The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2017 (page 2 of 3)

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (1)

This blog title is also the title of an excellent book by Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City.

(Another pastor blessed with baldness!)

I’ve just finished reading it and want to do a “book report” (interspersed with my devotional commentaries), both to solidify what I’m learning and hopefully help you. Perhaps my writing will make you thirsty to read Keller’s . . .

In Chapter One Keller justifies his book:  “Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.”  In the Epilogue he does it again:  “If we know the biblical theology of suffering and have our hearts and minds engaged by it, then when grief, pain and loss come, we will not be surprised and can respond in the various ways laid out in Scripture.”

I’d rather stick my head in the sand and presume Jesus gives his people “heaven on earth.”  But that’s only for dumb birds.  Nobody escapes suffering.  ” . . . through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

I remember hearing a well-known TV evangelist say, “God will keep me healthy; I’m just going to die of old age.”  Not only presumptuous, that statement is foolish.  Old-age body parts wear out, and we suffer.  There’s no escape, unless Jesus returns first.

Nevertheless, our Western culture (sometimes including Christianity) does a poor job explaining suffering and preparing us for it.  Keller quotes Dr. Paul Brand, a pioneering orthopedic surgeon in the treatment of leprosy:  “In the United States . . . I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs.  Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated (elsewhere in the world), but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it” (p.16).

In our secular culture, this world is all there is.  Therefore, suffering has no meaningful place.  It’s an enemy that interrupts our pleasure-seeking. This contrasts with every other culture which views suffering as punishment or test or opportunity.

But our culture says suffering is senseless.  In the view of Richard Dawkins’ (evolutionary biologist), “the reason people struggle so mightily in the face of suffering is because they will not accept it never has any purpose.”  Richard Shweder (cultural anthropologist) writes, “The sufferer is a victim, under attack from natural forces devoid of intentionality.”

Thus, the sufferer is not responsible for how he responds.  Keller writes, “The older view of suffering was that the pain is a symptom of a conflict between a person’s internal and external world.  It meant the sufferer’s behavior and thinking may need to be changed, or some significant circumstance in the environment had to be changed, or both.  The focus was not on the painful and uncomfortable feeling—it was on what the feelings told you about your life, and what should be done about it” (p. 25).

Suffering is sometimes caused by “unjust economic and social conditions, bad public policies, broken family patterns, or simply villainous evil parties” (p. 26).  Our response is anger.  Current events, right?

C.S. Lewis wrote:  “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue . . . For [modernity] the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men, the solution is technique” (p. 26).

Christianity holds a radically different view of suffering, even while other cultures contain half-truths of it.  For example, a fatalistic culture demands stoic endurance;  Christians are encouraged “to express their grief with cries and questions” (p. 28).  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46).

Karma-believers hold that the sufferer is being punished for past wrongs; Christians believe “suffering is often unjust and disproportionate.”  Job is the classic example and Jesus the supreme.

Moralists believe that suffering works off one’s sinful debt; Christians believe our sin-debt has been paid.  “ . . .  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23,24).  Therefore, suffering is not meritorious.

Christianity teaches that suffering has a purpose, “and, if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine” (p. 30).

The key, then, is learning how to face suffering “rightly”.  This Keller (and I) will discuss in coming posts.  For now, let’s conclude Chapter One with these compelling words from Keller . . .

“While other worldviews led us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy” (p. 31).







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Sounds like a title for a sex-saturated Hollywood comedy.  Actually, it’s the last group the apostle Paul addresses in 1 …


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About Virgins

Sounds like a title for a sex-saturated Hollywood comedy.  Actually, it’s the last group the apostle Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7.

He’s writing in response to matters about which they wrote him (7:1).  So far he’s addressed marrieds (7:1-7), unmarrieds (7:8-11), and believer-unbeliever marrieds (7:12-16).  He’s written about circumcision and slavery (7:17-24).  One theme runs throughout:  serve the Lord in whatever condition you find yourself, fulfilling the responsibilities of your position.

This issue arose because the Corinthians believed that, having been gifted by the Holy Spirit, they should abstain from all forms of bodily indulgence.  (Right.  These are the same guys who argued that what they did with their bodies was of no spiritual consequence!)

Even though it’s long, I want to finish the remainder of the chapter.  So we’ll plow through reading the whole chunk, then I’ll comment.

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.  Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife.  But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.  What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not;  those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep;  those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.


I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.  I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.  But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing.  So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.  In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:25-40).

“Virgins” (7:25), distinct from the unmarried and singles, are probably betrothed (“engaged”) women and men.  Should they marry or abstain?

The question arises because “ . . . this world in its present form is passing away” (7:31), “the time is short” (7:29) and there is “a present crisis” (7:26).  These eschatological realities inform Paul’s counsel throughout the entire chapter.

What’s the “present crisis”?  Paul is thinking eschatologically, referring to distress associated with this present age’s end and Christ’s Second Coming.  Likely, however, there is a specific eschatological distress they know about, but we don’t.

In what way is “the time . . . short”?  The Greek sustello can be translated “near the end.”  Paul may mean that Christ’s first coming “set in motion” the age to come, so now we’re “near the end”.  Therefore, we see that “this world in its present form is passing away”.  And this future should motivate us to live accordingly in this present age.

Paul offers his “trustworthy” opinion (7:25) and thinks that “I too have the Spirit of God.”  Thus, his “opinion” counts.

He opines:  in whatever state you are, stay.  But, “if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.”  Why does he say that?  Because the Corinthians think their spirituality demands celibacy.  Paul insists single, engaged, married or not are all irrelevant as far as one’s spirituality is concerned.

However, due to the present crisis, a married man may have more “trouble.”  His interests are divided between pleasing the Lord and pleasing his wife.  “So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better” (7:38).

A brief comment on 7:29b-31—“From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep;  those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Obviously, Paul doesn’t mean literally.  The interpretation-key is the last sentence.  Because the world is passing away, husbands shouldn’t live as if they couldn’t live without their wives (no marriage in heaven).  Don’t mourn as if what you treasure is forever lost and don’t ground your happiness in this world’s things (treasures will be more than restored in heaven and this world’s form is passing away).  For the same reason, don’t overly-treasure this world’s things; use them, but don’t be absorbed by them.

* * *

What can we take away?  If we’re not virgins in a present crisis, not much it seems.  For me, though, two things.

First, I don’t think enough, or even correctly, about “the time is near the end” and “the form of this world is passing away.”  I’m more a man of my culture than of Christ.  I presume the sun will rise tomorrow as always.  End-of-the-world-talk is extremism.  But one morning the sun won’t rise.  Though my mind can’t conceive it, this world will end.  And Christ has already set the passing in motion.

Not only do I not think enough, I think “too small” about what’s coming.  In that, I’m a man of my culture too.  “Heaven” will be a “nice” ending to death.  Scripture knows no such idea.  The future that’s coming is really big.  It’s a new and perfect creation.  Bigger than Columbus discovering The New World.  Bigger than colonizing a new planet.

Second, I don’t live now in view of “the time is near the end” and “the form of this world is passing away.”  For example, I allow depression over my permanent and progressing disability to dominate me, when in the new creation I’ll run (and maybe dance).  How differently might you live?

While “about virgins” seems nearly irrelevant to us, it isn’t.  Dr. Gordon Fee writes, “Being eschatological people is to free us from the grip of the world and its values . . . “  It calls us to think and live radically as people who know our roots aren’t in this world and a mind-can’t-conceive future awaits us.






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What identifies who we are?  What determines how we see ourselves?  Paul’s words to the Corinthian church answer those questions. …


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Who Are You?

What identifies who we are?  What determines how we see ourselves?  Paul’s words to the Corinthian church answer those questions.

In 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to remain as they were–married, widowed, single, etc.  Here he applies that exhortation to circumcision and slavery.  First, he enunciates . . .


Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.  This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

“Nevertheless” refers back to the one situation in which they shouldn’t remain as they were:  “ . . . if the unbelieving partner leaves, let it be so” (7:15).  Despite that exception, Paul writes, a believer should stay in the same social situation he was when converted.

Why?  The Corinthians thought their social status (married, celebate,7:1-16) held religious significance.  For example, being moved to a “higher plane” by the Spirit, they should strive to be celebate in marriage or, if a widow, they should remarry.

Paul tells them that Christ’s call transcends social status. It’s irrelevant.  It has no spiritual significance. The Gospel eclipses social standing.  Therefore, they shouldn’t seek to change it.  They should see marriage to a believer or pagan as the proper place God “assigned” them to live out their Christian lives. Now Paul applies that to . . .


Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

A circumcised man couldn’t “become uncircumcised”.  But Paul is making an earthshaking point:  “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.”  Neither makes a difference to God when a man is “in Christ”.

Paul, then, repeats the principle:  “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”  There’s no need to change, because the believer is “in Christ”.

What matters is “keeping God’s commands”.  The Corinthians, particularly, need to hear this, because they considered themselves “spiritual” to the point where bodily sin doesn’t matter.

Paul, however, doesn’t mean “keeping God’s commands” as works of the law. Rather, obedience is the proper response to God’s grace in Christ.  One keeps God’s commands, not to become a Christian, but because God in Christ by the Spirit has made one a Christian.

This brings Paul to his second social situation . ..

THE SLAVE (7:21-24).

Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.  Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

To the slave-called-to Christ, Paul doesn’t counsel, “Stay as you are.”  In fact, he says, “ . . . if you can gain your freedom, do so.”  But his counsel is,  “Don’t let it trouble you”.  “Don’t let it be a concern to you.”

Why? “For the one called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person”.  He may remain a slave socially, but spiritually he is freed from his sins to know Christ.

In the same way, “the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.”  His calling to Christ results in his belonging to Christ.  He no longer belongs to himself.

“You were bought at a price do not become slaves of human beings.”  In other words, the cross purchased you to belong to Christ.  Don’t allow a human way of thinking (I have to improve my social status) to enslave you.

“As responsible to God” is literally “with God”.  Paul’s sense seems to be that one–slave or free—is “responsible to God”, not to the mores of social status.  Slavery or freedman is irrelevant.


To the Corinthians spiritual identity required certain social identity.  I’m approaching “identity” differently. What identifies who I am?  What determines how I see myself?

In 1989 we moved to Florida.  I thought I needed a “sabbatical” from pastoring, so I bought (believe it or not) a small carpet-cleaning company.  I remember complaining to my wife, Lois, “I don’t know who I am.”  My identity was “pastor.”  When I temporarily stepped away, I didn’t know who I was.

Then, three years ago I retired.  Again my identity changed.  No longer “pastor”, I became an old wheel chair-bound curmudgeon.  As a pastor, I was needed and respected.  People looked to me to interpret God’s Word.  Who needs an old curmudgeon?  I’ve become less important, less needed.  So who am I?

Incredibly, it took me a couple years to realize my identity never changed.  Whether pastor or curmudgeon, my identity has always been a man in Christ.  I’m a blood-bought sinner, joined to Christ, indwelt by his Spirit.  Sure, I’m a husband, father, grandfather and blogger (!).  But what identifies me, what determines how I see myself, is Christ himself.  I’m his.

How about you?







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Marriage Matters

This isn’t my favorite Bible chapter.  Verses 1-9 are fine; I struggle with verses 10-16.  But let’s start where Paul does, dealing with matters the Corinthians raised in a letter to hi…

Source: Marriage Matters

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Marriage Matters

This isn’t my favorite Bible chapter.  Verses 1-9 are fine; I struggle with verses 10-16.  But let’s start where Paul does, dealing with matters the Corinthians raised in a letter to him.


Now, to deal with the matters you wrote about.  A man does well not to marry (7:1).

This is another Corinthian Christian slogan.  Literally, the Greek reads, “A man does well not to touch a woman”—a euphemism for sexual intercourse.  The slogan obviously promotes sexual abstinence.  Paul disagrees.

But because there is so much immorality, every man should have his own wife, and every woman should have her own husband (7:2). 

“ . . . so much immorality” refers to husbands being “driven” to prostitutes (6:16) because wives insist on abstinence.  “Have” here means to have sexually.  Thus, Paul urges. . . .

A man should fulfill his duty as a husband, and a woman should fulfill her duty as a wife, and each should satisfy the other’s needs.  A wife is not the master of her own body, but her husband is; in the same way, a husband is not the master of his own body, but his wife is (7:3,4).

The language, “ . . . should fulfill his duty”,  implies that husband and wife have an obligation.   “ . . . not the master of her own body” implies married partners don’t have the authority over their own bodies regarding sexual relations.  But, there can be an exception . . .

Do not deny yourselves to each other, unless you first agree to do so for a while in order to spend your time in prayer; but then resume normal marital relations.  In this way, you will be kept from giving in to Satan’s temptation because of your lack of self control  (7:5,6).

Couples may mutually agree to “no sex” to spend time in prayer.  But this must be temporary, otherwise their lack of self-control will make them prey to Satan’s temptation.  For example, a husband might be “driven” to a prostitute (6:15).

Actually I would prefer that all of you were as I am; but each one has a special gift from God, one person this gift, another one that gift (7:7).

Paul wishes they all had the gift of celibacy like him, but recognizes God has gifted everyone differently.  So the married should follow his instruction.


Now, to the unmarried and to the widows I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do. But if you cannot restrain your desires, go ahead and marry – it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Since Paul has already advised the unmarried to marry (7:2), the “unmarried” here (Greek, hagamois) are probably men who’ve lost their wives to death.  He counsels them “to live alone as I do” (without explaining why).  But, if they can’t control their desires they should marry, because it’s better to marry than “burn with passion.”


For married people I have a command which is not my own but the Lord’s: a wife must not leave her husband; but if she does, she must remain single or else be reconciled to her husband; and a husband must not divorce his wife.

Paul addresses married couples who both are believers, appealing explicitly to Jesus’ authority.  “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11,12).  No distinction should be made between “leave her husband” and “divorce”.  In Greek-Roman culture, divorce was sometimes “legalized” through proper documents; other times one partner simply left the other.

Paul allows a wife to leave her husband, but not to remarry.  Presumably the same is true for the husband.


To the others I say (I, myself, not the Lord): if a Christian man has a wife who is an unbeliever and she agrees to go on living with him, he must not divorce her. And if a Christian woman is married to a man who is an unbeliever and he agrees to go on living with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made acceptable to God by being united to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made acceptable to God by being united to her Christian husband. If this were not so, their children would be like pagan children; but as it is, they are acceptable to God. However, if the one who is not a believer wishes to leave the Christian partner, let it be so. In such cases the Christian partner, whether husband or wife, is free to act. God has called you to live in peace. How can you be sure, Christian wife, that you will not save your husband? Or how can you be sure, Christian husband, that you will not save your wife?

Jesus didn’t address this issue. (“I, myself, not the Lord”)  However, that doesn’t lessen Paul’s apostolic, Spirit-empowered authority.

In such a “mixed” marriage, Paul forbids the believer to initiate divorce.  Why when he forbade Corinthian Christians from even eating with the world’s sexually immoral (5:9-13)?  “For the unbelieving husband is made acceptable to God by being united to his wife” and so the unbelieving wife with her believing husband.  Similarly, their children “are acceptable to God.”

“ . . . acceptable” referring to adults is the Greek word for “sanctified” and referring to children is the Greek for “holy”!  Dr. Gordon Fee takes this to mean “as long as the marriage is maintained the potential for [the unbelieving partner to be converted] remains (The First Epistle to the Corinthians). Paul pointedly asks, “ . . . how can you be sure, Christian husband, that you will not save your wife?”  C.K. Barrett, Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham, comments, “The Christian partner has the effect of sanctifying the relationship and his partner in it” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians).

Neither explanation is fully satisfying.  But Paul’s rule is clear: If the unbeliever consents to remain with the believer, the believer must not divorce.  On the other hand, if the unbeliever leaves, the believer is “free to act.”  The Greek is doulo-o—“enslaved, under bondage, bound.”  Traditionally many commentators have taken Paul to mean the believer is free to remarry.  But his prohibition against remarriage (7:10,11) makes it more likely Paul simply means the believer should freely let the unbeliever go.  “God has called you to peace.”

My Struggle.

Pastoring 44 years, I did much marriage counseling.  Always I tried to uphold the sanctity of marriage.  But where many years of emotional abuse was involved, I couldn’t bring myself counsel a believer to remain married to that unbeliever.  Nor when children needed a father or the family needed a bread-winner besides the mother, could I counsel a wife not to remarry.

The best of us believers are still fallen creatures.  Sometimes we make a mess of our marriages.  I understand the never-ending cost of divorce.  But I also understand, in some situations, cost of a mother with children remaining single (7:11) and the cost of a mother with children remaining married to an abusive unbeliever (7:12-16).  Divorce or remarriage is always the last resort.  But sometimes in our fallenness we need redemptive grace, not strict rules.  I always tried to  find the narrow spot between the sanctity of marriage and compassion to hurting believers.

As Paul wrote earlier, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts . . . ” (1 Corinthians 4:5).




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For a long time I’ve wanted  to comment on “transgenderism”, but haven’t found the best way to do it.  Meanwhile, …


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Gender Revolution

For a long time I’ve wanted  to comment on “transgenderism”, but haven’t found the best way to do it.  Meanwhile, I came upon the blog below I thought you should read.

In it, Andrew T. Walker and Denny Burk respond to “Rethinking Gender”, an article by Robin Marantz Henig, who cites “evolving gender norms as a justification for the Gender Revolution.”

This is an example of “progressivism”.  Progressivism is “a philosophy based on the Idea of Progress, which asserts that advancements in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to the improvement of the human condition” (Wikipedia).

Henig would have us believe that popular thinking about what is normal regarding gender justifies the “Gender Revolution”.  Thinking trumps biology.

The idea flies in the face of Genesis 1:27 . . .

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

There’s a “fixed-ness” to “male and female he created them”.  It’s as immutable as “God created man in his own image”.  Scripture allows no possibility that at some time a human will be born who is not in God’s own image, nor who is not either male or female by God’s creation.  (An argument from silence, I know; but the implication of Genesis 1:27 is the “male and female” are ongoing biological realities.)

Walker and Burk find Henig’s reasoning “unpersuasive”.  They state:  ” . . . no substantive argument for why one’s internal, self-perception of his or her ‘gender identity’ ought to determine one’s gender or have authority greater than one’s biological sex.”  In other words, biological sex has greater authority about a person’s gender than how he/she feels about him/herself.

The blog is heavy reading at points, but well worth plowing through.  Just double-click on the title. (Be sure to check out the “viral video” toward the end of the text!)  Because it’s so pervasive, I’m sure I’ll write more about “transgenderism”.  But this blog is an excellent start . . .

National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution”: Bad Argument and Biased Ideology

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When it comes to sex, Christians seem stuck in the 19th century.  We wonder, “Should a first date end with …


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