Understanding the Times

world_missions23 These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the Lord . . . 32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.

1 Chronicles 12:23, 32 (ESV)

A few wise men are more valuable than thousands of fools. Large numbers of people are helpful in the right context, but unless at least a few of those people are prudent, discerning, and able to lead, a powerful army may deteriorate into an angry mob.

David received the affirmation of the entire nation without exception (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:23-28). While thirteen of the tribal censuses recorded the specific number of fighting men, the account of the tribe of Issachar included “200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” Who were these “chiefs”? Some have suggested that they were astrologers, but this is surely false. Divination and the magical arts were not tolerated, let alone celebrated, among God’s people (cf. Leviticus 19:26). The men of Issachar were singled out as men who had an extraordinary grasp of the political context. They understood the times and knew what Israel ought to have done.

David undoubtedly appreciated the thousands who came to his side at Hebron. The 7,100 mighty men of war from Simeon, the 50,000 seasoned troops from Zebulun, and especially the 120,000 who came from across the river were all crucial additions to his army. But without the 200 men of Issachar to provide the strategic wisdom, the army would be merely a mindless militia.

As leaders in the churches, pastors should be “men of understanding” who are able to lead God’s people effectively and wisely. Pastors must be discerning men of courage, vision, and faithfulness to the Lord. They should understand their times so they can lead God’s people to engage the world around them.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the nineteenth-century “prince of preachers” in London, used to say that effective preachers held a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Clearly he did not mean that the newspaper became the preacher’s text. What he meant was that those who ministered the Word effectively had to know their culture in order aptly to apply Scripture to the needs of the hour.

Christian cultural engagement is less about large numbers and more about understanding the times.

Why Do We Pray “in Jesus’ Name”?

One night recently, I was praying with my three-year-old before bed and I concluded the prayer like I always do: “in Jesus’ name, amen.” When we finished praying, she asked, “Why do you say, ‘in Jesus’ name, amen?’” It was a good question—not just for a child, but for an adult—and it got me thinking.

prayer2The idea appears in John 14-16, where Jesus said at least three times in a prolonged address to His disciples the night before His crucifixion that they were to pray in His name. Jesus explained, among other matters, that the only way to access God the Father is by having a personal relationship with His Son (John 14:6). In that context, He taught that only those who know and love Him can have fellowship with the Father through prayer.

The New Testament epistles explain in greater detail the nature of believers’ access to God. Though sin once separated us from Him, we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). When Jesus died on the cross, God placed the sin of humanity on Him and poured out on Him the judgment that sinners deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21). All who place their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior are reconciled to God; Christ’s death “killed the hostility” that God once felt toward them because of their sin (Ephesians 2:16).

When Christians pray “in Jesus’ name,” it is an admission that we only have standing to speak with the Father because Jesus granted it to us. It’s a bit like a police officer yelling at a criminal, “Stop in the name of the law,” or a royal servant telling the king’s subjects, “In the name of the king, I declare that everyone must pay their taxes.” The police officer derives his standing to act from the law, and the royal servant derives his from the king. To end a prayer, “I ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen,” is an admission that we have no authority to make requests of God the Father apart from the authority granted to us by His Son.

Of course, praying in Jesus’ name does not guarantee that God will always answer our prayers in the affirmative. Sometimes our all-wise Father knows it is best to take a loved one home to heaven despite our prayers for healing. Sometimes He knows that an opportunity we hope will materialize would lead to our ruin. Sometimes He disciplines us for sin by causing our prayers to be hindered (e.g., 1 Peter 3:7). Yet even when God’s will does not align with our specific requests, or when our sin inhibits the effectiveness of our prayers, He hears our petitions and offers us an intimate relationship with Him through Jesus.

With somewhat predictable regularity, evangelical leaders stir controversy by saying that God does not hear the prayers of non-Christians. Such remarks are often ill-timed or carelessly stated, and certainly an omniscient God is aware of all the prayers offered by all humans. Nevertheless, such statements touch on a foundational spiritual truth: Because of our sin, no one has standing to speak with God as a personal friend. Only “in Jesus’ name” can anyone bridge the infinite gap between a holy God and sinful humanity.

What Does the Bible Say about Murmuring?

Recently, I reread the book of Numbers, but this time in one sitting. What struck me the most was its talk of murmuring, and I started to look for other occurrences of that practice in the Bible. Sure enough, I found them elsewhere in Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Writings, as well the New Testament Gospels and Epistles. Some translate the Hebrew and Greek words as “complaining” or “grumbling,” but the phenomenon is essentially the same.1

thoughtsSo what are we to make of murmuring? Is it good or bad? Well, in the biblical context, it depends. In Exodus 16, we read that the children of Israel were expressing displeasure at their desert diet, comparing it unfavorably with what they had in Egypt. In response, God didn’t destroy them for their ingratitude. Rather, in verse 12, He told Moses, “I have heard the grumbling (telenoth) of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” Instead of punishing them, He gave them manna and quail. Granted, He wasn’t pleased with their subsequent mishandling of the bounty, but at least His initial response was accommodating.

Sometimes, murmuring is a wakeup call for church leaders. We read in Acts 6:1 that, as the young church was growing, “a complaint (goggusmos) by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” In response the Twelve chose seven men, including Stephen, to tend to this problem, and the results were great.

Still, the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that murmuring is toxic and seditious. Numbers 14 is a particularly pointed example. After the people balked at entering the Promised Land, despite the positive report of Joshua and Caleb, the Lord brought down the hammer of judgment. He asked Moses and Aaron rhetorically, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.” And then He instructed them to tell the people, “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.”

So while there is a place to express dissatisfaction with church affairs, murmurers must be very careful that their dissent is holy and not merely peevish. Furthermore, they should ask themselves whether their complaints are cowardly and gossipy, fomenting insurrection without respectful, face-to-face expression of concern to the allegedly offending party. To express such unholy dissent is to join the rogues’ gallery of murmuring Pharisees in Luke 15 and 19, or the Philippians to whom Paul had to write, in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling . . .”

When we think of grave sins, our minds more readily turn to murder, larceny, adultery, and such, but we mustn’t miss the offense in murmuring. Grumbling may have a righteous source, as when a pastor doesn’t do much or when what he does is unscriptural, including his preaching. But there are honorable ways to deal with frustration (see Matthew 18), and when we initiate or join in a chorus of unhappy talk, we likely displease the Lord.



1 The word in Numbers appears as “murmur” in the KJV and RSV, as “grumble” in the NIV and ESV, and as “complain” in the HCSB and GNT.

Though the Hebrew words for such crankiness (lun, telenoth, ragan) sound a little punchy, the English word “murmur” builds on the sound of a chorus of discontented voices, the sort you hear in a movie when some disturbing news hits the crowd and they turn to each other expressing dismay in a torrent of indistinct utterances.

The NT Greek word which translates as “murmur” (and “complain” and “grumble”) also partakes of onomatopoeia, pronunciation mirroring the real thing (as in “boom” and “crackle”). It’s gogguzo, reflecting the hurly-burly of contentious conversation or the surge of unhappy chatter in a gaggle of observers (the word “gaggle” going back to the noise a “herd/flock” of geese makes).

“The Boundary of a Christian Church”—Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg, a German theologian who died September 5, was one of the 20th century’s formative theological thinkers. When he rose to prominence in the 1960s, many theologians believed Christianity could only be accepted by faith but not studied or defended using rational thought. Pannenberg defied this trend by arguing that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was an objective fact that could be demonstrated with evidence. He likewise insisted that Christian truth by and large was rational and objective.[1] Pannenberg influenced many evangelical thinkers even though he did not believe all the miracle accounts in Scripture and dismissed the virgin birth as a myth. Despite his errors, he held the moral teaching of the Bible in high regard, and the results can be surprising to those who might associate his theological liberalism with ethical liberalism.

For instance, Pannenberg will long be appreciated by evangelicals for his defense of traditional sexual morality. He said a church that approves of homosexual acts ceases to be a true church. In 1997 he returned his Federal Order of Merit award to the German government after it bestowed the same honor on a lesbian activist.[2] In this article, he argued that homosexuality is “a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God” and said heterosexual marriage is the only appropriate channel for sexual expression.[3] Though Pannenberg appears to underestimate the sinfulness of homosexual inclinations (which dishonor God in themselves like all inclinations to sin), his overall emphasis is a timely caution to the Church.

The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem: and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife—in particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

[1] David Roach, “Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg Dies,” Baptist Press Website, September 8, 2014, http://www.bpnews.net/43317/theologian-wolfhart-pannenberg-dies (accessed September 15, 2014).

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg, First Things, March 2012, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the-achievement-of-wolfhart-pannenberg (accessed September 15, 2014).

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Revelation and Homosexual Experience: What Wolfhart Pannenberg Says About this Debate in the Church,” Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/november11/6td035.html (accessed September 15, 2014).

New Look for BibleMesh.com

BibleMesh.URL.TagHAMILTON, Bermuda—New course offerings in conjunction with content partners Bethlehem College & Seminary and the Porterbrook Network are among the features of BibleMesh’s newly redesigned website.

Launched Sept. 24, the website also includes available scholarships for BibleMesh’s Biblical Languages Courses and new BibleMesh Biblical Theology Courses. Among the course instructors are New York pastor Tim Keller and Desiring God Ministries founder John Piper.

“We’re pleased to introduce our updated look and highlight our ministry partners on this website,” publisher Emmanuel Kampouris said. “The success of our biblical language courses has also made it possible to offer partial scholarships for our Hebrew and Greek reading level courses in conjunction with this redesign.”

In all, BibleMesh.com features more than 40 courses on topics ranging from Greek and Hebrew to missional living and biblical theology. The courses are searchable based on category, partner institution and learning level.

In addition to highlighting content partners, BibleMesh.com provides information on four other partnerships: Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Tyndale House in Cambridge, England; and the Home for Bible Translators & Scholars in Jerusalem.

Kampouris explained that BibleMesh’s tagline “trusted theological education” reflects its commitment to “partner with universities and organizations who exhibit high academic standards and are committed to the historic Christian faith.”

BibleMesh courses in development include additional levels of language learning and public square courses that apply the Bible to cultural issues.

For additional information, visit www.BibleMesh.com and email us by clicking on “Contact.”


True Love for the Child’s Soul—J. C. Ryle

JCRylePhoto[1]Bishop of Liverpool and Victorian evangelical leader, J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was well known throughout the 20th century for his writing on spiritual and practical issues. His great aim was to encourage serious Christian living, which included responsible child raising.

Ryle maintained that those who love children wisely will not be satisfied with the world’s curriculum. Earthly custom, fashion, and indulgence do not address the greatest of the child’s concerns, eternal life in Christ. To focus on earthly matters to the neglect of spiritual instruction is a form of cruelty.

It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Parents, nurses, teachers, godfathers, godmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters,—all have an interest in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice. All of us, I suspect, can do something here, either directly or indirectly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance. . .1

Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only season for happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy,—that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.

A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is the usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short,—the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for the earth,—for God, rather than for man,—he is the parent that will be called wise at last.2



1 J. C. Ryle, “The Duties of Parents,” in The Upper Room (1888; reprint, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 283.

2 Ibid., 290.