Wednesday, 27 January 2016

For or Against?

     In Luke 9:50 Jesus is reported as saying, “… for he who is not against us is for us” (par Mark 9:40).1 But later, in Luke 11:23, the Lord seems to be saying just the opposite: “he that is not with me is against me …” (par Matt. 12:30).
     Those leaning toward and embracing the theological left have been known to exploit the former passage in defense of ecumenical diversity and broadening their circle of acceptance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the latter text has been favored to justify narrowing lines of fellowship beyond what is biblically prescribed. Meanwhile, antibiblicists cite both texts, pitting one against the other and claiming the Bible contradicts itself.
     None of the above approaches is correct. Each demonstrates the interpretive fallacy of ignoring context and then proof-texting to bolster a preconceived misconception. An honest, sympathetic, and careful examination of these passages reveals both the intended meaning and a coherent harmony of the two.
On the Lord’s Side
     In the first passage, the apostles were forbidding the good works of an apparent disciple of Jesus simply because he was not in their immediate apostolic circle. Contextually a childish dispute had arisen on their journey to Capernaum (Mark 9:33-34), and they later asked the Lord, “Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” (Matt. 18:1).2 Their worldly focus was on which person should be considered preeminent (cf. Luke 22:24), while Jesus redirects their attention to the quality of character needed (Mark 9:35-37).
     Christ teaches an important lesson by taking a small child in his arms (Mark 9:36) – the epitome of spiritual purity and innocence (cf. Mark 10:13-16).3 The disciples are challenged to turn from their selfish, vain, haughty ambitions, to develop the childlike attitude of humility, and to receive (be accepting and considerate of) those who exhibit the same humble disposition (cf. Mark 9:38-42).
     Here is where John4 reveals the prideful/arrogant temperament of the apostles as he informs Jesus they had forbidden the good works of a man simply because he was not one of the twelve (Mark 9:38); “he doesn’t follow with us” (Luke 9:49, emp. added). However, Christ had more loyal followers than just the twelve (Mark 9:41; Luke 10:1), and no one could truly cast out demons in Jesus’ name unless the Lord had given him this power (cf. Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:17). What this man had done wasn’t contrary to the way of Christ, so the admonition is given: “Don't forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; cf. Mark 9:39-40).
Not on the Lord’s Side
     In the second passage (Luke 11:23; par Matt. 12:30), the Lord is speaking to antagonistic Pharisees who were falsely accusing him of doing the devil’s work. This is where he says, he that is not with me is against me …” This situation, the people involved, and the issue addressed are very different than the above.
     The antagonists were Pharisees (Matt. 12:24), identified by Mark as scribes from Jerusalem (3:22), indicative of Jesus’ widespread influence and reputation and the growing animosity toward him. Their options were to (1) deny the miracles; (2) accept that Jesus’ power was from God; or (3) attribute the miracles to another source. They couldn’t reasonably deny the reality of Christ’s miracles, and they refused to accept Jesus as a legitimate representative of God.
     Jesus was casting out demons “by the Spirit of God” (Matt. 12:28; cf. Luke 11:20), and his opponents responded with “blasphemies,” i.e. reviling; irreverence, slander, defiant hostility. The verbal form blaspēmēsē (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10) is in the aorist tense, involving a state of mind as long as it lasts, viz. conscious and deliberate opposition to God.
     On this occasion the sin was stubbornly dismissing the obvious working of God’s Spirit and defiantly attributing it to the power of Satan. Enemies of truth, resistant to Christ’s message, are decidedly against him.
     The teachings of Christ call for both exclusiveness and inclusiveness, depending on the circumstances. A genuine disciple of Jesus is not to be rejected (cf. Acts 9:26-27), and the New Testament gives clear instructions about being faithful to the Lord and recognizing faithfulness. But not everyone who wears the name of Christ wears the name legitimately (Matt. 7:21-23); in such cases, Luke 9:50 (par Mark 9:40) does not apply. At the same time, Luke 11:23 (par Matt. 12:30) is not about petty differences and disputes among brethren. The focus here is on false teachers and enemies of truth who reject Christ and the way of Christ.
     Out of context, there appears to be a discrepancy between these two statements, while they seem to conflict with other passages as well. But in context, they are easily understood and harmonized.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the World English Bible. The Byzantine Majority Text reads hēmōnhēmōn (“the one not against us is for us”), as in the N/KJV and RAV, while the NA/UBS Critical Text has the alternate reading, humōnhumōn (“the one not against you is for you”), as in the ESV, N/ASV, et al. See Text of the NT Part 1 <Link>.
     2 Mark and Luke give abbreviated versions of this incident, while Matthew devotes the entirety of chapter 18 to it.
     3 Matthew’s expanded recounting of the Lord’s words: “Most certainly I tell you [all], unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me …” (Matt. 18:3-5; cf. Luke 9:47-48).
     4 John was one of the “sons of thunder” who struggled with impatience, intolerance, and selfishness (Mark 3:17; 10:35-37; Luke 9:54).

Image credit:

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Achieving and Maintaining Ministerial Balance (Part 3 of 3)

     In our fallible attempts to juggle all the responsibilities of various sizes and weights that are constantly hurled in our direction, the following suggestions may be helpful.
1. Make time to pray. I doubt any of us are any busier than Jesus was in his earthly ministry, yet he regularly withdrew from the daily commotion to invest time in prayer (Luke 5:16). It’s not that he necessarily had time to pray, but he obviously considered it important enough to make time to pray (cf. Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Why would any sensible person delve into the momentous task of doing God’s work without inviting God to be involved in it? “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all is possible with God” (Mark 10:27).1 It has been said that if one is too busy to pray, he is too busy not to pray.
2. Plan each day. Having a consistently updated to-do list, with the most important items listed first, is indispensable. The value of planning ahead ought to be self-evident (cf. Luke 14:28-33), and the biblical principle of sowing and reaping pretty much guarantees that poor planning produces poor results, while much better results are achieved with better planning (2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7).
3. Prioritize. Let’s be honest. There is no end to the unimportant, time-consuming activities that serve as potential distractions. If I lose my focus, rather than my allotted time being carefully invested in what really matters, much of it can be wasted. The weightier issues that deserve first priority simply cannot be relegated to the elusive “spare time” compartment (cf. Matthew 6:33; 9:62; 23:23).
4. Multitask. I am not suggesting that one tries to do several things at the same time if it weakens the quality of his work. But whenever possible, tasks can and should be combined for greater efficiency. For example, instead of spending hours of preparation on various topics for sermons, Bible classes, bulletin articles, blog posts, and teaching materials, why not develop a devotional lesson or tract based on a blog post that is an expanded bulletin article that is a condensed sermon or Bible class lesson? Were it not for multitasking, Nehemiah may have never seen the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
5. Be flexible. Anticipate interruptions and plan accordingly. If my schedule is too stringent without room for unexpected disruptions, I will constantly be stressed out and frustrated because life just doesn’t work that way. Consequently my ministry, my family, and my mental health are adversely affected. As Paul planned his second missionary campaign (Acts 16:36), little did he know that his long-standing partnership would disintegrate, the first two targeted mission fields would be blocked, his customary strategy of initiating the work in synagogues would be unsuitable at the first location, he would be forced to prematurely leave the first three mission points, and he would face other unanticipated disruptions all along the way. Paul still made definite plans, but he was flexible enough to deal with unforeseen circumstances as they arose, while he trusted that all things would ultimately work together for good (Acts 18:21; Romans 8:28).
6. Exploit off-peak time periods. Essential tasks that demand my undivided attention are best reserved for times when interruptions are less likely. For me, getting up about four hours before anyone else in my family and before the phone starts ringing provides the best opportunity for personal devotion and in-depth study. It also enables me to be more flexible through the rest of the day and available to do other things as they come up. This obviously works best for the morning person, but later at night when everyone else is in bed may be better for the night owl. Jesus availed himself of both (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12).
7. Be realistic. I have to recognize and accept my limitations. There may be preachers who always deliver fantastic sermons, teach well-prepared Bible lessons, write daily blogs, contribute weekly articles to various journals and websites, visit all the needy members of the congregation each week, counsel those who are struggling, actively pursue Bible-study opportunities with non-Christians, volunteer in the community, do funerals and weddings, participate in multiple gospel meetings and lectureships and campaigns throughout the year, and give quality time to their families. But I doubt it. While everyone is different and not all preachers are created equal (Matthew 25:14-15), wisdom and discernment must be applied to what can and cannot and should and should not be attempted.
8. Learn to say “no. More times than not my schedule gets overloaded simply because I think I have to agree to everything I’m asked to do. It is perfectly legitimate to decline invitations to do extra things, especially if I am already struggling to juggle the responsibilities I currently have. I may really want to participate in this lectureship, or preach another gospel meeting, or produce more articles and blog posts, or get involved in an online debate, or play golf with my buddies on weekends. But if any of these good things can’t be done without neglecting obligations to which I am already committed, respectfully declining is the right thing to do (cf. Acts 18:20; 20:16).
9. Delegate. It is humanly impossible for any individual to do everything that needs to be done. By ignoring this reality and attempting to do it all anyway, here is what invariably happens: (1) some important tasks get overlooked or receive less-than-quality attention; (2) burnout is more likely, rendering its victim incapable of accomplishing much of anything; (3) others are deprived of opportunities to serve and to grow; and (4) those who are depending on me suffer. Moses delegated (Exodus 18:13-25), Jesus delegated (Luke 10:1-2), the apostles delegated (Acts 6:1-4), and it is a lesson that gospel preachers today simply cannot afford to dismiss.
10. Be accountable. If I am finding it difficult to balance work and family and other responsibilities, I should ask someone to help keep me on track. Personally, I have no trouble focusing on work, so I have recruited my wife and children to remind me whenever they think I’m shirking family duties. If, however, the pendulum happens to swing in the other direction, I need a friend or church leader to hold me accountable. “Bear the loads of one another, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
     While learning to juggle isn’t easy and nobody perfects it overnight, the more we work at it, the better we get. I couldn’t juggle bowling balls in college, but after years of practice I’m much better at it now.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
Published in So You Want to Be a Preacher, ed. David Powell. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2013: 220-29.

Image credit: 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Achieving and Maintaining Ministerial Balance (Part 2 of 3)

     My family is by far my most important ministry and my greatest mission field. I cannot be a faithful minister of the gospel while neglecting my God-given family obligations. Even though I may be doing a lot of good work for the Lord and ministering to numerous people, if my family is lost in the process I am a miserable failure (cf. 1 Samuel 2:12; 3:13). Never have I heard a preacher bemoan the fact that he has given too much time and attention to his family. However, I am personally aware of several who have suffered strained or broken marriages or have lost their kids to the world because they were too busy doing “the Lord’s work” at the expense of being husbands and fathers.
     If I am married and have children, to borrow Harry Truman’s adage, “The buck stops here.” In other words, the primary responsibility for my family’s well being has been placed on my shoulders (Ephesians 5:23–6:4). When the inevitable conflicts arise, instead of automatically pointing the finger I need to be asking, “What have I done or failed to do to contribute to these problems, and what do I need to be doing to help resolve them?” It is blatant hypocrisy to teach or counsel others to obey God’s directives for the home if I am not obedient myself.
     “But if anyone is not providing for his own, and especially for his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).1 How does this passage apply to me? If I furnish my family a place to sleep and clothes to wear and sufficient funds in the grocery budget, have I satisfied this divine expectation? Surely providing for my family involves more than just material necessities. Am I supplying love, security, a good example, encouragement, discipline, spiritual leadership, affection, affirmation, and quality time and attention? 
     In order for my car to operate to its full potential and to be of any value to me or anyone else, regular fueling, maintenance, and repairs are necessary. Otherwise, it breaks down and serves no functional purpose. The same holds true for preachers. Jesus, one of the busiest men who ever lived, recognized that occasions of rest and rejuvenation are necessary (cf. Mark 6:31).
     My physical health suffers when I pay little attention to diet and exercise, thus rendering me less and less useful in the Lord’s service. Just like my automobile, my body isn’t going to run indefinitely, and without proper care it will not function efficiently, and it probably won’t wait for a convenient time to break down.
     My mental health suffers when my outward focus significantly exceeds my inward and upward focus. Being continually overloaded and overwhelmed by external factors, with little opportunity for healthy diversions, eventually leads to a breaking point. The stress, pressures, and time-demands can be relieved by hobbies, recreation, and rest. Yes, even preachers need the occasional break.
     My spiritual health suffers when nearly all of my Bible study is for the benefit of others, while my own spirit is malnourished. Personal devotion is vital to keeping the proverbial batteries recharged. I cannot be “equipped for every good work” without a steady diet of spiritual sustenance (2 Timothy 3:14-17). 
     The Bible has always presented a balanced message that includes both promises and warnings, blessings and responsibilities, righteousness and sin, mercy and justice, heaven and hell, faith and obedience, etc. Declaring the whole counsel of God, therefore, calls for doctrinal balance that considers all sides of divine instruction and not just one to the virtual exclusion of the other.
     As a biblically balanced preacher I will always strive to say and do the right things in the right ways for the right reasons. Doctrinal balance particularly compels me to proclaim the right message with the right attitude in the right manner (2 Timothy 2:24-25; 4:2). Further, I must appreciate that faithfulness and godly living are to precede anything I attempt to verbally profess (1 Timothy 4:6-16).
     Doctrinal balance ensures that I am committed to the middle road of truth without compromise and without veering to the reckless left or the radical right. Controversy is not something to eagerly seek out or intentionally and unnecessarily generate. But when it does occur, and it certainly will, how does the Lord expect me to respond? Suffice it to say that doctrinal balance has no place for timidity, evasion, or unconcern (cf. Romans 16:17; Galatians 6:1; Jude 3). 
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
     2 This brief section is a condensed and modified version of the author’s “Training Biblically Balanced Preachers,” in Gospel Journal 7.6 (2006): 14-15.
Published in So You Want to Be a Preacher, ed. David Powell. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2013: 220-29.

Image credit: 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Achieving and Maintaining Ministerial Balance (Part 1 of 3)

     As an undergraduate college student I considered myself a very busy person, with all the classes, assignments, campus jobs, club meetings, social activities, et al. Then after a number of post-college years outside “the bubble,” I realized how comparatively light my college schedule actually was! If attempting to accomplish multiple tasks is likened to juggling, I was learning to handle a few ping pong balls in school compared to the numerous bowling balls I was trying to keep in the air years later.
     I have had the privilege of working as an unmarried evangelist, a married and childless evangelist, and a married evangelist with children. Each of these situations has its own unique benefits and challenges. As a single man, I certainly had more time to devote to the Lord’s work without worrying about neglecting a family (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35). The problem is, others were more than willing to step in and occupy my time and attention, and there was no one else in my life to help redirect my focus and to balance out the work load.
     As a family man, to the already demanding juggling routine were added some major bowling balls that I absolutely could not afford to drop. While my wife, followed by our first child and then our second, were (and still are) huge blessings to me, the pursuit of a balanced lifestyle became much more daunting. Then came the doctoral studies on top of a full-time job and a full-time family. The world record for the most bowling balls juggled is three, and I was attempting to do even more. It didn’t take long to realize that there were literally not enough hours in a day or enough energy in my limited reserves to accomplish all that needed to be done.
     “Therefore look carefully how you are walking, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).1 The essence of what Paul is saying here is captured in familiar renderings such as, “making the most of your time” (NASB), “making the best use of your time” (ESV), and “making the most of every opportunity” (NIV). But these popular translations have missed a subtle yet significant nuance in the text.
     The present participial form of exagorazō (lit. “redeeming,” cf. ASV, N/KJV) is employed in the original. The verb itself means to exchange one thing for another, while the present tense conveys a continual or ongoing action. The implication is that everyone has been entrusted with a limited amount of time each day, gradually adding up to a lifetime. Paul is admonishing his readers to carefully consider the things they regard as so important that they are willing to exchange for them the precious time that has been placed in their hands. 
     The expression “desk” is used here as a synecdoche, inclusive of the preacher’s office, library, and/or computer. As ministers of the gospel, our desks can be one of our best allies or one of our worst enemies. While we do not wear official titles, there are several descriptive terms that identify what we are called to do. A preacher preaches, a teacher instructs, a minister serves, and an evangelist evangelizes. I cannot do an effective job as a preacher or a Bible teacher by avoiding my desk, and I cannot realistically do the work of a minister or an evangelist while at my desk.
     The number of blog posts and published articles and plethoric comments on social media from some preachers give the impression that they are hardly ever away from their computers. No doubt a certain amount of good can be accomplished through the widespread dissemination of written words via the Internet. However, the biggest impact we will ever make on people’s lives is not going to happen while sitting alone at a computer.
     Evangelism, i.e. effectually communicating the good news of Christ’s message to those who are unfamiliar with it, is the essential work of an evangelist. Obviously one cannot legitimately be described as an evangelist if he is not actively engaged in evangelizing. If this happens to be the case because too many additional activities have been allowed into the juggling routine, why is it that evangelism usually gets dropped before so many other endeavors of far lesser consequence? Am I hoping that someone somewhere in the world is reading what I’m posting on the web, while there are scores of individuals in my own community who are not being reached?
     The sad reality is that many (most?) of our congregations are not growing as they should, and souls are not being saved in significant numbers. If members of the church have somehow come to believe that evangelism is solely the job of a religious professional, they clearly need to be taught otherwise (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). But if the preacher himself is not evangelizing, he has forfeited one of his very best teaching tools – his own example (cf. 1 Corinthian 4:16; 11:1; 2 Timothy 3:10; 4:5).
     I cannot effectively communicate God’s word without sufficient time invested in study and preparation. Neither can I effectively communicate God’s word if I am not connected with those I am trying to reach. Too little time behind the desk and my teaching and preaching suffer. Too much time behind the desk and my ministry and evangelism suffer. There has to be a consistent balance.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
Published in So You Want to Be a Preacher, ed. David Powell. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2013: 220-29.

Related PostsAchieving Balance Part 2Part 3

Related Articles: Jeremiah Tatum's Advice for Younger Preachers
Image credit: