Think Christ (with German Interpretation)

German Shepherds' Conference | Bonn, Germany

Let’s begin with some review from last night. The main point last night was that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The emotional side of the Christian life is essential to glorifying God. You should never say “feelings don’t matter.” A person said to me one time, “John, you should pursue obedience, not joy.” Now what’s wrong with that command? The problem is that obedience means doing what we are commanded to do. And what God commanded that we do is pursue joy. Therefore, you can’t say pursue obedience rather than pursue joy. It would be like saying, “Pursue fruit, not apples.” An apple is fruit. Pursuing joy is obedience. You can’t play obedience and joy off against each other.

So last night we saw that the Bible commands us to pursue our joy in him. And we saw from Hebrews 13:17 that pastors should do their work with joy. If we don’t do our work with joy, our people do not benefit. Then we saw from 2 Corinthians 1:24 that we are workers with our people for their joy. And the last thing we saw was that keeping the pursuit of joy central protects us from many errors. For example, we saw that intellectualism and anti-intellectualism would both be prevented if we kept joy central. And legalism and antinomianism would also be prevented if we kept joy central.

Right Thinking and Right Feeling

Now we’re going to turn tonight from the supreme importance of being satisfied in God to the secondary work of thinking. And here’s the main point: right-thinking about God exists for the sake of right feeling for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart. Knowing the truth is the basis of admiring the truth.

So both thinking and feeling are indispensable, but both are not ultimate. We think in order to feel about God the way we should. The devil has true thoughts about many things, but these true thoughts never awaken the right affections for God. And I don’t want to say the devil is capable of doing what is ultimate, he cannot feel about God the way he should, even though he has many right thoughts about God. So thinking, in us, is meant to serve the ultimate, namely feeling about God. So let me expand upon the main point from last night.

Being satisfied in God will not glorify God if our satisfaction in God isn’t based on right-thinking. Let me illustrate with a story that I am making up out of my head. I’m walking down the street, and a man comes up to me, and in a bag he has $10,000 in cash. And he gives me the bag and he says, “Please deposit this in my bank account. And here is my account number.” I don’t even know him. And I ask him, “Why are you trusting me with this money? I don’t even know you.” And he says, “No reason. I just feel very strongly right now that you will put it in the bank. I have a strong, warm feeling that you can be trusted.”

Now my question is, are you honored, are you glorified by that feeling that he has? The answer is no, you would not feel honored. That’s irrational, that’s crazy and stupid. You are not honored if a man has a feeling about you which is irrational and foolish and crazy. But suppose when you ask him, “Why are you giving me this money?” he said, “ Iwork in the same building where you work, even though you have never met me. And I have been watching you for a year in how you act. I know your character. Because of what I have seen in your life, there is rising in me a strong, deep confidence that you will not steal from me.”

Now, are you honored by that feeling in that man’s heart? Yes you would be. What’s the difference? The second feeling is based on right-thinking, it’s based on evidence. So when I say God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, I mean that satisfaction is based on right-thinking and true knowledge.

Reasons for Right Thinking

So what I want to do this evening is give you 10 reasons from the Bible why right-thinking is so essential. The first night was on the priority of feeling, and tonight is the essential, indispensable role of right-thinking and right knowing.

1. Zeal Without Knowledge

Let’s go to Romans 10:1–2:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

So they have strong feelings, and they have feelings for God. It says they have a zeal for God, and yet they are not saved, because in verse one he’s praying that they would be saved. He says, “My prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” This is terrifying. You can have a strong passion for God and be lost. So my first argument, according to Romans 10:2, is that it is possible to have strong feelings and be lost because they’re not according to knowledge. Zeal is very important, but not zeal based on wrong-thinking or wrong knowledge.

2. Illumination Through Thinking

Let’s go to 2 Timothy 2:7. It says:

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

This is a command to Timothy that he thinks about what Paul has written. And I assume that command applies to me and you. Now notice that the second phrase begins with for. He says, “Think over what I say for (or because) the Lord will give understanding.” Many people say, “Well, if the Lord gives understanding, I don’t need to think.” They think of it as a mystical experience that knowledge comes into your mind when you read the Bible, and you don’t have to think. Paul turns it exactly around. He says, “Because the Lord gives understanding, therefore think over what I say.”

So I conclude from this verse that God has planned that thinking about the Bible is the means God uses to give understanding. Don’t ever play off against each other trust in the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the one side and hard-thinking on the other. Don’t treat those as being against each other. I think this verse says we are totally dependent upon God, the Holy Spirit, for all genuine light and illumination. But Paul does not conclude from that dependence that we shouldn’t think.

Now this has an effect on the way we pray when we study the Bible. When I prepare for a sermon, I open my Bible, and I turn my mind on high gear. And I struggle with words and clauses and grammar. At every moment I am whispering, “Open my eyes, God, to see what’s here.” God illumines our minds through thinking and the use of our minds. Many times on Friday when I prepare my sermons I get stuck. I cannot figure out what Paul means by this verse. I have thought and thought, and I pause and I say, “God, I have to preach on this text. I don’t know what it means.” And I ask him, “Please, give me a breakthrough.”

It is amazing how many times he answers me. And he doesn’t do it by whispering in my ear what the answer is. I actually see what is here, because that’s what I have to preach. I can’t stand in front of people and say, “God told me on Friday what this text means.” I have to show them that’s what it means. That’s what expository preaching is. So the way we pray is for illumination through thinking, through study.

3. The Example of Paul

The third argument is that Paul is given as an example of reasoning with the Bible. Let’s go to Acts 17:2–3:

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Acts 17:2 says that Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. So he took the Bible from the Old Testament, and he thought about it, and then he explained it with his mind. Now Paul knew these people were dead in their trespasses and sins. He knew that the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. He knows that the mind of the flesh cannot receive the things of the Spirit, but he doesn’t conclude from any of that that he shouldn’t think and reason and argue. And the reason is because we are born again (made alive) through the gospel. So Paul does not consider rational argumentation to be useless when speaking to dead people. God makes people alive through rationally clear presentations of the gospel.

4. Jesus and Aristotelian Logic

The fourth argument is that Jesus assumes that we will use logic in understanding both what is natural and what is spiritual. Let’s go to Luke 12:54–57. Now before I read this, let me give you a little background from my experience. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a professor or talked to someone who says this. If you talk about rationality or logic, they will say, “Oh, that’s Greek or Western. It’s not biblical and Hebraic.” Now I want you to test that by what we read here:

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”

Now what I want you to see here is the use of Aristotelian logic. I assume that you know what a syllogism is. Here’s a syllogism. Premise number one: all men are mortal. Premise number two: Plato is a man. Conclusion: Plato is mortal. That’s not Western, that’s reality. I’m arguing that Aristotelian logic is written in your brain. God put it there. And the reason I say so is because Jesus demands they think this way and assumes they think this way. So for example, in Luke 12:55, premise number one is “whenever a south wind blows, it gets hot.” Premise number two would be “a south wind is blowing.” Conclusion: “It will be hot today.”

This is everywhere in the Bible. This is the way human beings were designed to think. And Jesus says your problem is that you are good at it when you judge whether it’s hot or cold, and you won’t use it when it comes to understanding spiritual reality. So point number four is that Jesus assumes and requires that we live up to the kind of logic that exists.

5. The Wrong Use of Reason

The fifth point is that Jesus refuses to deal with people who use their reason to conceal truth. Matthew 21:23–27. I love this story, because there are many people in my surroundings who are just like this. They are very sophisticated in the way they use their brains, and they create confusion and fog that conceals truth. My question is, what does Jesus think about people who are clever with their reason and they use it to conceal, not reveal, truth? Listen to this story:

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Now this is really serious. Do you know people like this? This is unbelievably post-modern. Truth doesn’t matter, what matters is our skin. We want to be protected. We want to be safe. We don’t want to speak the truth if it causes us some trouble. When Jesus hears that, he won’t have anything to do with that. I think Jesus abominates the use of our brains to hide truth.

Now at this point we need a clear statement from the Bible regarding what the alternative to that is. And there is a beautiful alternative stated in 2 Corinthians 4:2. Every pastor among you should take this verse and make it your own. This is what the world is longing for from the church. They don’t want people who are careful and clever and coy and you can’t really tell what they think. They don’t want people like that. This is 2 Corinthians 4:2:

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

So pastors especially, but everybody, think clearly and speak clearly, openly, unashamedly about what’s in the Scripture.

6. Knowledge and Behavior

Here’s the sixth point. There are 13 times in Paul where he asks the question, “Do you not know?” For example:

  • Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3)
  • Do you not know that to lie with a prostitute is to be one body with her? (1 Corinthians 6:16)
  • Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1 Corinthians 5:6)
  • Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven? (1 Corinthians 6:9)
  • Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:15)

Now in all of those situations, in all of those texts, Paul is assuming, “If you knew this, you would see things differently, you would feel things differently, and you would act differently.” So thinking rightly, or knowing truly, are crucial for valuing rightly and living right.

7. Teachers in the Church

Seventh, the Bible tells us that Christ has given pastors and teachers to the church, and tells us that they should be apt to teach. So why must they be able to teach? Because God intends that the Bible would be explained to ordinary folks who may not have the time or the ability to go as deep as God wants them to go. Christ would not have given teachers to the church if he thought they weren’t needed. Therefore I assume that the understanding of our people is partly dependent on our competency. God wants the whole congregation to grow in knowledge and grace, so he gives teachers to the congregation. And their job is to take deep and wonderful and glorious things and explain them to the people. And my point is, that requires thinking. In order to teach clearly, you must work hard and study and think so that you can not only understand it, but then explain it.

8. The Whole Counsel of God

Eighth, the Bible tells us to declare the whole counsel of God, according to Acts 20:27. Now that phrase — “whole counsel of God” — implies something. It implies that there is a coherent, unified, whole body of doctrine that should be given to the church. It is not easy to find the whole counsel of God in a book with 1,500 pages. This requires amazing labor, which most people don’t have time for, and pastors are called to do. And it is mainly mental labor. It’s reading something that God said in the Psalms and figuring out how it relates to Galatians. It has to do with finding the unified biblical theology which the people need to know. I wonder if you have ever thought why in 2 Timothy 2:15 you pastors are called “workmen who need not be ashamed.” You should be workmen who rightly handle the word of God. It’s because it requires work.

9. Divine Revelation in a Book

Ninth, the Bible is a book, which means that it must be read. And reading is some of the hardest work in the world. I mean, reading for understanding. Isn’t it amazing that God sent his Word into the world in Jesus Christ? But when Jesus had lived his life, done his work, was raised from the dead, and returned to heaven, all of it is preserved for us in a book. I don’t have any direct access to Jesus apart from what I know of him and experience from him through this book. There isn’t another route. So the implications of God revealing himself in a book are huge.

10. Thinking, Valuing, Acting

Finally, this is the tenth point. I have an example of how thinking and valuing and acting relate to each other. Let’s go in conclusion to Matthew 7:7–12. What I’m going to try to illustrate is how thinking is necessary to get meaning out of this text and present it to your people:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Now just notice two ways that thinking and logic are required to make sense of this text. In Matthew 7:11 he’s arguing from what is least likely to what is more likely. So he says, “You are evil, and you give good gifts to your children.” And then this particular logic says, “God is not evil, so how much more likely is He to give good things to his children?” This is reasoning. Jesus is arguing for the sake of our confidence. He wants you to have joyful confidence in answered prayer. So he argues with you, and he reasons with you. He is saying, “You evil fathers give good things to your kids. My Father is not evil like you. How much more is he going to answer your prayer?” That’s reasoning for the sake of emotion, the emotion of confidence.

The second example is the word that begins Matthew 7:12. It’s inferential. I don’t know if the German word carries that. It should be “therefore” or “so”. He says, “Therefore, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Now logically, how many of your people have asked how Matthew 7:12 is an inference from the teaching on prayer? I read this text for 25 years before I asked that question. So I ask you, how does the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) follow from confidence in answered prayer? This is what I mean by thinking. A pastor lingers over every word and he asks, “Why is it there? Why does verse 12 begin with therefore?” It begins that way because confidence that God will meet our needs is what frees us to take radical risks in loving other people. God wants you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because you know he’s going to answer your prayers and take care of you.

We want our people to love others. We want them to be courageous and bold and take risks in the cause of love. It will not work to just pound the pulpit and say, “Love people, love people.” That kind of preaching just makes sick churches. What you have to do is show them. You have to say, “Do you see? He’s like a father, a good father. And even you evil fathers give good things. He’s ready to give you good things. Can’t you, in that strength, love your neighbor?”

Think Hard, Feel Deeply, Preach Passionately

Let me try to sum up last night and tonight in a few sentences. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That satisfaction in God does not glorify him unless it is based on right-thinking and right knowing. Now from this text we have seen that God is all-satisfying because he’s a Father who gives us everything we truly need. And when we have that kind of deep, unshakeable satisfaction in our heavenly Father, we value things differently than the world. Therefore, we will love our neighbors the way we love ourselves. It changes our behavior. We let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds, and God gets the glory in heaven. So brothers, think deeply and think hard about this glorious book and what it reveals about God, and then let that thinking overflow in satisfying your people’s desires for God.