Elders Represent the Knowlege of Christ in the Church – Part 1

2 Corinthians 5:16-17: From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The above Scripture quotation occurs within a context wherein the apostle Paul is speaking of some of the roles and functions of elders, whether as apostles or teachers (and perhaps deacons), as the usage of the pronouns shows. To prove this, we have, in this second letter to the Corinthians, the use of the plural pronouns in chapter 1, which pronouns refer to Paul and his companions in ministry, set over against the use of those pronouns referring to the recipients of the letter, who are comforted by the aforementioned group (2 Corinthians 1:4:-6: who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer). (Emphasis in bold mine.) This distinction of groups, between the group ministering with Paul and those they minister to, is continued throughout the context of these five chapters of this epistle of the apostle we are considering in our series of articles. This is shown by the relation, in context, of the pronouns, to the respective groups represented (although considering the syntactical relations in the original language would show this to be the case even more, it is evident enough in the translation that such is not considered absolutely necessary – for those who wish to consider such things, there is no doubt whatsoever that such study will not only prove the point we are making, but prove profitable in many ways, and such study is encouraged).

Paul is speaking of, representing, and sharing those sufferings which he and his companions have undergone during their missionary and church planting journeys, which the Corinthians certainly had first-hand knowledge of (cf. Acts 18-19although the sufferings of Paul and his companions at this point of their missionary journeys were light, compared to what they and he suffered elsewhere, the reports of his sufferings elsewhere no doubt preceded his arrival in Corinth – for instance, his stoning at Iconium in Acts 14. Additionally, we have the accounts of that which Paul suffered, but this does not mean we know all of that which he suffered at this time; still, going through the accounts of his missionary journeys in Acts certainly gives us enough material to explain such passages as the first chapter of Corinthians). This type of representation of what Paul and his traveling companions went through was communicated to the Corinthian church beginning in chapter one, and extending to the quotation (and beyond) we began this article with, and it is proper to notice that the apostle reasons that the purpose of their undergoing afflictions and sufferings is, firstly, for the sake of Christ, and secondly, to comfort those he is writing too; lastly, it is imperative to notice how he is comforting them, which is by the shared Word of the Lord as given to him, so that when they undergo like things, they will have this sure word of the divine grace and providence of God, in Christ, to turn to, receiving the same divine comfort for themselves as that which was given to the apostle and his companions.

As we go through the first chapter, we see the comfort given was during times of extreme duress for Paul and companions. Paul tells the Corinthians that they were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, and the word for despaired in this phrase means “to be in extreme despair, implying both anxiety and fear—‘to be in utter despair, to despair completely.’ ὥστε ἐξαπορηθῆναι ἡμᾶς καὶ τοῦ ζῆν ‘so that we despaired even of living’ or ‘so that we totally despaired of our lives’ 2 Cor 1:8.”[1]

To emphasize the strength of the trials he and his companions were going through, he bluntly tells the Corinthians that “we felt that we had received the sentence of death (1 Corinthians 1:8-9a). This is truly depression (another word for despair to such an extent), where one has despaired even of being able to live; even believing that their death was decreed. In this, we see more than the physical afflictions; we see the mental, or spiritual and emotional afflictions as well.

This is a communication, by the apostle to the Corinthians, that the elders (and deacons) represent the knowledge of Christ in the church, and how they live in accordance with that knowledge shows that the deposit and distribution of it accords with Scripture. Paul is sharing with the Corinthians that knowledge which is essential to be able to undergo trails of varying magnitudes, and immediately, in the following vv, Paul gives the reason that they were subjected to such terrible physical and spiritual hardships: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again (1 Corinthians 1:9b-10).

Reliance upon God; reliance upon His promises and grace in Christ Jesus, as given to us through His Holy Spirit, is what makes us able to endure all things for the sake of Christ, even deep, life-despairing depression (Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13 – and note the range of temptations Paul has mentioned in the subsequent chapters of this particular context – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The strength and ability to do all things and undergo all things spoken of in the Philippians passage, the temptations spoken of in the 1 Corinthians 10 passage, the personal trial Paul pleads with the Lord to take away three times (in chapter 12 of this epistle we are considering), but which is left to humble him, are all based on that simple, childlike trust in our Lord Jesus Christ’ sufficient grace; all these things are actually, truly able to be borne by that sufficient grace of our Lord and the ability and power which comes because of God who strengthens (us).

This is what Paul is communicating to the Corinthian church, in the power of the Spirit, by his written words; this is what is communicated to all of us who are Christians today by these same God breathed words, and these words are those which we have to read, meditate upon, and learn the depths of from those who are appointed elders over us.

Quickly, let us go through the next three and two-thirds chapters of this second letter to the Corinthian church (verses referred to and commented upon in the context of each chapter will mainly be referenced by v. or vv.), leading up to our text quoted at the beginning of this article; lightly touching here and there, to emphasize that this is, first and foremost, a letter of instruction and encouragement from one who is not only an apostle, but a teacher of the Word – an elder, just as our own pastors and elders (for the apostolic office encompassed all the other offices within it).

First, however, notice how the first chapter ends:
Paul admonishes the believers at Corinth to help him and his companions by that means of grace Scripture calls prayer (v. 11), he appeals to their knowledge, already communicated to them through God-breathed writings they were acquainted with, as valid in Christ, and therefore to establish themselves in that knowledge that he may boast of them as they boast of him on the day of our Lord’s second advent (vv. 13-14), and that his actions were done in simple sincerity before God and men (unbelievers [“in the world”] and especially the Corinthians – v. 12); he links his and his companions desire to come to them with the certain promises of God, giving assurance of their sincerity and showing the absoluteness of the certainty of God’s promises at the same time (vv. 17-20). The final verse of chapter one gives both the apostolic authority (which is continued in the ministry of elders as to teaching and example of living) of Paul, as well as that of his companions (though theirs is not intended as apostolic, but as regarding the other parts of ministry which adhere to being an elder), and does so in a context of the proper use of one in a church office and ministry (whether they were an apostle in the early church, or are an elder in the church in any age – v. 24; cf, v. 23). Thus, the foundation,  set in the previous, introductory post, is further developed with regard to our context and our opening text, which we will see further developed as we continue rapidly though the next three chapters, which will be continued in our next installment of this series.

SDG – Bill

Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church – Part 2

[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (313). New York: United Bible Societies.

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Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church – Introduction

A Brief Forward

The title of this series of posts is “Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church;” however, by this statement, we do not intend that there is no knowledge of Christ in the other members of the covenant communities that represent the catholic church in local assemblies of such members, but rather, we intend that there is an order to that deposit of knowledge of God in Christ Jesus by which He graciously communicates this knowledge to His church. We also do not intend, by the word “knowledge,” here, simply that which is able to be intellectually grasped, but also, by the same Spirit of Christ, experientially grasped and applied. This order and divine method is intended by the apostle Paul in such places as Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:13-31, and is inherent (and often explicit) in all he writes in all his epistles, but these two texts touch upon it most explicitly, so the reader is invited to study them for further edification.

The overall text we will be concentrating on is that of the first five chapters of 2 Corinthians, to show how this went forth in the first elders (the apostles and their immediate contemporaries) of the church to the church in the area of Corinth. The key text from within this broader text will be given at the start of the exposition for consideration and meditation, which will be 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.

Introduction

The office of elders in the church is often not fully understood, overlooked by those who are taught, led and protected by these men who are gifts of Christ to His church, and often looked upon as a position of personal authority (sometimes by those who hold that office); in truth, it is sad, on the first two counts, due to a large scale, purposed ignorance, by those who are led, fed and protected by those elders (and this fault lies, first of all, with the bad teaching of such who ought not to be elders), of what the Scriptures teach about this most weighty position, and tragic on the last count, due to purposed abuse of that authority by those who are elders in some churches, when the authority is not theirs at all, but actually Christ’s, and the elders only hold, in stewardship, that which Christ has, through His Spirit, gifted them with for the feeding, leading and protection of the respective local churches of which they are to be examples of His excellencies.

A definition of terms is needful, at this point: By feeding, we intend preaching and teaching (although all teaching is preaching, and all teaching is preaching, to an extent, when it comes to the Scriptures); by leading, we intend by example, both of doctrine and personal living that accords with that doctrine; by protecting, we intend that discipline in the church of God which is set forth so plainly in the Scriptures, so that there may be the order of God’s grace in Christ Jesus in the church, safeguarding against false doctrines, as well as against those who live carnally – tares, posing as true wheat among the sheep of Christ, enticing them to carnal behaviors (and this intends more than sexual conduct and words – we mean, by carnal, that behavior which looks upon the outward appearance more than the truth of God; that which promotes judgment by looking upon the behaviors and language of others in an ill-intended manner, such as would be called by our Lord the judgment that sees splinters past its own logs).

Thankfully, Christ has said He will build His church, and there are true gospel churches where His doctrine is preached, taught and lived according too, as He gives grace; in such churches, the office of elder is a blessing to those men who have been gifted to His church, and a blessing to those He leads, feeds and protects through them, though it is not an easy office to discharge, which follows hard upon the example our Lord and His first elders (the apostles and their companions) set forth, by that same life-giving, life-empowering, life-preserving grace of God all elders – and indeed, all believers – do obtain pardon of sin and eternal life through.

For those who are elders, truly ordained by God in Christ, words could be multiplied, but rather than do such, we will simply mention a few portions of Scripture, with some expounding, before launching into the main thrust of this series of articles.

Luke 22:25-27: And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

James 3:1: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

1 Peter 5:1-3: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

In these three brief portions of Scripture, we find the demeanor of the elder, and that behavior is modeled by our Lord in the first example. He was among the first disciples to be trained to plant and water His flock, in various local covenant communities, as “one who serves.” There can be no doubt of His example, as there can be no doubt of any living out that example consistently but Him; still, it is the example, and as He had the Holy Spirit without measure to live in a manner that satisfied God’s requirement of law, and being perfected, made expiation for our sins, so do elders have a measure of grace given them in the gifts necessary to care for those portions of the body He has charged and empowered them to be able to do so within (to avoid confusion, we certainly make no claim that any, from the apostles up to present day elders, in any manner do that which provides expiation of sin – that was Christ’s alone to do).

Many people see the example of our Lord’s life, in His first advent, as just an example, but it is more; it is that which shows us that we can depend on God for that same power by which our Lord lived; that is, it is an example that leads to and provides that same power of God in the believer’s life which He exercised in raising our Lord from the dead. He lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is what the true example is. It is living in reliance and trust in God’s power, according to the life of our Lord (about the grace He earned for us and continues to give us daily, moment-by-moment). Being a servant of the flock of God entails an empowerment that gives which, while expecting return (those served grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord), never demands a return, because, as their Master, they are among those He has set them as undershepherds over as a servant. A servant does not demand, but gives example, whether in teaching or holy living. The Lord of all creation deigned to enter into His creation to live as a man to show us that, and earned for us the multifaceted grace to do so, which comes to us through His Spirit; this is more obvious for those who have the stewardship of His flock in local churches, although not less necessary than it is for all in the flock. Our Lord spoke these words to His first disciples, whom He appointed to be apostles, because, in their apostleship, they were to be stewards of the manifold grace of God in Christ Jesus, which is to say, intrinsic in their being used for revelation, they lived according to that revelation already given, by the same inexhaustible grace of God as our Lord (although the apostles and their companions in ministry did not have theSpirit without measureas our Lord alone did). They gave new revelation, but they lived according to both that revelation which came before, as well as that which they delivered, and in all this, they were faithful teachers, preachers, and watchmen of the church of Christ, which is to say, they exercised, among their gifts, the office of being the first elders to the church (we are not saying that elders are apostles of Christ, but that apostles of Christ were the first elders of His New Covenant church, as well as being the source of new revelation which expounded clearly on that which already was theirs).

Many aspire to become elders (for so James intends in his instruction when he mentions teachers), but they often desire it for the office, instead of the service. This is no more than the very “being noticed of men” which our Lord so strongly condemned, and for those who want the office for such reasons, we say, please, step down. If that is the reason for desiring the office, that is the proof that those who so desire it should not have it, for they seek reputation, rather than the glory of God. They do not understand James’ simple admonition, and will reap the reward of all who seek the approval of men, rather than God, for if the true elders receive stricter judgment, what shall we say for those who do their ministry to be held in high esteem of those they should rather be serving?

The apostle Peter simply expounds upon that which He received first from our Lord, in regards to these matters. It is to be noted that he gives these instructions to the elders among you, and he does so in the same manner as our Lord did, by association, as a fellow elder. Peter could have made appeal to the apostolic authority he was given by the Lord; he did not. Rather, he appealed to that station and office which is one of service and example, just as we observed our Lord doing. As one not better than those elders he appealed too, although used of God to give the revelation of the New Covenant, established in Christ, to the church, he simply states and instructs from a position of like servitude, as one who serves the flock of God, even as those He is instructing and writing to also do. This is not done by appealing to his authority as an apostle, and neither are those receiving these instructions to appeal to their authority as undershepherds of the flock of God entrusted to their care, but rather, by being an example of faith and practice in the doctrine of Christ. It is therefore not for shameful gain, as of temporal treasure, whether of reputation or monetary gain; rather, the oversight – the care, protection, and nourishing of the flock they have been charged with and gifted by God – is in accordance with that glory that is to be revealed of which all believers will have their part, and which is now, in a limited sense, communicated to the church through their elders by that gifting and office that they have been given. It is not sought by compelling, or demanding, from their position, but rather a willing example of service that models that trust in God which we first see perfectly in our Lord Jesus Christ, and which elders are to show to those entrusted to their care. It is not domineering, but example of service, that those they care for by God’s grace may also grow in that grace and knowledge of our Lord by their mutual care of and for one another, to His glory, by His grace.

This gives us a foundation, now, to consider how the apostle Paul is doing these very things in his ministry to the Corinthian church, which we will begin to look at in our next installment of this series of articles.

SDG – Bill

Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church – Part 1

Concluding Meditations on John Chapter 6

John 6:66-71: After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

As we come to the close of yet another magnificent chapter of this wonderful gospel account by the apostle John, we immediately come face-to-face with what we were maintaining in our comments directly before this portion of our exposition, which is the fact that there are, concerning Christianity, two types of disciples, and that the first type we spoke of – the one who has difficultly with and takes offense at some, or any, of the teachings and sayings of our Lord – will invariably turn back and no longer walk with Him.

The same apostle who wrote this gospel puts this fact in clear words of no ambiguity in his first epistle to the churches in Asia Minor:
1 John 2:18-19: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

There is something so offensive contained within the words of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that those who may, at the first, follow after Him – meaning following His pronouncements about mankind without believing in Him, and the necessity of trusting in His redemptive work on their behalf alone, with the accompanying truth He embodies and taught, as also taught throughout the entirely of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments – that, at some point, those who cannot see themselves in the light of God’s revelation, regarding the anthropology (the biblical doctrine of man) of man without Christ, must either corrupt this truth by adding their own works to the order of salvation, or denying the revelation of both the history of salvation and the order of salvation which comes to us only in Christ. These are those whom the apostle mentions as being “against Christ;” antichrist, as it states in that Scripture we just looked at above.

We have noted, above, many things; the feeding of the 5000 (more, including the women and children) was our Lord’s preparatory miracle for both His address to the general audience of Jews in the desolate place where He was ministering (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 19:12-17), and His address to the Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum immediately after that. This miracle set the tone for the words which He then shared with them. These words of our Lord were reminiscent of both the eating of the Pascal Lamb prior to the Exodus from the desolate place of Israel where they were held in physical bondage, and by which they knew that God had passed over them in His judgments upon Egypt, as well as of their exodus from Egypt and their many years of sojourning in the desolate place of the wilderness, in which place God fed them with manna from heaven to sustain them.

In other words, our Lord drew direct parallels between the Passover sacrifice and the divine sustenance in two places of desolation where the Jews dwelt and sojourned, with the attendant imagery of judgment on those who did not believe, and salvation for those who did believe, as well as sustaining of those whom He had called out of the first desolate place by His hand alone. The parallels of deliverance from slavery and sustainment in a place where they had no other option but to trust in the Lord their God is taken to a new height – that of spiritual life without end, which, of necessity, entails freedom from the bondage and dominion of sin, both now, in a temporal sense, and in the resurrected life to come, permanently. Since such new life as will be experienced in the resurrection is connected by allegory to that temporary freedom from the enslavement in Egypt and sustainment in the wilderness, the sign of the passing into that place where the Israelites were sustained is replaced by the greater, permanent sign of passing into the interadvental period of present life for believers by faith in the Son of God as their new Pascal Lamb, and ultimately, that resurrection life without end, suffering, or sin. This is where the connection is seen between both the first Pascal Lamb, which was a shadow of the final and true Pascal Lamb, and the bread of life which sustains believers through the means of grace as they travel through this wilderness of the interadvental life where they are still encompassed in bodies which suffer the ravages and failure of sin, and the resurrection life where all such hindrances will have ceased. Thus, the Lord speaks of eating His body and drinking His blood, both elements of which were part of the Pascal meal of the inauguration of the Sinaitic covenant. The blood was sprinkled on the door posts and lintel of the dwelling place of each Israelite in preparation to their passage into the desolate place of sustainment of the wilderness; they ate the Pascal meal ready to travel (Exodus 12:1-14ff).

New Covenant believers have placed their faith in He who substituted His life for theirs in atoning for their sins and making propitiation of God’s wrath; in this manner, His blood has been sprinkled for them not only over their households, but over all the household of God which is constituted in Christ Jesus’ mediatorial work. It is a new sense of the drinking of His blood is intended, as is the eating of His flesh, for before, there was temporal passage through the land of testing to the land of promise; now, what was intended by the first Pascal meal is superseded by the infinite value of the substitutionary death of the final and only valid Pascal meal.

One breaking point of this language of our Lord that troubled the Jews was that of drinking His blood, for they did not see anything other than a disregard and disobedience of God’s law in so doing (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-14), yet, they should have recognized the use of their own language in poetic manner to signify that which has value and virtue (2 Samuel 23:17), and is symbolic of ultimate victory in the prophets (Ezekiel 39:17ff). Since it takes the work of God to give an unbeliever a heart of belief, even with the references to their own Scriptures before them, they could only concentrate and understand that which pertains to the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. John 6:32-58). It takes the work of the Triune God to not only give new life, with attendant faith and repentance, to those whom He willed to give eternal life to, but also to understand the significance of the teaching of our Lord concerning these things, to gain that understanding that this is a spiritual reference to imbibing the life of our Lord’s sacrifice, not a stating of disobedience to one of the commandments encompassing the life which was to typify that obedience to God which was realized in our Lord’s birth, life, and sacrifice; in the former, that disobedience promised being cut off from the national covenant given to the Fathers and their physical offspring, regarding a bountiful living in the land, but in the latter, the promise is that gospel obedience which comes from being united to Christ, and promises the benefits of never being cut off from the New Covenant and the family of God which is in Christ, with the attendant promises contained therein of eternal life and everlasting blessedness which shall never end.

This is a brief summarization of the forgoing study we have done in this chapter of John’s gospel, with some added observations derived from that forgoing study. Hopefully, it will prove helpful.

All of the above, of course, is based in and upon the choice of our Lord of His apostles in founding the church, in which observation we may note that all who are called to that eternal life promised in our Lord, as the apostles were call to their office and functions to teach us of these things, themselves enjoying the benefits of life with Christ immediately and thereafter everlastingly, are so called by the work of God according to His will and choice, as signified in the Lord’s calling of His apostles. We may even observe that those who cause distress and disorder within the gospel community of the local church do so by the fiat of God, wherein His sovereignty is expressed, for the general good of the church, and ultimately, the display of His glory (Romans 8:28ff; cf. John 8:66-71). It is important to note not only the reality of God’s sovereign choice of those He willed to build His church, but those whom He wills to use to continue to build upon that foundation (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19), whether vessels fit for glory or destruction, but all to His glory (Romans 9:22-24). With these observations and summary, we end this sixth chapter of our study in John’s gospel.

SDG – Bill

A Preview of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Kingdom of God

The Davidic Covenant

Our effort to understand the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic covenant may be helped by observing a similar dichotomy  in the Davidic covenant. Was the Davidic covenant a covenant of works or of grace? That is to say, was the promise to David  conditional or unconditional? The answer depends upon who is asked. If we asked King David, he would respond by saying that the promise of an eternal kingship was unconditional. Yet if we asked any of David’s children, they would have to answer by saying that they had been given a legal condition to obey.

These unconditional and conditional dimensions of the Davidic covenant are clearly seen in Psalm 132:11-12: ” The LORD swore [unconditionally] to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons [conditionally] keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne’” (words in brackets are Jeffery Johnson’s).

For this reason, David sternly warned his son, Solomon, to obey God:

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying,  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,  that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’ (1 Kings 2:1-4).

Years later Jeremiah reminded the sons of David that they were under the covenant of works:

Thus says the LORD: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation (Je 22:1–5).

Admittedly, it would have been pointless for God to give a promise to David that was dependent upon David’s children keeping the law if it were not for the fact that the promise was speaking of Christ Jesus and His future obedience. Solomon succeeded David, but it was not Solomon whom God ultimately had in mind when He established the Davidic covenant. Rather, it was Jesus Christ. For Christ was not only a descendant of David, He was the only descendant of David that perfectly kept the law, as evidenced by His resurrection from the dead.

Peter picked up on this theme in his famous sermon on the day of Pentecost. After pointing out that David was convinced that one of his descendants would sit upon his throne forever, Peter went on to proclaim that this promise was fulfilled at the resurrection of Christ from the dead:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:29-36).

Christ, the son of David, is qualified to sit upon an everlasting throne because He was declared righteous in His resurrection. Without this legal righteousness, Christ would have remained in the grave, and the establishment of the kingdom, promised to Abraham and David, would not have been accomplished.

Many other parallels could be pointed out between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, such as types and antitypes and eternal elements, and the natural and supernatural dimensions of each. Nevertheless, this understanding of the unconditional and conditional sides of the Davidic covenant is sufficient to help us better understand the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic covenant.*

* Jeffery Johnson, The Kingdom of God (Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2014), p. 43-46

As A Little Child?

There is a movement in many of today’s churches that takes the tact of being simple in their understanding, thinking that the theology taught in our great God’s Scripture is intended for only those who are pastors, teachers, and theologians (this is said with the understanding that all pastors are teachers, all teachers are pastors, and all pastor-teachers are theologians), and that the language of theology, which has accompanied the growth and expansion of the church throughout redemptive history, is reserved for these individuals alone.

A consequent attitude that accompanies the first is that it is the pastors, teachers and theologians work to make this theology of the Scriptures, as understood and expounded throughout the history of the church to myriads of believers, as simple as possible to understand by those who attend to partake of the means of grace (preaching, teaching, praying, fellowship, and the sacraments as utilized in corporate worship in a local covenant body of believers each Lord’s Day).

Although this is laudable on the surface of the proposition, it belies that which is, in actuality, being expressed: Don’t give us deep theological terminology, that is your purview; give us the watered-down version of what God has been pleased to teach you, that we may understand it!

Texts such as Matthew 18:3 are cited in support of this overriding presupposition:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (ESVall citations will be from this translation, unless otherwise noted)

Other texts which speak to the maturing of each member of the body of Christ in the knowledge of the Lord will be brought to bear, benefiting our understanding of the verses cited above to show that one must be as a child in their understanding of evil, but in doctrine, which is to say the application of knowledge and wisdom of God’s Word, they must cooperate with our God’s grace, in order to properly live and grow in the Christian faith; that any would think the former meaning (as to being children in regards to evil) is to be understood with regard to doctrine and maturity, is sad, because nothing could be further from the truth of our God’s Scripture!

 For instance, Paul, in writing to the fractious Corinthian church, gave them this gentle, but strong, admonishment:

 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

 At this point, although it would be fruitful to go into the Greek, we will simply look at the words as they occur in the English text, with two helpful exceptions and additions concerning the voice of two words, in the Greek, to emphasize that we are acted upon to initiate and continue the change and progression of that change whereby God makes us His children, and that we cooperate thereafter in this functioning God’s grace; the reason for sticking, in main, to the English, is simple: I once heard a caller call into a show called The Dividing Line, hosted by Dr. James White. They asked what the text meant in the Greek, and much to their disappointment, Dr. White replied, “The same thing it means in the English.” What Dr. White was saying was not that the Greek of the New Testament is not worth studying, but that the good translations we have faithfully translate that language into modern day vernacular that is able to be studied and understood by any believer who has been born again, and so has the regenerate reason, given to each believer via the Holy Spirit in the new birth, that is able to meditate upon the Scriptures and come to the deep truths which God has given us in His Scriptures.

This is also not to say that we should not use study aids (yes, such study aids are not simply reserved for the pastor-teachers and theologians). God has blessed the church with a succession of faithful men who, in turn, have passed on His truth to other faithful men, for the purpose of building up the local and universal body of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:2), and we would be remiss, as believers in Jesus Christ, if we did not take advantage of this vast repository of knowledge. Today, especially, when there are so many free commentaries, systematic theologies, historical theologies, Biblical theologies, church histories, Reformed confessions, audio and video lectures of seminary level, sermons, and various other resources available for free on the Internet, there is really no excuse for any believer in Jesus Christ to not avail themselves of these amazing resources.

I have spoken, on the internet, to many believers in what is termed “emerging nations” (we must be politically correct, mustn’t we?) who are familiar with and use this vast storehouse of wealth available through the Internet, so I tend to turn a deaf ear to those who protest that they have not the resources at hand to study the great doctrines of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

So, getting back to 1 Corinthians 14:20, let us look at the meaning the Holy Spirit intended, through the apostle Paul, for us to understand in that text.

In this text, in direct opposition to the widely held belief that the foregoing text in Matthew 18:3 is telling believers to be simple in all that they say or do, the apostle is giving an expansion and exposition upon what our Lord determined us to understand by His words. That is, to turn and become like children is not intended for us to understand that we must be simple in our understanding, but rather, to be simple in our trusting our Lord and God, as the little child who, trusting their parent, might thrown themselves off a porch into the waiting parent’s arms, knowing that they will be caught and suffer no harm. You turn is rendered converted in the NASB and NKJV, and conversion is the process that begins with the new birth and continues throughout the lifetime of each believer, each member of the body of Christ; become is rendered exactly the same in each English version. In the Encarta Dictionary Microsoft makes available (English, North American Version), these various meanings are given for the conversion:

  1. Change something’s character – to change something from one character, form, or function to another, or be changed in character, form or function.
  2. Change something’s function – to change the function or use of something, or be able to change the function or use.
  1. Change somebody’s beliefs – to adopt new opinions or beliefs, especially religious beliefs, or change the opinions of beliefs of somebody.

Become is defined, in this same English dictionary, in the following manner:

  1. To change or develop into something.

For further understanding, we give the definition of the Greek words for converted and become as used in the Matthew passage: to change one’s manner of life, with the implication of turning toward God—“to change one’s ways, to turn to God, to repent;” “unless you change and become like children. [1] It is of interest to note that the voice of this verb converted in the Greek is passive, meaning that the subject is being acted upon by an outside agent, in this address of our Lord, and in the context of our being acted upon in conversion in this manner; the word become is defined “to come to acquire or experience a state—‘to become.’”[2] It is in the middle voice, meaning that the subject is acting upon itself, therefore showing our cooperation with our God in loving, thankful, worshipful obedience in this ongoing process of conversion.

All of the above definitions have application to what happens to a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ when God, by His Holy Spirit, applies the work of His Son on the cross and in resurrection to them. There is first a fundamental change of being that occurs on the spiritual level, which the Scripture defines in this manner:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses. (Colossians 2:13)

That which was dead in sins and trespasses, therefore, God has made alive – there is a fundamental change in nature, a vital change in the essence of who we are, that was not there before, and this is wrought by the Spirit of God by applying the redemptive, mediatorial work of our Lord Jesus Christ as He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected to satisfy God’s wrath against us and give us to partake of that resurrected life He was given for the purpose of displaying God’s glory in the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7). However, this is but the first part of conversion, that which God has done to us, and it does not end here.

It must be understood, here, that this paper is not an exposition of the ordo salutis (order of salvation), and we are not seeking to define, develop, and illustrate each aspect of that ordo salutis within the confines of this article; rather, we are merely seeking to show that that which traditionally, within the Reformed faith, occurs after regeneration, and the positive outworking of that regeneration in faith and repentance (both the positive and negative sides of belief in our Lord Jesus Christ), which carries on into and through that initial transformation after these things (sanctification), is but a continual process, initiated by God, monergistically, in time and history for each individual believer (regeneration), which consequently carries throughout the Christian life from that moment on and up to glorification (which, despite all our efforts and a loving, thankful, worshipful obedience, which obedience itself is given us to perform by the ongoing grace which saved us, must itself be said to be monergistic – we in no manner affect any aspect of our glorification at the eschaton; our efforts this side of the eternal state only have reference to our present state of holiness before God, none of which we earn, but which we do co-operate in growing in).

Thus, the sense of conversion, as used in this paper, is looking at not only that change wrought to our nature (soul, spirit) at the moment of spiritual conception (regeneration), but as this change affects our lives immediately after, and throughout, our present time of living, prior to the eternal state in which we are perfected by the same grace that saved us; we are looking at the ongoing provision of our God’s grace, during our time before glorification, which enables and empowers us to grow in that grace, knowledge and holiness which are pleasing to our God, and culminates in His changing us to be like He is (cf. 1 John 3:2b; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29).

Hopefully, those who are reading this will understand that we speak of conversion, therefore, as an ongoing process which is more fully defined in considering the other aspects of the ordo salutis, yet does not change the fact that conversion is, in consideration of all these things, wrought by God at the first, carried forth in cooperation with His grace during our lives while still within these tents of corruption housing our regenerate spirits, and finally completed by Him at the time of the redemption of our bodies. This is the reason we gave various English dictionary definitions and the definitions of the words and voice of the words in the New Testament Greek in our Matthew passage. So, this is to say, conversion is initiated by God at the point of regeneration, and we cooperate with His glorious grace thereafter, in this intermediate state, until He completes us in redeeming our bodies to be like that of our glorified Lord’s body; therefore, in this sense, we may truly say, regeneration is the beginning of conversion whereby we are enabled and empowered to live in a progressive manner of godliness and holiness until and up to the time where God resurrects our carnal bodies to that state of perfection wherein we will no longer be subject to the vagaries of sin, sickness and death, but will perfectly worship the Lord in spirit and truth forevermore.

We are told to be renewed in our minds instead of being conformed to our former manner of life, which renewal is ongoing, and affects our behaviors (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 1:7; cf. Colossians 3:1-17, esp. v. 10). The fundamental change to that essence, or nature, which is our life, is to be used in regenerate reason (discerning what is good and evil, what is perfect and acceptable to our God), and this occurs in our gaining that knowledge that is inherent in the Scriptures (John 17:17), by the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit, in a progressive, or maturing, manner (there are various other Scriptural, theological terms to define the things which occur in ongoing conversions which we are not going into in this paper, as it is beyond the scope of this present writing). Therefore, Paul’s instruction and command to be infants in evil has to do with the manner in which we live, since we have been born again by the grace of God through His Spirit. We are to be as trusting towards God, our heavenly Father (more!) as a child is towards that parent they throw themselves trustingly into the arms of, and to be as children regarding doing and saying what is evil according to our former way of life.

However, Paul also commanded the Corinthians (and us, by extension and use of the sanctifying Word of God) that they not be children in your thinking. We have covered, in large part, what this means in the above portions of this article, but will now take a bit more space to flesh it out somewhat.

A child has a limited view of the world in which they live; while not born innocent of the inherent sin nature all gain through Adam, they are ignorant of much of what goes on around them in the world. They are driven by basic appetites and desires; love, hunger, acceptance, greed, pleasure and so forth.

Who among us has not seen a little child, deprived of that which they want, go into a fit of rage?

As the child grows (but still could be called a child), they form societal bonds with other children and with those in their family that are entirely based upon these needs. Peer pressure comes into play, and a child will do the most outlandish things in order to be accepted among their peer groups. It is in this respect that Paul tells the Corinthian believers do not be children in your thinking, that is, as respects the way you think, do not be guided by desires to be accepted among others who behave in certain manners, or by the desire to show yourself better than the others; in contradistinction, be guided by the Holy Spirit applying the sanctifying influence of the Word of God, since you have been graciously adopted into His family through the work of His Son. This is what Paul means in the terminus of his command to the fractious, peer driven Corinthians when he says do not be children in your thinking… but in your thinking be mature.

To illustrate what maturity is for the believer, we submit it is a growing in the knowledge and grace of our God in the Lord Jesus Christ so as to affect not only their thinking, but their behaviors (speech and actions), effectively causing them conform to the image of He who died for them, then rose in glory (Romans 8:29; cf. Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 6:4-5).

I can think of no better way to show this that the writer of the epistle of Hebrews words to the Jewish Christians at the end chapter 5 and the first two verses of chapter 6:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Notice, here, four things: (1) They have become dull of hearing – their long disuse and ignorance of sound doctrine has, over time, caused their spiritual perception, regarding the things of God, to be so muffled as to make them unable to understand them when they are taught. This takes place over a period of time, and can lead not only to a stunted spiritual growth and understanding of the things of God for the believer, but, for the false professor, can be the beginning of the very real and deadly sin of apostasy (if God does not show mercy and bring them to understand the truth as it is in Christ Jesus – 2 Timothy 2:24-26) (2) They have been instructed of the Word of righteousness enough, by this time, so that they ought to be teachers. This does not have reference to the pastoral gift given in the office of pastor/elder, but to a common understanding of the Word of God that has grown, in maturity (there’s that word again), to the point where the believer is able to instruct a new believer, or one who is less mature in the faith, regarding the things (doctrines) of that faith (“faithhere meaning the body of doctrines of the Christian faith), in these doctrines. (3) They have regressed in their Christian maturity to the point where they are admonished and rebuked: you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (4) This has affected their ability to discern, or distinguish, between good and evil, which is implied as a negative condition by reference to the positive example of those who are called mature and have had their discernment trained by constant practice. They have come to the place, in other words, where they no longer possess the skill to determine the doctrines of the Christian faith which go beyond the basics, and need to attentively listen to one who does have such skill, with humility, in order to come back from their stagnation in the doctrines of God as set forth in Scripture to a place where they are again growing (maturing) in their faith.

The writer to the Hebrews further explains what he means at the beginning of chapter 6:

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Although there is a specific historical context for these words to the Jewish Christians that must be considered in a direct exposition of these verses, we may also broaden them out to gain that exposition which directly relates to the situation of all Christians in all ages of the history of the church.

Elementary doctrine simply means, for our purpose, those beginning teachings which were our introduction into the Christian faith. We are never to forget the great grace God showed us in regenerating us, so that we could confess our sins and place our hope of life eternal in Christ Jesus, but to remain upon these doctrines over and over again, to the exclusion of the further teachings contained in the Scriptures of our God regarding that necessary growth in the Christian life, is to stunt one’s spiritual growth. Therefore, the author of Hebrews goes on to say not laying again a foundation, which is to say that which everything else stands upon, as a house stands upon the foundation laid in order to build the walls, which in turn support the roof, and so forth. The foundation the writer to the Hebrews speaks of is referring to elements contained in Mosaic worship, for he is addressing those who were being enticed and persecuted to turn again to these things, which gives the reason for such strong language in the warning passages in this same epistle (which passages we mention in passing, it not being relevant to our present discourse to expound upon them); for our purposes, we may say that we are not to again lay that foundation of those elementary doctrines which have to do with initial repentance of sins (dead works), for we are saved, or have believed in God through Christ Jesus to save us from our sins, and to have the mind-set that we must again be saved is to deny that glorious work of effectual, eternal grace that our God has worked for us in Christ Jesus. We are also not to again to express such rudimentary faith toward God, meaning that initial belief “that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6b), for believers who have been walking a life of faith well know this as a fundamental truth. Also, instruction about washings referred to certain rites as practiced by the Jews who did not believe in Christ, but for our benefit, we may say it intends that which would positively incur further favor for us with God, based upon our merit of doing such a thing, as at our initial baptism, which, of course, could not be the case in subsequently sought baptisms based on doubt of the foregoing elementary doctrines; the laying on of hands signifies God’s blessing at the time of the believer’s baptism, and is still practiced by some churches at that time, as well as at the ordination of elders and deacons, and at the time of baptism, or of reinstatement of a penitent who had formerly strayed from the communion of the saints (as stated in our Confession of Faith, LBCF 26.9, regarding these officers of the church). It is not necessary that the laying on of hands be done again (except in the case of the penitent, as practiced by various churches) to vouchsafe that blessing of God which was so signified at the believers’ initial baptism – which is to say, when they first believed (for it was common in ancient times, and still is, in churches of Christ which take seriously the commandments contained in the Scripture, that when one has been discipled in the faith to the point where they make such a certain, postive confession, the ordinance was to follow as immediately as possible – Matthew 28:19b; Acts 2:39 &etc.).

This is followed by the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. It should be immediately apparent that these things have reference to that beginning of the Christians’ confession of faith in Christ Jesus, and are not, as some think, to be done over and over again, negating the very promises of our Lord that He will never forsake us or allow us to perish, but that He insures we who are His will have eternal life, be raised in glory on the last day, and persevere until that day by the same grace that saved us and continually upholds us (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; Matthew 28:20b; Philippians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; cf. 2 Peter 1:1-12 [part. v. 10]; Jude 1:20-21). Eternal judgment, as mentioned here, has to do with that fear which accompanies those who believe they will be subject to it, and such fear is foreign to the child of God, but is certainly a very real thing to one who knows of the things of God yet has not professed faith in Christ, or one who has professed such falsely (1 John 4:18; cf. Hebrews 10:26-27).

Those who have made a genuine confession of faith in Christ should not be in a position of again repenting from dead works, making acknowledgement of faith in the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, again be preoccupied with doctrines concerning baptism, the laying on of hands in assurance of God’s pardon during this sacrament, and the resurrection of the dead unto judgment eternal. For those who are in a church where only the basics are taught, over and over, such might be somewhat excusable, and we would hold their elders responsible for stunting and even regressing their growth and maturity in Christ; for those sitting under solid Scriptural teaching, as these Jewish Christians were (which we noted from Hebrews 5:12-14), the blame must rest upon themselves for ignoring and forgetting that which they are being taught, and the reprimand of admonishment is well placed; and you see, the context from 5:12-6:2ff is all of a piece, for both speak of the elemental (or foundational) things of the faith, and the blame is on those who have had solid teaching, because they have become dull of hearing and are, to use the negative sense of the positive from v. 14, feeding on milk (which here intends food for babies, not the pure spiritual sustenance of the Word with solid doctrine, as in 1 Peter 2:2).

Before continuing, it must be understood that we have merely sketched out some general considerations from these texts in Hebrews, especially in the first two verses of the 6th chapter – this is not intended to be an in depth exposition of these verses. For that, I would recommend John Owen’s exegesis of these vv. in his exposition of Hebrews, and for a simpler but very good treatment, Dr. James White’s exposition of the same available on sermonaudio.com.

So, you see, there is a simplicity to trusting God that does not – and according to Scripture, should not and must not – bleed into the continuing growth in the faith (doctrines of God in Christ Jesus), and it is not merely the purview of the pastor-teacher-theologian (again, we insist that the pastor, or elder, is to be all of these); rather, trusting God in all things as a young infant and child trusts his daddy, we are to learn of the things of God. This is what it means to be a disciple. It is not forced upon any; rather, it is learned from the sanctifying influence of the Word of God as given to certain men of God and ministered to the hearers, all by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in conclusion, those who disdain and refuse to learn the theology of God, as taught by faithful men throughout the centuries of the existence of the church, are in direct disobedience to the commandment of God. Theological terminology should be that which is desired by the disciple; it was used by the apostles, and God has seen fit to use such in the ongoing realization of His church, as a preview, in local and world-wide covenant communities, of that which is to come at the eschaton, when we will be blessed to know our Lord as He has known us, and all of the things we have been learning will be made most plain to us, in the most joyous, thankful, worshipful manner that we are yet unable to imagine (but we can study about these things now, and “grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

SDG – Bill H.


[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains, 41.50 & 31.60 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (509). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains, 13.48 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (153). New York: United Bible Societies.