s wrath are meant to prefigure THE Day of God’s wrath (Matthew 24:37-39). They are minor depictions. This is not meant to lesson our view of these days of God’s wrath. It is meant to heighten our view of THE Day of God’s wrath.

One Day, both the great and the small, both the rich and the poor, and both the intelligent and the unintelligent will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in order to give an account of their lives (John 5:27; Revelation 20:11-15). On that Day, the Lord will render to each one according to what he has done in the body (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). For those who persist in wrongdoing, who perpetually live in ungodliness, and who constantly seek their own self-interest, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:8-9). For the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Revelation 20:8).

The lake that burns with fire and sulfur will never quit burning (Luke 3:17). The ungodly will be forced to drink “the wine of God’s wrath” (Revelation 14:10). For all of eternity, they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur” in the presence of both angelic beings and the spotless Son of God (Revelation 14:11). Of their suffering there will be no end. Of the wrath of God there will be no end. This Day of wrath will exceed all other days of wrath.  It will be wrath unlike anything the world has ever seen. 

Riches Won’t Deliver You

As the Day of wrath approaches, our hearts are stirred to seek refuge. We want to know what will profit us on that day – what will keep us from the wrath of Jesus Christ. And because our hearts are sinful, they are drawn to riches as a source of refuge. “Somehow,” we think to ourselves, “these riches will keep me safe and secure.” And as we seek to accumulate wealth, we begin viewing our riches as an impenetrable city and as an unscalable high wall (Proverbs 18:11). “If anything can deliver me from the wrath of God,” we say, “surely it is vast amounts of wealth.”

Our proverb above, however, teaches us that riches will not help us on the Day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4; Zephaniah 1:18). Jesus Christ is a just judge that shows no partiality. He is not like worldly judges that are enticed to show favor to the rich man. No, Jesus Christ is much different. The Lord Jesus Christ has a heart that is not wooed by worldly wealth. As he judges the world, riches will not keep him from rendering a righteous judgment. 

He will judge the world in complete righteousness. He will render authoritative judicial verdicts based off ALL the evidence. Then, once he reveals all the evidence, his wrath will consume the wicked in “the fire of his jealousy” (Zephaniah 1:18). And on that Day, the wicked who are rich will fare just like the wicked who are poor.

Righteousness Will Deliver You

In light of this Day of wrath and fury, what will deliver us from Christ’s righteous judgment? And the overwhelming biblical teaching is that righteousness is the only thing that will deliver us from the looming righteous judgment that is about to happen. Our proverb above says that “righteousness delivers from death” (11:4). It is those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” that will receive eternal life (Romans 2:6). Those who do good are the ones that will receive “glory and honor and peace” (Romans 2:10). All that matters on the Day of wrath is righteousness. Everything else will be consumed by unquenchable fire. Righteousness alone will deliver.

But where is a sinner to go to get righteousness? How can a sinner who is both positionally and practically unrighteous become both positionally and practically righteous? And the Bible answers this with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s active obedience to the law of God, and through his passive obedience in enduring the curse of the law due sinners, unrighteous sinners can be declared positionally righteous by God, and be made practically righteous through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When a sinner turns away from sin and lays hold of Jesus Christ through faith, they are gifted with the free gift of righteousness (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5; Philippians 3:9-10). Since God the Father gifts us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we sinners have been gifted with the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God the Father has graciously united us to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ has become our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). And being found in Christ Jesus, we are now positionally righteous before God.

And just as a branch derives life from its union with the vine, so we, as redeemed sinners, derive spiritual life from our union with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8). Though formerly we were slaves to sin, now we can live out a life of practical righteousness before God (Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 2:24). The Holy Spirit of God works within us to empower and enable us to live righteously (Romans 8:12-17). So, in Christ Jesus we are not only positionally righteous, we are also endowed with spiritual strength so that we can practically live righteously before God.

This is why union with Christ through faith is the only way that anybody will be able to stand on judgment day. If you stand before Jesus Christ without the righteousness that he procured for sinners in his atoning death, then you will endure wrath and fury. However, if you have been united with Christ through faith, then you are positionally righteous before God. Not only that, through the Spirit of God you have at least some practical righteousness as well. Therefore, the Day of wrath will not be a day of wrath for you. Just as Noah found safe refuge from the flood within the ark because he was righteous before God (Genesis 7:1), so you will find safe refuge from the wrath of God because you are positionally righteous in Christ Jesus, the very ark that delivers sinners from the impending wrath that is to come.

Brighter and Brighter

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, 

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”

Proverbs 4:18

The Bible is uncomplimentary of those who are outside of Christ. The non-Christian is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), under the enslaving powers of sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20), without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12), and hostile to God (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21). Their way of life is like deep darkness (Proverbs 4:19). They stumble and fall as they live wickedly on this cursed earth (Proverbs 4:19; Ephesians 5:11). Indeed, it is shameful to even speak about the things ungodly people do with their built-up enmity towards God (Ephesians 5:12).

The Light Shines in our Dark World

While it is plain that the Scriptures are unflattering in their portrayal of non-Christians, it is also unmistakably clear that the God who inspired the Scriptures is incomprehensibly merciful and gracious to unbelievers. While the world dwelled in darkness, God sent Jesus Christ, the true light, to be born of virgin (John 1:9). Christ’s purpose was to shine into the darkness and to bring life to those who were dead in sin (John 1:4-5). This God given mission could only be accomplished by destroying the works of the Devil, the prince of darkness (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 1:8). Through His obedient life, substitutionary death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, Christ crushed the head of the Evil One.

The Light Shines in Our Dark Hearts

After Christ’s earthly ministry, He filled His church with the Spirit and sent them to take the gospel message to this dark and evil world. As they preached the gospel, the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” penetrated deep into “our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Now that God has mercifully given us a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferred into the bright and radiant kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Instead of being darkness, now we “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). Rather than being dead in sin, now we are alive in Christ Jesus. By the grace of God we now belong to those who, through faith in Christ, are righteous (Romans 1:17).

The Light Grows Brighter and Brighter

Because of God’s sovereign grace, we are now new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new spiritual life we have brings about incredible results. As Archibald Alexander says, “The implantation of spiritual life in a soul dead in sin, is an event, the consequences of which will never end.” In light of this God wrought spiritual life that He has given us through the indwelling Spirit, we no longer walk in darkness. As the proverb above says, the Christian life is “like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Like the sun at the break of dawn, we as Christians begin to radiate with holiness and good works. This does not happen all at once. Much like the sun at the break of dawn, it is rather faint at the beginning of our Christian journey. We die to some sins. We eagerly obey God in certain areas of our lives. As time goes on, though, we get brighter and brighter. 

Through the ministry of the Spirit, we begin to be further conformed into the image of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2; Romans 8:29). Just as the sun progressively makes its way to noon day, the Christian, by the grace of God, progressively makes his way to complete conformity into the image of Christ. Nevertheless, though many of our graces will be strengthened a great deal by the end of our lives, we will never reach complete conformity into the image of Christ on this side of heaven.

The Light is Brightest at Full Day

God has ordained that our complete conformity into the image of Christ will happen at the second coming of Jesus. We are promised that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2-3). It at the second coming of Christ that we will shine like the sun at full day. Even our Lord Jesus promised this when he told his disciples that on the New Earth “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). This is the great hope that we have as Christians. Until the second coming of Christ, though, let us cast off the works of darkness and pursue righteousness that we may shine brighter and brighter in this dark world (Romans 13:12-14).

The Outward Varnish of Religion

“I had to offer sacrifices, 

and today I have paid my vows.”

Proverbs 7:14

Ravi Zacharias is a well-known Christian apologist, speaker, and evangelist. His books have been widely read, his YouTube videos have been widely watched, and his conferences have been widely attended. As one listens to him, he seems to exude Christian humility and gentleness. However, ever since his death in 2020, there has been an extensive investigation into Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct. And just last week, the twelve-page report that reveals the findings of the independent investigation into his sexual wrongdoing was released (you can also find the latest Christianity Today article here). Ravi’s sexual misconduct has been made manifest now, and it has become apparent that he was a sexual predator.

As I read through the evidence in the report my stomach churned, and my face cringed. Ravi’s sexual sin is deplorable and sickening. One of the worst parts is that he seems to have used his ministry as a cover for sin. He utilized his Christian faith to his advantage in manipulating and coercing young ladies into certain sexual acts. In light of these recent revelations, this week I wanted to write on Proverbs 7:14 to reveal that the Bible actually talks about this evil tactic of using religion to coerce and seduce someone.

Proverbs 7 – The Adulteress

Within the book of Proverbs, chapters 5-7 deal extensively with sexual sin. In each chapter, there are warnings against the sin of adultery (Proverbs 5:9-14, 21-23; 6:26-35; 7:22-27) and the enticing allure of the adulteress (Proverbs 5:3; 6:24-25; 7:5, 10-21). Though these chapters present a wealth of wisdom, I want to focus on the fact that the adulteress in Proverbs 7:14 presents herself in the garments of religion in hopes to entice the simple man to drink the poison of sexual sin with her.

When the adulteress launches her attack in Proverbs 7, she is “dressed as a prostitute” (7:10), “loud and wayward” (7:11), and waiting for a man whom she can satisfy her sinful lusts with (7:12). Once she discovers her next victim, she lays hold of him and “kisses him” (7:13). Though this is a bold sexual encounter in and of itself, she wants to go further. It is at this point that she uses religion as a means to coerce and entice the simple man to bring this initial sexual encounter to its full consummation. She says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows” (7:14).

Most translations translate “sacrifices” as peace offerings. The peace offering was a unique sacrifice because it was one of the only offerings where the offeror was given a large portion of the sacrifice so that they might return home and partake in it in a celebratory way with both friends and family (Leviticus 7:11-21). And in our passage, the adulteress has just offered up peace offerings at the temple, the dwelling place of God. She is now headed back home to feast on the remaining parts of the sacrifice.

While she’s headed home, she invites the simple man to come along with her. She wants him there so that he might partake in the rest of the sacrifice with her . . . . as well as some carnal love. It seems like she believes that, because of her sacrificial offering, God is rewarding her by satisfying her sinful passions (Proverbs 7:15-20). At the end of the day, it is apparent that the adulteress is covering up the sexual mischievousness of her heart with the outward varnish of religion.

Sadly, the simple man falls prey to her carnal passions that are robed in religious garments. He follows her “as an ox goes to the slaughter, as a stag is caught fast” (Proverbs 7:22), and “as a bird rushes into a snare” (Proverbs 7:23). The simple man of Proverbs 7 is seen as another casualty in the adulteress’ hunt to satisfy own her fleshly appetite (Proverbs 7:26).

Ravi – The Adulterer

Like the adulteress of Proverbs 7, Ravi Zacharias also used his religious garments to help him fulfill his sexual passions. Because Ravi had significant backpain, he would frequently go to receive a massage. While he was receiving these massages from young ladies, he would strike up casual conversations with them. 

One massage therapist said that these conversations led her to think of Ravi as a “father figure” to her. He would speak to her about spiritual things and would inquire about her financial situation. Upon hearing that she was struggling financially, he secured ministry funds to help her out. Shortly after this, he elicited sex from her. In recounting this time in her life, the lady said that Ravi would use “religious expressions to gain her compliance.” He would make her pray with him. He would call her his “reward” from God because of his faithful service to the Lord. Indeed, Ravi drove home the point that “the Lord understood what he had sacrificed” and implied that “their sexual exchanges were God’s way of rewarding him.” He then warned her not to speak out against him because that would “damage his reputation” and lead “millions of souls” to hell.

Another lady said that Ravi groomed her in a similar way. Throughout their conversations, Ravi “gained her trust as a spiritual guide, confidante, and notable Christian statemen.” As she began to see Ravi as a spiritual authority in her life, he started using his influence “to exploit her vulnerability to satisfy his own sexual desires.” Though Ravi and this lady were never physically intimate, intimate photos were shared. 

As you can see, Ravi was enslaved to sexual sin and he used his ministry platform to coerce young ladies. With his worldwide Christian ministry, he groomed women to respect him. This was all, of course, so that he might gratify his flesh with them. Then, with his worldwide Christian ministry platform, he warned the women to stay silent about it. At the end of the day, Ravi abused the Christian faith as a means to fulfill his godless passions. In doing so, he betrayed his wife, victimized many women, delegitimized his worldwide ministry, and dishonored the name of Christ.

Since seemingly godly people use the Christian faith as a means to satisfy their sinful lusts, may we all learn to “beware of any voice, though from the most revered quarter, that manifestly encourages forbidden indulgence.” And may we, those of us that have a ministry platform, learn to leverage our authority and influence for the edification of the church rather than the indulgence of the flesh. For we serve a God that will one day wipe away the outward varnish of religion and expose us for who we truly are.

Beastly Beauty

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout 

is a beautiful woman without discretion.”

Proverbs 11:22

Though our contemporary culture would be accused of toxic masculinity for saying something like this, the Spirit inspired biblical author believes this is a wise and profitable teaching. Whereas we would have said that a beautiful woman lacking discretion is a bit of a disappointment, Solomon regards her as a monstrosity. As one thinks through the meaning of such a vivid and graphic proverb, they quickly realize that this is a lesson often neglected in our society that prizes beauty over discretion. We would be wise to wean ourselves from the present-day culture’s way of thinking and to lay this biblical wisdom to heart.

External Beauty

External beauty, like a gold ring, is a gift from God. As one makes their way through the Bible, they will quickly notice that Rachel was beautiful in appearance (Genesis 29:17), that Job’s daughters were more beautiful than all others (Job 42:15), that Esther had a stunning figure (Esther 2:7), that Joseph was handsome in form (Genesis 39:6), that Moses was beautiful in the Lord’s eyes (Acts 7:20), and that David had lovely eyes and was regarded as good-looking (1 Samuel 25:33). It is evident that external beauty is not an anathema in the eyes of the Lord. Like a gold ring, beauty is both valuable and desirable. It is a good gift from a benevolent God.

Gold Rings on Pigs

Nevertheless, just as a gold ring loses its outwards appeal and desirability when it is attached to an unclean pig’s snout, so external beauty loses its attractiveness and allure when it is attached to a woman that lacks discretion. A pig takes the gold ring that is pierced through his snout and begins to root up the ground. The shine of the gold ring loses its charm as it gets covered with the mire and mud of the earth. The valuable and beautiful ring becomes unbecoming and undesirable as one looks at the filthy creature behind it.

Beauty Without Discretion

And so it is when external beauty is attached to a woman lacking discretion. To have discretion is to have godly wisdom and discernment that allows one to act in a way that honors the Lord. Discretion is what the beautiful Abigail had when she counseled King David not to avenge himself but to leave vengeance to the Lord (1 Samuel 25:33). On the other hand, to lack discretion is to lack godly wisdom and discernment. This, in turn, causes one to act in a way that is distasteful to Christ.

The beautiful woman that lacks discretion spends her days wallowing in the sewage and sludge of the world. Rather than pleasantly speaking about spiritual things, she gives her tongue to gossip and slander. Instead of adorning herself with good works that are pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ, she gives unbridled reign to her sensual passions. When she could be tenderly tending to other’s for Christ’s sake, she selfishly seeks her own self-interest. While she lives this life, she lives for her own sinful lusts. 

And as she lives a life that lacks discretion, her external beauty becomes as unbecoming and undesirable as a gold ring in a pig snout. While the godly, virtuous wife is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30), the woman without discretion is to be pitied. If she were in Christ and filled with the Spirit, she could be pictured as the crown of her husband and as far more precious than jewels (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 31:10), but while she remains apart from Christ and lacking discretion, she is pictured as nothing more than an undesirable gold ring in a pig’s snout.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold!

The simple believes everything, 

but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”

Proverbs 14:15

In the 1500s there was an English seaman and privateer named Sir Martin Frobisher. He made numerous voyages to the new world. On his first voyage he stumbled across what he believed to be gold. As you can imagine, this caused quite a bit of excitement to folks back in his homeland. Before long, he was sending copious amounts of this “gold” back to his home country. He was a rockstar. He was even garnering the Queen’s attention!

Before long, though, it was discovered that the mineral that he was mining was not gold. It was nothing more than a bunch of invaluable minerals combined to make up a rock that looked like gold. As we would say today, it was fool’s gold. Sir Martin Frobisher learned the hard way that all that glitters is not gold. 

The Simple

And from the proverb above we learn that all that is said is not true. Nevertheless, like Sir Martin Frobisher on his first voyage, the simple man has not yet learned this lesson. Throughout the book of Proverbs, the simple man is the one who lacks godly wisdom and understanding. This causes him to be easily deceived and persuaded. Since he does not have enough godly wisdom and understanding to discern the truthfulness of a statement, he believes everything that anybody says.

This is certainly the case when it comes to matters of Christian doctrine and Christian living. The Bible teaches that false teachers will always exist. The first false teacher, Satan, appears in Genesis three. Other false teachers rise up throughout both the Old and New Testament. Many false teachers appear throughout church history. Today, countless false teachers continue to spring up.

Paul warns that these false teachers will arise from within local churches “speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:26). The author of Hebrews warns Christians not to “be led away by diverse and strange teachings (Hebrews 13:9). Peter told the churches he was writing to that false teachers will be among them “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:10). As one reads the Bible, it seems inevitable that Christians and local churches will meet with false teachers at some point.

And the simple man does not stand a chance against these false teachers. As he hears twisted things that are contrary to the clear testimony of the Bible, he will believe them. He will mistake the elaborate doctrinal innovations of man as the revelation of God. When this occurs, it will be just as the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4. The simple man will be “tossed to and fro by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). Ultimately, just as the Spirit said through Paul, the simple-minded Christian will “be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

The Prudent

This is not the case with the prudent. Throughout the book of Proverbs, the prudent man is the one that has godly wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 13:16; 14:18). This goldy wisdom and understanding allows him to act in a way that is honoring to the Lord (Proverbs 13:16; 14:15; 27:12). This is especially the case when it comes to matters of Christian doctrine and Christian living.

The prudent man has learned that all that is said is not true. As our Proverb says, “the prudent gives thoughts to his steps” (14:15). Like the Bereans of old, the prudent man eagerly listens to a teacher all the while “examining the Scriptures daily” to see if the teaching lines up with the Bible (Acts 17:11). He is aware that he needs to test a teaching before he trusts it (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). For the prudent man, this is not a matter of unhealthy skepticism. Rather, it is a matter of prayerful and careful consideration. Unlike the simple man, he knows that his soul is at stake so he “gives thoughts to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

Life Giving Water

“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, 

that one may turn away from the snares of death.”

Proverbs 13:14

In our day, there is a tendency to think about the Christian life as a life of ease. This mainstream way of thinking, however, is at odds with the Bible. Rather than being a life of ease, the Christian life is filled with numerous snares that will lead to eternal death. 

Within the pages of Scripture, we see sin as a vicious predator lurking at our door with an intense desire to devour us (Genesis 4:7). We are taught that sinful passions are consistently waging war against our souls (Romans 8:13; 1 Peter 2:11). We are informed that Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion that would love to have us as his next victim (1 Peter 5:8). We are warned of the fact that we live within an evil world system that is seeking to allure and entice us to embrace its ungodly ways (Revelation 18). And we are clearly taught that there are false teachers that are “waterless springs” and “fruitless trees” that will seemingly promise us life but that will ultimately lead us to death (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 12-13).

As you can see, the Christian life is not a life of ease. Rather, from beginning to end, it is a war filled with many battles. The Christian life is lived out in enemy territory, it is fraught with many dangers, and the snares of eternal death are everywhere. In fact, it is so difficult that those who make it out alive end up exclaiming, “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)!

The Dangerous Christian Pilgrimage

Few men have understood this concept of the Christian life more clearly than John Bunyan. In his famous allegorical work Pilgrim’s Progress, he portrays the Christian life as a difficult journey consisting of many dangers, toils, and snares. Christian, the main character in the allegory, is constantly attacked by the world, the flesh, and the devil as he makes his way to the Celestial City. 

Christian runs into people like Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Worldly Wiseman gives Christian worldly counsel in hopes to lead him off the narrow path that leads to life. As Christian makes his way up The Hill of Difficulty, he falls prey to the sin of sluggishness. Rather than pressing on through difficulty, he gives in and falls asleep. When Christian descends into The Valley of Humiliation, he encounters the mighty Apollyon (Satan). Apollyon opposes Christian with great nastiness. 

At every turn, the world, the flesh, and the devil are laying snares to keep Christian from making it to Christ’s Celestial City. This always leads the reader to ask, “Will Christian make it? Will he be able to stay on the straight and narrow path even though there are dangers all around him?” From all of this, it is clear that Bunyan believed that followers of Christ are always within close proximity to the snares of death.

A Godly Pastor as an Aid

Thankfully, throughout the allegory, Bunyan conveys that Christian, with the aid of Christ the King, will make it. At one point in Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named The Interpreter informs Christian of one aid that Christ is pleased to use to keep Christian away from the snares of death and on the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. The aid is a godly pastor; a pastor who rightly divides the word of God.

In the mind of Bunyan, a godly pastor is one who “begets” and “nurses” Christians in the faith, has his eyes “lifted to heaven,” has the Bible in his hands, and “has truth on his lips.” His desire is to know and unfold biblical truth to sinners, to plead with men about spiritual realities, and to press on people’s consciences the certainties of the world to come. This is the man whom Christ has “authorized to be your guide in all the difficult places that you may encounter on the way.” The Interpreter wants Christian to stay close to the godly pastor because, as he journeys to the Celestial City, many people will pretend to lead him down the right path, “but their way goes down to death.” 

In Christian’s encounter with The Interpreter, it is evident that Bunyan himself thoroughly believed that “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14). One of the main aids that God has given Christians to avoid the snares of death and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling is the consistent intake of godly teaching (1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). When Christians sit under the faithful teaching and preaching ministry of a man that God has gifted with wisdom and knowledge, they find that such preaching is a fountain, a source, of spiritual life. They find that such teaching nourishes their souls and leads them away from the snares of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

A Blessed Memory

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, 

but the name of the wicked will rot.”

Proverbs 10:7

The righteous are those who belong to God, have godly wisdom, and live in accordance with God’s ways. Throughout Proverbs, the righteous are those who fear God (1:7), carry out justice (8:20), increase in learning (9:9), speak profitable things (10:11, 21), remain steadfast (10:30), bear fruit like a tree (11:30), care for their neighbor (12:26), hate falsehood (13:50), and walk in integrity (20:7). 

The righteous live eminently godly lives filled with acts of service to King Jesus. They offer up their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Their lives are filled with such godly virtues that they become paradigms of some of the virtues that God works in us by the Spirit. In essence, the righteous are those who truly live in this life.

Nonetheless, though the righteous truly live in this life, they still end up dying. Once they are gone, all we have are memories of them. These memories become blessings to the people of God. This is one of the ways that God honors those who honor him (Psalm 112:6). God sees to it that blessed men and women leave behind blessed memories; memories that are so profitable to the people of God that they are regarded as blessings from God.

We are blessed when we remember how Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac because he was confident that God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-20). Our spirits are encouraged when we think about how Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin in Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-25). Our souls are renewed with zeal when we remember the steadfastness of Job in the midst of an onslaught of fiery trials (James 5:11).

Sweet Memories of William Tyndale

This is also one of the chief reasons so many Christians have benefited from reading biographies of righteous men and women throughout history. Just the other day I was reading about William Tyndale. Throughout the 1520s and 1530s, Tyndale’s main ambition was to translate both the Old and New Testament into English. Though this was illegal and punishable by death during his time, he was filled with a godly resolve to get the Bible into the language of the common man. Before he began this extraordinarily difficult task, Tyndale famously said to a very learned man, “If God spare my life, in a few years I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scripture than you do.”

To enable the plough boy to know more Scripture than the learned man proved to be an audacious endeavor. Tyndale had to live as a fugitive on the run, he had to master the Greek and Hebrew language, and he had to find men that would print his translations even though it could cost them their lives. In all of this, Tyndale did not waver. Before long, his English Bible was circulating throughout England. As the Bible was placed into the plough boy’s hands, the plough boy began to know more Scripture than the Pope!

Although this was a remarkable feat, it proved to cost Tyndale his life. Because of his translation work, in 1536 he was tied to a stake, strangled to death by an iron chain, and then burned. William Tyndale gave up his life for the cause of Christ, the Word of God, and the building up of the church. Even though he is gone, we still hear his voice every time we read our English Bible. As you can see, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Proverbs 10:7).

Not so With the Wicked

This is not so with the wicked. For those who do not belong to God, lack godly wisdom, and rebel against God’s good design, their names will rot. When they die, both their body and their names will decay. God will see to it that the wicked are either forgotten (2 Kings 9:30-37; Job 18:5-17; Psalm 9:5), or that they will be remembered with shame and detestation (Romans 9:13; 2 Timothy 3:8-9; Revelation 2:20).

The Stench of Henry Phillips

Take Henry Phillips for example. This is the wicked man who was hired to befriend William Tyndale for the express purpose of betraying him. The same money loving spirit that drove Judas to betray the Son of God fueled Henry Phillips to betray Tyndale, a translator of the Word of God. After Phillips gambled away a large sum of money that his father had entrusted to him, he was willing to do anything to pay off his debt. Knowing this, a wealthy man that abhorred the reformers offered Phillips a sizable amount of money to spy on, befriend, and betray Tyndale. In love with money, Phillips agreed. 

He proved to be remarkably successful in this endeavor. Before long, he lured Tyndale into a trap. Tyndale was then arrested and jailed. As we mentioned earlier, he was then tied to a stake, strangled to death, and then set ablaze. For the church, the memory of Tyndale is a blessing. The memory of Henry Phillips, however, has faded into oblivion. Even when Henry Phillips’ name is mentioned, it is remembered with sense of disgrace.