Tag Archives: preaching

galatians 2.11-14

This Sunday I am preaching from Galatians 2.11-14, the oft discussed collision between Paul and Peter in Antioch.  It is a fascinating scene that understandably flows out of the previous sections even as it captures the magnitude of the theme of Galatians as a book (what it means to have an identity rooted in Jesus and his righteousness, adding nothing else that restricts our freedom).

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Here are a few thoughts that will likely not be a major part of my sermon, or mentioned at all.

If you desire to listen to our series in Galatians, visit http://www.westvalleypres.org.

For your consideration:

The flow up to this text could be summarized like this…

In 1.11-24 – A GOSPEL NOT FROM MAN.  Paul is adamant that his gospel did not come from man, but from God by revelation of Christ.

In 2.1-10  – A GOSPEL CONFIRMED BY MAN.  Paul expands his declaration to include an acknowledgment that, while his gospel did not come from any man, he went up to Jerusalem after more than a decade of fruitful ministry (again by revelation) and received confirmation by man that indeed his gospel was from God!   He was affirmed in that the apostles added nothing to his gospel, and he was privileged to preserve it in their midst (2.4-5).

Now, in 2.11-14 – A GOSPEL WORTHY OF CONFRONTATION WITH MAN. Paul recounts a story in which Paul confronted his fellow Christian man (Peter of all people!) in defense of the truth of the gospel and the necessity that one walk in it, adding nothing to it.

Two questions that are worthy of thought…

First, was Peter acting with good intentions in his breaking table fellowship with the Gentiles upon the arrival of the “certain men from James” (which I take to be a delegation of Jerusalem Christian leaders)?

Some cannot fathom that Peter could so boldly deny his revelation in Acts 10, that he is not to call unclean that which God has made clean.  Thus, they propose that Peter was trying to do the right thing by way of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who may have been dealing with factions of zealots who were opposed to the unrestricted table fellowship happening in places like Antioch, where the gospel of Jesus had taken root among Gentile and Jewish “Christians.”  See Acts 11 for clarification on how Gentile/Jew followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Richard Longenecker, in his brilliantly technical commentary, makes the case that: It was simply a misguided tactical maneuver made under pressure, he became confused under pressure, could not bring himself to express his true convictions, and so found himself retreating from what he knew to be right.

Maybe.  To me, that sounds a bit minimizing.  Paul does not mince words in Galatians 2.11 when he says that he opposed Peter to his face, because he stood condemned (assumedly before God, in Paul’s view).  Even more, Paul describes Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship as “separating” himself, a theological description of what happened (v.12).  And again, twice in v.13 Paul labels the behavior of Peter, Barnabas and others as hypocrisy.  This all was not in step with the truth of the  gospel (v.14).  There is hardly a minimization, dismissal, qualification by Paul for Peter’s actions!   Rather he uses the strongest semantics possible (condemnation, separation, hypocrisy, non-gospel) to make his case for the gravity of Peter’s actions.

Thus, I will be preaching and applying this from the vantage point that – IN THE MOMENT – something else ruled Peter’s heart/actions other than the magnificent gospel of Jesus that had also been revealed to him.  In the moment, Peter caved to an alternative passion.  This is not unlike our testimony of passionate Peter in other stages of his journey (consider Matthew 16 and his standing toe-to-toe to obstruct Jesus on the way to the cross; also Matthew 26 in his denial of Jesus at the cross).  I am all too like Peter.  In spite of what I believe to be true, confess to be true, long to be true … at unguarded moments I live my life guided by sabotaging “ruling passions” that are not in step with the truth of the gospel.  I need the body of Christ in relationship to show me my blindness.  My guess is that my congregation is no different. We need to weigh this text vis-a-vis our ruling passions as well.  God give us relationships under the umbrella of the truth of the gospel to uncover our deception and blindness for Jesus sake!

Second, why did Paul wait so long to call Peter out in front of other Antiochan Gentile/Jew Christians?  How long did Paul let this un-gospel separation continue before he spoke up?

On one level, we simply do not know how long Paul observed Peter’s “separation” before he publicly spoke up.  We do know, however, that sufficient time elapsed such that Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” could fall in line with the hypocrisy.  Perhaps Paul waited to watch matters unfold to discern whether he should go to Peter privately (Matthew 18.15-18) or to pursue things publicly due to the communal defection at play.  We do not know.  I simply point out to you that on first read, it appears this whole incident occurs in one lunchroom encounter.  Having examined the text and extant reading, I am now convinced that this situation went on for some while such that it had time to permeate Barnabas and others before Paul was compelled to speak up on behalf of the gospel.

May God work through his Word studied and preached and heard in his local church, such that we will walk in step with the gospel and not bow IN THE MOMENT to our own ruling passions that sabotage what we know to be true in Jesus!

Peace.

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listening well

I am sitting in a hotel in Philadelphia, ruminating on the calling of God to be a preacher.  Annually, I attend the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Charles Simeon Trust.

This is a come-and-wrestle-and-do-the-hard-work-of-text-preparation workshop  more than it is a come-and-see conference.  There is nothing like it… for my soul, for my sanity, for my sense of purpose.  To declare the immeasurable riches of God from his Word – what does THAT necessitate in my prayer life, in my preparations, in my pastoring a growing churchplant?

I delight to know that God is working through his Word at West Valley PCA, more than through our creativity, our ministries, our vision.  His Word, clearly given, communally received.  And yet, OOOHHH to be a more faithful, more intentional handler of the Word of God!

O, to be a man who “stands in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word, who has paid attention to his word and LISTENED”(Jeremiah 23.18).

Simon Manchester, the primary speaker of the workshop and senior pastor of St. Thomas’Anglican Church in North Sydney Australia – has met me in my spiritual exhaustion and struggle.  Thank you God.  His handling and humble care of the hard task of preaching has encouraged and exhorted me in a much needed way.  I have simply been too busy.  Too spent.  Too scattered.  And today,  I saw the beauty of the Word again.  The joy of plumbings its depths and pondering its questions, and prying its parts.   I pass on to you some notes scribbled in my journal:

A dissatisfied preacher (wrestling and churning and grappling with questions and textual understanding) makes for satisfied people.  A satisfied preacher (that was simple and easy and I know what to say) makes for dissatisfied people.

I beg you: SHUT UP and LISTEN to the Word.  An expository sermon is a “listening sermon” – which is quite different from a non-listening sermon (the preacher has not stopped, struggled and listened before speaking).

I must not be confused at WHAT I am to be doing.  I am preaching the kingdom!

An expository preacher and an equipped congregation “spiral upward” together in a glorious, healthy way.  In other words, the preacher studies hard and delivers a healthy feast from the Word… thus the people of God are equipped to live and sacrifice and to BE the church of God for the glory of God… so they protect and ask their preacher to continue to work hard and study and deliver healthy feasts from the Word (as opposed to pulling him in every direction)… so he does, and they are fed and fulfill the ministry… and so he prepares and preaches all the more… and so they are more equipped and expanding their ministry, through the Word… and so it SPIRALS UPWARD!

Thank you Simon Manchester.  Thank you God for this respite.  Thank you West Valley for caring with me about expository preaching.  May we spiral upward together.

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two posts, two days… what’s going on!

I wanted to drop another post in the post-box.  Not that I have time to be doing this, but…

In working on my exposition (sermon) this week, I have wrestled with Colossians 1:24-2:5.  It has been exactly  that… a laborious, agonizing prep time.  Some weeks are like this.  I am thankful for the struggle, especially when the text from which I am preaching is about the struggle!  Agonizing to get the fulness of the Word right so as to present people mature in Christ!  So… this week, as I was exposed to the Word – then exposed to myself – then to the gospel for myself… I got a bit poetic.  This never happens.  I am a prose guy who writes with two many fragments and not sentences.  Really.  Oh, and I don’t know how to write poetry.  Apparently there are no rules to it (sentence fragment duly noted).

Here you go – from Colossians 1:24-2:5

the Word is the mystery

the mystery is Christ

(and yet there is more)

Christ is the hope of glory

in you.

___

in the Word I rejoice

for the mystery I struggle

(yet I wish I did more)

Still this is my stewardship

for you.

___

to complete what is lacking, seriously… lacking?

to rejoice in suffering, seriously … suffering?

(I need to know more)

this is a mystery

to me.

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preaching – nothing greater

I am humbled and filled – simultaneously.  Once again at the Workshop on Biblical Exposition in Philly (Simeon Trust – www.simeontrust.org).  God speaks through his Word!  I have heard it, received it, and submit to it.  I will build my life and ministry around the Word – and seek to do the work necessary to preach the Word faithfully.  I will for God’s glory, for his power, and for his people.  I will surrender all.

Tonight, I sat in a Philly Cigar bar with a friend who I count to be a hero of biblical exposition.  He took a night to sit with me.  Me.  What encouragement for a young pastor, a young preacher, a committed learning-preacher!  Encouragement sent by God in one whom the Lord has used to engage all of America with Biblical Exposition.  Thank you God for your words to me through him: “Stay the course, Jim.”  I praise your name and I long to know you through your Word.  I long for West Valley PCA to move forward by your Word exploding your people and engaging our lives and culture.  No gimmics.  Nothing flashy but the power of your people bowing to your glory as it is revealed in your Word.  Take me O God and make me O God into a servant who works hard.  Works wisely.  Works passionately.  And then leaves the WORK of transformation to you through your Word.

As I am away from my family, sitting under the text… I add this, O God.  Thank you for my family and wife who have surrendered to this call and supported me in it.  May the work in the Word translate into a transformed husband and father in body, mind and soul.

Amen.

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Ecclesiastes – the treadmill of existence

Can’t wait.  I, a preacher wrestling with my scary dependence on God to cover my inadequacy and weakness and sin… get to preach from Ecclesiastes – where “the Preacher/Teacher (Qohelet)” gives a solid dose of worldly realism… about the spiritual depression that should befall us all apart from the mercy and grace of God in Christ! 

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” – or vapor or mist or meaningless or fleeting or pointless or dissatisfying or broken… call it what you will.  We need the grace of God to crash into our world because simply put, apart from God and his eternal mercy, “Life is full of trouble, and then you die” (Tremper Longman on the message of Ecclesiastes).

I will be blogging through Ecclesiastes as it is a book about weakness.  For those who are weak, it is thankfully confirming to their predicament… it affirms their desperate cry for the gospel.  For those who do not feel weak, it clearly shows us why we may be blind – the vanity of life under the sun is weakening, debilitating, deathly frustrating.  THAT is why we cry out for the gospel.

So pray for West  Valley PCA, as we publicly launch this Sunday, and as we (during Advent of all times) turn to this refreshingly depressing book about life in a broken and weak world where we NEED outside gracious redemption from God which he provided in Christ!  I look forward to combing through the Scriptures and cultural mouthpieces like music and art and literature to show how our world inherently KNOWS that Qohelet is right… it speaks the same language of spiritual depression that only finds its answer in fearing God who will set things right and has done so in Christ (12:7).

thanks be to God for his relevant revealing Word.

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called to preach?

I recently had a friend lovingly say to me that “it must be hard to be called to preach.”  She was recounting a sermon I had preached a year ago, and the more she spoke, the more I realized that she had actually absorbed and hung on and believed the words declared from the text.  Humbly, I had to ask: What text was that from?  She recollected the particulars of Genesis 27 and how gospel application had come to bear on her life.  Then she said it – “it must be hard to be called to preach.” 

No, not really, it is just hard to believe what you preach.

That is where I am at.  Looking back over old sermons and recalling the power of God present at the exposition of his Word.  What times… seeing God engage and enrapture his people by nothing more than the apropos relevancy of his Word.  He is exalted as he exposes us whenever we expose his Word.  What a God.  It really is not hard to preach when the Word is so riveting and clear, but to believe what is in the text…  to believe it with as much passion as one speaks it!  O God, who can submit to such a spiritual task?!

I am excited that, beginning mid-September, I will be preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes again.  Due to West Valley PCA being in our early chaotic days of church planting, it seems wise to preach through a book I have already engaged from the pulpit.  I preached through Ecclesiastes at Harmony PCA in Tennessee 3 years ago.  What joy to do it again… for there is nothing but vanity if the gospel of God (revealed in his Word) is not clear for people who are as prone to emptiness as am I.

O God will I actually believe it as I re-engage it.  Could it be that the imprint of your relevant and authoritative truth will be slow to fade?  I pray so… sitting with your Word, being exposed by your Word… right now these are my hopes ABOVE standing to declare your word and exposing it for your people.  May I only expose the truth which has exposed me and the power of your gospel for the salvation of sinners and the transformation of all things!

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A kingdom of humility, contrition and trembling

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2

Smack in the middle of a vision of the New Heavens and Earth – the beautiful restoration of God that includes his judgment and justice and KINGDOM – is a beautiful description of the people to whom God’s grace and righteousness will rest.  THOSE WHO HUMBLY AND CONTRITELY TREMBLE AT HIS WORD.

Here we are, on the verge of planting a church in the Lehigh Valley of PA.  The thoughts (and methodological books) pour into my head.  Be relevant.  Be faithful.  Be risky.  Be patient.  Be holy.  Be original.  Be missional.  Be Spirit-led.  Be this or that or this or that.  Many of those things I DO want!  But O God, I want  most for us to be your kingdom on earth! 

What will that be like, I wonder.  One thing is clear according to Isaiah’s kingdom vision.  The kingdom on earth WILL be a place where the Word of God revealed to man is CENTRAL to life and ethics and obedience and worship.  We are to be “West Valley Presbyterian Church that trembles contritely at the word of God.”  Nice.

Whether I am seeing this because I am on the heals of a workshop on biblical exposition, or I am resting in it because it is God’s purpose for me to discover the centrality of his Word while outside of a bunch of crazy Word-centered preachers… I am not sure – except I love the Word.  Yes, it is hard to read.  Yes, it is often uninteresting to our visual and emotive culture.  BUT, it is the living Word and revelation of the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of my soul.  Is it not a powerful gift of grace around which ALL of our church plant should center?!

One thing I humbly had to confess at the workshop was this: I generally try to discern how the text of Scripture applies to me, or the congregation to which I preach.  But the problem with such a philosophy is that I am making myself, or others the center point of relating to God.  “How does this apply to ME?”  It is egocentric (though normal in our Western culture)!  The question is rather, “How do I apply my life to the Word?”  “How do I relate to the TRUTH of the text?” rather than “How does this text relate to my perceived reality?”

All I can say is that I can’t possibly imagine being in the New Heavens/Earth of Isaiah 66 and thinking, “How does this Kingdom fit into my reality?”  No, my reality will be defined by such a kingdom!  This is the reason that the kingdom is for those who humbly and contritely tremble at the Word – because IT IS the bar.  IT IS the barometer of reality.  IT IS the density of the gravity by which things float or fall.  How does my reality square with TRUE, GOD REVEALED REALITY?  That is humbling… it induces trembling.  What a grace – that those who are humbled and contrite and trembling at God’s Word are the ones to whom he will look in his kingdom (66:2)! 

SO, it must be Word-now, because it will be Word-then!!!  The kingdom is thus here and then through the Word revealed!

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Working on biblical exposition

In two days, I leave for a week-long journey to Chicago.  I get to see my grandma.  I get to watch the White Sox.  I get to hear gospel-centered preaching from my mentor, Paul Winters (Spring Valley PCA, Roselle IL).  I will be speaking to both the congregation and adult Sunday School of SVPC about our West Valley Church plant.  I will be meeting with former seminary proffs from TEDS.  I will be fundraising.  O, and I will be working on preaching.

One of the highlights of every year is attending the Workshop on Biblical Exposition, put on by the Simeon Trust.  It was Charles Simeon who said of preaching,

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there.  I have a great jealousy on this head – never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

That is a high calling.  The workshop this year will be focusing on the minor prophets – which is exhilirating, because I have thought about beginning our church plant sermon series with a minor prophet.  God knows what is in store for me to learn this week.  I certainly need the exposure to excellent biblical exposition.  I certainly need some peer review of my own stuff.  I certainly need to begin preparing to be back in the saddle (pulpit) on a weekly basis. I can honestly say about this ‘business trip’ – that it will be a pleasure next week to “go to work.”  It is through weeks like this that I discover that God does POWERFUL things when his servants submit our weak and pithy efforts to his disposal!

Thanks be to God for his LIVING Word that interprets us and keeps giving us the GOOD stuff for life and kingdom, here and forever.

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