Guarding Against Wolves

I am taking a short break from the Psalm 119 posts as I prepare for Zambia and try to finish a couple classes (please pray for me!).

This morning during my reading and prayer time, my mind kept coming back to Acts 20. Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-29, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the flock of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Have you ever considered how much of the NT is devoted to warning against false teaching and false teachers? We have one NT book wholly devoted to the Gospel-perverting error of the Judaizers, which is of course Galatians. We have two books devoted to exposing and warning against false teachers, 2 Peter and Jude. We also have numerous warnings, especially Paul, where Paul calls out false teachers by name (Hymenaeus and Alexander, Demas, Alexander the coppersmith, and even Peter when he strayed from the truth of the Gospel).

In our adult Sunday School, we have been spending time investigating the Word of Faith movement. I have been exposing false teaching. It is hardly one of my favorite things to do, but if we take the call to shepherd the flock seriously, we must guard the flock from wolves. Sometimes the sheep do not see the canis lupus nature of some of their favorite teachers. With the proliferation of books, radio and TV programs, podcasts, and websites, the danger is as great as ever. John Gill describes the wolves as “fleecing the flock, instead of feeding it, making merchandise of it… poisoning them with their errors and heresies…”

God gives pastors to the flock as watchmen (this is Paul’s imagery from Ezek. 3 and 33). Watchmen protected the walls of the city from invaders. Shepherds protected the flock from wolves. The metaphors are the same. God has called and equipped pastors to be able to spend time in the Word and doctrine so that they can better help protect the sheep. Thankfully, not all my time is spent studying error and heresy. Thankfully I can spend most of my time trying to feed the flock healthy food for their spiritual growth. But it is necessary at times to dig into the rubbish heaps because some of God’s people are going there to eat!

As one who will give an account to the Lord on the last day, I must fulfill my ministry and that means “guarding the flock.”

“Oh My God!” Thoughts about the Third Commandment

The finger of God wrote these words, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Taking God’s name in vain is a large subject. Analyzing the details of “taking His name in vain” is an exercise in Old Testament theology. Any treatment of the third commandment leads the Bible student into the world of oaths, vows, what constitutes blasphemy, false worship, and so on. Perhaps one day if I preach a series on the Ten Commandments, we will go into all that detail.

For now, let me point out two things from the commandment. God values His name. His name reflects who He is, His character, His glory. He loves His name. His name is majestic (Psalm 8:1, 9). His name is holy (Psalm 33:21). His name is to be praised, feared, thanked, and rejoiced in!

The second obvious point is that God does not want His name misused. The misuse of His name prompts God to threaten punishment upon the offenders. If God’s name is valued by Him, He wants it honored, not defamed. Revering God’s name is revering God, and God does not want anything about Him taken lightly. “The commandment prohibits any misuse of the Lord’s name, from making light of it to blatantly mocking it. Every mention made of the Lord with our mouths is to be made with the highest sincerity and reverence.”

In our culture, the misuse of God’s name in cursing is terribly common. People use God’s name and Jesus’ name as curse words. They invoke God to damn. They use the blessed name of His only-begotten Son as an expletive. These uses are blasphemous and a flagrant violation of God’s commandment. These will not be small sins on judgment day.

However, I want to point out a misuse of God’s name which many Christians are guilty of. I am not saying that Christians consciously blaspheme God or invoke God’s damnation. But there is a subtle way the third commandment is violated and that is by simply using the name “God” as filler or an expletive. It is common to hear Christians say, as an interjection, “Oh my God!” Or “Oh God!” A somewhat more pious approach, “Oh good Lord,” or “Oh Lord.” And in our technological age, let me quickly add that “OMG” is the same thing.

Dear Christian, we struggle enough with our words (Eph. 4:29; James 3:2). Let us not add violating the third commandment to our sins of the tongue. Let us guard our mouths to make sure that we do not use the majestic name of our God as filler, as a comma, as an interjection. His name is glorious. The word “God” is weighty, it is one of the titles of the most important Person in the universe. The word “Lord” expresses His power, His might, His right to rule over our lives. It is an absolute contradiction, albeit often an unconscious one, to claim faith in God and reverence for His name and then misuse His name. When we use His name, let’s make sure we use it in the ways that Scripture commands and commends, not forbids and threatens punishment. May we use His name in a way that is fitting for the Lord of all.

For the sake of His name,
Pastor Brian

Psalm 16 & Delight

My Hebrew professor, Ron Allen, used to say, “Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.” The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life. They are full of praise to God, laments, complaints, cries for help, and bold declarations of confidence in God. The Psalms are prophetic, pointing us to the ultimate Blessed Man, the quintessential Righteous Man, David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. Among all the Psalms, one that stands out to me, one that I find myself quoting, is Psalm 16. It is prophetic, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see decay” (16:10). Peter quotes this text in Acts. The Psalm also extols the believer’s portion, which is God himself (16:5). David says that he continually puts the Lord before him, that must mean in his thoughts and affections, and because of that, he is never shaken (16:8). Right thoughts of God lead to stability in life. David also extols the joy there is in God’s presence with memorable, affecting words, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). This Psalm is rich. Derek Kidner rightly says, “The theme of having one’s affections centered on God give this psalm its unity and ardor.”

There is one part of this Psalm that caught my attention this morning, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (16:3). David sees something in the saints, that is believers. The word he uses to describe them is interesting, as it is variously translated, “majestic ones,” “excellent ones,” “noble ones.” David is drawn to God’s people. He sees in them something desirable, he delights in them. Spurgeon, taking the Psalmist to be ultimately Jesus, says, “He who knows them best says of them, ‘in whom is all my delight.’ They count themselves to be less than nothing, and yet he makes much of them and sets his heart towards them.” What do God’s people have going for them? Why should they be our delight? The living God is their refuge, he is their good, he is their chosen portion, he is their counselor, their hope and their joy. Even the lowest of believers have this glorious God and all that he is. What David delights in, in God’s people, is God in them and God for them. It is God who beautifies his people, making them a delight.

What do we think of God’s people? Are they our delight? Or do we grumble against them for being “hypocrites,” (thus always indicting ourselves in such charges!). Do we take more pleasure in being around worldlings who serve the god of this age more than God’s holy ones? Worldlings are the very ones running after others gods (16:4). Do we admire the godless and the sinner because of their success and dismiss the children of God? Do we avoid God’s people? By the way, most of the time when we avoid God’s people, it is not really because we think we are better than them, although that is what we might say, but rather, it is because we are convicted by them. How we feel about other Christians is an indicator ultimately of what we think of God. There is no such thing as esteeming God and despising his people. They are his people, his children, he knows them, loves them and is sanctifying them. No worldling can make such claims! Certainly, some of God’s people are more mature than others, wiser than others, more pleasant than others, more sanctified than others, but they all have one thing in common, they all belong to the same God, redeemed by the same Savior.

So are the saints your delight? If not, why not? If not, then the Psalmist would simply say to you that you are looking at the wrong things in them and most likely, the wrong things in yourself. Set the Lord before you, let your heart be glad in him, rejoice in his work, most especially among his people and join this rag-tag bunch of struggling sinners who are the majestic ones in all the earth. When we see God’s beauty in them, we will delight in them as we should.