Stewarding Our Schedules

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Hey TD!

As we end summer and start a new school year, demands on our schedule will force us to prioritize and make good use of our time.  I always tell my clients that the greatest commodity we all have is time. Every moment spent is gone forever; we never get any of it back.

The following article from Gabe Fluhrer in Tabletalk Magazine (by Ligonier Ministries) is a good read that will help you steward you your time with the right perspective and understanding.  Enjoy! – Arthur

One of the supreme ironies of modern life is that we are worn out from leisure. The end of summer illustrates this phenomenon. So many of us finish up summer vacation thinking, “I need a break!” When we’re worn out from what should refresh us, the gospel offers hope for burned-out disciples like us.

A WEDDING ON SCHEDULE

Not long ago, our pastor preached a marvelous sermon on the wedding at Cana (John 2). He pointed out a feature of Jesus’ first miracle that I had never noticed. The very fact that Jesus was at a wedding turning water into wine can, and should, and has inspired both adoration and dissertations. But he focused our attention on one particular part of the text. Jesus says to His mother: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). Now, to dispel any fears that Jesus was a misogynist, He was not using the term “woman” in a derisive sense. Instead, it was a term of respect. In any case, John wants us to focus not on what Jesus calls His mother but on what He says to her.

He says, “My hour has not yet come.” Later in the gospel, He will tell us His time has come (17:1). In other words, Jesus kept a schedule. He was never in a rush to be on someone else’s clock. He knew His mission, and He did not deviate from it for passing demands, no matter how pressing they seemed to those around Him. Jesus labored to the point of exhaustion (Mark 4:38), yet He never seemed burned out. What can we learn from our Savior when it comes to our hectic lives?

THE SAVIOR OF SCHEDULES

Here’s a simple, if overlooked, truth: the Savior who kept a schedule is also the Savior of our schedules. As such, we need to commit and recommit our time to Jesus. Details can overwhelm us, and the demands of a busy life can diminish our faith. We are distracted by that device in our pockets that is constantly alerting us, buzzing, beeping, and reminding us that someone always wants some of our time.

But Jesus meets us where we are. His schedule reminds us that the most urgent appointment we have each day doesn’t come with a “remind me fifteen minutes before” option on a drop-down menu. That’s because our days don’t belong to us, ultimately. They belong to God. Therefore, the most important part of our day is every second of it, communing with God instead of being overwhelmed with a crazy busy life.

So this week, let’s “give” our schedules to Jesus (they belong to Him already). Let’s be reminded that He knows everything that will derail our best-laid plans. But instead of stressing about these inevitable failures, let’s rest—what we all need more of—in the knowledge that a divine wisdom, mingled with the greatest love imaginable, keeps watch over every second of our schedules.

 

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Doers, Not Hearers Only

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Hey TD,

Here’s a great reminder and charge to go and put our faith into practice in our everyday lives.

James wrote his letter to Diaspora Jews who had become Christians (1:1). As Jews living outside Jerusalem, they had developed a great appreciation for listening to the reading of the Law in the synagogues, especially because they could not attend the temple services. They considered hearing the Law to be a proper substitute for the temple sacrifices. After becoming Christians, it appears, they continued to think in the same way: to hear the Word of God in their meetings was enough for them to remain God’s people.

James, however, says to them that merely hearing the Word will not save them:

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22–24)

If the people did not practice what they regularly heard in their meetings, they were deceiving themselves. “To deceive” here means to make an erroneous assessment of something and then lead someone else to error through this assessment (Col. 2:4). James’ readers were deceiving themselves by having misjudged the value of hearing the Word, as if merely listening to sermons could save them. The Word is powerful to save, and when the Word saves people, it causes them to bear the fruit of obedience. However, because they did not make this assessment, they were content with being mere hearers. They were deceiving themselves.

James exhorts them to be “doers” of the Word. Doers go forward with something, as part of what they believe. Doers obey the Word of God, putting His teachings into practice, in contrast with someone who is content at merely listening to that Word.

James introduces a comparison to explain the uselessness of hearing the Word without acting on it. There is a similarity between the mere hearers of sermons and someone who looks in the mirror and soon forgets his face. Both the mere hearer and the forgetful contemplator do nothing about what they have heard and seen. Therefore, the hearing and seeing do not result in anything. They are useless and fruitless exercises, even if done with great attention and dedication.

What is the use of hearing the Word of God if we are not corrected and encouraged to do what is right? How can we have been saved if we do not practice what we hear? Through the prophet Ezekiel, God denounced His people under the old covenant for exactly the same mistake: “They hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ezek. 33:31–32). The Lord Jesus compared the one who hears His words and does not do them to a house without a solid foundation (Matt. 7:26). Many Christians do not so much need to learn new things but need instead to put into practice what they have already heard and learned.

A Distinctively Christian Appreciation of the Arts

Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s most renowned realist painters of the twentieth century, had an uncanny ability to capture the solemn nature of the rural American life with painstakingly controlled brushstrokes and a muted color palette. One of Wyeth’s most intriguing and iconic paintings is titled Christina’s World (1948). The central focus of the work is a brunette female lying in a field with her left hand struggling toward her far-off farmhouse. The figure in the painting is modeled after Wyeth’s neighbor, Anna Olson. Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that limited her to crawling around her house and family land.

There is nothing loud or wildly fantastic about the subject matter of Christina’s World. The power of the painting is held in what might be called the familiar whisper of beauty, a sense of the deep struggle in longing for home. It is a whisper that we cannot ignore. Like Christina’s World, beautiful art is never viewed with indifference. As philosopher Roger Scruton has noted, “Beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks directly to us like the voice of an intimate friend.” There is a sense in which all good art gives a certain voice to beauty. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, beauty and art point beyond themselves. Beauty comes through as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

R.C. Sproul’s apt observation of the place of art in the life of a Christian still rings true today: “In the Christian community,” he argued, “there seems to be a negative attitude toward art.” Many believers think that art is unworthy of a Christian, as if art were something worldly, an illegitimate enterprise for Christians to engage in and reflect upon. Yet, as Hans Rookmaker rightly pointed out, art’s justification is found in the way God made the world. To put it plainly, art is its own justification. Why else would it be that humanity alone has been endowed with the ability to appreciate art and experience beauty? Why has God made it so that art like Christina’s World provokes a deep longing that is found in all of us? No living creatures other than human beings would be deeply moved by standing before Wyeth’s painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These reflective questions call for a distinctly Christian answer. What is the deep soul stirring that beautiful art brings to the surface of our conscience?

As Christians, we understand that the beginning of art is found in the act of creation in the Genesis account. In creation, God uniquely fashioned human beings in His image as aesthetic creatures possessed with a distinct capacity to experience and appreciate beauty and the ability to cultivate and create beautiful things. The artistic instinct is a universal human phenomenon. Art is embedded in our image-bearing nature. However, the Christian understands that art does not originate from man apart from God. Beauty in art is, therefore, a gift of common grace from God that has been made accessible and comprehensible to all people.

For the Christian in particular, art can be experienced as an analogical signpost bearing witness to the Author of all that is beautiful. As human beings, we care about beauty and the arts because our Creator God is beautiful and is the source of all beauty (Pss. 27:4, 50:2). Moreover, in creation, God intentionally fashioned our world as an artist—a divine artist who benevolently chose to endow our earthly experience with beauty (see Rom. 1:20). As an act of self-disclosure, creation itself declares the beauty of God (Ps. 19:1). In the creation of art, the artist mimics the creative work of God in disclosing a particular viewpoint of the world to be apprehended by the viewer. The interaction between the artist and the audience is that of mutual consent. There is something to be communicated, and art is the vehicle of communication.

If art truly serves as a signpost, a map, then we as Christians are called to be the guides.

Throughout human history, the arts have played a significant role in man’s effort to build a meaningful world. One could argue that the history of civilization can be traced through the arts. Nicholas Wolterstorff argued that the act of creating beautiful things involves the presentation of an alternative world or worldview to be considered by its audience. Implicit in this idea is that beautiful things stand between the artist and the audience and communicate by evoking emotion, conveying truth, and illuminating human experience. The best of art is, among other things, presented for contemplation. Art is a place where meaning can be created, explored, and discovered.

At the same time, art is to be discerned. In Acts 17, when Paul was confronted with the idolatrous art of Athens, he became deeply distressed and pointed them to the one true God in whom all of their longings could be met. In examining the things that their artists had created, Paul was able to exegete their culture and uncover the deep desires of their hearts. One principle implicit in this Acts 17 exchange is the truth that art helps cultivate the ability to discern a deeper sense of our human existence and experience. Art allows us to transcend ourselves and see things as they are from different perspectives, thus enabling us to find common ground for interaction. Art, therefore, inclines us to respond more sensitively to the world around us for the purpose of understanding. When specific pieces of art, music, and literature resonate with the masses, it should provoke our attention and study.

Even so, art is not exempt from the fall; indeed, it is often an instrument of the falleness of the world. But art can also be an instrument of redemptive dialogue in our world that is fallen yet undergoing cosmic redemption. As Abraham Kuyper reminded us, “in spite of sin by virtue of common grace, [the arts] have continued to shine in human nature, [so] it plainly follows that art can both inspire both believers and unbelievers, and that God remains sovereign to impart it, in his good pleasure.” What we must understand is that the beauties of this world and even the longings expressed in art are a whisper to our souls that there is something beyond the physical order.

Therefore, art, like beauty, is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with glorious praise. The Christian must appreciate art because it is often the vehicle for which truth, experience, and longings are expressed. Christians must seek to engage in understanding the arts because they provide a window to see how the God-given longings of humanity are expressed from generation to generation. Beautiful pieces of art such as Christina’s World may bring to the surface the shared sense of longing for home that all human beings feel deep within their souls, but the Christian is the one who can point beyond the longing itself toward the God who can fulfill all of these desires in “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). If art truly serves as a signpost, a map, then we as Christians are called to be the guides.

Dr. Matthew Z. Capps is senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, N.C. He is author of Hebrews: A 12 Week Study.

Christian Love Defined

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Hey TD!

I read this devotion from Tabletalk recently and thought I should pass it on to you. It’s based on a chapter of Scripture I memorized long ago and recite each week to this day. May it help you in your “love” life! – Arthur

John 15:12–13

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

 

In an age when love is frequently lauded but often misunderstood, we must have a proper view of love. Modern culture bombards us with messages telling us that love is a mere feeling, that we will never disapprove of those whom we truly love, and that everything done in the name of love is right. But the Scriptures instruct us otherwise. God’s Word makes it clear that true love is costly.

Jesus, in today’s passage, emphasizes the cost of love. Having told us to abide in His love (John 15:1–11), Jesus begins to unfold what abiding in His love looks like. Love means loving others as Jesus has loved us, particularly in laying down our lives for our friends (vv. 12–13). Our Savior obviously makes an allusion here to His atoning death on the cross that turns away the wrath of God (Rom. 3:21–26), and this means we must first consider what laying down our lives for our friends does not entail. After all, none of us is the spotless Lamb of God sent to save sinners, so none of us can lay down our lives in exactly the same manner as Jesus. Christian theologians have long recognized this truth. Augustine of Hippo, for example, comments on it at length in a sermon on today’s passage.

We cannot love others as Jesus has loved us in the sense of atoning for their sin; however, there are other ways in which we can imitate the love of Christ. For example, Christ loved us so much that He was willing to leave His place of glory with the Father in order to pay for our sins on the cross (Phil. 2:5–11). We, likewise, can refuse to exploit our privileges in order to meet the needs of others. Furthermore, Jesus spent His life in service to others, healing the sick and teaching God’s truth. Similarly, we can spend our lives in service to others, helping even those who seem the least deserving of our assistance and pointing people to Christ.

Some of us may literally have to die in order to save another person’s life, but that will be rare. More likely, we will lay down our lives in a multitude of smaller ways. Parents can set aside their right to rest quietly after a hard day of work in order to spend time with their children. Employers, when appropriate, can refrain from giving overly harsh but deserved criticism of employees in order to work alongside them and help them improve. Retirees can give up part of the spare time they labored years to earn in order to volunteer at their churches. Whatever our station in life, we should look for ways to spend our lives for the sake of others.

 

CORAM DEO Living before the face of God

Christian love is costly, and it looks for ways to give of itself to others. Every day, there are little ways we can sacrifice some of our rights and privileges in order to love others, especially those in the body of Christ. Let us look this day to give up something in order to do good to another person.


FOR FURTHER STUDY
  • Ruth 4
  • Song of Solomon 8:6
  • Mark 14:3–9
  • 1 John 3:16–18

Are We Eating “Processed Religion”?

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That’s a good point, isn’t it, TD?

Yet, that seems to be something we are fighting each other about.  “TD is too intense, too long, too deep” et al are the cries of those who want TD studies to be lighter, simpler, and more bite-sized for easier consumption. But is that really what God wants from us? Is that what’s going to help get you through high school growing spiritually stronger each year? This is something we all at TD, both students and leaders alike, need to consider and pray through, and then act upon. I believe the following article brings some insight into the discussion. – Arthur

Some years ago, after watching a documentary that extols the virtues of juicing, I experimented with doing a juice fast. I started buying produce by the bushel and tried all sorts of juice recipes. My kitchen hummed with the sound of my juicer or my trusty Ninja blender.

It was fun for a while—a short while. The process was messy and time consuming, and cleaning the juicer was a pain. So I started buying bottled juice instead, but that was boring and expensive. I gave up before long.

One of the reasons I undertook the experiment had to do with taste. I’ve always been a picky eater, and I began to suspect that part of the reason for this had to do with what I had done to my ability to taste. I had subsisted for so long on processed, artificial food that I could not taste or appreciate more subtle (and natural) flavors. I had burned out my taste buds. So, I wanted to take some time when I was ingesting only natural foods in hopes that I could learn to appreciate real flavors.

Sometimes, when I survey the state of American Christianity, I am reminded of this reason for my juice fast. Many Christians are feeding themselves with the spiritual equivalent of processed food. It is processed religion: light shows and rock bands in place of reverent worship, self-help books masquerading as edification, and self-focused comedy shows presented as sermons.

Processed religion is often attractive. But it has been heavily refined in order to be highly palatable, so it provides only a short-term boost without much lasting nutrition. Like a sugar rush, it carries you on for a while, but it cannot sustain you over the long term. Even the best of it is spiritual milk, but we are called to move on to spiritual meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14).

As I had burned out my taste buds on processed food, I fear that we are at risk of burning out our spiritual taste buds when we subsist on processed religion. We are called to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), to “come to the waters,” and to “eat” (Isa. 55:1). But the flavors of biblical religion can be subtle, and they take time to appreciate. A quiet time of prayer, the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper, the gravity of a well-crafted, biblical sermon—these are the things that nourish our souls.

God has prescribed in His Word the things that will satisfy our spirits, because He knows better than we do what is good for us. He has provided for us the ordinary means of grace—the Word, the sacraments, and prayer—as the simple, methodical, steady diet that will allow us to grow in grace over time. When we come and eat and drink of the deep, fulfilling richness of God’s means of grace, we will be satisfied

When we concentrate on the God-ordained means of our spiritual nourishment, we can grow to appreciate them as the genuine food that they are, and we will want nothing else. And unlike my juice fast, they—and God—will not disappoint us.

The Gospel in Asia

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Hey TD,

In light of TD’ers heading to love and serve orphaned children, typical children, and college students in China and Taiwan this summer in Jesus’ Name, I’d like for us to pray for these trips and get an overview of what God is doing in Asia.

I read the following article a few weeks ago in Tabletalk magazine and would like to share it with you.  Pray about it and ask the Lord what He wants you to do in response.  Your response can come in many forms, big and small.  But there should be some response of some sort, even if it’s to pray. – Arthur

The Gospel in Asia

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The advance of the gospel in Asia over the last century has been extraordinary. Christian churches are growing and thriving in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and of course South Korea, which boasts some of the largest churches in the entire world. Yet the gospel is also taking root in countries where we might not expect it to. For example, a movement of Reformed churches is growing in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Moreover, the exponential growth of the house church movement in China is remarkable considering that the Communist government places strict restrictions on the activities of Christian churches. Clearly, the work of the gospel in Asia is something we rejoice over, continue to pray for, and look for opportunities to support.

PLANTING THE SEEDS

The roots of the modern evangelical movement are often traced back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in North America. These revivals have a mixed legacy, but we can be thankful for their emphasis on conversion and evangelism, which sparked a global missionary movement that ultimately marked the nineteenth century as the great century of Protestant mission work. Protestant missionaries traveled to Africa, South America, and Asia spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While we cannot ignore or fully disentangle the Protestant mission movement from the often-brutal historical context of Western imperialism, which led to many European countries’ annexing territories around the world and the subjection of indigenous people groups, missionaries did plant the seeds of the gospel throughout the world—including Asia.

A good example of planting seeds was the missionary work of Robert Morrison, who was sent by the London Mission Society to China in 1807. He was one of the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and bring the gospel to southern China. James Hudson Taylor followed Morrison, arriving in China in 1853. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, with a focus on reaching the interior of China, away from the more popular and lucrative port cities. Unique for his time, Taylor and his colleagues chose to dress and eat like the local Chinese as a way of identifying more closely with those to whom they were trying to minister. The work of Morrison and Taylor introduced the gospel to China, and their legacy lives on today.

Another example of gospel seeds being planted in Asia and bearing amazing fruit occurred in Korea, where the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Protestantism grew during the early twentieth century with the famous revival (1907–10) in the northern city of Pyongyang. As a result of the revival, Christianity was firmly established and would play a crucial role during the period of Japanese colonial rule. Christianity served as a point of resistance against Japanese occupation, and especially against the imposition of Shintoism. After Korea gained independence, Protestant Christianity continued to grow, and today South Korea’s population has the highest percentage of Christians in East Asia.

THE GOSPEL IN ASIA TODAY

Asia is a vast region, and each country has a distinct story about the gospel’s spread. No country is the same, but the Holy Spirit is working to bring the same gospel to each country. Here are three examples that will give us a glimpse into the work of the gospel in Asia today.

THE GOSPEL IN KOREA

After the Korean War, South Korea continued to see tremendous growth in churches and ministries. The fervency for evangelism and discipleship gripped Korean Christians, resulting in tremendous growth for the church in Korea. The numbers today are astounding. The largest church in the world is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than three hundred thousand congregants. Yoido Church is a Pentecostal church, but many Korean Presbyterian churches have membership numbers in the tens of thousands. The Hapdong denomination which is a conservative Reformed Presbyterian denomination similar to the Presbyterian Church in America, has a membership of more than three million. In comparison, in 2015 the PCA reported a total membership of slightly more than 370,000. The largest Presbyterian church in the Hapdong denomination has a membership of more than 75,000.

The astounding growth of the church in South Korea has led to estimations that Christians make up nearly 29 percent of the population. This is one of the highest percentages of Christians in any country besides the United States. But the Korean church is not content to see the gospel impact only their country. Korean missionaries are now going out to the entire world in the same way their nineteenth-century Western predecessors did. Korea is often listed as the nation sending the second-highest number of missionaries, with the United States still sending the most missionaries of any country in the world.

THE GOSPEL IN CHINA

It is notoriously difficult to assess the growth and state of the church in China. In 1949, when the Communists defeated the Nationalists for control of the country, it is estimated that there were five hundred thousand Christians. With the Communist government’s restrictions on religion, many Christians gathered together in unregistered churches, avoiding public activities and gatherings that would draw scrutiny from officials. Yet all accounts point to the fact that the church in China, even under these hostile circumstances, grew and continues to grow. Chinese Christians are not deterred in their desire to spread the gospel even in the face of severe government opposition. Many scholars estimate that there are close to sixty million Christians in China. One scholar projects the growth to reach two hundred million by 2035. In comparison, there are 159 million Christians in the United States, and that number has been declining each year in recent decades. Consequently, China could eclipse the United States in total number of Christians in the next two decades. If the growth in China continues, Communist China will have one of the largest Christian populations in the entire world. The potential for the Chinese church is great. Not only is there an enormous opportunity for evangelism and church planting in China, but also for missionaries to be sent from China, especially to regions such as the Middle East where it may be more difficult for Westerners to gain entry.

THE GOSPEL IN INDONESIA

One last example is found in Indonesia. The country comprises a series of islands and is the largest Muslim country in the world. In the midst of this Islamic stronghold, the evangelist Stephen Tong started a growing Reformed evangelical church movement. Tong’s church in the capital city of Jakarta averages four thousand attendees each week. He has also founded a seminary and a Christian school, and he has planted multiple churches throughout Indonesia. Tong holds gospel rallies throughout Indonesia, where he preaches to thousands in stadiums and other open-air settings.

As his ministry has grown, Tong’s impact has extended beyond Indonesia to other Asian countries. He has established a regular preaching tour every week to Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Hong Kong; and Taipei, Taiwan; in addition to his Sunday preaching in Jakarta. Recordings of many of his sermons and lectures have circulated throughout the Chinese-speaking communities, earning him the reputation as one of the most influential preachers in Asia. Tong is likewise committed to Reformed theology and has introduced many in Asia to this rich biblical tradition.

THE GOSPEL MOVING FORWARD

The gospel is moving forward in Asia in unprecedented ways. Borrowing the words of Jonathan Edwards, who ministered during the First Great Awakening, this too is the “surprising work of God.” The gospel seeds that were planted more than two centuries ago have produced great spiritual fruit. What can we as Christians in the West do to support this movement of the gospel? Let me close by making a few suggestions.

1. Pray for the work of the gospel in Asia. 
Many brothers and sisters are serving in countries where there are enormous challenges and significant dangers.

2. Participate by reaching out to and sharing the gospel with foreign students and workers in your community from Asia
In this age of globalization, there are many students and workers from Asia coming to the United States for short periods of time. As they hear and receive the gospel in America, they will return to their home countries with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

3. Finally, if you have the opportunity, go and travel to Asia and see for yourself what the Lord is doing
Contact missionaries and churches and ask what their needs are and how you can go and help. I am certain it will be a life-changing experience.

© Tabletalk magazine

Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is provost, executive vice president, and Stephen Tong Chair of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a teaching elder in the PCA.

Supernatural Friendship

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Hey TD!

With so much formerly-unquestioned institutions, definitions, relationships, etc. being redefined and made hazy in our culture today (i.e. marriage, gender, sexuality, etc.), the idea of true friendship hasn’t been immune; and neither has Christian friendship.  As with everything else, we need to go back to God, the Author of friendship, for the right and proper idea and intention for friendship.

I read a great article on Christ-driven friendship this morning in Tabletalk magazine by Ryan Townsend (Executive Director of 9Marks in Washington D.C.) and thought that it would be good for the rest of you to read and consider for yourselves and for God’s honor. – Arthur

Supernatural Friendship

by Ryan Townsend

One of my favorite songs in high school was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

It captured my youthful angst and dissatisfaction in this world and its friendships. Now, I had a great childhood, and I’ve always been a happy extrovert. But I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and never experienced the full joy of Christian fellowship until I found Jesus—in a local, evangelical church on Capitol Hill, when I was twenty-three years old. God used friendships in this church to bring me to Christ (Matt. 5:16). Then, the Lord used (and is using) these relationships to help me grow in Christ (Col. 1:28). This has been the greatest existential joy I’ve experienced here on earth (Ps. 34:8). It makes my heart long for heaven, where we will have unending, joy-filled fellowship with God and all believers (Rev. 21:3). So, friendship is deeply important for the Christian life and ministry. And the church is foundational in all this. Here are three reasons why.

Blood-Bought Fellowship

The Apostle John tells us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This verse captures the relationship between the gospel, the church, and friendship. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins, and we have genuine, joy-filled fellowship with God and with one another—if we walk in the light, that is; if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. This means that the church is a blood-bought community that grounds us in real relationship—with our Creator and with one another. It gives us real friendships that are unlike any other.

Biblical friendship, then, is a committed love that unites us in fellowship and allows us to finish the race and fight for faith together, through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). And a local church is the gospel setting in which these friendships take place and allow God’s love to reverberate into the world. The church is the community where we serve King Jesus and learn to walk in a manner worthy of Christ—together, with friends. This community thereby allows us to encourage and exhort one another in the faith through the friendships it creates.

Encouragement and Exhortation

During high school, I visited England. We were driving one afternoon in the country, and I remember seeing a flock of sheep for the first time in my life, stumbling down the road right in front of us. I had never seen sheep so closely before. I thought sheep were white, but they’re not. Up close, they’re dirty—and messy and stupid. Some were falling into the ditch by the roadside; some were going the wrong way and biting at each other. But after ten minutes or so, with the help of the shepherds and the sheepdogs, they all made it home safely to the sheepfold.

In the same way, stronger and weaker Christians need one another—for love, discipleship, and encouragement. You see, we’re often like those sheep. We snap at one another and are easily swayed off the path. We fall into ditches and go the wrong way, but, by God’s grace, by being together in a flock, we can make it down the road.

This means we’re better stuck in the middle of the flock, even if it inconveniences our lives now. Why? If you know your own heart well, you know that it is actually more dangerous to be alone or on the edge of the flock because we’re prone to wander. Older men and women in the faith are commanded by Paul to disciple and encourage younger Christians (Titus 2). Younger Christians are also called to care for and love older Christians. That means that in the church, there is no such thing as an individualistic Christian. God has bound us together as one body in Christ and commanded us to care for one another (Heb. 10:24–25).

By joining a local church, stronger and weaker Christians make their love for Christ definite by loving others in a committed fashion. These friendships become the instrument that enables us to:

Encouragement is a powerful antidote to unbelief. And friendships are a great gift of God that bring us together in covenant love.

By God’s grace, they enable us to carry out the countless “one another” commands and make disciples who image His holy, pure, unified, and loving wisdom (Eph. 3:10). This brings us to the third reason why friendships are important to the Christian life.

A Display of God’s Glory

When Christians covenant together in genuine fellowship, these friendships image God well and put His character on display as the gospel unites people across great barriers amid great diversity.

In his book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson tells us:

Ideally . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. . . . In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

We sacrifice our comforts, preferences, resources, time, and habits to help foster unity in diversity, and serve as a picture of supernatural, God-glorifying friendships that image God in our communities, commend the gospel, and bring joyful satisfaction and blessing in our own lives.

So, ultimately, friendships are important for the Christian life and ministry because they create a supernatural, compelling community that displays and protects the gospel, transforms lives and communities, and shines as a beacon of hope in a dark world. This is God’s plan for the local church (Eph. 2:13–3:21), and He carries it out for our good and His glory.

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Ryan Townsend is executive director of 9Marks in Washington, D.C.