I am currently reading in the gospel of Matthew for my devotions. I have really been challenged to walk with Jesus and sit at His feet and reacquaint myself with what it means to be His follower. Matthew 5-7 comprise what we commonly know as the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary Christians must hear the Master’s words and then receive them with all of their moral weight. Matthew 5:27-30 deals with the subject of lust. This sin of lust makes promise after promise to satisfy only to bring moral and marital ruin. Here are four observations on lust from the words of Jesus.
1. Lust is not confined to action, rather it is committed at the level of intent. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [action]  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart [intent]” (vv. 27-28). “You can look but not touch” badly misses the mark of Jesus’ teaching.
2. Lust is a sin that promises gratification but actually leads to destruction (physical, relational, and spiritual) (cf. Proverbs 5:1-6). “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (v. 29, 30). Jesus says this twice. It should really capture our attention.
3. Lust must be fought militantly. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (v. 29)…”And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (v. 30). Hyperbole? Yes, I think so. But to simply place these statements under that literary rubric and then diminish the weight of these statements is the height of folly. If we do not resist lust (and any other sin) “to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4), we are placing our souls and bodies in eternal danger.
4. Lust does not characterize a follower of Christ. The very inclusion of this topic is an imperative for being set apart (i.e. holy) as followers of Christ. Yes, sex is a natural, God-given human drive (and it should be celebrated and enjoyed according to God’s pattern; cf. Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon). Yes, we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Yes, we are surrounded by and immersed in sexually-charged content. But none of these realities excuse us from not battling the sin of lust. Moreover, the follower of Christ can overcome this sin (Romans 6:6-7).
We must see lust as our Lord described it. Battling and overcoming lust is what Jesus said His disciples must do, thereby distinguishing themselves as salt and light in a morally decaying and dark culture by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So battle lust my brothers and sisters knowing that the battle is hard but the victory is yours.
(Image of Mt. Eremos from bibleplaces.com, Mount of Beatitudes)
As we look ahead to 2015, each member of the Roman family will set some goals in four areas. We are using this goal sheet to identify some areas we can focus on in the coming year. Whether or not you are setting goals for the coming year, I hope you have a happy and blessed 2015.
Transgenderism is next on the cultural agenda according to Time magazine. The Daily Beast ran a story yesterday reporting that Obamacare will pay for gender reassignment procedures. What we cannot miss in all of this is that worldview very much influences the whole transgender debate. So much for the worn out phrase liberals like to throw around, “you cannot legislate morality.” What they really mean by this is “you can’t legislate your morality but we will legislate ours.”
In today’s edition of The Briefing, Al Mohler discussed an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution.” The author is Paul McHugh, former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. He made a very important contribution to the transgender discussion. His expertise and experience makes his perspective on this complex issue worth listening to.
“Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.
It is worth reading McHugh’s article in its entirety, which you should do to interact honestly and fairly with it. But what he says makes us realize that this issue is far more complex than simply rearranging organs. The so-called gender reassignment process may make things worse before it makes them better.
Mark Driscoll is stepping down while accusations against him are reviewed. Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Religion News Service published the report last night. The video is available on YouTube. Discroll is a lightning-rod figure in evangelicalism. I have not scoured the web for responses to his announcement nor do I care to. However, it has been interesting to trace the developments leading up to this moment. Driscoll’s announcement led me to five reminders about pastoral ministry.
- Pastors are public figures. Pastors subject themselves to tens, hundreds, or thousands of people Sunday after Sunday depending on the size of one’s congregation. This is not inherently good or inherently bad, it is a simple reality. Pastors spend most of their time up front. Many words are spoken in just one sermon. I checked out a few of my sermon manuscripts and most manuscripts contain at least 2,000 words. This gives people plenty of fodder for discussion and/or criticism. The “up-frontness” of pastoral ministry makes it public in nature. Some criticisms will be unfair. However, pastors cannot take the posture that all critics are “haters.”
- Pastors have feet of clay. Pastors minister out of their frail and flawed humanity. Each pastor is normally gifted in one or two areas and deficient in many more. Pastors are often seen working out of their area of giftedness but less often seen working out of their deficiencies. This is true in a pastor’s public and personal life. The reality is that pastors are quite vulnerable in diverse ways. James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” and again he says in James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways…”
- Pastors are works in progress. Driscoll observed that he moved into a place of leadership too soon. He is a living example of the warning in 1 Timothy. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). There is no way to know for certain whether a man is ready for gospel ministry. Indeed, there is the increasing sense of “who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16) in the heart of a pastor. Pastors are men who are still growing in Christ. Paul Tripp has expressed some concern with the situation at Mars Hill. Tripp has stated in his book on pastoral ministry that a pastor must never lose sight of his identity, namely, that he is a “…man in the middle of his own sanctification…” (Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 25). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15). We should never expect a pastor to be perfect but we should expect a pastor to be progressing.
- Pastors need accountability. Because pastors are in the middle of their own sanctification, some accountability structure is necessary. This should include mentors or trusted friends outside the church and leadership in the church. When pastoral ministry is seen as a platform for carrying out personal ambitions it leads to an attitude that they can act with unchecked power. I’m not referring to a system of “checks and balances” but a kind of system where there is some sort of accountability for carrying out pastoral ministry.
- Pastors need grace. When I watched the video, what struck me was Driscoll’s brokenness and accompanying humility. I don’t think the latter would be present without the former. “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30). This has been years in the making for Driscoll. It seems as if the process is accomplishing a good work in him. Pastors will fail. Pastors will sin. Pastors will wrongly offend people. Driscoll confessed that there were times he was “angry, short, and insensitive.” When pastors sin and repent, give them grace. Give them the kind of grace that you would want in those difficult times. Give them the kind of grace God in Christ has extended to you. These are the times when Psalm 147:3 is most vividly seen, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
My devotional ruminations are just that–devotional thoughts that come from my personal time in Scripture. These ruminations include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered). I read Galatians 2:1-10 this morning.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.  But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.  Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.  On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised  (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),  and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 2:1-10 ESV).
Here are a few observations I took away from this passage. I was impressed by six characteristics in Paul’s life.
- Commission. Paul was driven to carry out the commission given to him by Christ. “…in order to make sure that I was not running or had not run in vain” (v. 2). Paul was committed to his Christ-given commission.
- Conviction. Paul was held by the unwavering truth of the gospel. “to them we did not yield is submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (v. 5). Paul was driven by unwavering gospel conviction.
- Courage. Paul’s gospel conviction led to courage. “…what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality” (v. 6). Paul wasn’t wrongly swayed by influential people.
- Calling. Paul had a very clear and compelling sense of calling on his life. It was specific. “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised” (v. 7).
- Community. Paul recognized that he had co-laborers in his gospel work. “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (v. 9).
- Compassion. Paul was a man driven by conviction yet he was compassionate. “Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (v. 10).
These characteristics remind me of the kind of intentional and missional life that grow out of a person who holds to and is held by the gospel.
There are occasions when we encounter a verse or passage of Scripture that makes us do a double take. Romans 16:20 was one of those verses for me. I included the verse followed by five devotional ruminations. The ruminations will include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered). You will be disappointed if you are looking for exegetical discussions and conclusions.
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (Romans 16:20, ESV)
- The primary observation is the striking contrast between “…God of peace…” and “…will soon crush…” The terms “peace” and “crush” are not normally in such close proximity. This is further highlighted by the unexpected inclusion of a violent word like “crush” between two graceful Christian virtues like “peace” and “grace.” We should not pass over such arresting language too quickly. This is the kind of language that compels us to reflect.
- The co-existing acts of bringing peace and crushing the enemy are not contradictory. There is a divine “peace through strength” component to this verse. Is the crushing of the Evil One a reference to Revelation 20:7-10?
- Paul expresses a confidence in the fulfillment of the promise that goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15. “The God of peace will…” He knows this will happen in the fullness of time. God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.
- Paul expresses an imminence to the defeat of Satan. “The God of peace will soon…” God will carry out His victorious work in the near future.
- Paul expresses a personal aspect to this. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” What does this mean?