Cain, Balaam, Korah, You, and Me (Jude 11)

2019-11-11T11:35:15-05:00 November 11th, 2019|

If you profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, live by this profession of faith. This exhortation is always appropriate for members of the church to whom Jude is speaking (Jude 3). How so? On two counts. First, none of us have reached perfection. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. This truth from Scripture and the Catechism is not theoretical. It is actual. Second, the visible church is always a mixed multitude.

Some children in the church have not yet made a profession of faith. Some make a profession of faith but do so only on an outward and intellectual basis. And some are temporary. They receive the word with joy, and when difficulties arise, they fall away (Mark 4:16-17).

How can this situation come to pass? The elders and leaders of the church do not have spiritual x-ray vision. They cannot look into hearts to see if expressed faith springs from the new birth. As a result, we come to the truth of Jude 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Verses 9-10 give three examples of the people Jude describes in verse 4. Jude 11 continues with three more Old Testament examples. First, “they have gone the way of Cain.” This example goes back to Genesis 4:3-8.

It came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell . . . And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

In verse 4, Jude speaks of people who were long marked out for condemnation. Cain was certainly a marked man. God gave him a sign or distinguishing mark (Genesis 4:15). Cain was also full of anger leading to murder (Genesis 4:5). Jesus indicates that standing alone, such anger incurs the same guilt as murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Such anger is a deed of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). It is a mark of the unholy spirit (Ephesians 2:1-3) rather than the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30).

A fellow in the church once told me that his primary motivation in life was anger. I responded that such a motivation disqualified him from the eldership. I reminded him that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

The people Jude describes in verse 4 are also like Balaam; “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jude 11). The story of Balaam is quite remarkable. He was paid to curse Israel (Numbers 22:7). He advised Midian to lure Israel into whoredom in the cult of Baal (Numbers 31:16). Peter describes such people, “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15).

Balaam represents unbelievers “who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary” (Mark 4:16-17). The Spirit grants them illumination but not new birth (WCF 10:4 with proof texts). With light from God, Balaam blesses Israel. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:3-5). Although having great gifts, these people, like Balaam, turn out to be “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). You and I must remember the words of Jesus, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). It is not spectacular gifts but abundant fruit, which is the most important Christian characteristic.

Finally, the people Jude describes in verse 4 are like Korah and his followers. “They have gone the way [of those who] perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11). Korah and his followers rebelled against the duly constituted authority in Israel. In doing so, they rebelled against God. “They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’” (Numbers 16:3).

Why? God organizes the congregation. God appoints elders and leaders. Furthermore, the Word of God exhorts, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him” (1 Peter 2:13-14). By “human institutions,” Peter indicates institutions established for human welfare such as the church and family and government. Any opposition here is to “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

Finally, Jude issues this indictment. “Woe to them!” (Jude 11). People within the visible church can be like Cain, or Balaam, or Korah. You and I must examine our hearts. Paul urges the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The KJV translates this text, “Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” In terms of Jude 4, Jesus Christ is in you, except you be marked out for condemnation. If you are born again and profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, live by this profession of faith. Remember, “we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone” (James 2:24 NLT).

Denny Prutow

Respect for the Enemy (Jude 8-10)

2019-10-30T08:16:26-05:00 November 4th, 2019|

After exhorting you and me to defend the faith (verse 3), Jude urges us to respect the enemy. How so? We must know his cunning ways, avoid deception, and serve Christ. To assist us, Jude continues his description of ungodly persons who have crept into our midst undetected. They are tares sown in God’s field, imposters, who deceive and are being deceived (2 Timothy 3:13).

Verse 8 refers back to those whom Jude mentions in verse 4 and his examples in verses 5-7. Verse 8 reads, “Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.” Again, “these men” refers back to verse 4. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Those who perished in the wilderness after the Exodus, the fallen angels, and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 5-7) exemplify “these men.”

Further described, “these men” are dreamers. They think they receive revelations from God by way of dreams and visions. They believe the Lord speaks to them directly. He directs them to buy such and such a house or such and such a car. They insist on immediate and present special revelation. At the same time, they defile the flesh by all sorts of improper behavior. Thus they reject the lordship of Christ over all of life. They make this excuse: God loves the sinner but hates his sin. The problem is that God casts sinners into eternal torment in hell, not just their sin. The cunning deception of the devil overcomes these men.

“Angelic majesties” is an interpretation of the underlying Greek text. The word may refer to reviling angels. It may also refer to earthly dignitaries ordained by God (Romans 13:1). Or it may refer to the God-ordained church authorities, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). In the latter case, “these men” revile their pastors and teachers, cater to lusts, and refuse to submit to the teachings of the Word of God.

In a presentation on a college campus, a student reviled and challenged the late Dr. John Gerstner. “I am regularly sleeping with my girlfriend. You cannot tell me I am not a Christian.” In his well-known gravelly voice, Dr. Gerstner responded with a quotation from Galatians 5:21, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Contrary to those mentioned in verse 4, exemplified in verses 5-7, and further described in verse 8, you must preserve the vessel of your body and respect God-ordained authority.

Along this same line, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 reminds us, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Verse 11 goes on to teach, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” That is, although you may have earlier lived contrary to the Word of God, now that you have been born again, you are no longer the same person you once were. You were cleansed from your sin and set right with God. Now, you must live your life according to the will of your Savior.

To emphasize the seriousness of rebellion against authority, Jude cites the case of Michael. “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9). Jude’s illustration may come from an apocryphal source. This fact should not give you pause. Jude writes under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should take his words to be as authoritative as any other portion of God’s inerrant Word. Jude takes us back to Deuteronomy 34:4 and God’s burial of Moses. It may be that God delegates the actual task of burial to Michael, the archangel, and general of God’s angelic hosts (Revelation 12:7). The body of Moses should not be an object of veneration and idolatrous worship. But Satan would have it so. He disputes with Michael. The lesson that Jude draws from this confrontation is the respect and humility of Michael. Although of high rank and power, Michael does not dare to assume the place of God and level a curse against Satan. He defers to the Almighty, “The Lord rebuke you.” Michael understood, and we should understand, that it is blasphemy to take God’s prerogatives and condemn the devil to hell ourselves.

You and I must take care. We must respect the enemy; we must know his cunning ways; we must avoid deception; we must properly serve Christ. Again, Jude 10 gives the contrast, “But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.” Deep down, all men and women know the truth. “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:19). But sadly, “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). When cycles of self-destruction emerge, Galatians 5:15 warns, “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

To serve Christ as Lord is the only proper response. Yes, you and I must respect the enemy, know his cunning ways, avoid deception, and serve Christ.

Denny Prutow

Three Examples (Jude 5-7)

2019-10-10T14:26:01-05:00 October 28th, 2019|

Jude has already exhorted: Prove your calling; maintain your confession; study our common salvation; contend for the faith once for all time delivered the saints. Having set this charge before his readers, Jude gives the people strong encouragement to follow through. He does so by reminding them of three prominent Old Testament judgment scenes. In doing so, Jude enjoins the church, which was and is today a mixed multitude: Avoid the pitfall of disobedience; trust God in His word and seek grace from His hand.

Jude’s thinking seems to link back to the beginning of verse 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation.” Jude sounds the note of double predestination. Some persons are marked out for final destruction (Revelation 13:8). Others, by the mercy of God, have their names written in the Lambs book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).

A visible distinction is made between the two in this life by way of endurance and perseverance. Jesus makes this fact abundantly clear. “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Hence the exhortation, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Hence the reminder of past prominent biblical events in which endurance is absent and God’s awful judgment is present.

The first reminder is in verse 5. “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” Those to whom Jude writes have access to the truth once for all time delivered to the saints. They know the stories. But they need to be reminded of them. You too know the stories and need to be reminded of them. God destroyed the first generation of those whom he delivered from bondage. The people turned back to Egypt in their longing. They lacked faith. It is easy for you and me to also turn back. But Hebrews 4:1-2 warns us.

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

The apostle Paul also reminds you and me of the situation in the wilderness. He goes so far as to say that the setting in the Old Testament foreshadows the setting of the New Testament Church. That Old Testament circumstance is a type. We are now the church in the wilderness. Unlike those who went before us, You and I must persevere.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples [τύποι] for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved (1 Corinthians 10:1-6).

The second reminder is in verse 6, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” Angels, full of light and life, abandoned their privileged position. They did not persevere. They did not keep to their own proper place. Now, God keeps them in bondage in unremitting, incessant, unrelieved darkness with their only prospect of final judgment filling their thoughts. Peter echoes this thought. “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Your hope and my hope is in Christ. He does not come to the aid of angels but he does come to the likes of you and me (Hebrews 2:16).

Jude’s third reminder is in verse 7. “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” Gross immorality filled these cities. They became the object of fiery judgment, a foreshadowing and type of final judgment. Scripture uses no other picture of judgment more often than this one. Scripture refers to Sodom forty-eight times.

The warning is clear. Avoid the pitfall of disobedience. On the other hand, trust God in His word and seek grace from His hand. Paul points to Isaiah 1:9 and reminds us of God’s grace, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:29). Jude reminds us of God’s judgment of Israel, fallen angels, plus Sodom and Gomorrah. However, while you persevere in the faith once for all time delivered to the saints, you can confess, “But for the grace of God there go I.” And so, avoid the pitfall of disobedience; trust God in His word and seek grace from His hand.

Denny Prutow

Jude’s Dual Purpose (Jude 1-4)

2019-10-18T09:47:36-05:00 October 21st, 2019|

Jude writes his letter in the mid-first century A.D. Was Jude or 2 Peter written first? We do not know. In verses 1-4, Jude reveals his purpose. We can put it this way: Prove your calling and maintain your confession by studying our common salvation and contending for the faith once for all time delivered the saints.

Verse 1 reads, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James. To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Jude recognizes himself as a servant of the Savior, as we all are. He is also the brother of James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men are brothers of Jesus. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55).

This little letter is addressed to those who are “called,” people like you and me. And this calling is part of the order of the application of salvation, which leads to glorification (Romans 8:30). The Holy Spirit applies to you the redemption purchased by Jesus Christ because God loves you. And yes, you are adopted into His family. God is your Father. Based upon later manuscripts, the KJV speaks of our being “sanctified by God the Father.” Sanctification begins with regeneration and continues in and through God’s preserving work. And so Jude reminds his readers, including you, that they are “kept for” or “preserved in” (KJV) Jesus Christ.

Jude now prays, “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2). Mercy is equivalent to grace. First Peter 1:3-4 combines mercy, new birth, and God’s preservation. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”

Peace is the same as shalom, the all-encompassing peace of God bound up in the experimental love of God in Jesus Christ. Mercy and peace and love may be an hendiatris, three words used to express one idea. Jude is speaking of God’s grace or mercy filled with peace and love.

We now come to Jude’s primary purpose. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation” (Jude 3). His readers, including you and me, are loved by Jude and, of course, loved by God. Jude was preparing or perhaps had started to write. His topic is the salvation shared by all who are in Christ. Jude has already accomplished part of this purpose in verses 1 and 2. However, He is a servant of Jesus Christ. Calvin maintains that this title assumes ongoing office and teaching responsibility. Of course, all those called within the church to preach and to teach have the duty to explain and apply the Scriptural teachings concerning the salvation we share as believers in Jesus Christ.

But there are also exceptional circumstances thrust upon the church. As a result, Jude writes, “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The saints are the blood-bought and ransomed members of the church. The faith is the objective truth contained in the Scriptures, prophesied of old, and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This faith was delivered to the church once for all time. It is the duty and obligation of the church not only to declare the truth of Christ but to contend for it. The church is, as it were, in a great contest demanding great exertion, skill, and perseverance. The world is marshaled against the saints by Christ’s great adversary, the devil. The church must not only teach the truth but contend for it against all opposition.

Jude gives the reason for his earnest appeal. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). These persons are unconscious or self-conscious subversives. They have wormed their way, undetected, into the church (Galatians 2:4). They have made a profession of faith. But they do not sincerely hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They are ungodly persons in life and conduct. They use grace as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Thus they deny the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not that long ago that a popular teaching pervaded evangelical circles. You could profess Christ as Savior and be a saved person. You could live an unholy and unsanctified life and still have an assurance of salvation. You would be known as a carnal Christian, someone who believes in Jesus as your Savior but does not yet submit to Him as your Lord. However, the essential Christian confession is, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). Do not deny Christ; maintain your confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Remember these words of our Lord Jesus, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Bottom line? From these first four verses of Jude: Prove your calling and maintain your confession by studying our common salvation and contending for the faith once for all time delivered the saints. More simply: Constantly study the content of your faith and always be ready to fight for it.

Denny Prutow

Paul’s Sequential Sermon (Acts 17:22-31)

2019-10-06T19:39:47-05:00 October 14th, 2019|

The three-point sermon is standard fare and is considered the orthodox form in many circles. As a result, sequential outlines for Bible lessons or sermons are uncommon. But sermons by the prophets, apostles, or our Lord do not have the three-point structure. In recently reviewing Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, I found its sequential form striking. The sequential layout of the sermon from Acts 17:22-31 appears below. My desire is that you see that sequence is a powerful tool in presenting the truth. I emphasize the conjunctions, which display the logical and sequential form of the sermon.

22-Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23-For (γὰρ) as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’

What therefore (οὖν) you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24-The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25-nor (οὐδὲ) is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

26-And (τε) he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27-that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

Yet (καί γε) he is actually not far from each one of us, 28-for (γὰρ) “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For (γὰρ) we are indeed his offspring.’

29-Being then (or therefore – οὖν) God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

30-Therefore (οὖν) having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31-because (καθότι) he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

An outline of the text, based on the above breakdown, following Paul’s conjunctions, might look like the following.

1. The religious Athenians even recognize an unknown god (22-23).
2. Paul presents this unknown self-sufficient creator (23-25).
3. This creator made men and nations to seek him (26-27).
4. This seeking is possible since all men live in him and are made like him (27-28).
5. As a result, idolatry is foolishness (29).
6. So turn from your idols to the living Christ who is the judge of all (30-31).

Paul’s sermon drives toward a presentation of the resurrected Christ and a call to repent. The logic is sound, sequential, and powerful. Again, this sermon displays a sequential, not a three-point form. Because it challenges a hostile audience, Paul waits until his conclusion to drive home his main point. He shows us that sequence is a powerful tool in presenting the truth.

Finally, as Calvin rightly tells us, “Luke only briefly mentions the things that Paul discussed at length” (The Acts of the Apostles 14-28, 109). This summary accentuates the logic and wisdom of Paul’s argument. It emphasizes that sequence is indeed a persuasive tool in presenting the truth. For even within this hostile audience, although some mocked, others believed and joined with the apostle (Acts 17:32 and 34).

Denny Prutow

A Stronghold We Defend

2019-10-05T15:49:35-05:00 October 7th, 2019|

In 2 Corinthians 10:4, Paul stresses that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” These strongholds (ESV) are fortresses (NASB), which defend a position. One of my pastors reminds us that we all face various strongholds, which hold out against our labors in Jesus Christ. As a professor of homiletics, in what follows, I discuss such a stronghold that vigorously holds out against a simple principle of preaching. I begin with a personal experience.

Early in my tenure as a Professor of Homiletics at our seminary, I was a presenter in a pre-synod conference on preaching. In the first session, I set forth and sought to defend the proposition that every sermon should have one main point. Part of my presentation included a list of preachers and teachers of preaching stating this position. The next speaker, a well-respected pastor, began by saying, “I don’t believe every sermon needs one main point.” Here is the stronghold. I met it head-on at the conference in which I was one of the lead speakers. My further presentations were an uphill slog.

Later, when asked to present a paper at the seminary’s annual Westminster Conference, I asked the assistance of one of my colleagues. I’d never made a presentation in an academic setting. This brother kindly read my paper and then had one question, “Where is your thesis statement.” With some embarrassment, I reworked my paper with a proper thesis statement and requested a second review. This little story sets up a running debate within the seminary community.

Here is how I frame the debate. Although many sermons are printed in books, sermons are prepared, in the first instance, to be heard in the congregation. On the other hand, papers are meant to be read. From this perspective, we understand that preaching and writing are two decidedly different activities. Listening and reading are two distinctly different activities. Although this is the case, many maintain that writing a sermon is just like writing a paper. So then, I respond, if a paper ought to have a strong thesis statement, a sermon also ought to have a strong main point. Here again, we meet the stronghold. “I don’t believe every sermon needs one main point.” The position seems illogical.

At the same time, I ask, “If the bulk of prominent preachers and homiletics teachers hold that a sermon ought to have one main point, why do so many demur, raise doubts, and show reluctance? A quote from J. H. Jowett responds.

I have the conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching . . . until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting and the most fruitful labor in my study . . . I do not think a sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until the sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon (The Preacher: His Life and Work, 133).

Yes, to derive the main point of a text and formulate the main point of a sermon is demanding work. A former student came to me early in an Introduction to Preaching class and announced, “Professor, I’ve selected a great text for my chapel sermon this quarter. It divides nicely into three parts.” Such an approach is much easier and less demanding. The challenge is to remove this stronghold and to build each sermon around a single controlling idea.

Denny Prutow

When is Preaching the Word of God?

2019-09-28T11:09:48-05:00 September 30th, 2019|

Gospel preaching is a means of grace. God uses gospel preaching to change us and to change others. Listen to the apostle Peter. “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Peter tells us that without this word, we will perish. He compares frail fallen humanity to grass and flowers. Without this preached word we are all like grass in the fields and flowers in the grass. In verse 24, the apostle quotes Isaiah 40:6 and 8. “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field . . . The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” The context in Isaiah 40 is gospel preaching. The message is simple. “Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold, your God’” (Isaiah 40:9). The Lord will deliver His people Israel from their dispersion and Babylonian captivity. Peter writes to similarly dispersed people. To ensure we understand he is talking about gospel preaching, Peter adds, “And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). Thus Peter connects the “enduring word of God” (verse 22) with “the word which was preached to you” (verse 25).

The writer to the Hebrews makes a similar connection. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you” (Hebrews 13:7). Sixteenth-century Puritan, William Perkins, therefore says, “Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ” (The Art of Prophesying, 7). My working definition of preaching makes this same connection. It begins with the words, “Preaching is God communicating His truth.” Following Peter and the writer to the Hebrews, preaching is a form of the word of God. But, we ask, “How so?”

Commenting on Hebrews 13:7, William Gouge, a member of the Westminster Assembly, answers. “That which ministers do or ought to preach is styled the word of God in a fourfold respect” (Commentary on Hebrews, 1072). After dealing with extraordinary ministers, Gouge says, “As for ordinary ministers, they have God’s word written and left upon record for their use . . . They therefore that ground what they preach upon the Scripture, and deliver nothing but what is agreeable thereunto, preach the word of God” (Ibid.). In this same vein, William Greenhill, another Westminster Divine, connects preaching and prophesying. “If men preach or prophesy anything which is not from the Spirit, but from themselves, it is not acceptable to God, neither should be entertained by us” (An Exposition of Ezekiel, 299).

In addition, when men preach what is agreeable to the word of God it necessitates a high regard for “the subject-matter which they preach, which is the will of God,” a high regard for “the end of preaching, which is the glory of God, and making known ‘the manifold wisdom of God,’ Eph. iii. 10,” and a high regard for “the mighty effect and efficacy thereof, for preaching God’s word is ‘the power of God unto salvation, Rom i. 16” (Gouge, 1072-1073). Preaching is therefore styled the word of God when it is agreeable to Scripture and sets forth the will of God, for the glory of God, in the power of God. Greenhill adds this observation. “God’s word shall not be in vain, which is given out against hard-hearted sinners” (Greenhill, 521. Italics added).

If gospel preaching is a form of the word of God, you need to sit under such gospel preaching. And you need to bring other men and women and boys and girls to sit under such gospel preaching.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrows: Three Sharpening Hints

2019-09-21T11:43:24-05:00 September 23rd, 2019|

Remember John R. de Witt’s comment regarding Calvin’s sermons, “The feature that struck me most powerfully is just their immediacy” (John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, Chapters 1-11, xvii). Here are three hints to help achieve this immediacy and sharpen your gospel arrows, whether teaching a class or preaching a sermon. First, use the present tense when describing or speaking about past events. In doing so, you bring past events into the present. Using the present tense in this way is more direct. It is more forceful.

Second, use active voice rather than passive voice. Speak about what characters do rather than about what is done to them. Using active voice rather than passive voice is more direct and more forceful. For example, you might say, “When Jesus had been arrested He was led away to the chief priests by the temple guards.” Present tense and active voice are more direct. “The temple guards arrest Jesus and lead Him away to the chief priests.”

Consider the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. You might tell the story using the past tense. After all, the incident took place centuries ago. You might also frequently use passive voice. The story might sound like the following.

When the ministry of Jesus was begun, towns and villages in Galilee were visited by Him. He preached in local synagogues. Demons were cast out by Him. When He returned to Capernaum, a host of people were gathered at His home. There was standing room only. A paralytic was carried on a pallet to His rooftop by four men. Desperately, the men removed part of the roof. They lowered the paralytic right in from of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith He declared, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement caused no small uproar. But Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins. He turned to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” The man stood upright. He picked up his pallet. And the astonished crowd was parted as the paralytic passed through.

Now, rehearse the same story with present tense and active voice, which are more direct, more forceful, and less wordy. Read it aloud.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he visits the towns and villages of Galilee. He preaches in local synagogues. He casts out demons. When He returns to Capernaum, a host of people gather at His home. There is standing room only. Four men carry a paralytic on a pallet to His rooftop. Desperately, they remove part of the roof. And they lower the paralytic right in front of Jesus. When Jesus sees their faith, He causes no small uproar by declaring, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But Jesus also proves His authority to forgive sins. He turns to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” The man stands, picks up his pallet, and passes through the astonished gathering.

Third, use the second person, “you,” in approaching the congregation rather than always using “we.” In teaching at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, one of my homiletics students who was supplying a pulpit determined to follow my suggestion. He came back to class and reported, “I am amazed at the difference it made to speak directly to the congregation using the second person. I was much more connected to the people. The people were much more responsive to me.” The rationale for using “we” is that the teacher or preacher includes himself in the exhortations. You achieve the same purpose by using the second person and on occasion adding, “This exhortation applies both to you and me.”

These three hints are simple. Use present tense and active voice as much as possible. Use the second person where you are able. Try them; you will like them. They will help sharpen your gospel arrows and make them more direct and forceful.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrows: Actions Speak Louder

2019-09-13T13:39:38-05:00 September 16th, 2019|

We take it for granted, “Actions speak louder than words.” This aphorism is true in public speaking too. That is, what we do while we are speaking is as important as the actual words we say, perhaps even more important . The force and impact of pointed gospel arrows greatly depend upon non-verbal communication as well as verbal. A message on the joy of the Lord will not be received well if read in a monotone with little eye contact and gloomy facial expression. You can picture it; the body language of the teacher or preacher undermines the content of the gospel message.

Another similar scene is often repeated. The teacher or preacher stands before the class or congregation and announces, “I have a very important and consequential teaching for you this morning.” While making the announcement, he assumes a nonchalant casual relaxed posture rocking back on his heels with both hands in his pant pockets. What the class or congregation sees immediately undercuts the content of the announcement. Actions speak louder than words. The non-verbal body language wins out.

There is a primary and simple lesson here. We need to learn to speak with our whole body. If you put yourself into a gospel message, it ought to show. It ought to show in the stance you take before a class or congregation. It ought to show in the tone and volume of your voice. It ought to show in your facial expression. It ought to show in the movement of your arms and the gestures of your hands. Each of these actions carries a language of its own.

For example, when inviting folks to come to Christ, you don’t point at them with an accusing index finger. Rather, you invite the people to come with outstretched arms and open hands, palms up, using a beckoning motion. Volume is important. There are times to raise volume. But take care. Volume alone can be interpreted by people as shouting at them. Issue the invitation with a soft voice. Again, speak using your whole body. Lean into the class or congregation. Reach for the people. In using your voice, breath deeply. Speak from the gut rather than from the throat or head. The more air you push, the greater your projection will be, even with a soft voice. At the same time, scan the class or congregation. Draw people in by briefly making eye contact with them. However, don’t make people uncomfortable by maintaining eye contact for too long.

All of the above presupposes a solid stance behind the podium. Take this stance with feet spread shoulder-width leaning forward slightly on your toes giving you the ability to easily move and use your body as you speak. Rather than leaning on or grasping the podium, stand back slightly to give yourself room to move.

In light of the above comments, listen to Isaiah 55:1. Isaiah has already presented redemption and its blessings in chapters 53-54. Now, on God’s behalf, he issues an invitation. “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.” E. J. Young, “The introductory particle (hoi) is mainly an attention-getting device” (The Book of Isaiah, 3:374). So much for not using such rhetorical devices in gospel preaching. Several metaphors signify gospel blessing, water, wine, and milk. Grace is emphasized in the words “without money, without cost.” Although there is a series of imperatives, this series amounts to a plea. The rhetorical question of verse 2 emphasizes this fact. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?”

Now, listen to the prophet’s compassionate call to the people. Watch him make this call with heartfelt urgency. Three times he issues the invitation. “Come, come, come!” Then, throwing his hands in the air, with a questioning look and a shake of his head in quandary, he asks, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread?” Why? Words in context carry cognitive baggage and emotional weight. They have an evocative force. You cannot read Christ’s quotation of Psalm 22:1 and not realize this is the case, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So it is with Isaiah’s gospel invitation.

Body language and non-verbal communication play a natural role in effective gospel proclamation. The presentation of God’s truth derived from a Scripture text does not stand alone. It is adorned with body language and non-verbals, which either helps or hinders the message. Gospel arrows, sharpened to penetrate the heart, incorporate appropriate body-language and non-verbals. Sharpen your gospel arrows and employ this truth.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrow Force and Vehemence

2019-09-06T13:35:47-05:00 September 9th, 2019|

A folded paper airplane hits a tree trunk, bounces back, and falls to the ground. By contrast, a sharp pointed arrow has penetrating power. In teaching and preaching, it is this “penetrating quality” that makes a gospel message effective (W.G.T. Shedd, Homiletics, 84). On one hand, we rightly understand that the truth of Scripture has its own force. At the same time, to maintain this penetrating force, how the teacher or preacher presents this truth must be complementary and supportive.

A student preacher was known for his infectious smile. While speaking on the subject of fear in the face of God’s unspeakable judgment, his countenance was aglow with that same smile. The force of the student’s message was overshadowed by his joyous expression. Force in teaching and preaching is wrapped up in both the person and what he has to say.

We draw back. We must not embellish our teaching and preaching with so-called “rhetorical devices.” We must depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He causes the infallible word to penetrate the heart. True indeed. But the teacher or preacher is an active instrument and participant in this process.

John R. de Witt introduces John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, Chapters 1-11.

The feature that struck me most powerfully is just their immediacy. As I have read them, it has quite often seemed as though I were sitting with the congregation in Geneva and listening to Calvin himself as he opened up the passage on which he was preaching and then carefully, deliberately, and sometimes with painful specificity applied its teaching to those who heard him (xvii).

Calvin makes the message of Scripture personal. He brings it home and pierces the heart. For example, when speaking of Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), becoming drunk with wine (Genesis 9:21), Calvin warns his congregation not to use the occasional stumbling of those who teach as an excuse to ignore the exhortations of Scripture. “We must not use the occasion to say, ‘That fellow is not better than I am. And yet he is preaching to others! Why does he not first look at himself?’” (ibid., 790).

Surely statements like this one are made with pointedness and force. In fact, as T.H.L. Parker puts it in Calvin’s Preaching and quoting that great preacher, “The pastor must use vehemence and vivacité, ‘to give vigor and power to the Word of God’” (14). And before downplaying the use of so-called rhetorical devices, note Calvin’s use of dialog and the rhetorical question in this short quotation.

Penetrating power and force is essential in launching gospel arrows. “We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game” (Parker, 12).

Denny Prutow