Daily Light – Nov 12, 2019

I Was a Misunderstood Muslim

Common Misconceptions About Islam

Article by Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Frisco TX

Christians are called to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods — at least for those of us in America and Europe. Muslims are emigrating to our cities in record numbers. Many of us don’t need to board a plane to take the gospel to the Muslim world. We only need to cross the street to our neighbor’s house.

Unfortunately, many Christians are apprehensive about engaging a relationship or even a conversation with Muslims. Some have a misperception that Muslims will not be friendly. Others are gripped with the fear of potentially offending Muslims by committing a cultural faux pas. Essentially, many are overcome by the fear of the unknown. I want to shed light on some common misconceptions that hinder Christians from reaching out to Muslims with the saving truth of Christ.

Misconceptions About Muslims

The most common misconception about Muslims is that they are all radical terrorists filled with hatred for the West — or at least they are headed in that direction. The thought is that all Muslims ultimately want to see our society destroyed and Islamic sharia law instituted throughout the land. Although there are movements of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world, the vast majority of Muslims are among the more hospitable, gracious, and friendly people you will meet.

Underlying this misunderstanding is the erroneous thinking that the more devout one gets as a Muslim, the more radical one becomes. Some think that the end of Christian devotion is to sell your possessions and give it all to the poor, while the end of Muslim devotion is to become a jihadist.

“In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods.”

Although there are terrorist organizations who have deceived their followers into believing this, the vast majority of Muslims fall into another category: the dutiful religious Muslim. The term Islam means “submission to Allah,” and Muslim means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam is primarily a works-based religion, and for most Muslims, to be devout is to give oneself wholly to follow the five pillars of faith and submit to Allah.

Misconceptions About Our Calling

Another misconception that we must acknowledge has to do with our calling and purpose as Christians. It might be better stated as a forgotten identity and mission. This came to light during the recent Syrian refugee crisis, when many American Christians primarily were thinking about border protection and safety instead of the opportunity for advancing the kingdom of God. This is not to say that safety and protection should not be on our minds at all. As a husband and father, I desire safety and peace in our country. But as an ambassador for Christ, I cannot let that desire squeeze out or nullify the greater desire to see people from all nations come to saving faith in Jesus.

In Acts 20:24, Paul states that his own life is not more valuable to him than the ministry God gave him to testify to the gospel of grace. For us today, engaging our Muslim neighbors in order to witness to the gospel is not even a matter of life and death. But it may mean sacrificing comfort. I fear that, too often, we don’t even want to get out of our comfort zones. I recently heard about a community where some were upset because an Islamic association wanted to build a cemetery in their town. Some were against the initiative because they felt it would lead to more Muslims moving to their community. Instead of celebrating an open door to engage Muslims with the gospel, they wanted to stop it.

The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our temporal comforts, or even our lives, at all costs. The goal of Christians should be instead to spend every day of our lives serving the mission of testifying to all nations.

Muslims’ Misconceptions

It is also important to note that Muslims have many misconceptions about Christianity. Most Muslims don’t understand our view of the Trinity, and wrongly assume that Christians worship three Gods. The sonship of Jesus is a stumbling block for them because many mistakenly take it to mean that God had sexual relations with Mary. Muslims also view Christianity primarily through the lens of Western society. In the Muslim world, Islam is woven into every fabric of society so that the religion’s value is reflected in the culture. Therefore, some Muslims have a hard time accepting the claims of Christ because they see the vices in our society and wrongly attribute them to Christianity.

It is important to dispel all these misunderstandings, but I want to highlight one misconception in particular that shows the importance of engaging your Muslim neighbor. Many Muslims think that the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is absurd. They view it as a cheap grace. They think Christianity essentially means saying a prayer to believe in Jesus, and then living however you want because you have been forgiven. They ask, “Then why would you live for God? Why would you do anything for God?” With that question, they admit that they believe the only reason someone would live for God is fear. The motive is to earn God’s favor, or else I’m going to go to hell. But what if there’s a better way?

“The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our comfort, or even our lives, at all costs.”

The Bible is clear that grace does not lead to freedom to sin, but rather to freedom to truly live for God (Romans 6:15–18). A true Christian will produce good works, but his good works will not be a means to earning salvation. Rather, they will be a product of his salvation — or better put, evidence of his salvation. The Scripture teaches in James that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Christians do not live for God out of fear of going to hell, because we understand that our place in heaven is already secured by the blood of Christ.

While We Were Yet Sinners

Now we can see why it is so important to engage, befriend, and love our Muslim neighbors. The greatest misconception in the Muslim mind relates to the unmerited and sacrificial love of the true God. In Islam, you earn God’s favor through a life of good works, submitting to the will of Allah. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when Muslims will face a scale that weighs all their good deeds against their bad deeds. Whichever one outweighs the other will determine whether they go to heaven or hell. But Christianity teaches that God loved us and sent his Son to die for our sins while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and before we did anything good to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8–9).

This is the love that Muslims need to experience. And this is where you come in. We love Muslims by inviting them into our homes for dinner. We love Muslims by asking them how we can help them in getting assimilated to our community — for example, by helping them set up a bank account, sign up their kids for school, or whatever else it may be. Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he often wants to know that you care. When we love Muslims without seeking anything in return, especially when they expect us to ostracize them, we make Jesus visible to them and put the gospel on full display (1 John 4:7–12).

Once a Muslim

My family moved back to the States when I was 6 because of the unrest in Iran due to the revolution. Shortly after coming to America, the Iranian hostage crisis hit. A group of Americans were held hostage in Iran, and it was not easy for my family to live in Houston. Many people persecuted us because they knew my family was from Iran. I’m so thankful for one Christian lady who did not see my family as a threat, but as an opportunity to advance the gospel.

“Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he must know that you care.”

My Christian tutor loved me and met a real need in my life by teaching me the English language. She did this during a time when others threw bricks through the windows of our home or threatened to beat up my brother and me. Had any other American given me the New Testament, I would’ve thrown it away, because I didn’t trust many Americans then. But I’m thankful it came from the one who was showing me the love of Christ in her actions. Since it came from her, I held on to the New Testament that I would read years later and that would lead me to faith in Christ.

I am eternally blessed that I get to know Christ and be a part of making him known. There is no way I would be in this place if it were not for a second-grade tutor who was determined to invest in my life. I believe there are many more Muslims like me in your community. I pray that you will be obedient to Jesus as he calls you to invest in the life of a Muslim in your path for the sake of the gospel.

Afshin Ziafat (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children.

Daily Light – Nov 11, 2019

Manage Your Household Well

THE TRAGEDY OF DISTRACTED DADS AND PASTORS

Taken from an article by David Mathis, Executive Editor,desiringGod.org

The gratuitously distracted, and often unexamined, lives of modern unmarried men can be concerning enough. Then the seriousness of the problem rises higher when we say, “I do.” And even more when we bring children into the world.

One of the greatest needs wives and children have — and all the more in our relentlessly distracting age — is dad’s counter cultural attentiveness. Perhaps human attention never has been more valuable. Today the largest corporations in the world no longer compete for oil, but for human attention. And when attention is short and scarce, one of the greatest emerging tragedies of this new era is distracted dads.

Managing Different Relationships

Typical households include wife and children (and sometimes others), as well as material possessions. Taking care of the inanimate stuff is the easiest aspect of managing. Caring well for people is the most challenging. However, managing the materials is important, and not to be neglected. Certain men gravitate toward or away from dealing adequately with the stuff, or from caring well for the people. We each have personal penchants to identify and necessary adjustments to make.

But leading a household is first and foremost about taking care of people.

For (and with) His Wife

The first and most important person in a man’s household is his wife — and he feels a unique tension (and privilege) in caring well for her. On the one hand, she is a member of the household and deserving of his greatest attention and care and emotional provision and investment. On the other hand, she is his co-manager. According to Paul, a Christian man is not the lone master of his domain. Married women also “manage their households” (1 Timothy 5:14).

Dad has an associate, “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18), for whom he thinks and cares in fundamentally different ways than the children. A good manager treats his co-manager differently than the other workers under his leadership. God did not design Christian households to be mini-monarchies where the husband rules as king, with his wife as his subject. Rather, she is the queen, and together they “manage” the household, even as he carries a unique burden of leadership and owes his co-manager a special kind of care.

For the husband, being “head” in his home doesn’t center on his enjoying the greatest privileges, but on shouldering the greatest burdens. Being head means going ahead, in conflict, and being first to apologize. It means taking initiative when no one else wants to. It means treating his co-manager with unrelenting kindness, even when she’s less than kind. It means exercising true strength, by inconveniencing himself to secure her good, rather than serving himself by presuming on her. And, of course, it includes vigilance in being a “one-woman man” utterly committed in mind, heart, and body to his one wife.

For His Children

After his wife, and with her, a Christian man takes care of his children. In 1 Timothy 3:4, the phrase “with all dignity” modifies “keeping his children submissive.” There are dignified and undignified ways to raise submissive children.

Domineering and heavy-handedness are both undignified and ruled out by the nature of Christian management and care-taking. Even if abusive fathering remains hidden from the public eye for years, it will catch up with a man as his children become adults and realize what he was doing. God means for fathers to teach and train his children with dignity — in a respectable way, appropriately engendering respect from his children, and his wife, in how he treats them, even at their worst moments. Paul captures the heart of it in one stunning sentence: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Not only are children different than a wife, but also children have their various stages. In partnership with their mother, dignified fathering will take that into account and adapt accordingly.

Who Cares for Dad?

Dads, God means for us to frequently come to the end of ourselves and learn what it means to lean on him and, in faith, keep moving. In the moments when we most soberingly feel the weight of being the buckstopper at home, or in the church, he wants us to know that we ourselves have a Father, and that he does not call us to pretend to be the hero in our own strength, but to ask for his help, lean on him, and roll our burdens onto his shoulders. Both pastor-elders and husband-fathers need the solace and blessing of 1 Peter 5:6–7:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Before and beneath God’s call that we care for our households, and for his church, is his care for us. Before he says to us as fathers and pastors, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), he first is the Good Samaritan to us. He comes to us, binds our wounds, pours out his own precious oil and wine, picks us up off the ground, brings us to the inn, and takes care of us (Luke 10:34), at great cost to himself, and with a promise to return (Luke 10:35).

Rightly was it said about Jesus, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Surely such is the case with his household, and bride, the church. He has and does manage his household well, and that is our great comfort not just if, but when we feel inadequate, even in our best efforts, to manage our own households well.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – Nov 8, 2019

Satan’s Ten Strategies Against You

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

. . . that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

One of the most sobering facts about life is that all humans have a supernatural enemy whose aim is to use pain and pleasure to make us blind, stupid, and miserable — forever. The Bible calls him “the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world . . . the accuser” (Revelation 12:9–10), “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He is our “adversary [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yet, in the most appalling and unwitting bondage, the whole world willingly “follows the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). At his most successful, his subjects march obliviously to destruction, and take as many with them as they can.

The “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) that I wrote about under the title “Awake and at War” includes the daily resistance of this enemy (1 Peter 5:9James 4:7), the daily refusal to give him an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and the daily stand against his schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

Satan’s Leash — and Impending Doom

God is sovereign over Satan. The devil does not have a free hand in this world. He is on a leash, so that he can do no more than God permits. In effect, he must get permission — as in the case of Simon Peter, where Jesus discloses, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has asked to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). And the case of Job: “The Lord said to Satan, “Behold, Job is in your hand; only spare his life” (Job 2:6).

So evidently God sees the ongoing role of Satan as essential for his purposes in the world, since, if God willed, Satan would be thrown into the lake of fire now, instead of at the end of the age. “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and . . . will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). His complete defeat is coming and sure. But not yet.

Unwitting Servant of Our Sanctification

God intends that part of our preparation for heaven be a life of warfare with hell. He calls it a “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) and a “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). It is good, not because we might be killed (which we might! — Revelation 2:10), but because these fire-fights refine the gold of our faith (1 Peter 1:7), in life and death.

God is the great General in this warfare. He has given us the walkie-talkie of prayer to call for help: “Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times” (Ephesians 6:17–18).

He sees behind enemy lines, and knows exactly the strategies that will be used against us. He has written them down in a wartime manual “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” The reason we will not be outwitted is that “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Primer on Satan’s Strategies

If you need a refresher for what those “designs” are, here is a summary. May God make you a mighty warrior! May he “train your hands for war and your fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1).

1. Satan lies, and is the father of lies.

“When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The first time Satan appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, the first words on his lips are suspicious of the truth (“Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”). And the second words on his lips were a subtle falsehood (“You will not die”). John says that Satan “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). We are dealing with the essence of falsehood and deception.

2. He blinds the minds of unbelievers.

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So he not only speaks what is false. He hides what is true. He keeps us from seeing the treasure of the gospel. He lets us see facts, even proofs, but not preciousness.

3. He masquerades in costumes of light and righteousness.

In 2 Corinthians 11:13–15, Paul says that some people are posing as apostles who are not. He explains like this: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

In other words, Satan has servants who profess enough truth to join the church, and from inside teach what Paul calls “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus says they will be like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Acts 20:30 says they will not spare the flock, but will draw people away to destruction. Without God’s gift of discernment (Philippians 1:9), our love will be suckered into stupidity.

4. Satan does signs and wonders.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the last days are described like this: “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power, and with signs and wonders of the lie.” That’s my awkward translation. Some translate it “with false signs and wonders.” But this makes the signs and wonders look unreal. In fact, some people do say that Satan can only fake miracles. I doubt it. And even if it’s true, his fake is going to be good enough to look real to almost everybody.

“God intends that part of our preparation for heaven be a life of warfare with hell.”

One reason I doubt that Satan can only fake his miracles is that in Matthew 24:24 Jesus describes the last days like this: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” There is no hint that these “signs and wonders” will be tricks.

Let your confidence be grounded in something far deeper than any supposed inability of Satan to do signs and wonders. Even real signs and wonders in the service of anti-Christian assertions, prove nothing, even when they are done “in the name of Jesus.” “Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your name?” To which Jesus will reply, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22–23). The problem was not that the signs and wonders weren’t real, but that they were in the service of sin.

5. Satan tempts people to sin.

This is what he did unsuccessfully to Jesus in the wilderness — he wanted him to abandon the path of suffering and obedience (Matthew 4:1–11). This is what he did successfully to Judas in the last hours of Jesus’s life (Luke 22:3–6). And in 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul warns against this for all the believers: “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

6. Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith.

Jesus told the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1–9. In it, the seed of the word of God is sown, and some falls on the path and birds quickly take it away. He explains in verse 15, “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which was sown in them.” Satan snatches the word because he hates faith which the word produces (Romans 10:17).

Paul expresses his concern for the faith of the Thessalonians like this: “I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul knew that Satan’s design is to choke off the faith of people who have heard the word of God.

7. Satan causes some sickness and disease.

Jesus healed a woman once who was bent over and could not straighten herself. When some criticized him for doing that on the Sabbath, he said, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). Jesus saw Satan as the one who had caused this disease.

“God is sovereign over Satan. The devil has no free hand in this world. He is on a leash, and can do only what God permits.”

In Acts 10:38, Peter described Jesus as one who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” In other words, the devil often oppresses people with illness. This too is one of his designs.

But don’t make the mistake of saying every sickness is the work of the devil. To be sure, even when a “thorn in the flesh” is God’s design for our sanctification, it also may be the “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). But there are other instances in which the disease is solely attributed to God’s design without reference to Satan: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus feels no need to bring Satan in as the culprit in his own merciful designs.

8. Satan is a murderer.

Jesus said to those who were planning to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth” (John 8:44). John says, “Do not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Jesus told the blameless church at Smyrna, “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

To put it in a word, Satan is blood-thirsty. Christ came into the world that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Satan comes that he might destroy life wherever he can and in the end make it eternally miserable.

9. Satan fights against the plans of missionaries.

Paul tells of how his missionary plans were frustrated in 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18: “We endeavored the more eagerly, and with great desire, to see you face to face; because we wanted to come to you . . . but Satan hindered us.” Satan hates evangelism and discipleship, and he will throw every obstacle he can in the way of missionaries and people with a zeal for evangelism.

10. Satan accuses Christians before God.

Revelation 12:10 says, “I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’” Satan’s defeat is sure. But his accusations haven’t ceased.

It is the same with us as it was with Job. Satan says to God about us, They don’t really love you; they love your benefits. “Stretch out your hand and touch all that [they have], and [they] will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). Their faith isn’t real. Satan accuses us before God, as he did Job. But it is a glorious thing that followers of Jesus have an advocate who “always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

Satan Will Not Win

Those are some of Satan’s designs. The path to victory in this warfare is to hold fast to Christ who has already dealt the decisive blow.

1 John 3:8: “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.”

Hebrews 2:14: “Christ took on human nature that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

Colossians 2:15: “God disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” In other words, the decisive blow was struck at Calvary.

Mark 3:27: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.”

Revelation 20:10 says one day the warfare will be over: “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone . . . and will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (See Matthew 8:2925:41)

Resist!

James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” (James 4:7). How do we do that? Here is how they did it according to Revelation 12:11: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” They embraced the triumph of Christ by his blood. They spoke that truth in faith. They did not fear death. And they triumphed.

The New Testament highlights prayer as the pervasive accompaniment of every battle. “Take . . . the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:17–18).

“Do not be outwitted by Satan. God sees behind enemy lines and tells us all we need to know to not be ignorant of Satan’s designs.”

As the close of this age draws near, and Satan rages, Jesus calls us to wartime prayer: “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Similarly, Peter makes an urgent call to end-time prayer: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

Even Jesus fought against the devil on our behalf with the weapon of prayer. He said to Peter in Luke 22:31–32, “Satan has asked to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” So Jesus illustrates for us the opposition of a specific satanic threat with prayer.

And, of course, Jesus instructed us to make prayer a daily weapon for protection in general: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). That is, deliver us from the successful temptation of the evil one. Do you confront the designs of the devil with the focused and determined power of prayer?

No Neutral Zone

The question is not whether you want to be in this war. Everyone is in it. Either we are defeated by the devil and thus following, like cattle to the slaughter, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), or we are resisting — “resist him, firm in your faith!” (1 Peter 5:9).

There is no neutral zone. You either triumph “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony,” or you will be enslaved by Satan. Therefore, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), and “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). Pray without ceasing!

The Lord Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of old. So I urge you again: Come to him as willing soldiers of the Prince of Peace and learn to say, “He trains my hands for war” (Psalm 144:1).

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – Nov 7, 2019

I Don’t Believe in Christ  – – Why is Faith So Hard?

Taken from a transcript… John Piper in Holland

Just recently, Pastor John and Noël (his wife) traveled to Holland, France, and Germany. Earlier in the year, they traveled to South America. And earlier in the spring, they were in Ireland and Scotland. All those trips were ministry trips on behalf of Desiring God. Our ministry partners make these international trips possible. So thank you. Today I want to share with you one moment captured in Scotland, recorded at a conference hosted by our friends at 20schemes. In Scotland, a “scheme” is something like a housing project, a government-subsidized neighborhood that’s pretty rough, known for high crime and rampant drug use. More troubling, over half of Scotland’s schemes are gospel-less places. 20schemes is a ministry to change this by planting gospel-loving churches right into these areas of deprivation. While in Scotland, Pastor John sat down to field audience questions from one of those church planters, Andy Prime, who relayed to Pastor John the following question. Have a listen.

Someone says, “Hi, Pastor John. I’m someone who has been exposed to a lot of Christian talks and events in the last couple of years, but I am still struggling to put my faith in Christ. What advice could you give me?”

John Piper: Wow, I wish I knew you. I would really probe before I gave an answer. I would probe the word struggle. What is that? I want to help you so bad to get over that. Let me just say what comes to my mind.

Narrow Way, Light Load

Let me give you two texts, and then tell you why the word struggle is a little odd and yet understandable. In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Now, that would mean, well, of course you’re going to struggle. It’s hard. That’s what Jesus said. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” He must’ve said that because he knew you’re trying to get through the door, right? And it’s hard. “I don’t even know how to do this. How do you get through the door? The gate is narrow, and it’s hard.” Okay, so that text gives me empathy with the word struggle.

“It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.”

But four chapters later Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Those are both in the Bible: The way is hard and the gate is narrow. It’s an easy yolk and it’s a light burden. Both are true. That’s what we believe about this book. Both are true. What makes a little theologian out of everybody is trying to figure out how they’re both true.

Struggle to Rest

In my mind, here’s my best shot at how they can both be true: What could be easier than to stop working for God, to stop trying to prove anything as a means of salvation, and just rest in the work of Jesus that is so complete, so full, to cover all your sins, give you all the righteousness you need, and adopt you into the family without working? What could be easier than to say, “I give up. I fall down. I rest”?

I’ll tell you what could be easier: a proud working for God. We don’t like to become children. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Who wants to be a little child? I want to be somebody. I want to look competent. One of your pastors walked in with a little two-week-old baby. The baby looked like a dot in his arm. And who wants to look like that baby? I want to look big and strong. Nobody’s going to praise that baby’s strength. Maybe that’s why it’s hard. Our ego makes it hard to come to Jesus. It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.

That’s my answer to how those texts can be true. The one says to come and rest. It’s easy. It’s light. And the other one says it’s hard, and that’s because resting is hard for people with an ego. So, I’m being hard on you now. Maybe the struggle is rooted in “I want to reserve for myself some power, some ego, some praise, some worth, something instead of ‘I’m just done. I am done trying to prove anything.’” That’s what I’d say.

Illumined with Beauty

Andy Prime: I think we’ll end it there. We’re going to sing before we finish. Would you mind praying just to finish for the day?

John Piper: So Father, for the brother or sister who just asked that question, I’m sure they are not alone and that others, perhaps here and we know in our churches, do struggle. What does it mean? How can I do it? How can I lay down all the objections, lay down all the resistance that rises up in my heart, that doesn’t want to let certain things go?

And I just ask right now that the miracle would be wrought and that the eyes of the heart would be so illumined with the beauty of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ and the greatness of Christ and the power of Christ and the wisdom of Christ, that all resistance would fall. So strengthen the churches, Lord, of 20schemes. Thank you for this ministry. May every need be met for every church, and may the dreams be fulfilled for the twenty-plus church plants. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – Nov 6, 2019

Take Care How You Hear

How to Receive God’s Word

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

We fall out of Bible-reading habits a hundred ways, and all of them are deadly serious. Jesus warned us, with a story, about the perils we face.

When we hear the parable of the sower, are we quick to plant ourselves in the good soil? Do we stop to wonder whether we’re the plant without roots, or the one that dries up and withers, or the one choked out by thorns? Many of us assume we’re Peter, not the Pharisees, and certainly not Judas. We’re more prone to assume safety, security, and blessing for ourselves. For some, the parable of the sower might inspire relief and confidence, rather than healthy fear and vigilance. Thank God I wasn’t like the others.

“We fall out of Bible-reading habits a hundred ways, and all of them are deadly serious.”

But if the parable comforts us without awakening urgency and expectation, we have missed Jesus’s point. He ends by saying, when he’s alone with his disciples, “Take care then how you hear” (Luke 8:18). In other words, don’t assume you’re in good soil, but look carefully at how you receive the word of God. Relentlessly plead with God to water the seed he has given you, to send your roots ever deeper, and to protect you from the temptations and distractions around you. Plead with God to keep you.

With heaven and hell at stake, joy and misery in the balance, and obstacles before us and within us, we must take care how we hear the words of God.

What Are These Words?

Before we consider the kind of soil we should be, we need to know what kind of seed this is. The seed gets lost, as seeds often do, in the shuffle of Jesus’s parable. But the seed, not the soil, is the real story here. Nothing comes from any soil, no matter how fertile, if a seed is never planted. And this seed is unlike any the earth has ever received.

Jesus begins by saying, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The first test of the soil in our own hearts is how those seven simple words fall on us. Why would we ever bear fruit if we don’t treasure the seed — the very word of the one who spoke the galaxies into reality? Hearing God well in the spoken gospel and written Bible begins with the awareness that we are hearing — really hearing — God himself in his word (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Every word came from the infinite wisdom and imagination of God. Every sentence, paragraph, and book was conceived by the Author of life, the Alpha and Omega, the Lord of heaven and earth. Nothing in the Bible made it into our hands without first passing through his.

Humility: Defeating the Greatest Threat

What kind of soil, then, should we hope to be for such a seed as this? What will be our posture toward God when we open his word? Three ingredients, among others, will be humility, submission, and prayer.

Humility comes first. Pride poisons the soil in our hearts like nothing else. Busyness is not the greatest threat to daily Bible reading. Self-confidence is. None of us forgets to eat for days, because everything in us tells us we need food. What does it say about our hearts when we skip the food we need the most, sometimes for days or weeks at a time? One powerful way to ignite our time alone in God’s word is to confront and kill our remaining pride. We pray with king David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24).

“Busyness is not the greatest threat to daily Bible reading. Self-confidence is.”

The seed of God’s word loves to grow in the rich soil of humility. Our Lord says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). The man whose delight is in the law of the Lord knows he does not deserve these words — he doesn’t deserve to have them, to understand them, or to delight in them. He knows well that the having, the understanding, the enjoying, even the obeying are each their own staggering gift of grace. He prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

Submission: Welcoming God’s Authority

Humility, then, leads to glad submission to God’s authority. If the Bible truly is the word of a sovereign, holy, and just God, how we hear can bear frightening and wonderful consequences. These are not tips for living a better, more productive, more successful life. These are not merely suggestions for improving our spiritual health. These words are the wondrous promises and unmitigated commands of a God who will and must judge sin.

These words have authority, an increasingly unpopular word today, at least in our society. And God’s authoritative words demand from us an even more unpopular posture: submission. We don’t want anyone to have full, unqualified authority over us. We want to be able to “commit” with one foot safely outside the door, in case someone, even God, asks us to do anything we don’t want to do. The Bible, however, does not give us the option to be half in — to enjoy comfort while we sow to sin, to receive forgiveness and forgo holiness, to gain joy without suffering and sacrifice.

To ignore, neglect, minimize, or avoid the word of God is to ignore, neglect, minimize, or avoid God himself (Deuteronomy 18:19) — which is an offense greater even than theft, adultery, or murder. Disregarding what God has said is, in fact, the sin that ultimately makes every other sin so horribly wicked. To gladly submit to the Bible, however, is to gladly submit to God himself.

Prayer: Asking God for Help

Finally, then, humility and submission lead us, in prayer, to ask for God’s help. The longest chapter in the Bible is an extended, even uncomfortably long, prayer about the words of God. Psalm 119 sings,

I will meditate on your precepts
     and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
     I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15–16)

If we don’t know what to pray for when we read the Bible, this psalm gives us plenty of good places to start. To take care how you hear, consider seven ways you might pray, inspired by Psalm 119.

1. God, incline and enlarge my heart toward you.

Incline my heart to your testimonies. (Psalm 119:36)

I will run in the way of your commandments
     when you enlarge my heart! (Psalm 119:32)

2. Help me understand what I read.

Make me understand the way of your precepts,
     and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Psalm 119:27)

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
     give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
    (Psalm 119:73; see also Psalm 119:125144169)

3. Make me diligent to keep your words.

This blessing has fallen to me,
that I have kept your precepts. (Psalm 119:56)

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
     who seek him with their whole heart. . . .
You have commanded your precepts
     to be kept diligently. (Psalm 119:24)

4. Pour your light on the path of my life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
     and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The unfolding of your words gives light;
     it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130)

5. Strengthen me in sorrow.

My soul melts away for sorrow;
     strengthen me according to your word! (Psalm 119:28)

6. Shield me from every kind of distraction.

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
     and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37)

7. Keep your promises.

Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
     and let me not be put to shame in my hope! (Psalm 119:116)

Your promise is well tried,
     and your servant loves it. (Psalm 119:140)

Come Eagerly to the Word

Jesus says, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). May God be pleased to increasingly make our souls into good soil for his word — in humility, in submission, and in prayer. He loves to give his people the faith-filled posture of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

John Piper says, “Every day with meekness receive the word of God. That is, every day be in the Bible. Breathe the Bible. Don’t try to hold your breath from Monday to Wednesday. Breathe every day” (“Receive with Meekness the Implanted Word”). Breathe in the wonder of having the words of God, humble yourself and gladly submit before them, and pray for greater insight and delight. Take care how you hear, and live in the pages of the Bible.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – Nov 4, 2019

God Wrote a Book

THE WONDER OF HAVING HIS WORDS

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

We actually have the words of God. This is almost too good to be true. And yet how often are we so accustomed to this reality — one of the greatest wonders in all the universe — that it barely moves us to handle the Bible with care (and awe), or at least to access his words with the frequency they deserve?

Familiarity can breed contempt, or at least neglect. While scarcity drives demand, abundance can lead to apathy. For many of us, we have multiple Bibles on our shelves, in multiple translations. We have copies on our computers and phones. We have access to the very words of God like never before — yet how often do we appreciate, and marvel at, the wonder of what we have?

Wonder of Having

One of the greatest facts in all of history is that God gave us a Book. He gave us a Book! He has spoken. He has revealed himself to us through prophets and apostles, and appointed that they write down his words and that they be preserved. We have his words! We can hear in our souls the very voice of God himself by his Spirit through his Book.

“No word of God is a dead word.”

Think of all God went to, and what patience, to make his self-revelation accessible to us here in the twenty-first century. Long ago, at many times, and in many ways, God spoke through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). Then, in the fullness of time, he sent his own Son, his own self, in full humanity, as his revealed Word par excellence, in the person of Christ, represented to us by his authoritative, apostolic spokesmen in the new covenant.

For centuries, God’s word was copied by hand, and preserved with the utmost diligence and care. Then, for the last 500 years of the printing press, God’s word has gone far and wide like never before. Men and women gave their lives, upsetting the apple carts of man-made religion, to translate the words of God into the heart language of their people. And now, in the digital revolution, access to God’s own words has exploded exponentially again, and yet — and yet — in such abundance, do we marvel at what we have? And do we, as individuals and as churches, make the most of what infinite riches we have in such access to the Scriptures?

His Words, Our Great Reward

The psalmists were in awe of what they had. In particular, Psalms 19 and 119 pay tribute to the wonder of having God’s words. For instance:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
     making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
     rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
     enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
     enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
     and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
     even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
     and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
     in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11)

“We come to his word, like holy hedonists, stalking joy.”

God is honored when we approach his words as those that revive the soul and rejoice the heart, as those that are more to be desired than gold and sweeter than honey. The summary and culmination of Psalm 19’s unashamed tribute to God’s words is this: great reward. He means for us to experience his words as “my delight” (Psalm 1:2119:1624), as “the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111), as “the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16), as kindling for the fires of our joy.

Not only has God spoken in this Book we call the Bible, but he is speaking. Writing about Psalm 95 in particular (and applicable to all the Scriptures), Hebrews says “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). No word of God is a dead word. Even Hebrews — the New Testament letter plainest on the old covenant being “obsolete” in its demands upon new-covenant Christians (Hebrews 8:13) — professes that old-covenant revelation, while no longer binding, is indeed “living and active.” “Is not my word like fire,” God declares through Jeremiah, “and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

From cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, God has captured for his church his objective, “external word” (as Luther called it) which he speaks (present tense) to his people through the subjective, internal power of his Spirit dwelling in us. We hear God’s voice in his word by his Spirit. And so, Hebrews exhorts us, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

Wonder of Handling

So then, how will we who marvel at having God’s living and active words not also fall to the floor in amazement that he invites us — even more, he insists — that we handle his word. It is no private message to Timothy, but to the whole church reading over his shoulder, when Paul writes,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The charge lands first on Timothy, as Paul’s delegate in Ephesus, and then on pastors (both then and today) who formally and publicly “handle the word” for the feeding and forming of the church. But the summons to rightly handle the word of truth (both in the gospel word and in the written Scriptures) is a mantle for the whole church to gladly bear.

In the midst of a world of destructive words, God calls his church to first receive (have) and then respond to (handle) his words. As human words of death fly around us from all sides — in the air, on the page, on our screens — he gives us his own life-giving words to steady our souls and the souls of others. As the world quarrels about words, “which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and coughs up “irreverent babble” that leads “people into more and more ungodliness” and spreads like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:16–17), God gives us an oasis in the gift of his words (2 Timothy 2:15). We receive them for free, but that doesn’t mean we take them lightly or expend little energy to handle them well.

Make Every Effort

God, through Paul, says “do your best” — literally, be zealous, be eager, make every effort — “to present yourself to God as one approved.” We orient Godward first and foremost in our handling of his word, then only secondarily to others. Which will make us “a worker who has no need to be ashamed.”

Being a worker requires work, labor, the exertion of effort, the expending of energy, the investment of time, the patience of lifelong learning. To do so without cutting corners (“unashamed”) or mishandling the task. And in particular, for building others up, not tearing others down. For showing others the feast, not showing ourselves to have been right.

“God gives us his own life-giving words to steady our souls and the souls of others.”

“Rightly handling” — guiding along a straight path — harkens to the vision Paul casts in 2 Corinthians of his own straightforwardness with God’s word. Paul was not coy about hard truths. He was not evasive. He was not a verbal gymnast, gyrating around humanly offensive divine oracles. Rather, he was frank, honest, candid, sincere. “We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,” he declares, “but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). He has more to say about such sincerity:

We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Listening Like Hedonists

But rightly handling God’s word doesn’t just mean we’re convinced of its truthfulness and handle it as such. Rightly handling doesn’t only include rigorous careful analysis and forthright unapologetic candor. Rightly handling includes the psalmists’ intense spiritual sensibilities. To see in and through God’s words his “great reward,” and knowing him to be a rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

In other words, we come to his word like holy hedonists, stalking joy. Worldly hedonists pursue the pleasures of sin; they don’t wait on them to arrive. And so do Christian Hedonists. We don’t wait around for holy pleasures. We don’t passively engage God himself through his own words. We stalk. We pursue. We read actively, and study, and meditate. When we are persuaded that God himself is indeed the greatest reward, is there any better avenue to pursue than his own words?

At Desiring God, we don’t aim or pretend to be unique. However flippantly or earnestly others handle God’s words, we mean to receive them with the utter seriousness and joyful awe they deserve — he deserves. God wrote a Book. And gave it to us. Let’s give ourselves to this wonder, and marvel that we get to handle his words.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – November 1, 2019

He Dared to Defy the Pope

MARTIN LUTHER (1483–1546)

Article by John Piper

One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation — especially of Martin Luther — was that the word of God comes to us in the form of a book, the Bible. Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome.

The life-giving and life-threatening risk of the Reformation was the rejection of the pope and councils as the infallible, final authority of the church. One of Luther’s arch-opponents in the Roman Church, Sylvester Prierias, wrote in response to Luther’s 95 theses, “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic” (Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, 193). In other words, the church and the pope are the authoritative deposit of salvation and the word of God — and the book, the Bible, is derivative and secondary.

“What is new in Luther,” biographer Heiko Oberman writes, “is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities, be they popes or councils” (Luther, 204). This rediscovery of the word of God above all earthly powers shaped Luther and the entire Reformation. But Luther’s path to that rediscovery was a tortuous one, beginning with a lightning storm at age 21.

Fearful Monk

In the summer of 1505, the providential Damascus-like experience happened. On the way home from law school on July 2, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk” (Luther, 92). He feared for his soul and did not know how to find safety in the gospel. So he took the next best thing: the monastery.

Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, Luther left his legal studies and kept his vow. He knocked at the gate of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. Later he said this choice was a flagrant sin — “not worth a farthing” because made against his father and out of fear. Then he added, “But how much good the merciful Lord has allowed to come of it!” (Luther, 125).

“The Bible had come to mean more to Luther than all the fathers and commentators.”

Fear and trembling pervaded Luther’s years in the monastery. At his first mass two years later, for example, he was so overwhelmed at the thought of God’s majesty that he almost ran away. The prior persuaded him to continue. But this incident would not be an isolated one in Luther’s life. Luther would later remember of these years, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction” (Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 12).

Luther would not be married for another twenty years — to Katharina von Bora on June 13, 1525 — which means he lived with sexual temptations as a single man until he was 42. But “in the monastery,” he said, “I did not think about women, money, or possessions; instead my heart trembled and fidgeted about whether God would bestow his grace on me” (Luther, 128). His all-consuming longing was to know the happiness of God’s favor. “If I could believe that God was not angry with me,” he said, “I would stand on my head for joy” (Luther, 315).

Good News: God’s Righteousness

In 1509, Luther’s beloved superior and counselor and friend, Johannes von Staupitz, allowed Luther to begin teaching the Bible. Three years later, on October 19, 1512, at the age of 28, Luther received his doctor’s degree in theology, and von Staupitz turned over to him the chair in biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg, which Luther held the rest of his life.

 As Luther set to work reading, studying, and teaching Scripture from the original languages, his troubled conscience seethed beneath the surface — especially as he confronted the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:16–17. He wrote, “I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner” (Selections, 11).

But suddenly, as he labored over the text of Romans, all Luther’s hatred for the righteousness of God turned to love. He remembers,

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. . . .

And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise. (Selections, 12).

Standing on the Book

For Luther, the importance of study was so interwoven with his discovery of the true gospel that he could never treat study as anything other than utterly crucial and life-giving and history-shaping. Study had been his gateway to the gospel and to the Reformation and to God. We take so much for granted today about the truth and about the word that we can hardly imagine what it cost Luther to break through to the truth, and to sustain access to the word. Study mattered. His life and the life of the church hung on it. And so, Luther studied, and preached, and wrote more than most of us can imagine.

“An indispensable key to understanding the Scriptures is suffering in the path of righteousness.”

Luther was not the pastor of the town church in Wittenberg, but he did share the preaching with his pastor friend, Johannes Bugenhagen. The record bears witness to how utterly devoted he was to the preaching of Scripture. For example, in 1522 he preached 117 sermons, the next year 137 sermons. In 1528, he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two and a half days. And all of it arose from rigorous, disciplined study.

He told his students that the exegete should treat a difficult passage no differently than Moses did the rock in the desert, which he smote with his rod until water gushed out for his thirsty people (Luther, 224). In other words, strike the text. In relating his breakthrough with Romans 1:16–17, he wrote, “I beat importunately upon Paul” (Selections, 12). There is a great incentive in this beating on the text: “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst” (What Luther Says: An Anthology, vol. 1, 67).

That is what study was to Luther — taking a text the way Jacob took the angel of the Lord, and saying, “It must yield. I will hear and know the word of God in this text for my soul and for the church!” (see Genesis 32:26). That’s how he broke through to the meaning of “the righteousness of God” in justification. And that is how he broke through tradition and philosophy again and again. Luther had one weapon with which he recovered the gospel from being sold in the markets of Wittenberg: Scripture. He drove out the moneychangers — the indulgence sellers — with the whip of the word of God.

Slandered and Struck Down

Study was not the only factor that opened God’s word to Luther. Suffering did as well. Trials were woven into life for Luther. Keep in mind that from 1521 on, Luther lived under the ban of the empire. Emperor Charles V said, “I have decided to mobilize everything against Luther: my kingdoms and dominions, my friends, my body, my blood and my soul” (Luther, 29). He could be legally killed, except where he was protected by his prince, Frederick of Saxony.

He endured relentless slander of the cruelest kind. He once observed, “If the Devil can do nothing against the teachings, he attacks the person, lying, slandering, cursing, and ranting at him. Just as the papists’ Beelzebub did to me when he could not subdue my Gospel, he wrote that I was possessed by the Devil, was a changeling, my beloved mother a whore and bath attendant” (Luther, 88).

Physically, he suffered from excruciating kidney stones and headaches, with buzzing in his ears and ear infections and incapacitating constipation and hemorrhoids. “I nearly gave up the ghost — and now, bathed in blood, can find no peace. What took four days to heal immediately tears open again” (Luther, 328).

Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio

In God’s providence, however, these multiplied sufferings did not destroy Luther, but instead turned him into a theologian. Luther noticed in Psalm 119 that the psalmist not only prayed and meditated over the word of God in order to understand it; he also suffered in order to understand it. Psalm 119:6771 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” An indispensable key to understanding the Scriptures is suffering in the path of righteousness.

“The rediscovery of the word of God above all earthly powers shaped Luther and the entire Reformation.”

Thus, Luther said, “I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself. . . . Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm [119] and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, tribulation).” And tribulation he called the “touchstone.” “[These rules] teach you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme” (What Luther Says, vol. 3, 1359–60).

He proved the value of trials over and over again in his own experience. “For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you,” he says, “the devil will afflict you, will make a real [theological] doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself . . . owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached” (What Luther Says, vol. 3, 1360).

Above All Earthly Powers

Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture” (What Luther Says, vol. 2, 62).

He lived what he urged. He wrote in 1533, “For a number of years I have now annually read through the Bible twice. If the Bible were a large, mighty tree and all its words were little branches, I have tapped at all the branches, eager to know what was there and what it had to offer” (What Luther Says, vol. 1, 83). Oberman says Luther kept to that practice for at least ten years (Luther, 173). The Bible had come to mean more to Luther than all the fathers and commentators.

Here Luther stood, and here we stand. Not on the pronouncements of popes, or the decisions of councils, or the winds of popular opinion, but on “that word above all earthly powers” — the living and abiding word of God.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.