Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.

Newbies

  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

The Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Epistle of James

Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

On Sunday, we concluded our 5-month study of the Epistle of James. What a challenging message! We explored various themes for Godly Living in an Ungodly World. Here, I am providing the title to each sermon, and the basic outline that accompanied each sermon. I hope you are able to use this in your personal Bible study in James and perhaps as you have opportunities to lead others in the study of this book of the Bible.

Epistle of James: Sermon Series Titles and Outline

Introduction: Explore Godly Living in an Ungodly World (1:1) 
  • The Author: James, the brother of Jesus Christ
  • The Date & Place of Writing: Mid-forties A.D. from Palestine
  • The Setting in Life: The difficulties, persecution, economic oppression, and community disharmony of Palestinian and scattered Jewish Christians in the 1st century Roman world.
  • The Form & Content of the Letter: The letter appears to be an edition of James’ own sermons covering such themes as suffering, wisdom, regeneration, a primitive Christology and eschatology echoing the teachings and sayings of Jesus himself, poverty & wealth, the tongue, and the relationship of law, grace, faith, and works of charity. James’ use of “my brothers” or “brothers” is a notable feature and guide throughout the letter.
The Godly Person Endures Tests Joyfully for Maturity (1:2–4).
  • Don’t Divert, but Direct Your Thinking During Tests (1:2–3).
  • Don’t Divert, But Develop Your Endurance During Tests (1:4).
The Godly Person Stays on Track to Maturity by Praying for Wisdom in Testing (1:5–8).
  • Two Problems May Derail Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5a, 6b–8).
  • Two Solutions Will Keep You on Track to Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5b–6a).
The Godly Person Calculates Life by Eternal, Not Temporal, Wealth (1:9–11).
  • The Poor Christian Must Look for Godly Glory Because of Eternal Renewal (1:9, 11).
  • The Rich Person Must Look for Godly Dependance Because of the Eternal Reversal (1:10–11).
The Godly Person Perseveres to Eternal Life through Testing by the New Birth (1:12–18).
  • Persevere to Eternal Life (1:12).
  • Persevere Through Internal Temptation (1:13–15).
  • Persevere by the Internal Transformation of the New Birth (1:16–18).
The Godly Person Heeds Wisdom’s Warning about Anger by Hospitably Hosting the Gospel (1:19–21).
  • Heed Wisdom’s Warning about Anger (1:19).
  • Hunger for God’s Justice Instead of Anger (1:20).
  • Hospitably Host the Regenerating Word for Transformation (1:21).
The Godly Person Perseveres Beyond Hearing to Doing the Word (1:22–25).
  • Beware Deception about the Regenerating Word (1:22).
  • Blessing Belongs to Those Who Persevere Beyond Hearing to Doing (1:23–25).
The Godly Person Awakes to Regenerate Religion (1:26–27).
  • Wake Up from Dead Religion (1:26).
  • Wake Up to Living Religion (1:27).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 1 (2:1–7).
  • Heal Community Poverty (2:1–7).
    • Let Jesus Level You (2:1).
    • Obey Your Calling As a Good Judge (2:2–4).
    • Share God’s Burden for the Poor (2:5).
    • Evaluate Whose Side You’re On (2:6–7).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 2 (2:8–13).
  • Heal Spiritual Poverty (2:8–13).
    • Live Under the Royal Law of Liberty (2:8–12).
    • Love Mercy More Than Strict Justice (2:13).
The Godly Person Has a Regenerate Faith That Extends Life (2:14–17).
  • Into Eternity (2:14).
  • To Others (2:15–16).
  • By Works (2:17).
The Godly Person Proves His/Her Faith Profession by Corresponding Works (2:18–26).
  • Close the Gap between Faith and Works (2:18).
  • Complete Your Faith (2:19–25).
  • Capture the Correlation (2:26).
The Godly Person Steers the Tongue to Arrive at Maturity by Limiting and Harnessing It (3:1–5a).
  • Limit Tongues That Teach (3:1–2).
  • Harness the Tongue’s Teaching Influence (3:3–5a).
The Godly Person Sparks a Revival of Words (3:5b–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Spark for Heaven’s Spark (3:5b–6).
  • Trade Hell’s Tongue for Heaven’s Tongue (3:7–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Heart for Heaven’s Heart (cf. 1:18, 21; Mt. 15:7–20).
The Godly Person Harvests Harmony with Heaven’s Wisdom (3:13–18).
  • Evidence Your Leadership (3:13).
  • Evict the Party Spirit (3:14–16).
  • Exchange for Heaven’s Wisdom (3:17).
The Godly Person Weeps over His Words Today for a Better Harvest Tomorrow (4:1–10).
  • Weep over Your Desires for War in the Congregation (4:1–3).
  • Weep Like an Adulterer Discovered by a Jealous Spouse (4:4–5).
  • Weep to Find Grace for a Better Harvest (4:6–10).
The Godly Person Places His Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–17).
  • Place Your Social Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–12).
  • Place Your Vocational Words Under God’s Authority (4:13–17).
The Godly Person B.A.N.K.S. on God’s Justice for the Oppressed (5:1–6).
  • Beware the Miseries of Wealth Gained by Exploitation (5:1–3).
  • Attend to the Cries of the Oppressed (5:4).
  • Neglect Luxury, Not Justice (5:5).
  • Keep the Lord Jesus in View (5:6).
The Godly Person Energizes Endurance in the Church by Elevating Faith in Christ’s Return (5:7–12).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Perseverance of the Saints (5:7–8).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Community Harmony (5:9).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Ancient Hope (5:10–11).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Daily Truthfulness (5:12)
The Godly Person Cares for the Condition of the Congregation (5:13–20 & Conclusion).
  • Cry Out with the Sufferer (5:13a).
  • Cheer with the Cheerful (5:13b).
  • Confess with the Sick (5:13c–16b).
  • Consider the Powerful Prophet (5:16c–18).
  • Call the Wanderer Home (5:19–20).

Have Faith, Not Familiarity, to Experience the Advance of God’s Rule (Mk 6:1–6)

Outline of the Text of Mark 6:1–6:

  • The setting was Jesus’ homeland on the Sabbath day (6:1–2a).
  • The reaction of the people to the teaching event was astonishment [ἐκπλήσσω] (6:2b–2f).
  • The reason for the people’s astonishment was because of their inability to reconcile Jesus’ common/negative origin with what they had heard from/about him (6:3a–b).
  • The result of the people’s inability to reconcile the reason for their astonishment was that they fell away/took offense [σκανδαλίζω] at Jesus (6:3c).
  • The explanation of Jesus to the people’s offense was an affirmation of his identity (6:4).
  • The response of Jesus to the people’s entrenched unbelief was amazement [θαυμάζω] due to an inability [οὐ δύναμαι] to heal [θεραπεύω] as in other places (6:5–6a).
  • The setting shifted because of the falling away in Jesus’ homeland (6:6b).

Proposition of the Text of Mark 6:1–6:

The reason the people of Jesus’ homeland took offense at him and experienced a limited display of Jesus’ ministry was because they lacked faith that God was present in Jesus’ person and mission.

Outline of the Timeless Theological Truths Learned in Mark 6:1–6:

  • Jesus is always inviting us to experience the wisdom and power of God’s rule (6:1–3b).
  • Unbelief always hinders the advancement of God’s rule (6:3c–6a).
  • Jesus will eventually extend the wisdom and power present in God’s rule to others (6:6b).

Proposition of the Timeless Theology of Mark 6:1–6:

Lack of faith in Jesus can prevent us from experiencing the advancement of God’s rule.

Exposition of Mark 6:1–6:

For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong.

1419201_86416651Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is some historic disagreement about how this took place or if this took place (some claim it is an apocryphal tale made up by Galileo’s secretary) and about who was in attendance; however, it is at least clear that this was an accurate portrayal of Galileo’s thoughts on the matter—that objects in free-fall (aerodynamics and air resistance aside) regardless of mass fall at the same rate of acceleration caused by the force of gravity. As the story goes, he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right (Bits & Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 22-23).

Sometimes we are so blinded to the truth that, even when presented with the evidence, we refuse to believe otherwise. Some cats are sneaky while others aren’t. Some dogs are trustworthy and others not. When Jesus preached to His hometown of Nazareth, they heard His words and saw His miracles. Yet, since they “knew” that carpenters don’t speak like this or do miracles (and Jesus was a carpenter), he could not be the Son of God he claimed to be. Their preconceived notions about Him were enough to blind them to the truth.

As the Church, we seek to do and advance God’s work. Our work and mission is to advance the message and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to people and places. We need the insight and power that accompanies the presence of God to accomplish this work. The BIGGEST road block to the advancing kingdom of God, so to speak, is unbelief, a lack of faith in God.

Today, I’d like to consider how we can avoid being people who treat Jesus as too common because such familiarity will result in unbelief that hinders the advancement of the work of God. Jesus and his gospel sometimes become so common or familiar that we feel that things besides his presence must draw people to God.

Instead, we want to ready ourselves for an experience with God and his kingdom advancement. So, Have Faith, Not Familiarity, in Jesus for the sake of Advancing God’s Rule.

We enter Mark’s narrative at the beginning of chapter six. Previously, there have been remarkable exhibitions of faith (e.g., the woman with the flow of blood; Jairus for the healing of his daughter), and we are beginning to understand what it means to be an insider with Jesus or an outsider opposed to Jesus. What will we find as we journey with Jesus to his homeland in Mark 6:1–6?

Let’s step into the synagogue on the Sabbath day with Jesus in order to hear the reaction of the people of his homeland toward the work of God and the consequence that followed their reaction.

Don’t Let Familiarity with Jesus Result in Unbelief When You Are Confronted with God’s Advancing Rule (6:1–3).

First, Believe That God Is Your Home (6:1).

Jesus is visiting this hometown of Nazareth, which is located about 20 miles from Capernaum. His rejection here is probably a symbol and sign of what would happen later in Jerusalem.

This may be a concluding section that extends from 3:7–6:6. The first clear rejection was in 3:1–6, and 3:6 points to a later clash. At the beginning and end of this section, there is a rejection of Jesus on the Sabbath in a synogogue (3:1–2; 6:1–2). In the first, the controversy stirred because of healing; in the latter, it was over his hometown identity—from Mark’s point of view, both are “examples of an unwillingness to recognize Jesus” as the heaven-sent envoy of salvation (Larry Hurtado, 88–9).

Mark 3:20–35 instructs us that those who are closest in proximity, or most familiar with Jesus, such as his own family, are actually outside being rightly related to him. He identifies those who do the will of his Father as those who are rightly related to him.

In Mark the recognition evidenced in true faith is not based on proximity to Jesus in time or on kinship but on a moral willingness to consent to God’s revelation, a consent to some degree made possible by God’s action upon the individual” (Larry Hurtado, 89—SIGHT).

Jesus has identified his family as those who do the will of God. Whereas, his relatives, his hometown, and his nation (e.g., the religious leaders) serve as his enemies (Joel Marcus, vol. 1).

In Mark 6:1–3, a similar portrait is painted in Jesus’ return to his hometown. It is clear that the people are very well-acquainted with Jesus, but it is yet to be seen if they are “those who do the Father’s will.” Does their familiarity imply that they are rightly related to Jesus? And to the work of God advancing through him?

Therefore, in verse one, if we have been paying attention as readers of Mark’s Gospel at this point, we should immediately recognize something. When we read the words, “and came to his hometown,” we should think, “Oh no, this isn’t going to be good.” At this point, we shouldn’t even have to read the rest of the paragraph. We have already seen that those whom we might assume are close to Jesus in some physical and earthly way are in fact consistently far off from his kingdom agenda and authority. They don’t see him, “and he came to his hometown.” What is it about “the hometown,” the τὴν πατρίδα, the fatherland, that may cause such a negative response to God advancing his rule. It’s fairly simple I think. The hometown is often the place where we feel the most safe, the most secure; sometimes we think, even if the whole world changes, my hometown will remain that one stable, stronghold. It is predictable; it’s consistent; I can count on it and the people there are trustworthy. I can trust in the businesses, the community, the crime rate and government officials. I can trust my hometown to bring me and my family the security that I need. But what if God wants to break into your hometown? What if he wants to come for a visit? What if he wants to bring his authority and rule with him and change things? Better yet, what if he wants to be to you all that you think your hometown is to you? What if God himself wants to be your “fatherland;” what if God wants to be your stability; what if God wants to be your stronghold; what if God wants his character and his attributes to be what you feel are predictable and consistent; what if God wants you to see him as trustworthy; what if God wants to be your security and refuge? What if God comes to your hometown for a visit and invites you into life with him under his rule?

A bit of a personal story here: This is why Aimee and I have felt that we could truly live anywhere. It’s why two rural kids like us were able to journey down to Dallas and thrive there; and its why we feel we were able to make the decision to come to rural Illinois—because God is our hometown. He is all of these things to us. We can follow him anywhere, and we are at home in him. Genesis 26 tells the story of Isaac getting kicked out of the land of the Philistines and searching for a new settlement to call home. This chapter of Scripture changed my life when we moved to Dallas. I’ve prayed through it numerous times; it is a great text for people who are moving! Look at it with me briefly. [Read through Genesis 26.] This is one of the great themes of Scripture, that God wants to be your home. He wants you to change your address! Make him your home; then you can go anywhere and do anything for him and his kingdom because he is with you and you are with him. Revelation concludes with these words, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). He created us to live in his garden with him; he visited us after our first parents sinned; he visited Abraham; he visited Moses and the people of Israel; he took up residence in the tabernacle and in the temple; God the Son took on flesh and dwelt among us; and he visited his hometown to invite them to make God their home. What will they say? I am confident that God is here today, by the Spirit and through his word, and he is calling to us here at West Lisbon Church, will you make God your home? Will you believe that God is your home?

Second, Believe That Jesus Is the Center of Wisdom and Authority for Your Life (6:2).

In verse two, we discover that Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Historically for the Jews, the synagogue had been a place of blessing because of the word of God; however, in Jesus’ day it had mostly become a setting that gave a platform for the opinions of religious leaders. I say with sorrow that our churches sometimes fall victim to this sort of a thing. The local church is not a platform for anyone’s agenda or preferences other than God’s. We must diligently and prayerfully seek Christ as head of the Church. The synagogue was really the center of life. It was a cultural center; this is why Jesus goes to the synagogues; it is where the people were. It is a shame that he more often than not found more reception on the streets with fisherman and tax collectors than he did with those sitting in the synagogues.

A typical order of service in the synagogue looked like this: (1) Thanksgiving, (2) Prayer & Response, (3) Reading from the Pentateuch, (4) Reading from the Prophets, (5) Sermon or Word of Exhortation, and (6) Benediction by Priest.

“They did not have a full-time pastor. They did not have a full-time rabbi. They did not have a full-time teacher, as such. In fact, in a local town there would be perhaps a number of men in the town who could teach and do the preaching and the sermon and they would take turns doing that. And should a local teacher of some qualification or suitability or note come through town, he would always be invited to be the guest teacher. The people would welcome that. This was known as what’s called in history ‘the freedom of the synagogue.’ It was a policy that developed early in synagogue life to allow for various teachers, and the ruler had the responsibility to determine who that teacher would be. Now this becomes another thing that God in His wonderful providence has brought about so that when Jesus begins to teach, all the synagogues that He would go to were operating on the basis of quote/unquote the freedom of the synagogue and they gave over their sermon to any visiting rabbi which was perfect because no matter where Jesus went, He was a well-known teacher and rabbi and it gave Him immense opportunities to teach. Everywhere there were ready-made venues for Him to teach and preach the gospel, to announce the good news that came from His lips” (John MacArthur, commenting on Lk. 4:16–21 at http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-53).

The speaker and the exit of the synagogue faced the holy city Jerusalem, so overtime Jesus read and preached the gospel in the synagogues he looked toward the city and place of this impending crucifixion.

Astonishment does not mean insight and faith, but something far less (6:2). Mark does not give us the content of Jesus’ reading and exhortation, but Luke does give it to us in detail in chapter four of his gospel. Mark instead focuses solely on the reaction of the people. [Read Luke 4:16–30.]

“Wisdom” in the Jewish background meant more than simple “horse sense.”

[It] connoted knowledge of God and his purposes, and so had to do specifically with religious teaching, though this religious teaching might address almost any question of human life (Hurtado, 89–90).

Therefore, he is viewed as one who has been given revelation from God. However the people are unable to reconcile his wisdom with his humble origins. Wisdom and power of this nature could have its source in God. This is why these familiar folks struggle to accept Jesus. How could the work of God be ascribed to one whom they knew so well?

Wisdom and power of this nature could also have had its source in the evil one. Earlier in Mark 3:20–35, some go so far as to attribute the power of Jesus to Satan.

We must be careful not to become so familiar with Jesus (to make him something common) that we begin to have blurry vision and become perplexed about the work of God. The word familiar is defined as “well known from long or close association” and “often encountered or experienced”; thus making common. If we go looking for things that suggest that they are bigger and better than Jesus and the gospel to fulfill us and to help us with the work, Jesus can become such a common figure in our lives that we become deceived about what the work of God really is. In our scene in Mark 6, the work of God is advancing through Jesus by works of wisdom and power. Are works of God’s authority and wisdom flowing out of our congregation, out of our lives, or has the work of God become less explosive because Jesus has become common to us? You see the people of Nazareth treated Jesus just like he was another, common, familiar piece of home, but he wasn’t that. He was more than that, and they were missing it! Oh they were missing it! He came to rule, and that we may find out home in him. He came to change our lives, to set us free from the oppression of the slavery of the devil by means of death and sin. He came to plunder the devil’s house; so that sin and death could keep us in bondage no longer. We can be set free to live life in Christ with God now. And in that new home, we find a gospel-kind of wisdom for our families; for our jobs and vocations; for our sufferings. We find real authority that rules into eternity. Sin and death do not have final say; the risen Jesus does. Believe that Jesus is the center of wisdom and authority for your life. Jesus as our wisdom is biblically faithful and powerfully relevant to the spiritual life today. Jesus’ authority means that we should proclaim the gospel boldly, repent and confess our sins to the one who has all authority and gives mercy to the sinner, reconcile and seek peace and unity with our brothers and sister in the church, and wait eagerly for answered prayer.

Third, Don’t Make Jesus’ Visit Scandalous (6:3).

Jesus became a scandal to them. He caused them to stumble. The verb here means, to scandalize, or to take offense, and therefore to stumble over and fall away. It’s a terrible word when it is employed to describe someone or a group of people in the Bible. They could not reconcile what they had already formed in their thinking about him after many years of proximity with what they were now experiencing or at least hearing regarding the power and wisdom flowing from him.

In Mark’s Gospel, there are many who take offense at Jesus, whether stated specifically or implied. Beginning in the parable of the sower in 4:17, there are those who are like rocky soil, who hear the word but they do not develop a root so that when tribulation or persecution arises, they fall away.

As Jesus’ miracles grow in grandeur (see chapter 5), so does the hard-heartedness of the people to whom he came (Marcus, vol. 1).

Here in Mark 6:3, the people of Jesus’ hometown are not responding due to persecution or tribulation, but rather their offense has its source in their perspective that Jesus is simply common, and they refused to believe that the work of God is flowing through him.

Further, they insult him. They do this in two ways. First, they think him only as the town’s carpenter. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a carpenter. In fact, notice the people do not call him, “the son of the carpenter,” but rather “the carpenter.” Many commentators note that Joseph is not mentioned because he is most likely not alive at this point. Therefore, it is proposed that Jesus himself most likely took over the family business after Joseph’s death making not merely the son-apprentice of a carpenter, but THE carpenter. But the people of Nazareth are limited to only thinking of Jesus as a piece of their town, just like the baker and candlestick maker. Have you insulted Jesus by minimizing the scope of his rule? He doesn’t want just a piece of you; he wants all of you (Mark 12:13–17). Second, if you’ll allow me to say this with as much force as the biblical writer implies, the people of Nazareth call him a bastard son, which also makes clear implications about their thoughts about his mother. They do this by calling him “the son of Mary.” Typically, a man would not be identified as the son of his mother, unless insult is the intention and scandalizing is the motive. Commentators are widely united in thinking that this is the motive of the people here. They cannot reconcile Jesus the King with Jesus the hometown boy. They will not welcome change into town; they will not welcome God’s rule where they rule; and they resort to casting insults at Jesus. Their unbelief is complete.

Is it God's power and wisdom that is the problem or your faith?
Is it God’s power and wisdom that is the problem or your faith?

 

The unbelief of these hometown folks reminds me of a story…

A number of years ago there appeared in the New Yorker magazine an account of a Long Island resident who ordered an extremely sensitive barometer from a respected company, Abercrombie & Fitch. When the instrument arrived at his home he was disappointed to discover that the indicating needle appeared to be stuck pointing to the sector marked “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer vigorously several times—never a good idea with a sensitive mechanism—and never getting the point to move, the new owner wrote a scathing letter to the store, and, on the following morning, on the way to his office in New York City, mailed it. That evening he returned to Long Island to find not only the barometer missing but his house as well! The needle of the instrument had been pointed correctly. The month was September, the year was 1938, the day of the terrible hurricane that almost leveled Long Island [Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 593].

The Long Islander’s poor discernment and lack of confidence in the accuracy and function of the barometer led to catastrophic consequences.

Our Unbelief Causes Us to Miss Out on God’s Advancing Work (6:4–6).

Therefore, Believe in the Revealed Identity of God’s Son (6:4).

Even after such a visceral, surprising rejection, I propose to you that Jesus is gracious here in speaking revelation to them by quoting a common proverb of his day and culture (Marcus comments on page 376 about the Graeco Roman connection). He is telling them that he is indeed a prophet, and further, he is warning them that this is the typical reaction of those too familiar with God. This is not a direct quote from Scripture. We do find a comparable statement in Jeremiah 11:21.

The proverb in verse 4 affirms Jesus’ identity in light of the unbelief of the familiar faces. The reality and nature of Jesus’ identity is not wrapped up or dependent upon our belief. Jesus is who he is. According to the proverb, the rejection of Jesus by his hometown and his family serves to confirm his identity and the work of God in and through him.

While Jesus’ true identity remains unscathed by the unbelief he encounters, those who do not have faith hinder the advancement of God’s work. Their familiarity and offense at him would not allow them to experience the power and wisdom of God through Jesus that had been displayed elsewhere. This reminds of something N. T. Wright mentioned in his little volume Mark For Everyone. He asks the preacher to remember the first time he preached in front of his parents.

In the case of Jesus the Prophet, opposition further confirms his identity and mission. We can find fellowship with Jesus here. He knows rejection. He knows painful, close, relational rejection. Indeed, remember that Mark is doing something with what he is writing. He is not just telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but he is telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that it will further disciple believing readers and hearers. Disciples are often surprisingly rejected, but they have fellowship with Jesus.

Next, Beware the Powerlessness of Unfaith (6:5).

Joel Marcus comments here,

Mark shows how the powerful Son of God who calms storms, expels demons, banishes diseases and raises the dead, is finally checkmated by entrenched unbelief in his hometown (Marcus 380, vol. 1).

I feel that Marcus is a bit too strong here, but his point should cause us pause.

Now, a question naturally arises here, “Is not Jesus not able to overcome unbelief? I mean doesn’t he do that to some degree in all of us?” Fair question. Let me ask you to remember the two sources to which such power was generally attributed in Jesus’ day—to God or to the evil one. So, there is a possibility that there unbelief is very deep once they reject that he is from God.

Dr. Dan Wallace helps us here when he writes,

Should we think that Jesus was incapable of doing such miracles, that somehow his healing powers were unavailable to him because of their unbelief? Or is it rather that Jesus always followed the leading of the Spirit and the Spirit did not permit him to do many miracles because of the lack of faith?  Some [students of Scripture] suggest that Jesus could not do miracles ‘in accordance with the purpose of his ministry,’ which essentially means the same thing: he did not act apart from the prompting of the Spirit (Exegesis of the Gospel of Mark Class Notes).

I tend to think this is correct. Remember Luke’s description of Jesus taught there in the synagogue—how it was the Spirit that anointed Christ to free people from oppression. Just as the Spirit drove Jesus out to the desert earlier, I believe it is the Spirit prompting Jesus away from the faithless community in Nazareth.

Finally, Be Warned That Jesus Will Take the Advance of God’s Rule Elsewhere (6:6).

Don't miss a visit from Jesus and all the wisdom and authority that accompanies him!
Don’t miss a visit from Jesus and all the wisdom and authority that accompanies him!

Jesus marvels and takes the work of God elsewhere. Remember Revelation 3:20? This is a warning to every local church that the business we may be doing is that of our own working; we must check to see if the Lord Jesus is among us.

 

Have Faith, Not Familiarity, in Jesus for the sake of Advancing God’s Work. How might we put our selves in a position to do this? In the recent past of our former church in Dallas, TX, we became a people who were merely familiar with Jesus. That is to say, Jesus became common to us. We gradually stopped experiencing his wonderful insight into our spiritual life, and we stopped experiencing his power at work among us. We were not experiencing the results of his presence among us, which is necessary for the work of the gospel to advance. We began to look for other things to fill this void, just like many other American churches, we turned to entertainment and consumerism in an attempt to make up for the absence of the presence of God. But now, I am happy to say that significant steps have been taken to turn the hearts of the people back to the presence of God. What are steps we can take to make sure we are exercising faith that fosters the work of God rather than an unbelief that hinders it?

First, have you been a believer for such a long time that you feel that Jesus and Christianity have become somewhat common to you? Take some steps to revitalize your faith. Make a deeper commitment to your local church with which you are connected, so that you can be active and serve; devote yourself to moments of prayer and fasting with God and his word on this particular matter. Ask God to increase your faith and welcome his rule into your life. Be a missionary who seeks to extend the rule of God into the lives of those around you—family, co-workers, friends, neighbors.

Second, consider what powerful and wise things God is or isn’t doing in your life. The work of God is indeed accompanied with power and wisdom; we should be experiencing this. However, the experience of these things oftentimes calls for us to put ourselves in risky places of service to others.

 

Commentaries:

[1] Larry Hurtado on Mark

[2] Joel Marcus on Mark

[3] Abe Kuruvilla on Mark