Devoted to Discipline and Doctrine

Desiring God 1997 Conference for Pastors

Triumphantly Encouraged: The Privilege of Ministry

Thank you very much. We are just overwhelmed with the hospitality that we have received since even before we got here, when the invitation first came. From first to last, we have been royally treated by this church and the people at the conference. I want to publicly acknowledge that and thank people for that.

As David mentioned, we were able to come, and the people of the conference invited Kathy to come with me. So I was able to come to her and say, “Well, it’s going to be three weeks late,” rather than celebrating her anniversary on the same day as Charles and Mrs. Spurgeon, Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd Jones, and Elvis’s birthday. We are going to get to celebrate three weeks later, but the good news is we’re going to get to have a time away. We’ll go to warm, sunny Minneapolis to do that, and get to have a special time alone for our 20th anniversary. She was just delighted. She was just thrilled with that. And John, taking one of your cues, I threw up my hand and said, “Don’t mention it. It’s my duty.” You have to read Desiring God to know what that’s about.

Well, I was a little concerned. I thought we had agreed after talking back and forth by email that I was to preach on 1 Timothy 4:16, but then I saw the text was announced as 2 Timothy 4:16. And this is my first defense of my beliefs here at this conference. It says, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them” (2 Timothy 4:16, all Scripture references are taken from the NASB). But would you turn to 1 Timothy 4:16?

Strange Church Growth Strategies

I pastored for 18 years, almost 15 in a church in the suburbs of Chicago, as David mentioned. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t get some sort of piece of mail telling me how to grow a bigger church. You’re laughing because you get the same mail. I discovered when I was with friends when their mail was delivered it was the same mail that I got when I would get back. But I want to tell you about these three. I received all of these the same day. First I looked through it and it said, “If you distribute the enclosed literature, this is guaranteed to increase the attendance at your church.” And the enclosed literature was a brochure depicting the exact date of Jesus’s return.

Well, the next one was an envelope, and on the front of the envelope it said, “The only hope for reaching teenagers today is not through the preaching of the word of God, but through Christian rock concerts. And herein is how to turn your church into a Christian rock-concert-promoting machine.”

The next one was a denominational paper. And in this denominational paper, on the cover was a photograph with a large accompanying article of a pastor on the roof of the church preaching. And you could see this man’s quartet standing behind him. And all the people were on the ground looking up and watching them from the parking lot. And the story went on to tell of how they’d had some high attendance bargain. If a certain number of people came, then he would preach and the men would sing from the roof of the church. And I, not a prophet, predict that unless the Super Bowl accident has affected it, somewhere, some guy is going to bungee jump from a steeple in order to draw a crowd. And I believe it’ll work.

Well, I read these things in the mail that day and I was angry and I was frustrated. But suddenly it occurred to me that all over the country, there are men with good motives, just as I was, who are looking at their circumstances and saying, “You know, what I’m doing now is not reaching people in the way I’d like to see them reached. So just maybe one of these methods will work.” These were men with good motives whose motive is for their life to count for Christ and not to be fruitless and want to see the Great Commission fulfilled. Men with good motives would see themselves as saying, “Well, maybe this will work. Because what I’m doing now certainly is not working well.” I suppose by now, as you have, I’ve encountered hundreds if not thousands of ideas and books and tapes and letters and conferences and all kinds of things about how to grow a bigger church, how to win souls.

But very, very few, if you will notice, will ever include what Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16:

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Pay Careful Attention to Yourself

In this passage are three imperatives, which are the means by which ministers win souls. The first one is this: “Pay close attention to your life.” The New American Standard Bible, which I’m reading says, “Pay close attention to yourself.” The King James translates it as, “Take heed unto thyself.” And the NIV renders it, “Watch your life.” What does he mean by this? Well, I think the context tells us, if we go back to 2 Timothy 4:12. We see where Timothy is told at the end of the verse, “Show yourself an example of those who believe.” Show yourself an example. But back further in 2 Timothy 4:16, the second half, says: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

That’s how you show yourself an example. That’s how you pay attention to your life in this context, I believe. You watch your life primarily by disciplining yourself, not just to discipline yourself, but for a purpose. And the purpose is godliness. The goal is godliness — Christlikeness, sanctification, holiness. The God-given means to that is discipline, the spiritual disciplines. Paul was telling Timothy here that the first priority of a man of God is to be a godly man. That’s first and foremost. But how does that come about? Because God is the one who makes a sinful man godly. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps, by clenching our teeth and becoming more iron-willed in the practice of the spiritual disciplines. That may just make you more like the Pharisees.

But that doesn’t mean that we are to do nothing. God has given us a responsibility. He has given some means that he blesses, some highways of holiness, as it were, where his Spirit has been pleased and prefers to come down. It’s not that he doesn’t take detours and take dirt roads from time to time, but the superhighways of the Holy Spirit in terms of transforming people, are these spiritual disciplines. Our role is to get in the way, to get on the highway, to get in the way of where God is moving. And he is pleased in the ordinary ways to do that through the spiritual disciplines. So by his grace, his Spirit makes us more like Christ through these spiritual disciplines.

The Spiritual Disciplines We Need

Now, there are several that are commanded and they’re modeling the Bible. First and foremost of those disciplines is the word of God — hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and applying the word of God.

Second importance to that is our speaking in return to God, those things of prayer. The other disciplines are personal and corporate worship, stewardship of our time and our money, evangelism, serving, fasting, keeping journal, learning, and silence and solitude — all of which are commanded or modeled for us in Scripture. And these are the means that God has given all people, including ministers, to grow in grace and to be like Christ. God has called us to grow in the same way that everyone else grows, and that is through the spiritual disciplines. Because we need them, if not as much then more, than any other Christian. Just being in the ministry won’t make you more godly. Ordination does not make you a holy man.

I remember Dr. Curtis Vaughn at Southwestern Seminary (where I attended) warning us about the daily familiarity with the things of God and how they could actually, instead of making us more sensitive, and instead of drawing us to the things of God and God himself, could actually make our hearts more callous to the things of God. They could actually harden our hearts to those things because of our daily familiarity with them. Because we live our lives in them, we become accustomed to the holy, almost. It’s like what happened to some of those Old Testament priests. The sameness and the mundaneness of the ministry can anesthetize our awe of God.

I think somehow, some of those priests, with their hearts anesthetized as it were, may have known some humble believer who came to the temple maybe from some outlying village in Jerusalem. He has raised this little lamb. It’s the perfect specimen with no blemishes. They’ve kept it as a pet, they’ve nursed it, they’ve loved it, but they’ve prepared it for this most sacred day, one of the special days of their lives. And the day finally comes where they arm it up and they bring it full of joy and yet sadness, bringing it to the temple. They walk in and hand it with tender and trembling hands to one of these callous priests, who do this all day long. Without even looking them in the eye, without any acknowledgement, he just turns and grabs the lamb and jerks it from him, like we’d take a fertilizer bag off the tailgate of a pickup, and he slashes its throat and he slams it down on the fire, or whatever they would do.

Then with the smell of blood, the stench of burning entrails, the smell of burning skin and hair, he wipes his hands and says, “Next,” as the man kind of silently backs away, amazed that this man ministering to him would be so insensitive to this which was most holy to him. But because he did it all day long, it wasn’t holy anymore. That can happen to ministers. Being in the ministry does not make you more holy or more godly. In fact, it can work to make you more unholy, if you don’t do what this verse says. If we do not watch our lives and pay close attention to our lives.

A Man of God for the People of God

The most important disciplines are the ones related most importantly and directly to the word and to prayer. Men, do your people know you as a man of the word? Are you a man of the word, not just for sermon construction, but do you meet with God as any other Christian ought in the word? Do your people know you as a man of prayer?

Our priority, I think, is essentially the same, as it was for the apostles in Acts 6:4. You remember their call. They said, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” I don’t see any great distinction between their priorities and ours. Do your people know you as a godly man? We don’t want them to put us on a pedestal, and we have to work hard sometimes so that they will realize we have the same struggles they do. We have the same struggles in our hearts and the same struggles in our homes and the same struggles with life that they do. But sometimes we can work so hard at identifying with people and trying to be one of the boys, as it were, that there’s no qualitative spiritual difference between our lives. The sense of spiritual leadership and modeling is gone because we’re so much like everyone else in every way. But the Bible says, “Pay close attention to your life.”

Principles from Richard Baxter

As you well know, one of the great English Puritan preachers and writers was Richard Baxter. Writing on this passage, he lists eight reasons why we need to pay close attention to our life. Let me enumerate those for you. Here are eight reasons from Baxter regarding why we need to pay close attention to our lives.

1. The Loss of Heaven

First, he says:

Pay close attention to your life, for you have a heaven to win or lose as well as other men. How many are now in hell, who once warned others of going there? How many who once preached about the wrath of God, now experience it?

God is no respecter of persons and he doesn’t save us, or because we’re ministers, or because we lead worship services, or because we preach the Bible, or because we do good things. As much as anyone else, we have the need to examine ourselves, to test ourselves and make sure we’re in the faith. And to make our calling and election sure.

2. A Depraved Nature

Second, he says:

Pay close attention to your life where you have a depraved nature and sinful inclinations as well as others.

Preachers can be as prideful, or as lustful, or as unbelieving, or as greedy, or as self-centered, or as hypocritical as anyone else. We’re no less sinful because someone calls us reverend now, or because we lead worship services. No title conferred upon us — even an honorable, or biblical one, such as “minister” or “pastor” — kills sin in our lives. No title disinfects these sinful inclinations. And I think sometimes people go into the ministry almost hoping that maybe that will deal with this sin problem that they have. But it won’t. That’s why we need to pay close attention to our lives as ministers.

3. Greater Temptations

Third, Baxter says:

Pay close attention to your life, for you are exposed to greater temptations than others.

You think you know what spiritual warfare is until you enter the ministry. I remember when the church I pastored called an associate who’d been a public school teacher up to that point. I said to him, “Jim, now you think you know what spiritual warfare is, but you’re really about to find out. You need to prepare yourself.” About seven years later, he recalled that to me and he said, “I thought you were being just melodramatic then, but you were right. I really didn’t know.”

Satan works harder against those who lead the people of God. I mean, if the army is charging against you and the officer is out front riding on a horse, who would you shoot at first? He has more deceitful temptations toward those whose falls can cause the greatest damage.

4. Greater Exposure in Our Failures

That leads to the fourth one. Baxter says:

Pay close attention to your life where you have many eyes upon you and there will be many to observe your falls.

You remember when Ted Koppel’s Nightline program first came on the air? It was November of 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis. Since that time, they’ve been on (I calculated roughly) 3,500 times with highlighting in detail the major news stories of the day or of the time. Now since that time, there have been 3,500 programs for 18 years. With all the major news stories that have happened, do you know what the most watched Nightline program ever is? We’ve had the Challenger disaster during then, we’ve had a president who was shot, we’ve had the OJ Simpson trial, and we’ve had the San Francisco earthquake.

With all these news stories, do you know what captured the most attention on any one night, of any Nightline program in history? Jim Bakker. There are many eyes upon you and there will be many to observe your falls. Now, public leaders fall in the scandal faster than we can count, but they’re usually soon forgotten. I mean, how many in here already can remember the name of the political figure in October, who fell in the scandal? And it’s just been four months.

Do you know how long it’s been since the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart things? It’s now been 10 years. Did you realize that? But you pay attention, you will not see a month go by without some joke, or some snide reference to one or both of them in the media, or somewhere. It’s been 10 years. There are many eyes upon you and there will be many to observe your falls. And what is true on the national scale, with nationally known men, is just as true on the local level with men like us. The town never forgets the preacher who falls. The church always remembers. Children and teenagers are disillusioned. New believers are disillusioned and baffled. The unconverted always have a target to scoff at.

Your community knows when you fall, and the church knows. You have to tell your church, you have to tell your staff, you have to tell your wife, and you have to tell your children. You have to tell the neighbors you’ve been witnessing to. You have to tell your family members that you’ve prayed would be converted. There are many eyes upon you, and there will be many to observe your falls.

5. The Greater Potential for Heinous Sins

Fifth, Baxter says:

Pay close attention to your life, for your sins have more heinous aggravations than other men’s.

In other words, our sins are more serious for one thing because we sin against more light than others do. There’s more hypocrisy involved because we have more than others spoken publicly against the very sins that we commit.

6. The Need for Greater Grace

Sixth, he says:

Pay close attention to your life for such great works as yours require greater grace than other men’s.

To preach the great truths of the gospel, to lead the people of God, to engage in spiritual warfare, and to do all the things that are involved in spiritual leadership requires greater grace than a lot of things you could be doing with your life. There are a lot of things you could be doing where it wouldn’t make any difference if you paid attention to your life. You could still be just as good, effective, and profitable, but not if you want to be a faithful minister — one that God blesses.

7. The Greater Potential to Dishonor Christ

Seventh, he says:

Pay close attention to your life, for the honor of Christ lies more on you than on other men.

Do you know why the betrayal of Judas was more wicked and the denial of Peter was worse than those crowds of people who had shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday and “Crucified him!” on Good Friday? Do you know why theirs was worse? It’s because they were closer to Christ than the crowds were. I mean, they did the same thing. But Peter and Judas were closer to Christ, and the closer a man stands to Christ, the greater the potential for dishonoring Christ. So that’s why we have to pay close attention to our lives. We have a greater potential for dishonoring Christ. His honor lies more on us than on other men.

Can you imagine anything worse than unbelievers laughing at the gospel because of your sins? Can you imagine the unconverted husband of a woman in your church reading or hearing about you, and she comes home and he says, “So this is your godly preacher, huh?” Or imagine you’re walking in the mall and some unconverted parents point you out to their children and say, “Do you see that man? There’s nothing to Christianity.” I hope that makes you shutter. It does me.

God can glorify himself out of our weaknesses. I mean, praise God, he does that with all of us through our weaknesses. He can be strong. In the worst of our sins it can still be said, “If God can save me, he can save you.” Nevertheless, I pray that God would kill me before he would let me be the cause of such dishonor to Christ and the gospel. And I know you feel the same way.

8. The Condition of Our Success

Eighth, Baxter says:

Pay close attention to your life for the success of your labors depends on this.

Can we expect to be as fruitful if we’re not as serious in our own lives about the things that we’re trying to preach to others? Can we be expected to be blessed in the care of souls if we’re careless with our own souls? The success of our own laborers depends on this. So pay attention to your life, he says. That’s the first imperative. Pay close attention to your life.

Pay Careful Attention to Your Doctrine

The second imperative is this: Pay close attention to your doctrine. Do you see it there in 1 Timothy 4:16?

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching . . .

The word is didaskalia, which means “teaching” or “instruction” or “doctrine,” which is why the King James says, “Take heed unto thyself and into the doctrine.” And the NIV says, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely.” My observation is that most ministers are not paying attention to doctrine. They don’t talk about it. They don’t seem to want to talk about it. They don’t go to conferences like this about it. They don’t read about it. And if they’re paying attention to much of anything, it seems to be methods and psychology and managerial techniques.

When I pastored in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton area of Chicagoland, I was on the steering committee of a ministerial fraternity that was headed by John Armstrong. I think you’ve had him here along with Kent Hughes. It was held at Kent’s church and we were on the steering committee. And because of our location there, we were able to get great men of God coming to the area every month. They were coming to be there for one of the evangelical organizations there in the Wheaton area, or coming to Trinity or Wheaton College, or something like that. We’d hear John Piper. We would have R.C. Sproul. We’d have Jim Boice. We’d have someone like this virtually every month, and they would come and they would give one or two lectures. Then we would have a brown bag lunch where we sat around tables, and we would be able to visit with this guy around the table.

Then he would stand and do Q&A for an hour or more. It would be half a day. And it was free. And every minister was invited. There’s some here today who regularly go to them, and it was free. Invitations would be sent out to every minister in the area, months in advance. The whole year would be calendared, so you could put it on your calendar. I personally would write letters and call friends and invite them and say, “Look, it’s free. We could spend a half a day with John Piper hearing him twice and sitting around tables and talking with him, and it won’t cost you a thing.” There were seven million people in that area with all the churches and evangelical churches in the western suburbs around Wheaton and all that, and we could never get more than 20 or 25 with men like this. With R.C. Sproul I think we got 50 men. It was free.

No place for Truth

Why won’t men pay attention to their doctrine? In his great book, No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?. He writes about what has resulted from men not paying attention to their doctrine. He says, “We now have less biblical fidelity.” Remember what the goals are when you think of this. What are the goals? Why aren’t men paying attention to the doctrine? Oh, they’re wanting to do something else, and for what purposes? Well listen to what has resulted:

We now have less biblical fidelity, less interest in truth, less seriousness, less depth, and less capacity to speak the word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks.

Let me read that last one again. We have less capacity to speak the word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks. Now, most men say they don’t have time to study doctrine because they’re too busy trying to find methods that will relate to their own generation and offer them an alternative. The irony, according to Wells, is that in their pursuit of identification, there has been a corresponding loss of communication — at least a communication that sounds like an alternative to what they see here in the world.

Some say, “Well, I’m too busy to study doctrines.” Some think it’s unimportant. There are some that are so gifted that they can minister with some apparent success for a long time without it. So why do it? They might think, “I mean, God’s blessing what I’m doing now. We are seeing people saved and things are happening and I’m not studying, so why do I need to do it?” But you know what? You may be as gifted as Timothy, who caught the eye of Paul as he was coming through town. He said, “I want you to go with me. I want to pour my life into you. I want to pass the mantle and pass the torch to you.” That’s what we heard last night. And yet, it was to this gifted man that Paul said, “You pay attention to your doctrine.”

Some think doctrine is dull and heartless. Boy, it’s just the opposite. They say, “Well, yeah, I hear these doctrinal speakers and they’re as dull and dry as the inside of a basketball.” Well, I hear men who hate doctrine, who are as dull as the inside of a basketball. So what does that prove?

The Word and the Burning Heart

Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads. Doctrine is the fuel for the fire that burns in the heart. And if there is real fire in the heart, that heart burns to know God and burns to know the truth of him. It says, “Tell me everything you can tell me about Jesus Christ. Tell me everything you can about the holiness of God. Tell me everything you can about the glory of God and of heaven. Tell me every nuance. I can’t get enough.” Conversely, a man who really understands that and who meditates on it is a man whose heart will be ignited by it. There will be no cold, passionless man who really understands the truth.

It was after 11 chapters of the most systematic presentation of doctrine he ever wrote, that Paul said:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord,
     or who has become his counselor?
Or who has first given to him
     that it might be paid back to him?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33–36).

Have you thought about that? He was his most doxological ever when just after he was most theological. He was never more doxological than when he was most theological.

Tempted to Be Clever

Now here’s one way that God helped me apply this text. It was time for the Christmas sermon. I don’t even have to explain what I was going through. I thought, “How do I say it this time? Everybody here knows everything I’m going to say no matter what text I use. Their lips move as I read the thing. How do I say it? I mean the three-year-olds know what I’m going to say. How do I say it to the same people to whom I’ve said it over and over again?” So there’s a temptation to try to be clever. And then you think about these ideas and you think, “No, I can’t sell myself out to do that, but what am I going to do?” Well, it dawned upon me and I thought, “I have not grown in my understanding of the doctrine of the incarnation. I’m stale. I don’t know of anything newer, deeper, or fresher about the incarnation than what I’ve known for some time.

So I set myself to study it afresh and not just hunt for one of those obscure Christmas texts that nobody’s ever preached on before and will get people’s attention. But I set myself to study that. I pulled off some of the systematics and some of the christologies and began to look at some of these things and I read. I discovered several common heresies — five actually — that have been through history about the incarnation. I introduced this particular sermon, by talking about these things that I called “Christmas heresies.” I just gave a brief survey of these, but knew I couldn’t do it just right out of the books. It would sound too technical.

Also More to Search and Understand

In one of these periodicals or something I had read a question about one of these heresies that got my attention, and was this: “Did the baby in the manger know that the world was round?” So I introduced each one of these five heresies with that question that framed the issue around which the heresy errs. It got my attention, I thought it would get everyone else’s. And it did. So I said, “Did the baby and the man know that the world was round?” And of course the answer is, yes and no. I know that sounds very postmodern, but in this case it was true. Because since he was fully man, he could not know. No man knew at that time and certainly no infant knows even today. No fully human person could know that the world was round as an infant. And yet since he was fully God, he could not give up an essential attribute like omniscience. If he gives up omniscience, that’s an essential attribute of God, so he’s no longer God.

So yes, as God he knew, but as man, he did not. That’s a kenotic heresy, by the way, which says when Jesus emptied himself (according to Philippians 2:5–8), he emptied himself of some of his divine attributes. Now the mirror image of that is the ubiquitous body heresy. I introduced that with this question: “Did the baby in the manger have the ability to simultaneously and physically be both in the manger and in America on Christmas night?” Now, the first heresy denies the deity of Christ. He couldn’t know. But this one tries to deify the body of Christ and make it omnipresent. So the answer again is yes — as God, he filled the universe. He was not contained in that baby because he is God, and God is omnipresent. He didn’t give up omnipresence when he became a man, yet he was fully man.

Being fully man, no human being can be in two places at one time. And you say, “Well, that sounds clever, but what difference does it make?” I’ll tell you the difference that it makes. There are people in your town who teach that. And in fact, since you’re from this part of the country as when I was in Chicago for 15 years, there are probably a lot more people in your town and churches who believe that than in churches like yours who don’t believe that. In the Lord’s Supper, there are millions who believe that the actual body of Christ can be in Rome and in Nome and in your town at the same moment, but his body cannot. Not his actual body.

Then the glory of the message, of course, was just then to proclaim the incarnation, the two natures of Christ. And those of us, myself included, who came thinking, “I know this, I know the incarnation.” You could just see circuit breakers going off in people’s minds all over the building, trying to get hold of the two natures of Christ, trying to grasp this idea that God somehow that came down and scooped up humanity with his divinity, remaining fully God, not giving up any of that when he became fully man. It was glorious to declare. It was glorious as people realized, “I don’t understand the incarnation and I can’t.” It just made the incarnation, God, Christ, and Christmas so much bigger, all because in this case I set myself to pay attention to doctrine.

Now that’s what I ought to be doing. We all ought to be doing that all of our lives. All of our lives. Someone has said about any doctrine in scripture, no matter how well you think you know it, any doctrine in Scripture almost is shallow enough for a child to wade in and understand, and yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in. So no matter how well you think you know any doctrine, you don’t really know it. And that’s just what we’re supposed to do. That’s part of what it means in 2 Timothy 3:14, where it says, “Continue in the things you have learned.” You learned the doctrine of the incarnation, great. Continue learning it. Continue in the things you have learned.

Persevere in These Things

That leads to the third imperative: Persevere in these things. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching (1 Timothy 4:16), and persevere in these things. Paying attention to our life and our doctrine has always been that which we are to persevere in. It’s the watchword for ministers always. When Paul said his goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, he said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock.” And I believe he’s saying pay attention to your life and to your doctrine because two verses later, when he is talking about the flock, he says, “Men will arise speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). So you pay attention to yourself and pay attention to the doctrine because there’s going to be false teachers coming up. Pay attention to yourselves, to your flock, to your life, and to your doctrine.

He said the same thing and his pastoral epistle to Titus. In Titus 2:7, he says:

In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine . . .

Let’s pay attention to our lives and be an example of good deeds, and have purity of doctrine. I guess everyone thinks they have purity of doctrine, right? If I go around with the microphone and say, “Brother David, do you have purity of doctrine?” What’s he going to say? “Well no, actually I think I’d rather have impure doctrine.” I mean we all think we have purity of doctrine, but how can we make sure? Well the best way, at the very least, is that we have to keep studying it right? We keep refining our understanding of the purity of doctrine that’s delivered to us in the word of God. We must persevere in it and keep studying.

Study Until You Die

I was preaching on the importance of continuing on these things a few years ago at a pastor’s conference, and after that there was a Q&A session and one man said, “Do you know what? I pretty well decided that after I became 40, I had learned about everything I needed to learn. I just need to start applying it now.”

Well, there’s a sense in which we’re all educated beyond our obedience, right? I mean, we all know more than we’re doing, but still, how would you like for your surgeon to have that attitude? Brothers, the Puritans said, “We are physicians of the soul.” There’s just something not quite like Paul in that, is it? That is clearly not persevering in doctrine. Even Paul did that. In the last thing he wrote, he said, “When you come bring the cloak, which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13–16). And we know some of those were Scripture books and parchments, but there may have been other things. The point is he wanted to learn.

Now wouldn’t you think if there was any man in the history of the world that didn’t need to study doctrine it was the man God used to write it for us? I mean, after all, he wrote most of our doctrine in the New Testament. If any man ever at a time in his life didn’t need to study doctrine, it would be the apostle Paul when he is just about to die. But he said, “Bring me the books, I want to study.” That went to the end of his life because he realized the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God, and how unsearchable his judgments and fathomable his ways. He thought, “There’s no greater thought that I can give my mind to than these things.” Maybe it’s because of what we learned last night. In those worst moments, in those discouraging moments, what will encourage him? What will sustain him? It’s that old truth.

Take Doctrine Seriously

A very good friend of mine told me of something that happened at his graduation practice. He had earned his degree in one of the best known seminaries in the country, and several hundred were graduating. You know how graduation practices go. It’s, “Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.” So while they were working on the platform deciding things, they were sitting like you are out there in their places, waiting to be told what to do. And a book came out. You’d all recognize the title if I mentioned it. It was a very popular book on sanctification. This was the late 1970s, I guess. He knew there were some problems with it, but he hadn’t read himself. So he took that book with him and he took two of his most trusted systematic theology textbooks with him, because he knew he’d have time for reading.

He was in the graduation practice and he’s reading some passages here and contemplating them. He turned over to the passages and these two systematics about the doctrine of sanctification. He would read and look, see the Scriptures here and see their basis here and look at these back and forth. And he said, the guy sitting on the right of him looked over and said, “Brother, do you still have a test you have to take before you can graduate or something?” And before he could answer, the guy on his left said, “What are you doing here? You still have to finish a paper before graduation?” And he answered both of them, “No.” And bewildered, one of them said, “Then why are you reading that?”

He said, “Well, this new book came out on sanctification and so forth. Basically, I’m trying to better understand the doctor on sanctification.” And this newly minted pastor on his right said, “Not me. Man, I’m never reading that stuff again.” And the guy on his left said, “I’m finished with that. I’m just going to go out and preach Jesus.” How are you going to preach Jesus without knowing the doctrine of the incarnation? Without knowing the doctrine of the cross? Without knowing the doctrines Jesus preached? But think of that. At his very graduation from a theological seminary, he was ridiculed for reading theology. And that’s where we’ve come to. At your graduation from theological seminary, you can be ridiculed for reading theology. How would you like to sit under a pastor who has an attitude like that?

How’s that kind of attitude toward what God has revealed from heaven? They said, “I’m not going to read any doctrine studies about that anymore.” We need to persevere in these things all of our lives, both in devotion and in doctrine.

Old Vance Havner used to say, “A man can be as straight as a gun barrel theologically, and just as empty.” And we don’t want that. That’s not what we’re arguing for. Because an empty life, or a hypocritical life, will counterman the effect of all of your doctrine no matter how straight it is. But on the other hand, a warmhearted passionate presentation of error can fill a church, even given by a pious and devoted man. It can fill a church with spiritually sick Christians. And we don’t want either one. We want both devotion and doctrine, and we want to persevere in these things. So there are three imperatives.

Ensured Salvation for Yourself

Now I want to give you two promises. Two promises, which are the results of persevering in disciplines in doctrine. Paul says:

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).

The first promise is that as you do this, you will ensure salvation for yourself. Paul said in another place, that after having preached to others, he did not want to become a castaway himself (1 Corinthians 9:27). And when he said “castaway,” I don’t believe he was referring to God putting him on the shelf. I think it means rejected silver. I think it means that he would prove that after all he has experienced and the miracles coming through his own hands and the people converted, the things from his own lips, that he would find out he had been self-deceived and not converted in the first place.

How did he ensure that wouldn’t happen? He said, “I’m going to devote myself to doctrine and to devotion, to the disciplines.” It’s not that these things save us, but a man who still has a heart for these things, all of his life, has assurance that he in fact has the life of God in him, for only the Spirit of God can give you that hunger for Christ, that perseveres, and that love of truth so as to be saved as he talks about in 1 Thessalonians.

Entrusted Salvation for Your Hearers

The other promise is this: As you do this, you will ensure salvation for those who hear you. This is the only verse in the Bible that I can think of that says in the same verse to do the same thing three times. One, pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; two, persevere in these things; three, for as you do this . . . Isn’t that amazing? It’s three times in one verse. As you do this, you will ensure salvation for yourself and for those who hear you. It’s also the only verse in the Bible I know of that says, “If you do this, you will see people saved.” It doesn’t say that we’ll see as many saved as we want, necessarily, but this is the only verse in the Bible that speaks this way. It astonishes me that with all the methods that are sent around on how to reach people and how to grow a church, you never hear this. And it’s the only verse in the Bible that says, “If you do this, you will ensure some will be saved.” It says, “You be a godly man and you preach the truth, and you will see people saved. You will not be fruitless, or useless.” It says that in 2 Peter 1:8 as well.

That was the heart of Paul’s evangelism. That was the heart of his church growth strategy. It was to be a godly man, first of all, living like Christ as much as possible, if you’re intending to introduce people to Christ. And it’s not only about paying attention to your life but to your doctrine, because it’s paying attention to the truth. Jesus said, “It’s the truth that sets people free” (John 8:32). So you’re going to have to live like Jesus you’d expect if you’re going to leave people to him. And it was his truth. He said that would set people free. So we must be devoted to that truth. It’s the doctrine of salvation. It’s the gospel that saves. It’s the doctrine of repentance, the doctrine of the cross, and the doctrine of faith. It’s these teachings of the Bible that the Holy Spirit uses to open the eyes of the unconverted. That’s why we must pay attention to doctrine. It’s the message. It’s the gospel. As you do this, the Bible promises that you will ensure salvation both for yourself and those who hear you.

Does God Know the Best Way to Win Souls?

As I bring it to a close, I want to give you four questions. Four questions. First of all, do you believe that God knows the best way for us to win souls? As strange as this verse’s methods may sound to our ears today, do you believe that anyone, despite their experience or their testimony, has a truly more fruitful way in the long run, than the way of this verse? I think that’s a crisis of belief, if you will. Do you truly believe that no matter what anyone’s experience or testimony is, that this in the long run is truly the most fruitful way?

Brother, if you are a minister of the gospel, don’t become a church CEO. If God has called you, you’re not a rancher. You’re a shepherd. That’s the terminology of the Scripture. Don’t devote yourself primarily to demographics and data — they have their place — but to discipline and doctrine. That’s what God calls us to do it. It seems that today that the trend is just to be so devoted to becoming masters of demographics and data. I’ve said it myself before, we’re not going to change the message; we just want to change the method. I didn’t intend to say this, but I have to show you this. Do you realize there are some methods that do not change the message but void the cross of its power? It’s exactly what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17. You know the verse well, but think of it in terms of how he could preach the gospel and not change it, but there are ways he could preach the unchanged gospel that would void it of its power.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void (1 Corinthians 1:17).

Now we knew he felt about baptism, but that’s not how people were saved. He didn’t send Paul to go around just baptizing people. He sent him to preach the gospel. There are ways you can preach the gospel without changing the message that void the cross of its power. Some methods don’t change the message but void it of its power. I could tattoo John 3:16 on my chest. It would never change the message, would it? The message would never change, but it would trivialize the gospel. It would be voiding the cross of its power. God has not made a mistake when he says, “The way to ensure salvation of people is to be a godly man and preach pure doctrine.”

Are You in Submission to the Word of God?

Second, are you a man in submission to the word of God? Well, you have to say yes. This may contradict everything you’ve practiced or heard about reaching people, but God’s way is not negotiated. If we’re going to be men under the word of God, it is not optional. These things are not optional for our ministries. It is not optional to pay attention to our life and to pay attention to our doctrine. God requires that of faithful ministers.

Are You Devoted to the Disciplines of Godly Living?

Third question, are you devoted now to the disciplines of Godly living? That’s right out of the text. Are you devoted to these disciplines that he says be devoted to? Are you growing spiritually? I don’t mean are you growing in ministry skills. If you let a dust ball roll around under the pews here long enough and it grows bigger just by hanging around. If you hang around the ministry long enough, you’re going to pick up some skills and things. But are you growing spiritually? Are you growing as any other Christian should and ought to be growing? It’s going to happen the same way as it does for every believer in Christ, that is, through the spiritual disciplines.

Are you a model for God’s people in these things, or are you letting the ministry keep you from the ways of becoming more like Jesus? During the 1830s and 40s, there was a minister in Dundee, Scotland. Many of you know Robert Murray M’Cheyne. His biography is in the bookstore back there. He had a worldwide impact even though he died at age 30. He was such a godly man that it was said that people would weep just looking on his face as he would ascend the steps of the pulpit. It was M’Cheyne who said, “A godly minister is an awful weapon in the hands of a holy God.”

And we are to discipline ourselves, says that verse, “for the purpose of godliness,” not just to become more disciplined, not to have more notches on our Bible, not to be able to say, “I do this or I do that or I’ve done this much.” The purpose of every spiritual discipline is to be like Jesus. Are you becoming a godly man? May God help us be more devoted to those disciplines that lead to godliness.

Are You Devoted to Developing in Doctrine?

This is the last question: Are you devoted to developing in doctrine? If as a pastor, you aren’t devoted to doctrine, it’s very unlikely that anyone else in your church will be, and then where will you be? You’ll be in a church full of doctrinally weak or unsound people. I’ve thought a lot about this and I’d be interested in your thoughts, but I believe the difference between spiritually strong and mature churches and weak, dying churches — though there are many factors to consider and it’s a generalization — is the proclamation of biblical doctrine by godly men.

Think about it. Weak and dying churches have basically the same programs as strong, mature churches. They all have Sunday school, they all have music ministries, and they all have children’s ministries and women’s ministries and outreach ministries and mercy ministries. Weak churches have basically the same general categories of ministries as the strong churches do. So the difference is not organization, it is proclamation. It’s about proclamation of the truth by godly men. And the bulwark against the eroding tide in your church is your pulpit. But if the foundations are destroyed by erosions, then what can we do?

To Die a Man of God

I close with some anonymous words you may have heard before. I got them from Dr. MacArthur’s book on expository preaching. He says that they’re anonymous words. It seems like somewhere I’ve heard him say that a pastor’s widow had written these things. They definitely contain a measure of hyperbole, but they are pertinent to the subject of keeping a man of God devoted to disciplines and doctrine:

Fling him into his office. Tear the “office” sign from the door and nail on the sign “study.” Lock him up with his books and his computer and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the superficial flock and a holy God. Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through, and let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever from spouting remarks and stop his tongue from forever tripping lightly over every non-essential. Require him to have something to say before he breaks the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley, burn his eyes with weary study, wreck his emotional poise with worry for the things of God, and make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit and make him preach the word of the living God. Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finance, batting averages, and political infighting.

Laugh at his frustrated efforts to play psychiatrist. Form a choir, raise a chant, and haunt him day and night with, “Sir, we would know Jesus.” When at long last, he dares assay the pulpit. Ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, dismiss him. Tell him that you can read the morning paper, digest the television commentaries, think through the day’s superficial problems, manage the community’s weary drives, bless the sorted baked potatoes, and green beans ad infinitum better than he can. Command him not to come back until he has read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, warn and forlorn and say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the word. And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left: God’s word. Let him sup with it until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity

And when he’s burned out finally by the flaming word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin and raise the tomb triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the word. And ‘ere he died, he died a man of God.

Questions and Answers

It’s my understanding we’re to take a few minutes for some Q&A at this point, if anyone has anything they’d like to mention.

If we’re to watch our lives, what do we watch for? Should we just keep up the disciplines? How do we keep it from just being familiar? Because the disciplines can become as routine as anything else.

I would say amen to that. Several things come to mind. One is that Proverbs tells us to watch your heart for out of that flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). So in the daily routine of a devotional life, watch your heart. Is your heart cold? That leads me to a thought by Thomas Watson, one of the Puritans, who said, “Why do we come away so cold from the word of God?” Everywhere I go, I say to people, “Do you read the Bible? And after you’ve read a chapter, three chapters, or 30 chapters, you close it up and say, ‘What did I just read? Where did I just read?’” Everybody says, “Yeah, that happens to me all the time. I’d hardly ever admit it and I’d never say this publicly, but so often I read the Bible and I close it and I say, “I didn’t get anything out of that. And I know it’s not supposed to be like that. Something must be wrong with me. Because when I hear it preached, it’s not like that.”

Now I think that that can happen very much in the reading of scripture. And I think the answer in Bible intake is what Watson says: “Why do we come away so cold from the word of God? It’s because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” We can have a torrential amount of intake of the word of God. It can be like hard rain on hard ground. It just runs off. Meditation is what makes the soil of the soul tender so that the water (the word) can percolate. Meditation is absorption.

Psalm 1 talks about those who meditate in the word of God day and night will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. It has that idea of the roots going down. So even when it’s dry on the surface of your church, you might say, the roots are still drawing nutrients from the word of God and drawing from the streams of water, even when there’s dryness on the surface. So I think meditation is extremely important.

And the other one is this. Whenever I go and do a conference on spiritual disciplines or something, the first thing I always do is to talk about praying through Scripture. Usually I spend the whole time in the first session on praying through Scripture and second on meditation for the very reason you mentioned. Because what people don’t need is just to be told to go back and told to do it again.

If I can regress even a little more, I have, as I know most of you do, a tremendous passion for revival. At least once a year I preached a sermon and often a whole series of sermons on revival when I was a pastor. But I hardly ever talk about revival alone anymore, but reformation and revival. Because we don’t just need revival in the sense of new enthusiasm to go back to the same old things or the same directions; we need some new directions. To go back to the same old practices with new enthusiasm can become routine again, and then you’re back to where you started and maybe even more cynical than before. So we need reformation. And one of the ways we need reformation I think is reformation in our praying, and the reformation that I argue for is simply something you teach a six-year-old to do — to pray through Scripture.

We’ve already talked about how time in the word can become routine, and time and prayer can become routine. We don’t pray, even though we’re the ones who say, “I believe in prayer.” Nobody believes in prayer more than the pastors. And we would all say we ought to pray more. I’ve never met anybody that says, “I’m praying all ought to be praying.” So we would say, “I believe in prayer,” and, “I ought to pray more.” But why don’t we? The very ones who say we believe in it and the very ones who say we ought to pray more and we don’t. I think it’s this reason, though it doesn’t sound very spiritual, but I think it’s true: We don’t feel like it. And do you know why we don’t feel like it? It’s because when we pray we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. If you say the same old things about the same old things enough, you don’t feel like saying them anymore.

I mean they’re the big six areas of your life generally. If I said, “Let’s go out and pray for 10 minutes by ourselves,” we would all tend to pray about the same six or so things. You’d pray about your church, you’d pray about your ministry, you’d pray about your family, you’d pray about your future, you’d pray about your finances, and you’d pray about your decisions or something like that. This is where we live our lives, and these are the great loves of our lives. So we tend to pray about those things even if we don’t have a prayer list, or if we don’t pray for missionaries or anything else. We tend to say the same things generally about those same things. And if you say it enough, you get tired of saying it.

You think, “God has heard it 1,000 times. Why do I need to say it again? I know I ought to, but I just don’t have a heart to do it.” I think the simple key to that is to just pray through passages of Scripture. Take the Psalms. If you never get out of doing it in the Psalms that’s fine. You can do what I call “The Psalms of the day.” You start with the day of the month and then get the five Psalms from that. Just pray through the Psalms, because there’s a Psalm for every sigh of the heart. I find that when I start praying like that, it ignites the heart. In fact, this is what George Müller did as I describe it in the spiritual disciplines book. I have a three-page quotation. I couldn’t believe they let me put a three-page quotation in the book out of one of George Müller’s books.

This was a secret of his life. He said that for the first 10 years of his life in ministry, the first thing he did in the morning was that he got up and he started praying. He got dressed, and then he prayed till breakfast. He said that it took him a quarter of an hour, a half an hour, or sometimes even an hour before he got into the spirit of prayer. And he says that only then did he really begin to pray. Well, how many of us are going to spend an hour getting in the spirit of prayer and then start? I’ve seen surveys that say the average pastor and his wife pray seven minutes a day. So not many will do that. Not many of us are going to pray for half an hour to an hour to feel like praying and then start.

Müller says it was until he made one change in his prayer life, and he says, “I scarcely ever suffer this way anymore.” And what he did was practice meditation over and over on the word of God. He says it’s not just reading the word of God. The first thing he knew he needed to do every morning was not pray, but get food for the inner man. Now, what is food for the inner man? He said it’s not prayer but the word of God. And here again, it’s not the simple reading of the word of God so that it only passes through our minds as water passes through a pipe. But he says it was about “considering it, turning it over in our minds, and drawing food from its nourishment.” And he goes on to talk about meditation. We think of him as a man who could spend hours on his knees, and he could, but he liked to take his Bible and walk in the fields and pray. He describes it very well as “praying through every verse.”

I would say just do the same thing. That never fails to ignite my heart. On the one hand, it’s encouraging. If George Müller didn’t wake up feeling like praying, that’s like we are. But we shouldn’t be surprised or feel badly if we don’t. But that’s what it took for him. And I believe those are two things in the two most important areas of the disciplines to keep them from becoming routine. That’s a great question.

Could you perhaps comment on the importance of the discipline of Sabbath keeping and the overall place that it has in today’s, if you will, post-modern world?

John and I talked about this yesterday. In fact, John, if you’d like, I’ll let you answer that question. Well, of course, this is the most controversial of the 10 Commandments, and especially among the Reformed community. I teach these in two different classes. I teach at the seminary. We spend two days on the Lord’s day, and I talk about that. The two main principles I emphasize are that the priority on the Lord’s day is worship with the Lord’s people. Hebrews 10:25 commands us to worship congregationally, and the apostolic example is on the first day of the week. And the other principle is Revelations 1:10 says it was on “the Lord’s day.” So since it is the Lord’s day, we’re to evaluate every activity by that fact.

So there are some things I would not personally engage in because of something better I could be doing with my time in drawing closer to Christ — things that would be more edifying. There are some things that I might do. For example, as much as I love sports, I don’t watch sports on the Lord’s day. My next door neighbor, who is lost, who loves the Kansas City Chiefs, if he invited me over to watch, in that case, I would go. I know many would disagree here on that, but I would go for the sake of trying to reach my neighbor. If he’s out mowing his yard on the Lord’s day, I might, instead of praying some imprecatory Psalm against him from my window, take him a glass of water. And in one sense you might say I assist him in doing that. But here’s an opportunity for the sake of the kingdom to reach this neighbor that I don’t have other days.

But your point is well-taken. I think regardless of your view on the Sabbath of Lord’s day, God has built in creation ordinances, a rhythm of work and rest. For the minister, the Lord’s day is the busiest day of the week. And I think for the priests, if I’m not mistaken, the Sabbath was their busiest day as well in terms of sacrifices and things. It was a workday anyway. I do know that. So we have to have that day of rest. John says he takes Thursday for example, and tries to put his feet up and read. And there are a myriad of examples. I think that’s absolutely essential. It’s a day for unstringing the bow. John said it very well last night. He said he thinks one reason God requires us to physically have eight hours of sleep and rest is just to show us that we’re not God and that we’re not sufficient for these things. By faith, we have to not do some things.

But I teach my students and I have them write a brief position paper on the Lord’s day, basically to show them that they don’t have a position. Because I say the largest view today is what 99 percent of evangelicals hold. That’s the nothing view. They’ve never thought of it. It’s never been taught, at least in my circles and in my denomination. There’s a wonderful statement in our denominational doctrinal statement, but it’s not been taught. I know some that’s a major teaching in your churches, but for some it’s not taught at all. I would encourage you to examine your own. Number one, are you consistent with your own doctoral statement? If a church called you and said, “Do you hold to this doctoral statement?” would you have to say no, because you don’t practice what it says there about the Lord’s day? Your integrity would require you to say no.

I love to get up and start our services by saying, “Today, this is the Lord’s day and our great privilege and responsibility is to worship him with his people,” and I say a few things about that. But occasionally I get up and say, “The weekend is over.” And I see people go, “Oh no, don’t say that. That’s the last thing we needed to hear. Tomorrow is Monday.” I say, “This is the first day and the best day of the week. It’s the market day of the soul.” And you can just see people brighten up again. I think we need a great dose of teaching on the Lord’s day in our churches.

I’m practicing these things and I agree with 1 Timothy 4:16, but our church is not growing. How can we close the gap on this? How can this be the New Testament method of church growth?

Well, we’re to watch our lives. In the context of the chapter, it says, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:16). I take that synonymously to be Christlikeness. In watching our life to see that we’re like Jesus, Jesus was with unbelievers. I think when I wrote the book on spiritual disciplines, one of the things that’s unique to that book is that other books on spiritual disciplines don’t have chapters on evangelism. I think evangelism is not only an overflow (it is that), but for us it has to be a discipline, especially for ministers. That was probably the thing that was in there for me more than anything else because as pastor, I could spend my time 24 hours a day, seven days a week with church people and still not get the job done. What would be my potential for a personal evangelism then? Zero. So I had to discipline myself to be with unbelievers, which is Christlike. So part of watching your life is trying to be like Christ who was with, made time for, and sought out unbelievers.

I think part of meditation on Scripture would be, how can I lead our church to engage the culture more? And who am I to comment on your situation not knowing more, and without questioning or doubting anything? I mean we’ve all been there very much.

I still have to stand upon this. Again, when you said 11 years, I understand, but I thought of Adoniram Judson for who did that for seven years, and William Carey who did that for seven years without seeing any positive influence. And again, as Dr. MacArthur said last night, we’re a savor from life to life and from death to death. God is glorified in our being a savor from death to death for some people. The last chapter is not written. God moves in a mysterious way.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain. God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain.

So in summary, as part of the disciplines, in meditation, searching the Scripture, how can I be involved with the unbelievers more? How can I lead our church out to that more? That is part of watching your life and the doctrine that you teach. Consider the doctrines of reaching others. Then fall back on what the scripture says. That would be my short answer.

What can we do to discuss and have differences, and yet persevere in the study of doctrine?

In one sense I would say that you’re rather rare to have people who are doing that kind of reading, because most pastors aren’t. And if pastors aren’t, a lot of the people aren’t. What can we do then to discuss that with people? Well, to affirm publicly what you would affirm, the pulpit is not the time to debate; it’s time to declare and proclaim. But secondly, the only thing that came to my mind for that may help or it may lead to further debate, I don’t know. One thing that looking back was perhaps the most profitable thing that we did in the last half of the 15 years in the church I was in. We had something one Sunday night a month called a “fellowship/theological discussion meeting.”

And we laughed every time we announced it and thought, “We have to find a shorter title for this.” I came to find out later that Martin Lloyd Jones did a similar thing and it was just one word different. I felt pretty good about that. We had an evening service and an hour after the evening service at 8:00p.m. everyone was supposed to be in their seats or whatever. You were supposed to bring a snack if you could, but not something to cook, just something in a bag or something. It was all cookies. And at 8:00 p.m. I would start a time of theological discussion.

I would say, “First of all, are there any questions about one of today’s sermons?” Usually there were. If not, I would ask, “Are there any questions about any recent sermons?” Rarely we got beyond that. Third, I said, “Do you have any questions in general about the Bible or things you’ve heard or read recently?” And then, if that failed, only one time did I have to go to the other one, where I had some prepared questions. And we would go for an hour doing that. And at nine o’clock, I would read from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening or something like that. It was sort of a break. And the people who needed to leave could leave. And then everyone else would just sort of remount and reload on the food and come back and we’d start over. And we would go as late as people would stay. Sometimes it was 12:00 a.m. or 1:00 a.m.

The strange thing was, at any fellowship, social time, we could have done that. They could have asked questions and talked about theology. But there was something about the fact that they knew we were going to talk about theology, that they packed the place. I can still see them in my mind’s eye, sitting two by two up the stairs and standing in other rooms of the house. They couldn’t see, but they would hear. It was the most fruitful thing I think we did, and it was an opportunity to dialogue about these things and get our Bibles out. And again, that might only lead to more debate. I don’t know. But it was the best and most fruitful thing we did I think outside of our worship services. You might consider that in the biography of Martin Lloyd Jones there’s about eight or nine pages about how he did something like this on a Friday night. That’ll give you more thought starters for that.