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When you want to think of discipline, you have to think of a regimen or exercise that increases a skill. And in respect to godliness, it is regimen or exercises that increase and enhance a man’s godliness. That’s the way to think about it.
What you need to understand is that “disciplines” is a word that comes right out of the Scripture and from the apostle Paul. So the great classic text is 1 Timothy 4:7. In the middle of the verse where he says, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Then he says “This is a worthy saying deserving of full acceptance.” So the apostle Paul is the one who gives the command for godliness. And so understand, “discipline” is a biblical word which the apostle Paul owns and promotes upon us.
In its context in the book of 2 Timothy, it is huge because he’s talking about promoting godliness for the sake of the gospel. In the second chapter he talks about godly men and their conduct, godly women and their conduct. Then in the third chapter, he talks about godly elders and their conduct, and then he talks about godly deacons and their conduct. And then he says, “I am writing these things to you that you know how to behave yourself, conduct yourself in the household of God which is a pillar and buttress of the truth.” And so he’s urging godly behavior in the book.
When you’re talking about godliness, it comes forth, radiates, and is empowered by Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
Christ Is Central
Significantly, right at the end of chapter three, verse sixteen, he says this, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness.” He’s talking about Christ as the mystery of godliness. “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” So he holds Christ as the kind of atomic center and core of godliness. We have to understand that when you’re talking about godliness, it comes forth, radiates, and is empowered by Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
But just eight verses later he says “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” So when you’re talking about discipline for the purpose of godliness, it’s with an eye on the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who enables godliness. You’re not talking about pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps godliness. It’s one that radiates and comes out of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so to speak, the nuclear radiating core of all godliness. Nevertheless, it is a command, it is an imperative. Discipline, train yourself for godliness.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
A person right out of seminary very often has just gotten lots and lots of new knowledge and pretty quickly finds themselves talking to people in their church or people around them that have much more naïve and simplistic views of things. So beginning to get somewhat arrogant—even if you don’t express it on the outside—is pretty easy. Even if you’re smart enough not to look arrogant, it can be that inside, your eyes are rolling when you hear people talk.
One of the things that can knock that smirk off your ego’s face is the lack of pastoral experience—that is, really getting involved with people who’ve got problems and seeing how hard it is for them to get better. Seeing not so much the limits of your knowledge, but that though you know it well enough to get an A or B in a course, you really do not quite know how to communicate and apply it. So in some ways you realize, “I know all this stuff but in a lot of ways I don’t know how to use it and how to apply it.” And so lots of pastoral experience will humble you.
One of the things that can knock that smirk off your ego’s face is the lack of pastoral experience.
The second thing is that you need to be talking to people outside of your theological tribe. Because when you talk to other people who are smart but don’t have your view on things and you try to interact with them, you realize, No, I don’t know my stuff as well as I thought. Or I’m a little more smug about my positions and I realize there is another view.
And so talking to people outside your theological tribe and lots of pastoral experience will probably deflate the big head that we tend to have coming out of seminary.
Timothy J. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Myth #1: There’s no reason to discuss end-of-life care until the need arises. Who wants to talk about death?!
Few things halt conversation as quickly as the topic of death. It’s the vulgar consequence of the fall, the wages of sin worthy of our disdain (Rom. 6:23). No one relishes talking about it.
Yet stewardship of our God-given lives matters until the very end (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and too often imminent death deprives us of a voice when we most need to speak. Critical illness alters consciousness. Breathing support with a ventilator requires a silicone tube in our vocal cords, and to tolerate the tube, we need sedating medications that prohibit communication. Given these difficulties, when tragedy strikes, few of us can articulate our priorities, let alone prayerfully consider God’s will. If we postpone discussions of end-of-life care “until the need arises,” we risk undue suffering, and no conversation at all.
Our silence about end-of-life care can also heap crushing burdens upon our loved ones. When doctors can’t communicate with us about medical decisions, they reach out to our next of kin, many who feel ill-equipped for the role. Loved ones suffer high rates of depression, anxiety, complicated grief, and even post-traumatic stress disorder for up to a year after a family member dies in the intensive care unit.
Conversations about end-of-life care are uncomfortable and difficult. But in this era of complicated medical technology they are essential, with ramifications extending far beyond ourselves.
Myth #2: The Bible requires us to prolong life at all costs.
The Lord entrusts us with life and charges us to cherish it. He created us in his image, to steward his creation and to serve him (Gen. 1:26; 2:19–20), and the Bible clearly teaches us to treasure life and strive to glorify him in everything (Ex. 20:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8). The sanctity of mortal life mandates that when struggling with an array of medical options, we consider life-sustaining treatments that can cure.
Yet sanctity of life does not refute the certainty of death (Rom. 5:12, 6:23). While the Bible guides us to seek treatments that offer hope of recovery, it does not compel us to accept interventions that prolong death or inflict suffering without benefit. “Doing everything” to save a life may be right. But when pursued without discernment, this approach can impose unnecessary suffering when prayerful compassion matters most.
Finally, when we blind ourselves to our own mortality, we deny the resurrection. We ignore that our times are in his hands (Ps. 31:15; 90:3), and dismiss the power of his grace in our lives, the truth that the Lord works through all things—even death—for the good of those who love him (John 11; Rom. 8:28).
As Christians, we rest in the assurance of a living hope that persists even in our final moments on earth.
Myth #3: God must heal me if I pray fervently enough.
God can and does heal. In my own clinical practice, he used a patient’s improbable recovery to draw me to himself. Throughout his ministry, Jesus performed miraculous healings that glorified the Father and deepened faith (Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:40). The Bible encourages us to pray in earnest (Luke 18:1–8; Phil. 4:4–6), and so if the Spirit moves us to pray for healing, whether for ourselves or our neighbors, we should do so with fervor.
Yet while we pray, we must attend to a critical distinction: although God can heal us, we must never presume that he must.
Death overtakes us all. When Christ returns, no disease will blot God’s creation (Rev. 21:4), but for now, we wait and groan as our bodies wither. We may perceive our healing to be the greatest good, but God’s wisdom surpasses even the most impressive reaches of our understanding (Isa. 55:8). God can perform miracles. Mountains melt before him, and he halts the sea in its landward charge. (Ps. 97:5, Job 38:8–11) Yet the miracles that would fulfill our most desperate longing may not align with his divine and perfect will.
In the garden of Gethsemane, while the agony of the world bore down on him, Jesus prayed for escape, but also ended his prayer with, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39) As Christ’s disciples, may we also seek to approach our Father with the same trust and humility.
Myth #4: Removing a loved one from life support is wrong.
God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to minister to the afflicted (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34; 1 John 3:16–17). As God so loved us, so we must extend ourselves in empathy and mercy toward one another (Luke 6:36; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 John 4:7; Eph. 5:1–2).
Mercy doesn’t justify active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, both measures with a singular goal of ending life. However, it does guide us away from aggressive, painful interventions if such measures are futile, or if the torment they impose exceeds any benefit. In many cases at the end of life, technology induces suffering, without offering hope for recovery. While we aim to preserve God-given life, Scripture doesn’t compel us to doggedly chase after measures if they inflict agony without hope for cure.
When aggressive measures will only prolong dying, a shift in focus away from cure and toward comfort can reflect Christian compassion. When a loved one cannot recover from a severe, terminal illness, removal of a ventilator can limit pain and discomfort, while the illness carries him or her home to be with the Lord. As heavily as these scenarios can weigh on our hearts, when undertaken with prayer and discernment, they can fulfill our call to love one another (John 13:34–35).
Myth #5: There’s no hope at the bedside of the dying.
Even when life-threatening illness grips us, even when it distorts our lives beyond recognition, our identity in Christ—beloved, redeemed, made new—endures. As Christians, we rest in the assurance of a living hope that persists even in our final moments on earth: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (1 Pet. 1:3, Ps. 23:4) We rejoice that through Christ’s resurrection, “death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:54–55) So vast is God’s love for us, so breathtakingly superb his sacrifice, that nothing can pry us from him. As Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38–39)
This broken world isn’t the end. Christ has vanquished sin, and as such our transient death withers before the assurance of renewed life. We rest assured of Christ’s promise: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26) God’s love for us in Christ Jesus surpasses all understanding, and no respirator, or monitor, or frightening disease can wrench us from his grip.
Kathryn Butler (MD, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons) is a trauma surgeon who is board certified in surgical critical care and served on the faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. After a decade of experience in surgery, she left clinical practice in 2016 to homeschool her children. She now writes for desiringGod.org, Christianity Today, and the Gospel Coalition blog on topics intersecting faith and medicine.
Paul does not appear to know the precise circumstances that have brought about the Thessalonians’ erroneous beliefs about the day of the Lord, but in verse 3 he does suspect nefarious activity. Paul labels any teaching opposed to the eschatological message of his gospel as an effort at deception (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10; Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8). He then reasons that the day of the Lord has not yet begun, since the world has not yet experienced the “rebellion” and the “man of lawlessness,” both of which must precede the day of the Lord.
The Greek word for “rebellion” (apostasia) occurs in the Septuagint OT and in the NT to speak of rebellion against God and his law (Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 29:19; Jer. 2:19; Acts 21:21). When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs and timing of his second coming, Jesus responded that false messiahs and prophets would precede his return, as would tribulation against the church (Matt. 24:4–13, 23–28; Mark 13:5–13, 21–23; Luke 21:8–19). Paul teaches elsewhere that the rise of “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” and also “times of difficulty” will be indicative of the last days (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–7; Jude 17–19). As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s instruction on such matters is likely informed by Jesus’ own eschatological teaching (cf. comments on 1 Thess. 4:15–16; 5:1).
In a similar way, Jesus taught that one of the signs prior to his return would be the advent of the “abomination of desolation” in the “holy place” of the temple (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14). Jesus cites the teaching of Daniel, who prophesied that this abomination would profane the Jerusalem temple (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Paul draws on this tradition as he discusses the “man of lawlessness,” who is the “son of destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and the “lawless one” in 2 Thess. 2:8–9. The Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 57:3–4 similarly speaks of the “sons of lawlessness” who are “children of destruction” (cf. John 17:12) and the “seed of lawlessness” (cf. also Ps. 88:23 LXX [English 89:22]). Following a common Semitic idiom, a “man of lawlessness” would refer to a person whose life is characterized by his opposition to God’s rule and reign.
Further descriptors are applied to this lawless one. He will be “revealed” (Gk. apokalyptō; also 2 Thess. 2:6, 8), employing terminology Paul reserves most often for the activity of God in making known something hidden (e.g., Rom. 1:17–18; 8:18; Eph. 3:5). The passive voice in verse 3 of “is revealed” makes it difficult to discern whether God is the one doing the revealing or if this is the work of an evil agent (such as Satan; cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:9–10).
The man of lawlessness both opposes and exalts himself over every “so-called god or object of worship.” Paul elsewhere employs the Greek word for “opposes” as a title for Satan, the “adversary” (1 Tim. 5:14). The only other use of the Greek word for “exalts himself” (hyperairō) in Paul bears connotations of conceit (2 Cor. 12:7), as it likely does here. Paul is careful to say “every so-called god,” indicating the false deities of pagan worship. The term for “object of worship” (Gk. sebasma) refers to pagan idols (cf. Acts 17:23). This man of lawlessness seeks to make himself the central person of worship, beyond any other religious objects or personages in his day.
Beyond that, the man of lawlessness exalts himself over the very worship of God Almighty. The lawless one’s efforts to receive worship result in his taking “his seat in the temple of God.” Commentators debate which temple is envisioned here, with most opting for the Jerusalem temple, though others suggest the Thessalonians would imagine an important temple in their city, and still others argue the temple is a reference to the church as the “temple of God” (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). However, Paul’s reliance in this context on OT imagery and Jesus’ eschatological instruction implies that “temple of God” refers to the Jerusalem temple. This connects well with the lawless one’s action in the temple—“proclaiming himself to be God.” The man of lawlessness promotes himself in place of God Almighty as the central deity to be worshiped. That still leaves open the question of whether a future physical temple will be in play or if this is prophetically symbolic of some other coming reality (cf. more below).
Paul here draws on OT Danielic imagery concerning a ruler opposed to God and his people (cf. Dan. 7:24–27; 8:23–26; 11:20–45; esp. 11:28–39). The Danielic background is particularly striking in comparison to the man of lawlessness in verse 4. We read in Daniel of a king who “shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods,” and “shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all” (Dan. 11:36–37). In Daniel it is this king who sets up the “abomination that makes desolate” in Jerusalem (Dan. 11:31). Other prophets also speak of rulers calling themselves god (e.g., Isa. 14:12–15; Ezek. 28:1–10).
The central interpretive debate in these two verses concerns the identity of this man of lawlessness. In response to this complex question, we should distinguish between what we can know with some certainty and what we can only suspect.
Two key historical events are known. First, Daniel’s prophetic imagery points to Antiochus IV of Seleucia, who styled himself Epiphanes (“god manifest”), invaded Jerusalem, despoiled the temple, commanded the burning of the Scriptures, forbade the covenant rite of circumcision, put to death many faithful Jews, and ultimately instituted pagan sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple (167 BC). Remarkably, a major Jewish literary source from the period appeals to Danielic language by labeling the pagan altar Antiochus set up in the temple as the abomination of desolation (1 Macc. 1:54; 6:7). The resulting Maccabean revolt eventually led to Jewish priests and kings again being in control in Jerusalem. Yet, nearly two hundred years later, Jesus applies the “abomination of desolation” language to the future (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14), revealing that the Danielic imagery establishes a pattern of opposition to God’s rule preceding the eschatological judgment of God. Paul draws on Jesus’ eschatological instruction by similarly applying this Danielic imagery to events yet to occur.
Second, before Paul writes 2 Thessalonians, events have already presaged Roman imperial opposition to Jewish worship of God. In particular, the emperor Gaius Caligula ordered soldiers to erect a cult image of himself in the Jerusalem temple, despite widespread Jewish opposition (AD 40–41; Josephus, Antiquities 18.261–309). In God’s providence, however, Gaius died while the image was still en route, so it was never installed. Paul almost certainly knows this history, and it may well be in his mind as he writes. Still, Paul’s argument works only if the man of lawlessness has not yet appeared, since the absence of the lawless one’s arrival proves that the day of the Lord is yet to come.
With that background, we can briefly list various specific interpretations that have been suggested over the years concerning this man of lawlessness. Many have looked to a future, yet unknown, person who will seek to exalt himself in this way. Some have suggested that this lawless one must refer to Satan himself or to one of his demons, but Satan is mentioned later as a separate figure (2 Thess. 2:9). The most natural inference from this text and its Danielic imagery is that a human ruler is intended. Some have suggested that this refers to a nation-state (rather than to a particular individual), with the Roman Empire being the most likely candidate; however, the imagery itself repeatedly points to an individual rather than an entire state. Others have specifically considered his sitting in the temple (2:4) to refer to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple at the hand of Titus (AD 70), but the specifics of that event do not align with an individual’s calling himself God while seated in the temple precincts. Similar objections could be made against any of the subsequent religious shrines built atop the Jerusalem Temple Mount, whether the Hadrianic Temple of Jupiter (built around AD 135) or the current Dome of the Rock (built around 691). This reminds us of another related debate, namely, is a specific physical temple required in order for the prophetic expectation to be satisfied? If so, then many contend this would require a future rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple prior to the advent of the lawless one. Yet others would suggest a more metaphorical understanding of the lawless one’s session in the temple.
This commentator anticipates a yet-future appearing of a human lawless one, whose manifestation amid false signs and prophecies will precede Jesus’ return and final judgment. Whether or not there will be a physical temple in Jerusalem is not yet foreseeable. The more fundamental goal of this commentary on such matters, however, is to encourage humility with regard to all such speculation. God is faithful to his prophetic promises, yet the actual fulfillment of these promises often surprises. In the first advent of our Lord, Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophecy, while comprehensible and wonderful in hindsight, was not anticipated properly by even the most faithful Jewish students of Scripture. Who in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, having studied OT prophecy thoroughly, would have predicted that the Messiah would be God incarnate? Or that he would come, be crucified, be raised, ascend, and then delay his return to establish his kingdom fully by at least two millennia? Thus, though it seems best to assume that the man of lawlessness is still to be revealed, the specifics of how that might look (including what is meant by his session in the temple) will likely surprise the best of interpreters. Only in hindsight will we understand the full intent of the prophetic word.
Remain Consistent and Confident
Verse five provides further reason to recommend humility to all modern interpreters. Paul remarks, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” Clearly, the original audience already knew more Pauline eschatological teaching than we presently have. Although Paul and his colleagues were compelled to leave Thessalonica sooner than they wished (Acts 17:10), they were able to begin instructing the Thessalonians concerning the events of Jesus’ return. Paul assumes the Thessalonians recall that instruction. Therefore, Paul often speaks in abbreviated ways about matters that we may wish he had written about in greater detail.
Paul insists that his teaching remains consistent with the message they knew from the beginning. He thus seeks to instill confidence regarding his present argument. In particular, they have previously been informed about the coming of the man of lawlessness.
Who or What Restrains
When Paul declares, “You know what is restraining him now,” we again confront our lack of firsthand knowledge. Paul’s original audience “knew” such matters based on Paul’s prior instruction (2 Thess. 2:5), but we are left to infer as much as we can to the best of our abilities. This is particularly difficult, and one of the most avid debates among modern commentators concerns the question of who or what is restraining the lawless one’s appearance.
Before considering the options, note that verse 6 speaks of some entity (neuter gender in Gk.) that is restraining the lawless one, while verse 7 shifts to the masculine gender, implying that the restrainer is some person (“he who now restrains it”). It seems that some personal entity must cease his restraining action in order for the lawless one to be revealed. This could be metaphorical for a group of people, but it seems likely Paul has a single individual in mind.
Interpreters have considered multiple options for this “restrainer.” Many suggest that God himself restrains such evil, perhaps especially in the person of the Holy Spirit. Others believe Paul has some earthly agents in mind, and perhaps the Roman emperors or the empire itself held back the lawless one in Paul’s day. This is possible, though such postulations often require a metaphorical expansion of “he who now restrains” to indicate an entire nation or a series of emperors rather than a single individual. Some have even suggested that Satan is the one restraining his own lawless agent until the proper moment (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9–10). However, the mention in verse 6 of “in his time” seems to speak more of God’s sovereign timing that governs the removing of restraint. An intriguing recent monograph argues that Paul believed the restrainer to be an angel of God, noting that, in Daniel, the lawless ruler who establishes the abomination of desolation (Dan. 11:20–45) is followed immediately by Daniel’s prophecy that Michael the archangel would “arise,” unleashing a time of trouble prior to the deliverance of God’s people (Dan. 12:1–4).1 With this list of options, it appears most likely that God himself controls the timing and the restraint, holding back the advent of the lawless one until the proper moment. God may then be the restrainer (perhaps specifically as the Holy Spirit) or may act through the agency of an angelic restrainer.
What can be stated clearly is that the appearance of the lawless one is entirely in keeping with God’s sovereignty (cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:11–12). Therefore, the Thessalonians need not fear that the world is out of control. Rather, the lawless one will appear “in his time” and will be conquered by the Lord Jesus at the proper moment (2 Thess. 2:8).
Already at Work
Although the lawless one is yet to come, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” This is consistent with the concept of evil elsewhere in the NT. John states simultaneously that the “antichrist is coming” and that “now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18; cf. 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Although Paul prophetically anticipates the rise of a particular figure who will embody deceptive opposition to God, he admits readily that the same forces of deception and lawlessness are already prevalent in society. Paul has experienced such evil, as has the persecuted church in Thessalonica.
To the extent that the lawless one comes with “false signs and wonders” and “deception” (2 Thess. 2:9–10), it is helpful to remember that Jesus predicted that many false messiahs and prophets would arise over time but that the church will nevertheless endure and give witness (Matt. 24:4–5, 11–13, 23–25). Thus we live in an age when simultaneously the Spirit enables the church to proceed with its mission and lawlessness is at work.
The verbs Paul applies here to lawlessness is the same as language he uses elsewhere of God and Christ. If in 2:7 lawlessness is “at work” (Gk. energeō; cf. Rom. 7:5; Eph. 2:2), so also the word of God is “at work” in believers (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Eph. 1:11, 20; 3:20; Phil. 2:13). Similarly, if in 2 Thess. 2:9 the lawless one will “come” (Gk. parousia), so also Jesus “comes” (2 Thess. 2:1, 8; cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:9). The man of lawlessness will be “revealed” (Gk. apokalyptō; 2:3, 8), just as Paul elsewhere speaks of the revelation of Jesus and his gospel (cf. comment on 2:3–4). Finally, the word “mystery” is here applied to lawlessness (for similar evil mysteries, cf. Rev. 17:5, 7), but elsewhere Paul speaks of God as the author of the mysteries of the gospel (e.g., Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 4:1; 15:51; Eph. 3:3–4; Col. 1:26–27; 1 Tim. 3:9, 16). Clearly the lawlessness of Satan seeks to mimic the good work of God in Christ. Yet since God is the one who reveals such mysteries and is sovereign over their timing, it is not surprising to find Paul confident in God’s control over the advent of the mystery of lawlessness (cf. 2 Thess. 2:11–12).
Lawlessness in the present age (“now”) is not yet as bad as it could be. Only when “he who now restrains it” is removed will the lawless one arise (2:7). Various views on this restrainer’s identity were discussed in the preceding verse. Here we note that “until he is out of the way” is an English idiom for the more particular Greek phrase “until he comes from the middle.” The restrainer interposes himself between the people of this age and the fullest expression of evil represented by the lawless one.
Jesus Will Reign
Paul returns to the revelation of the lawless one (cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:3–4), which will occur subsequent (“then”) to the restrainer’s ceasing his action of holding back such evil. However, lest the Thessalonians become concerned about the power of such evil, Paul quickly assures them that the Lord Jesus will “kill” and “bring to nothing” the lawless one.
Jesus will destroy the lawless one by the “breath of his mouth.” In the OT, God kills with his fiery breath (Job 4:9; cf. Isa. 30:33). Isaiah prophesied that the messianic “shoot from the stump of Jesse” would kill the wicked “with the breath of his lips” (Isa. 11:1, 4). The word “breath” here ( pneuma) is the same word used for the Holy Spirit, so there may be some indication of the Spirit’s involvement. In any case, the OT messianic resonances are clear: the Messiah’s judgment prevails against all lawlessness.
The Thessalonians (and all Christians) need not worry about the approaching time of lawlessness, for Jesus remains Lord, and he will conquer in due time.
Remember Jesus’s Warning
Empowered by Satan, the lawless one will arrive accompanied by false wonders and signs, thus deceiving unbelievers; but even this is under God’s sovereign control (2 Thess. 2:11–12).
Paul again applies to the lawless one and Satan terms typically reserved for God’s activity in Christ. The “coming” (Gk. parousia) of the lawless one in verse 9 is placed immediately alongside the parousia of Jesus (2 Thess. 2:8; cf. also comment on 2 Thess. 2:1), and Satan’s “activity” uses a term often employed for God’s work (energeia; cf. comment on 2 Thess. 2:7). Satan mimics God’s work by causing a lawless one to appear, though ultimately Satan’s designs will fail (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8)
Paul lists two sets of means through which Satan deceives the masses. The first set constitutes “all power,” along with “false signs and wonders”; the second set consists of “all wicked deception.” Concerning the first set, “power” and “signs and wonders” often serve as evidence of God’s work in the gospel of Christ (for “power,” cf. 1 Cor. 2:4–5; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 1:11; for “signs and wonders,” cf. Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12). So, Satan continues mimicking the gospel and God’s work. We are again reminded of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, in which he warns of coming false messiahs and prophets who perform “signs and wonders” in order to lead others astray (Matt. 24:23–25; Mark 13:21–23). Jesus’ teaching has set the pattern for apostolic discussions of eschatology. In this regard, this passage is linked with the portrayal of the beasts and the false prophet in the book of Revelation (Rev. 13:11–18; 16:13–14; 19:19–20).
The man of lawlessness is so convincing to the masses that Paul emphasizes that he appears with “all wicked deception.” However, even amid such deception, Paul carefully records that only “those who are perishing” will be fooled (cf. Rev. 13:8). This word for “perishing” (Gk. apollymi ) refers to those whose destruction awaits them. Paul uses apollymi elsewhere to depict those who reject the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3). Because these followers of lawlessness have failed to love the truth of Christ’s gospel, they are perishing. The Thessalonians need not worry that they may be numbered among those who will be deceived by the man of lawlessness, since they already know and love the truth.
Colin R. Nicholl, From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians, SNTSMS 126 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), esp. 225–249.
David Chapman (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of New Testament and Archaeology at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is also the author of Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion. He presents research and lectures worldwide.
The Greatest Movement for Worldwide Racial Diversity in All of History - Vimeo
A Misinformed Assumption
Christianity is not declining, contrary to many of our perceptions, whether we are secular or religious. The reason we think it is is that we over-index on white westerners. It is certainly the case in western Europe and in North America, that the proportion of people who are identifying as religious in general and as Christian is declining, but that is a localized phenomenon to the West, and in particular, to white westerners.
It’s also interesting to look within America and see that people who are moving away from identifying as religious or Christian to identifying as non-religious or of no particular religion are largely being drawn from cultural or theologically liberal Christians.
If we look globally over the next forty years, Christianity is not only not declining, it’s set to increase slightly from about thirty-one percent of the world to thirty-two percent of the world.
So, the proportion of people who are actively engaged in Christian community—and seem to have real conventional beliefs that they’re living out of—is holding pretty steady. The proportion of people who are saying that they are Christian—when in fact they have no real involvement with church or engagement with Christian fellowship in any particular way—is certainly declining.
If we look globally over the next forty years, Christianity is not only not declining, it’s set to increase slightly from about thirty-one percent of the world to thirty-two percent of the world. But, the center of gravity of Christianity is shifting away from the West. It seems that by 2060, forty percent of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa, and China could be a majority-Christian country at that point with far more Christians than the US.
A Personal Example
It’s interesting for me even as I look at my own community. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the church that we are part of is majority white but has a significant proportion of people of color from America and also immigrants from other places around the world. The same church building hosts two other churches—one Haitian and one Nepalese.
If I look at the Christian club at my daughters’ public elementary school, it’s minority white. We have about forty percent kids from Ethiopia and Eritrea, we have Chinese Americans, we have Korean Americans, we have Costa Rican Americans, we have immigrants from other parts of the world. In that group, the underrepresented demographic is white Americans.
If I look at the community group my husband and I host, it is also minority white. In our last meeting, we had sixteen members present and we represented eight different countries, four different continents, and I think we had a total of four white-Americans. So as I talk to my secular friends who believe deeply in racial diversity, the irony is that they think that pursuing racial diversity means walking away from Christianity—when, in fact, Christianity is the greatest movement for racial diversity in all of history.
Rebecca McLaughlin holds a PhD in renaissance literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is cofounder of Vocable Communications and former vice president of content at the Veritas Forum, where she spent almost a decade working with Christian academics at leading secular universities.
Why Teens Must Read the Bible for Themselves - Vimeo
Start on the Right Foot
Teenagers are often wondering if the Bible is relevant in their own lives. Oftentimes, teenagers that are asking that question begin on a footing that is not very confident in their understanding of Scripture. When you start from that place and you think, “I don’t really know if the Bible is relevant to me,” you’re already starting off on the wrong footing.
Let’s say as a student you showed up to an AP math class and your teacher said, “Your entire grade for the entire year is going to be based on this one test at the end of the year.” She gave you the book and said, “All of the problems are in this book. It will tell you how to work all of the problems. I’m here for you. I will help you, but you have to show up on the last day of school and take this test.”
Come to it with the humility that says, “I need help understanding how God’s word speaks to me.”
If you said, “Oh, I don’t really know if that text actually has all of the answers because I’ve heard from a lot of people in my cafeteria that it’s a terrible book,” and you went about your entire school year just kind of outsourcing your knowledge of this AP test at the end of the year, asking your friends and parents, “How do I pass this test?” we would think that was ridiculous.
Let Scripture Guide
But that is what we tend to do with Scripture. We have a God who has created the entire universe and has graciously given us his word to guide us through a very complex world. A lot of people think, “It’s so complex.” Well, the world is old and the problems have not changed.
When sin is at the root of it, we see this play out in different ways, but our problems are not more complex than they were when Scripture was written. And so if we really believe that God has created the world and given us his living, breathing word to guide us, then choosing to walk away from Scripture and think it’s not helpful is really the epitome of arrogance—to think that it cannot speak to us when Scripture has been effectively guiding Christians for over two thousand years.
So I would say to the teen that’s wondering if the Bible is relevant: ask someone to come alongside of you and begin to learn what Scripture says. Instead of saying, “Is it relevant?” say, “How is that relevant? Help me to understand.” Come to it with the humility that says, “I need help understanding how God’s word speaks to me.”
Lindsey Carlson is the mother of five children and has served alongside her husband in pastoral ministry for fourteen years, currently at Imprint Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland. She enjoys teaching and discipling women through writing and public speaking, but most often through the context of the local church.
Thabiti Anyabwile, author of What Is a Healthy Church Member? reflects on the value and benefits of local church membership, showing what the Bible really teaches about the idea of formal membership, sharing his heart for those who feel like they've been hurt by the institutional church, and explaining how to work through areas of doctrinal, practical, and political disagreement with other people in the church.
Matt Tully So can you briefly share your own story how was it that you came to saving faith, and what was your first experience of the church like as a new Christian?
Thabiti Anyabwile Well, I grew up in a nominally Christian household down South where everybody’s a Christian even if they’ve never been to a church, and that was almost my situation. We went to church at Christmas and Easter and things of that sort, but not much in between. I think that the most lasting impression of the church in those years for me was the fact that when my older brothers got into trouble from time to time they would go to church and kind of get themselves together, so to speak. So church was a little bit like rehab. It’s where you went when the trouble was really bad. And that happened to me after my sophomore year in high school. I got into trouble for something. I’d never been into trouble, didn’t quite know what to do, and almost instinctively decided to just go to church, to this little church, full of good people, sweet people in my little town there. But the church itself wasn’t particularly clear on the gospel. And so I attended there for a couple of months, then went off to college, and at college converted to Islam, and became a fairly zealous Muslim for a number of years until my wife and I miscarried. And in the aftermath of that miscarriage I was in something of a depression at home, and turned on television to watch some rap videos, and this television preacher came on and he was preaching verse by verse through 2 Timothy at the time. And it was like someone had rewritten the Bible. God started drawing me by his word. Long story short, we found out where his church was, visited that church, and that Sunday morning he preached an exposition of Exodus 32, and in God’s kindness, my wife and I both were converted under the preaching of the gospel. And my experience in that church really would lay the pathway for much of my Christian life to follow because unlike the previous church, they were very careful with the gospel. Not only was it clear in the sermon, but those who responded to the altar call they took to a room and met with one-on-one and just counseled very patiently, walking through the gospel again. Then they made sure I understood the gospel, and was repentant, and putting my faith in Christ, and exhorted us to find a Bible-preaching church. When we got back to North Carolina—we were visiting a church here in DC—so when we got back to North Carolina that’s what we did. And my impressions of the church at that point was that it was absolutely vital to my spiritual life, thanks to the counsel of that church where we were converted and God has been really kind to give me a love for the local church from that moment on.
Matt Tully What would you say to maybe the Christian—someone who grew up in the church, maybe it was an OK church maybe, it wasn’t a very healthy church—and they maybe just feel a little bit burnt out on the church? They feel like, “I don’t really know why I need this group of people that often feels dysfunctional. They’re often sinning against each other. It kind of feels unnecessary and even maybe holding me back in my walk. Isn’t it enough to come to Scripture, and to God in prayer, and to have good friends, but not really be part of a church?” What would you say to that person?
Thabiti Anyabwile Oh man. I think first I’d just want to commiserate with them a little bit. I mean I think most of us have been there and had some experience like that. We’ve certainly had dry seasons in our spiritual lives and sometimes that’s been connected to the people of God, at least in our perception of things. And so first I’d just want to commiserate. Been there. Feel like I’ve had that experience. Even as a pastor. I’m not immune to that as a pastor, and so I want to be empathetic. But then I’d want to say a couple of other things. Number one, I’d want to give a direct answer to the question of Can I just go about the Christian life without the church? Well, not if you want to be a biblical Christian. The only plan that God has—Plan A—for our discipleship and for our growth in Christ, according to Ephesians 4 for example and 1 Corinthians 12, is the local church. And God doesn’t have a Plan B. So we are members of Christ’s body. That spiritual union with him is meant to be reflected physically and practically in our uniting together with other believers. And again, according to Ephesians 4, that’s how God’s grace sort of flows to us. Through the exercise of the various gifts in the body we receive grace and are built up, and are strengthened, and are also sanctified. So the other thing I would want to say is the ways in which other Christians may hold you back, or discourage you, or anger you, are actually God’s hands sanctifying you. And you can be sure, and I can be sure, that we’re posing those same problems for other Christians, too. Right? So it’s meeting each other in our rough spots that we sometimes sand off the rough spots and become more polished, and smooth, and complete, and Christ-like as Christians. And God doesn’t have any other plan for that than the local church. And then finally what I would say is that we are kidding ourselves if we think being out in the world apart from God’s people is somehow better or safer than being inside of God’s people where we experience these difficulties. I mean, the great difference is, I think, if you’re in a church that’s clear about the gospel and serious about growth and sanctification is that everybody in that church knows that they’re imperfect and are cooperating together to grow in Christ. And again, if it’s a godly church they’re honest about that. But in the world you don’t find that kind of honesty. You don’t find the same resources in the gospel for healing, and reconciliation, and truth telling, and growth. And so I think it’s a pretty serious mistake to think that, “OK. Things are bad here inside the church. Let me go outside the church where things are better.” They’re not better outside the church and I think many a Christian have pierced themselves with a lot of pain coming to discover that slowly through the allurements of the world.
Matt Tully And our culture today is pretty skeptical of authority and I could imagine someone listening to us right now who’s maybe had the experience of being hurt by the church, and not just the church broadly—other individual Christians—but by leaders in the church, perhaps leaders, have used God’s word even to justify their actions or to justify the pain they’ve caused people. What word of encouragement would you offer to that person who maybe feels afraid of the idea of committing him or herself to a church and submitting themselves under the authority of leaders there?
Thabiti Anyabwile Yeah, what a great question. It’s another situation where I think we first just want to lament, right? Because those things are not meant to be. It oughtn’t be. They are a consequence of the fall and of sin which is in the world, and in church members, and in church leaders; and authority, which is meant to be married in love, is in fact often wielded in selfish, abusive, devastating kinds of ways. And so I think the first thing I would want to say is, I’m sorry about that. I well recognize that that’s a reality and experience for a lot of Christians. But then I would want to encourage the person perhaps in a couple of ways. One is I want to encourage the person to speak more specifically about the source of their hurt. Because when we say, You know, the church has hurt me, well, we’re generalizing and universalizing in a way that’s likely not true. Actually, it’s probably a particular Christian, or a couple of Christians, or a particular leader, or a couple of leaders that have hurt us. And I think part of the path back to healing is not only declaring the hurt, but also really assigning the sort of culpability and responsibility more specifically. And what that, I think, helps us to do is to recognize that no, not everybody who names the name of Christ is against me or attempting to hurt me. In fact, that would not be true of 99.99% of the church world. And realizing that opens us up a little bit to the possibility that maybe what I need to do is find a different church, not be under that leadership, or find different Christian friends. And that requires hope, which I want to encourage, and that’s a hope that we want to express not primarily in other Christians, but in Christ himself. And that believing that Christ has kept his promise not to leave us nor forsake us, and believing that he’s building his church, and believing that he is working in his church by his Spirit, and by degree, by small steps, through faith in Christ expressing that faith by attempting to love and be loved by another set of Christians. And that has real promise and real hope. It doesn’t feel like it in the midst of our pain and if we magnify our pain, rather than grace, then it will be very difficult to think that that’s possible or should be risked. But it is the kind of risk that opens us up to growth, and flourishing, and the avoidance of this particular risk actually has a way of constricting our hearts, constricting our relationships, and suffocating us. And I think I’d want to, if it were a person in my church, I would want to take a long time just walking through those things, helping them to see that in some measure. But Christ is in his church and is at work and we can trust him. And trusting him does not lead to disappointment, even if it leads us through suffering and pain.
Matt Tully So as a pastor as you think about membership in your church, how important is it for members in the church to have agreement and maybe even uniformity on different issues? So whether those might be theological doctrines that the church would espouse together, or even political leanings, or views on different social issues. What level of agreement on different types of issues are required for maintaining a healthy, unified church body?
Thabiti Anyabwile Well, I think it’s going to depend upon the issue. A few years back our brother Al Mohler wrote an excellent piece on theological triage. And that’s basically this idea that, for example, I’ll just use the illustration if one went to the hospital. The first thing in the emergency room that they do is kind of triage. They want to get the most life-threatening, urgent issues addressed first, then sort of secondarily some serious issues, but not necessarily life-threatening. And then finally, the little boy has got a boo boo on his knee, the non-serious, non-life-threatening. And I think we want to do that with theological and biblical issues as well. There are some issues that are first order issues that unless we agree on them, we’re not actually talking about historic Christianity. And so that’s God, that he’s triune. That’s Jesus is the Son of God, fully God, fully man, that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected as atonement for our sins and justification for us. So we want to get those first order issues in place and agree on those completely. And for most churches that’s going to be summed up in their statement of faith. And that’s why you want to look for a church that has a good statement of faith and why you want to be sure that they believe, and preach, and practice their statement of faith. Those are the primary issues about which we must be agreed or we’re actually not talking about the same religion. And there are secondary issues that are important, but Christians of good conscience actually have different views on. And I guess the classic bell-weather example of that might be baptism. So my Presbyterian brother and I who believe the same gospel, we’re united in the gospel and we’re united in Christ, but now how we understand and how we practice baptism is a secondary matter compared to the gospel, compared to the nature of God, and how we’re saved. But it’s still an important matter. It’s still a biblical matter. We’re both reading our Bibles, we’re arriving at different conclusions, and it’s one of those issues that really kind of necessitates where we be in different churches. You know, one where he practices infant baptism and I practice credo baptism so that we’re not arguing every week about baptism and we can continue to cooperate in the gospel and in the main things. And so you’ve got secondary matters like that. And then finally you have matters indifferent, right? Things that two Christians can disagree on. They should receive each other in charity and in love, and the disagreement is of no consequence really to anything important in the faith. So I think the Golden State Warriors are right now the best team in pro basketball. Somebody else may answer the San Antonio Spurs. Well, we can disagree on that with perfectly clean consciences. There’s no matter of sin or major doctrine involved, it’s a matter of opinion. And I think most of the things that divide and create consternation in the church among professing Christians are in that second and most often that third category. And the mistake we make is we treat second and third category issues as if they’re first category issues, right?
Matt Tully Well, why do you think we do that? Why are we so prone to elevate these second and third ordered issues to this primary status and then divide over it?
Thabiti Anyabwile I think that our primary language, our natural language as fallen human beings, is law. So we’re all prone to legalism. And the new language, the language of Zion, that we have to learn is the language of grace. And that’s a second language for us and we don’t speak it fluently first off, we’ve got to grow in that language and the ability to communicate it. And so part of it is simply a sanctification issue. It’s just growth that has to be undergone. The other problem is, I think, connected with a lot of our legalisms are power and fear. And so a lot of times people will justify something that’s a matter of their own personal conscience and conviction, which is not meant to bind the conscience and conviction of others, they will justify that binding others to their conscience by saying, “Well, I’m afraid that if they did this thing, which they’re perfectly free to do, it’s going to end up over here in this other thing.” And so it’s a kind of fear-bases, fear-motivated response to Christian freedom. Or you go other folks who just, you know, they like control and they think of unity in the church primarily in terms of uniformity, of conforming to again their sense of how things ought to be in those secondary and more to the point tertiary issues. And so they are misunderstanding what unity looks like in the body of Christ and they’re misapplying authority or power in order to coerce others. Sometimes that’s unintentional, sometimes that’s quite intentional. But in either case I think it’s unbiblical according to Romans 14 and 15. We ought to be more careful to preserve freedom even as we are careful to use our freedom, or not to use our freedom, to cause others injury.
Matt Tully Just building on that, as you reflect on the church broadly—so I’m asking you to generalize here admittedly—but do you think Christians should be more prone than we are currently to lovingly, graciously as you’ve said discuss these differences of opinions on these things? Or do we need less of that and maybe more just bearing with each other and are we making too big a deal of these issues and the answer is just to bring them to the floor less often?
Thabiti Anyabwile I think where I most hear that is on sort of political topics or what some people would call political topics. We don’t even quite have a common definition of how we define what is or isn’t political. And from my perspective I think what’s happened—as this sort of prevailing philosophy has been let’s talk less about such things and not really risk any division—I think that’s well intended, but I think the consequence of that has been a certain deskilling of the church. So we have not, as a consequence of that, grown in our ability to understand, and handle, and practice Christian freedom for example. And the iron-sharpening benefit that comes from loving, gracious conversation about places where we differ that iron-sharpening sort of prospect or grace has also been lost in many quarters. And so what happens is when sort of major things flare up in the culture and the life of the church, we find ourselves unable to talk about these things, lacking an ability even when we want to. And I think that’s actually had its own set of consequences for the church. So I’m kind of a fan of—and people here at the church will hear me say this sometimes—I want us to be the kind of congregation that can have the conversation. And when I say that, I’m not committing us to a particular outcome in the conversation when we’re in those sort of third order issues in particular. What I’m trying to commit us to is precisely what you spoke to a moment ago. A certain kind of spirit and disposition of generosity, and kindness, and patience, and listening in order to understand, and communicate, and to grow. That process and that ability to communicate I think is pretty foundational to a deep unity rather than just a uniformity.
Matt Tully Yeah, it strikes me that maybe part of the problem that we’ve been facing when it comes to discussing these difficult issues has been that so much of it happens online. We think of this online social media sphere as the primary locus of the conversation and when you think about actually discussing these things with a real person that’s often almost an afterthought. We’ve ripped these conversations out of the context of true, in person, face-to-face, Christian community. Do you feel like that is part of the issue? And how can the local church serve as that place of working on these things together and seeking more, not necessarily uniformity, but true gospel unity?
Thabiti Anyabwile Yes, I do think that’s part of the issue. It’s funny. Social media is ironically named, right? Because it often isn’t very social. And even when you are having “conversations” with people on social media, it’s disembodied. It sort of absents you from your local context. And I think oftentimes we can walk away from social media thinking, “Hey! I’ve had this exchange with X number of people and believe that I’m in this conversation.” When in fact, you’re not. Not with anybody of consequence in your local life. And that’s a problem. That’s a significant problem. And so I think that the best place to have these kinds of conversations—and the more contentious they are or more potentially contentious they are—the more important it is that we’re having this across the dinner table, and we’re having this in our local churches, and with people we actually know and who know us and who can listen to us in context of that knowledge. And that’s just really important. But of course, that also requires that we have churches that create spaces to have the conversations. And I think a lot of people are driven to social media, in part, and I don’t know how vicious a sort of cycle this is but I gotta think some people are driven to social media in part because they’re not finding these conversations locally, right? And they are dealing with anything ranging from indifference to hostility in their local gatherings if the gathering has been prizing a certain kind of uniformity and a certain kind of quietude about these things in the name of community. And so people are tacit about looking for that kind of conversation. And so it’s sad when the substitute becomes social media because social media is often a lousy context for doing this very personal discovery and work.
Matt Tully I can imagine a lot of pastors who desire to help foster some of these conversations, but I could see there being a significant element of fear of just if I open this door and provide some kind of venue for in-person conversation, where might that lead? What might happen? People might get angry. What encouragement or advice would you offer to pastors who want to cultivate again, even more broadly just a community that is willing to engage each other on hard issues but with love, and with grace, and with the gospel binding them together?
Thabiti Anyabwile Number one, make it a matter of prayer. Pray about it in the public services, pray about it in your private prayer life, talk to God before you talk to man, right? And number two, teach and equip the congregation with resources that help them to have the conversation. Just for example, I love the resources of Peacemaker Ministries and Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker. Wonderful resources for thinking through conflict and how to resolve them biblically. And teach from the Scriptures. Philippians, Paul says help Euodia and Synteche to agree together. Take those kinds of texts. Talk about Paul and Barnabas having a sharp split. Make it normal in people’s expectation of the Christian life that there’s going to be conflict, even with brothers and sisters so they’re not surprised when there’s disagreement or conflict, right? We’re not plastic people. And so we just need to give people a sense of the real life of things. And we’ve done that teaching, and hopefully modeled that yourself as a pastor, have courage. Set up the conversation. You’re leading the people.This is not going to be a train that just runs away from you with the other Elders and leaders. Pray and think carefully about Well, how might we structure a panel discussion on a night where we normally have Bible study or a special event or something? And in that panel what questions are we going to ask? Who are we going to tap to be a part of that from our..
The “mission” isn’t accomplished when you get your wife to agree to marry you. The real mission begins after the vows have been said. Justin Buzzard helps men remember and relearn the all-important (and often forgotten) skill of dating their wives from a position of security in the gospel. As a church planter, pastor, father of three boys, and husband, Justin offers guys a helping hand and wise counsel. All types of marriages—good ones, mediocre ones, and bad ones—get a jumpstart as a result of some relational intentionality.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
When we get out of seminary we have great zeal, great vision for the church that we’re going to pastor. We have all these ideas that are going around in our heads. It’s kind of like a new parent that thinks, My kid is going to be that perfect kid. They’re the ones that are going to speak at two years of age and they’re going to do everything right.
And so we get to a church and we have this idealistic vision of what things are going to be like. Things can get pretty hard quickly. So one of the ways that I would encourage my brother pastors who are married and are going into ministry is to care for your wife. Your primary ministry is to care for her, to shepherd her, to love her, to not allow her to feel like she is a bother or an inconvenience. Don’t allow her to think that the church is a mistress with whom you’re having an affair.
Treat Her as a Helpmate
In order to do that, prioritize communication, conversation, and help her understand what the ministry is like in a manner that doesn’t burden her with the weight and the responsibilities of being a pastor—because she’s not the pastor. You’ve been called to be a pastor, so treat her as your helpmate. Encourage her, talk to her, let her know what you need from her. But also understand that when you’re going into a brand-new ministry, both of you are in a learning curve and one of the best things you can do is to do as much as you can together. You go into a new ministry, get to know the people in the church, open your home, be hospitable. And the more that you can do together as husband and wife, the more that she’ll begin to feel a part of the ministry and less like she’s an inconvenience.
Treat Her as a Church Member
Also, give her the liberty to be your wife and the mother of your children (if the Lord blesses you with children). She needs to have that freedom because our wives are uniquely made. They’re different than we are, but each woman is different from every other woman. So we need to, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7, “Live with our wives in an understanding way.” That means according to creational knowledge and also spiritual knowledge as our sister in Christ.
And so getting to know our wife, making sure we know what she’s like, and know what she’s like in this context. We may be married for a few years but it’s a new context. How is she going to respond and what are her fears in these contexts? So just getting to know her, living with her in an understanding way, and affirming her so that she feels encouraged and like a part of the ministry and church.
Care for your wife, study your wife, know your wife, honor your wife, and help her feel valued as a partner in your ministry.
By Your Side
But also, as everyone’s going to look to you and want to get to know you as the pastor, you’ll want her by your side. It’s encouraging to let the people know—even from the pulpit—your love for your wife and how you honor your wife. Don’t use your wife at her expense by making jokes about your marriage or about women, but just honor her before them and it will help her know that she’s a part of you, a part of your life, a part of the ministry, and a part of the church.
Then also guard her from expectations that are inappropriate and unrealistic. She’s not been called to serve. You have been called to serve and she’s been called to serve alongside of you as your helper and also as a mother of your children. So, she needs to have the permission from you to just freely be a regular church member and whatever that looks like for different church members. She can serve as a regular church member and not have the pressure of performance and filling in the gaps where people are presently not serving. She needs to have those freedoms. So really, just care for your wife, study your wife, know your wife, honor your wife, and help her feel valued as a partner in your ministry.