A Sermon on Leadership from I Thessalonians 5

I Thes. 5:12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and [d]admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.

14 Now we [e]exhort you, brethren, warn those who are [f]unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

The context here is closing exhortations of how the Thessalonian Church should conduct themselves towards

l.) Elders in the Church – 12-13
2.) People who are struggling with sanctification – 14
a.) Unruly b.) fainthearted c.) weak
3.) The Congregation as a whole (Be patient w/ all) –14
4.) People in general – 15

Note that St. Paul addresses the congregation as “Brothers.” Not to belabor a point but this points at the patriarchal mindset of the Apostle. Doubtless there were women in this congregation and yet he addresses them, generally speaking as “Brothers.”

Newer gender inclusive translations render vs. 12 as

12 We beg you, our friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life.

This observation on the attack on patriarchy reminds us how easy it is to fall into this. This came up recently for me when reading a scholar on covenant theology, who is likely in most respects considered conservative and yet he was constantly referring to humankind where scholars two generations prior would have written mankind. He also played with the pronouns often giving “she” where “he” would have normally been expected.

God is a patriarchal and we see that in passages like this where the congregation as a whole is addressed as “Brothers.” This is a small but not insignificant observation. Indeed, we would say that where you find patriarchal malfeasance in a Christian or congregation there should, at the very least, be alarm bells going off in your head. Such malfeasance may be done without realizing what is being done while other patriarchal malfeasance is sinister and has an agenda.

Also, we would note with the word “Brothers” that St. Paul gives the judgment of charity to the congregation as a whole. He views the congregation as a whole as Brothers in Christ. Doubtless, there were tares among the Thessalonian congregation but he still refers to them as a whole as “Brothers.” As we see in 1:4

knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

St. Paul can even speak of this congregation of brethren as elect by God.

This language of “Brothers” reminds us that despite congregations being beset with inconsistencies we should try to think and speak the best of them. It is proper we should refer to congregations that bear the marks of the Church as “Brothers,” giving the judgment of charity.

Having set the context and made a preliminary observation we note the disposition that the Holy Spirit is requiring the Church members as organization is to have towards their leadership.

It is fitting we should consider this on a day when we install an Elder and a Deacon.

The first thing St. Paul Mentions here is that the Leadership that he is asking the Church to consider is a leadership that labors among you and as such should be “respected/recognized/ appreciated,” (depending on your translations.)

The Greek word that Paul uses for “labor” here he often uses elsewhere to communicate the work done in manual labor. The Greek word for “labor” here thus communicates strenuous effort that results in being bone tired.

The labor that your leadership enters into is a labor of learning. Your Elders are required to be “apt to teach,” and in order to be apt to teach one must labor in learning and the labor there is characterized in Scripture as a labor that can weigh a person down;

Ecclesiastes 1:18 – For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The Elder leadership not only as this labor but they also labor until Christ is formed in those they are commissioned to tend to and look out for. This is how Paul puts it in Galatians 4

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,

And again this laboring is a theme earlier in this letter to the Thessalonians

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

There is labor in leadership as Elders. It is not the labor of working on the hot tarmac in the heat of summer loading freight, luggage and mail in Airplane pits. It is not the labor of someone working a jack-hammer or bailing hay, but it remains labor all the same and the Holy Spirit urges the congregation to respect those who labor among them.

Of course the corresponding truth here is that leadership in the Church should indeed be laboring. Being a Leader in God’s Church is work. It is the labor of caring for God’s people – caring so much that the congregations emotional and physical hurts is a pain you share. It is the labor of driving off the wolves to protect God’s people. It is the labor explaining and explaining all over again the truths whereby God’s people can be tethered to reality.

Van Morrison gets at something of this labor of explaining in his song “Why Must I Always Explain,”

Bared my soul to the crowd eh but oh what the cost
Most of them laughed out loud like nothing’s been lost
There were hypocrites and parasites and people that drain
Tell me why must I always explain

It is the labor of being slandered and libeled for the cause of Christ and laboring to count that all joy.

And here I must say after laying that out, that I do know that I am appreciated by this congregation and I have few complaints.

The Holy Spirit urges respect and appreciation for the leadership because their labor can grind them down.

This necessity to appreciate the Deacon leadership is also urged. The Deacons in Scripture are required to look after the physical needs of God’s people. To look after the physical needs of God’s people also is to enter into their need. A good Deacon is not going to only see the need and seek to help meet the need but he is also going to sympathize with those in need. He is going to weep with those who weep. He is going to enter into the sufferings of God’s people he is called to relieve as he can.

This matter of leadership in the Church is not a easy matter and sometimes it is more difficult than other times and so the Holy Spirit urges that the Church appreciate those who labor among them.

The second thing Paul mentions here about Leadership is their position in relationship to the congregation. Paul says here that the Leadership are “over you in the Lord.”

I am not going to tease this out much because we touched on this back in April when we did our series on submission.

Suffice it to say here that in the Church there are Chiefs and there are Indians. The Church is not an egalitarian Institution. The problem here usually arises when the leadership starts demanding that everyone remember that THEY are the leaders or when the people forget that they are not the leaders. Leadership that has to constantly demand and insist upon their priority of position likely won’t remain leaders long. A congregation that won’t accept that there are, as the text has it, “those who are over you,” will be a congregation where it will be the case that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

Leadership is said in the passage to be “in the Lord.” This means that the Leadership is by God’s calling and appointment and that the Leadership has to be consistent with God’s standard.

The third thing Paul mentions here about leadership that he is asking the church to consider is that the leadership is called to admonish the flock

The Greek word here has several layers of meaning. It means to admonish, warn, counsel, exhort. From the same as nouthesia; to put in mind, i.e. to caution or reprove gently.

It is a part of the duty of a leadership to put their people in mind of the truth; to warn them of danger; to exhort them to perform their duty; to admonish them if they go astray.

On this score St. Augustine put this responsibility to admonish like this;

“It is the duty of the interpreter and teacher of Holy Scripture, the defender of the true faith and the opponent of error, both to teach what is right and to refute what is wrong, and in the performance of this task to conciliate the hostile, to rouse the careless, and to tell the ignorant both what is occurring at present and what is probable in the future.”

St. Augustine

Bishop of Hippo

On Christian Doctrine

Of course this admonishing needs to be done with wisdom and often, though not always, with great gentleness. Yet, as Calvin notes, “admonishment is employed to mean sharp reproof such as may bring them back into the right way.”

Again, there is labor here to discern which kind of admonishment is called for.

And of course if this admonishing is expected of the leadership then likewise it is expected that if and when admonished the admonishment should be considered very seriously and not just blown off.

Of course all this also explains how serious of a matter it is to elect Elders and Deacons and to hire Pastors.

We would also say here is that all this makes it evident that the Leadership does not work for you in the sense that they have to give you what you want. The leadership works for God and tries to take their marching orders from Him.

The fourth thing Paul mentions about Leadership is to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

This is somewhat synonymous with Paul’s beginning requirement to appreciate the leadership. The Greek makes this a matter of emphasis. The Leadership is to be esteemed VERY HIGHLY.

Of course, this presupposes that the leadership is laboring. Many are the commentaries I consulted the emphasized the idea that leadership that is not laboring, or worse yet is merely getting the pay without doing the labor do not deserve this very high esteem in love;

Benson Commentary

“How are Christians to esteem those pastors who do none of those things? who take the wages, but do no part of the work?”


“All idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors.”

To the leadership I submit that you can demand this kind of esteem, and perhaps it is wise not even to expect it. Best to do the work you are called to and let God sort out the matter of esteem. Remember St. Paul said of himself,

We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I Cor. 4:13

So, even if you do not receive this kind of esteem, the work still must be done. Remember, the work is not done so we can be esteemed. The work is done because we have been called to do it and because we wish to see the Church built up and the Kingdom expanded.

God has been very kind to this congregation by giving us the leadership he has given us. Mike as Elder and Anthony as a deacon who are rotating off have earned the reward and esteem that God calls for here. The men coming on are good men who have previously proved themselves in these offices. The men who are staying on have demonstrated that their interest is to serve God’s people the way leadership is called to serve.

And you congregation have made it a joy for us to serve you.

Let us pray that this blessing of godly leadership, godly congregation, and godly relationship between them will continue.

Grace Restores Nature … Against the Anabaptistified & Gnosticized Contemporary Reformed Church

Genesis 2:8 The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of [f]corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

In these passages we have the story of creation, fall, redemption and glorification. Some have said that here we find the macro outline of all of Scripture.

Now, we are going to talk a great deal about nature as well as sin and grace this morning so, just to be clear nature will be used synonymously for God’s creation or His pattern of creation. Nature here is the way God made things according to His original intent. For example, according to nature boys can’t be girls. According to nature boys marry girls. According to nature nations are Christian.

We want to spend a little time this morning talking about the interplay of sin, nature and grace.

I.) The effect of Sin on creation/nature – Sin mars nature

First, we say again that before the fall nature was in harmony. God created it as “Very Good.” There was no death. It is a paradise existence. After the fall we see that, in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, nature is now red in tooth and claw. Death has entered into the world. There is no longer a harmony of interest as seen in the blame shifting between Adam & Eve and as seen in the account of Cain and Abel. The harmony that was present before has evaporated and instead we the ongoing attempt for men to de-god God and en-god himself. Because of sin man acts contrary to his given nature. God’s creation that is all of nature as it fell from His hands as very good is now marred by sin.

However, and this is a fundamental point, keep in mind as we go on from here that the problem is not nature as it fell from God’s hand. The problem is the problem of sin as it has entered the world so that sin has marred God’s creational project. Because of sin nature is now no longer what it was intended to be. Because of the fall, nature can now be unnatural. We soon enough come across increasing moral degradation as seen in Lamech’s vile boasting in Gen. 4.

We read of sin marred nature in the family strife where Laban deceives Jacob who had deceived his father Isaac and who deceives Laban right back. We see the family strife of the Brothers selling their Brother Joseph into bondage. We Amnon, who is the half brother of Tamar raping Tamar. We see the adultery of David. We see magistrates who are supposed to be nursing fathers to their people turn into tyrants of the most wretched sort with Ahab going so far as to kill Naboth to seize his land.

All of this and so much more is the effect of sin on nature. And this effect remains with us and as we more and more consistently turn our backs on God and defy His grace with can anticipate that this effect on nature will cough up more and more vile twistings of nature.

However, in God’s economy we see that grace can restore nature.

And so we consider secondly,

II.) The effect of Grace on sin marred creation/nature – Grace restores nature

Here we have several options to consider in terms of how grace restores nature as among the major players that comprise Christianity.

1.) Aquinas argued in his Summa that “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.” ( 1a 1.1.8 ad 2). Later Rome put a twist on this. Medieval Rome agreed that grace perfects nature but they insisted that in order for grace to perfect nature, nature had to be brought in under the umbrella of the Church where grace resided. Anything outside the umbrella of the Church could only be nature and being only nature and so fallen all it could ever be was fallen.

2.) The Radical Reformation (Anabaptists) held that grace unmakes and so destroys nature and replaces nature so that nature becomes grace in this life. This explains their complaint against “worldliness” and their conviction that they could escape worldliness by forming their own non worldly all grace communities. Outside their communes was sin marred nature. Inside their communes is the grace of heaven on earth. Notice the dualism. Inside their communities is all grace. Outside their communities is all sin marred nature. All this was and remains consistent with their belief that all of the future heaven could be brought near now. This explains why the Anabaptists have a pure church theory that is characterized by restricting baptism only to those who make profession of faith. You see, if it is all heaven now then the Church of all places must pure without tares, without dross, without false believers. Grace destroys nature so that all is grace.

We continue to have much of this Anabaptist view of nature and grace in the Evangelical Church. There are those who talk as if some nature/creation realities are evil in and of themselves. For example it is all the rage these days to speak as if our creational realities in terms of ethnicity or race are erased by grace. Once in Christ, so the current logic goes, then who God has made us creationally is now irrelevant. This is a Anabaptist case where grace is destroying nature. Race and ethnicity for the Christian is certainly not everything but neither is it nothing. To suggest that grace destroys physical nature because of our the grace found in our union w/ Christ is a new expression of Gnosticism.

Here we cite our own Mr. Calvin on this score. This from his Sermon on I Corinthians11:2-3;

“Regarding our eternal salvation, it is true that one must not distinguish between man and woman, or between king and a shepherd, or between a German and a Frenchman. Regarding policy, however, we have what St. Paul declares here; for our, Lord Jesus Christ did not come to mix up nature, or to abolish what belongs to the preservation of decency and peace among us….Regarding the kingdom of God (which is spiritual) there is no distinction or difference between man and woman, servant and master, poor and rich, great and small. Nevertheless, there does have to be some order among us, and Jesus Christ did not mean to eliminate it, as some flighty and scatterbrained dreamers [believe].”

19th century Dutch Theologian Herman Bavinck put it this way;

“Grace serves, not to take up humans into a supernatural order, but to free them from sin. Grace is opposed not to nature, only to sin . . . Grace restores nature and takes it to its highest pinnacle.”

Herman Bavinck,
Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, 577.

So, what is now being hinted at is the the Reformed understanding which follows Scripture. Herein we find the idea that grace restores nature. Typically the Reformed argue that incrementally, slowly, imperceptibly over time grace restores nature to what it was originally intended to be as men are regenerated and won to Christ in any given culture or social order.

We find that expressed in the Kingdom parables in Matthew 13

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Clearly we are seeing here that grace restores nature. It spreads in the lives of men and having spread among men it spreads so as to touch their cultures and social order. Nature, because of grace, becomes more and more of what it was originally intended to be. Never perfectly on this side of heaven but more robust, more honoring to Christ, more Kingdom like.

So, the Kingdom of God as it expresses itself in creation does not work to the end of changing the creation realm into a grace realm. What Grace does do is that it restores nature. The Kingdom of God has the effect on the creation realm much like the effect a poultice has in its drawing the poison from a snake bite.

The creation, with the fall, has been snake bitten so that it is a present wicked age. What the Kingdom of God does upon the creational realm is that it sucks the poison of sin out of the Creation realm so that the creation realm is restored to what its original intent was so that this present wicked age is healed by the poultice power that is “the age to come” as expressed by the Kingdom of God at it works as leaven in restoring nature.

Dr. Albert Wolters put it this way in his “Creation Regained”

“The central point to make, biblically speaking, sin neither abolishes nor becomes identified with creation. Creation and sin remain distinct, however closely they may be intertwined in our experience. Prostitution does not eliminate the goodness of human sexuality; political tyranny cannot wipe out the divinely ordained character of the state; the anarchy and subjectivism of much modern art cannot obliterate the creational legitimacy of art itself. In short, evil does not have the power of bringing to naught God’s steadfast faithfulness to the works of his hands.”

And in one of life’s little ironies we find that it is not only the CREC which is taking the Church down the primrose path of Gnosticism but so does its arch-enemy R2K.

For R2K God is not faithful to the work of His hands since that which exists by way of creation is never Redeemed so that it can be considered “Christian.” Marriages can’t be Christian, States can’t be Christian, Education can’t be Christian, and art can’t be Christian because all these creational categories remain “creational” whether they are handled by rebels in opposition to God and His Christ or whether they are handled by Christians in submission to Christ. R2K does not have a category for “grace restoring nature,” choosing instead a paradigm where grace has no effect on nature.

So here we find the two strongest lads right now who are on the Reformed Mountain playing “King of the Hill,” trying to knock each other off so that they alone can be King. It’s David Van Drunen vs. Doug Wilson. And while that is all going on here the Biblically Reformed theonomic, postmillennial, presuppositionalist, Kinist, Agrarians are on the sideline saying… “A pox upon both your Gnostic Houses.”

However, we should say here that the enemy is not only internal on this matter but the enemy is also external. It is difficult to say which is more dangerous.

We have considered the Reformed Gnostics who want grace to destroy nature. But what of those who want nature as defined by the fall to destroy grace? The former camp is so otherworldly it forgets this world. The latter camp is so this world that it fights the world to come. The first camp wants to bring heaven to earth. The second camp wants to take earth for heaven. The enemy within the camp wants to immanentize the eschaton. The enemy outside the camp wants to echatonize the immanent.

You see there are those out there who think that nature is defined by its fallen-ness. They think that it really is the case that nature it red in tooth and claw. Let us refer to these as the humanistic Utopians who believe not in the Kingdom of God that incrementally arrives by grace restoring nature but instead believe that the Kingdom of man arrives by fallen nature coming into full bloom. We will call these “the Utopians.”

The Utopians seek nature as fallen to destroy grace. In order to destroy grace they have been the most adamant of the enemies of Christ through the centuries. The Utopians, generally speaking and humanistically speaking, are the same enemies that Christ labeled “the synagogue of Satan.”

Listen to Bavinck about these folks and their project;

This is the difference between the work of the Kingdom of God upon the creational realm and the work of the Kingdom of man as it seeks to create Utopia in creation. The Kingdom of man identifies creation with the fall and so in order to restore creation it seeks to destroy creation (as it is defined Biblically) thinking that creation can be regenerated out of destruction and chaos.

Herman Bavinck — 1854 – 1921

Dutch Reformed Theologian

And so the Utopians seek fallen nature as the tool to destroy grace. We find these Utopians among the Marxists and we identify them as those, in the words of Bavinck;

“Seek to destroy family, destroy the Church and destroy the State so that out of the ashes a new order may arise Phoenix like. Again, they do this because they identify nature with the fall. To the contrary the Kingdom of God does not identify creation with the fall and the effect of the Kingdom of God upon creation, as we noted above, is to suck the poison of the fall out of creation so that creation reflects the beauty it was intended to reflect.”

The Utopians hate grace and so seek to use fallen nature to destroy grace. This is why the Utopians attack creation as it fell from God’s hands. They must eliminate the family. They must attack the family, they must attack the all in culture that is perfumed with Christ.

In closing though let us note that whether it is the camp of grace destroys nature or whether it is the camp of fallen nature destroys grace in the end both nature and grace are destroyed. There is no preferable poison here. We must fight our current battle on several fronts. We must fight the R2K lads. We must fight the Federal Vision “conversion makes nature unimportant” lads. We must fight the Utopians.

But thanks be unto God we have a target rich environment. We can point our guns in any direction and bring the enemy down. Thanks be unto God the that He has 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. They are Elijah’s scattered all across the nation, standing often alone but still standing nonetheless. Thanks be unto God that He always gives us the victory in Christ Jesus.

Atonement — Meaning, Necessity, The Final, Life Without


Lev. 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being [d]sanctified.

The Meaning of Atonement

Since we are going to be looking at the matter of atonement this morning we will be well served to have a functional definition of atonement so that every time you hear that word you will know what we are speaking of.

Theologian Leon Morris tell us that;

Atonement means ‘a making of one.’ and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity… Its use in theology is to denote the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by the sin of man, and in bringing sinners into right relation with God.”

Theologian Paul Jewett adds,

“Etymologically the word atonement signifies a harmonious relationship of that which brings about such a relationship, i.e. – a reconciliation. Atonement is principally used of of the reconciliation between God and man effected by the work of the Cross.”

Both of these passages that were read this morning refer to the great religious fact of Atonement. The passages that speak of atonement or some aspect of atonement are ubiquitous in Scriptue.

In the idea of Atonement we find the great central truths of the Christian faith, but not only the Christian faith as we shall learn, but all the great central truth of all religions. Indeed, one of the burdens of the sermon this morning is to not only to understand the meaning and necessity of the Atonement but also to understand that atonement as a general category is an inescapable category wherein all men, regardless of their religious status, require and so seek out.

The text in Leviticus 17 reminds us that it was God Himself who required the sacrificial system wherein the Priests busied themselves in the work in bringing sacrifices for the purposes of Atonement. The text from Hebrews teaches that all that was prefigured in the OT work of the Priestly caste was fulfilled perfectly by Jesus the Christ.
When we consider the atonement we would do well to start with by looking at the necessity of the atonement. The atonement presupposes the central tenets of our undoubted catholic Christian faith. The necessity of the atonement implies

A Holy Creator God
A violation of the Creator Holy God’s Holy Law by man now the sinner laden w/ objective guilt
A resultant fractured relationship that means a Holy God’s just wrath is upon man the sinner
God’s requirement by way of blood penalty that must be paid in order for man to be restored
This penalty paid must propitiate and reconcile God while expiating sin, so redeeming sinners
God’s provision in Himself as the God/Man paying the penalty as substitute that man could not pay
With the result that Man the sinner is brought back into right relation with God

And in that brief outline lies the essence of the Gospel and a lifetime of preaching. This is how important and monumental the issue of Atonement is. So important is the subject that I have tried to read one substantial book every year during the last 4 decades on the Atonement or some aspect of it. Without a sound understanding of the Atonement there exists only a Christianity that is no Christianity.

With that in mind we come to the passages and note a few matters regarding atonement.

I.) The Necessity of Atonement

In the texts we have had read for us this morning we learn that Atonement is the great central fact of the Christian faith. Leviticus 17:11 teaches us that God required Atonement of His people. Indeed, the whole sacrificial system of the OT pivots on the necessity of atonement.

But the necessity of the Atonement has a far longer history than Israel’s sacrificial system. The necessity of atonement goes way back to the garden after the fall. It is hinted at already with the fact that our first parents were covered after their garden sin with the skins of slain animals. Atonement is even more clearly with the account of Cain & Abel. God looked with favor upon the offering brought by Abel but with disfavor upon the offering brought by Cain.

Why was Abel’s offering – ‘fat portions from some of the firstborn flock’ – acceptable while Cain’s offering of some of the fruits of the soil not acceptable? Could it be that Cain offered a bloodless sacrifice apart from faith while Abel offered God a better blood sacrifice combined with faith as it was.

This is what Hebrews 11:4 hints at;

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous,

So we see the necessity of atonement.

The atonement is necessary if we are have audience with God… if we are to be friends with God. And because of the atonement is necessary the OT is splashed and covered with blood that could only point in the direction of an atonement that the OT could only anticipate.

The word of the atonement in the OT is Kipper. We hear it in the Jewish celebration of Yom Kipper. It literally means to cover. The word is used to describe the effect of the OT sacrifices at the consecration of the High Priest and the altar and the annual sacrifices especially on the Day of atonement.

Atonement is necessary as covering because by the atonement the sins of the people were covered so that God did not see them. This was pictured in the OT by the fact that on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies into the presence of God and would sprinkle the blood of that atoning sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat of the ark of the covenant where within was the law of God which condemned the people as sinners. By this act the blood was covering the law’s just accusation against the sin of the people and so God’s just wrath was turned away and so God was pleased to continue with His people.

So we see it all there in this required sacrificial system that required blood atonement. This is why Scripture teaches that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

However, the Scripture also consistently teaches that all this was only promissory and anticipatory of a greater future atonement. Indeed we find that very idea expressed a few verses earlier in the chapter that was read this morning;

Hebrews 10: 1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

All that blood. All that time and treasure. All that expertise in animal slaughtering could not possibly take away sins. And it was never intended to. It was intended to be a daily reminder that another substitute bloody death was coming who would take away sin for good.

And so we look at that final Atonement;

II.) The Final Atonement

The passage in Hebrews read this morning says explicitly that all that was done in the old and worse covenant by way of sacrifice “could never take away sins.”

The author of Hebrews here highlights the work of the OT High Priest and priests and contrasts that work with the redemptive work of Christ. Note how complete the contrast is in this text


Vs. 11 Vs. 12

Day after Day But
every Priest This Priest
stands sat down
he offers when [he] had offered
again and again for all time
the same sacrifices one sacrifice
which can never for sins
take away sins

The text teaches here that Christ then was the fulfillment of both the responsibilities of the great High Priest inasmuch as he offered up the sacrifice. The text teaches here that Christ also then was the fulfillment of those sacrifices as the sacrifice that He offered up as the Great High Priest was Himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

But unlike the High Priest of the OT he did up offer up Himself as Atonement for His own sins. He offered Himself as God’s atonement for the sins of His people. Unlike the High Priest of the OT once this self atonement was completed – this one sacrifice for sins – His work was complete and He sits down at the right hand of God.

Keep in mind that this is other contrasts

In the OT the sanctuary furniture included table, lamp, altar of incense, and the ark… but one thing it did not include was a chair. Yet when this High Priest completes His work He sits down simply because there is no longer any necessary atonement sacrifices to be accomplished.

A couple implications here:

1.) This is why we can have no tuck with well intentioned and friendly Roman Catholics. I have good friends who want to be and are friendly with Roman Catholics. As such they are on good terms with them. However, they are not doing any friendly favors to Romanists by not telling them that their ongoing attendance to the Mass where Christ is once again sacrificed for sin as atonement is nothing but gross idolatry. There can be no reconciliation with Rome as long as Christ once for all sacrifice is denied by the Mass and we are offering the Roman Catholic rank and file no friendship if we do not at least occasionally bring that up to those of them who are our friends.

2.) Some of you here need to satisfied with this complete atonement. God is saying to you in the words of the song “Just come in;”

What do I see you draggin’ up here, is that for your atoning?

Some of you can’t believe that God’s grace is that gracious. Some of you can’t believe that God’s atonement is final. Some of you can’t believe that Christ has sat down. As such you can’t believe that your sins really are forgiven. As such you keep draggin’ before him your obedience so as to somehow be additions to Christ’s atonement.

Brother … Sister … you don’t have to keep living with your ongoing sin and guilt. Confess your sins and believe that God is faithful and just to forgive your sins. Brother … Sister … keep before you that God is satisfied with the atonement He provided for you. You don’t have to augment His atonement with your atonements.

Quit beating yourself. Christ has taken your beating for you. Quit thinking that you are accepted by your performance. You’re not, nor ever could be. You are accepted on the basis of the performance of Jesus Christ as your obedience and atonement. Some of us need to really believe that we are loved by God for the sake of Christ.

So there it is. Christ is our atonement. God’s just wrath is turned from us and our sin removed from us so that all we know now is God’s fatherly love and favor. We are those who have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our sin is covered and we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Because of this atonement God is reconciled to us and we are reconciled to God. Because of this atonement the ransom price was paid not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ – a lamb without spot or blemish and so we are redeemed.

III.) Life Without Christ’s Atonement

Now, what of those who have not closed with Christ and so come under his atonement? Have they escaped all this theology. Are they living life apart from the category of atonement.

We would say 1000 times NO and this truth needs to be heralded.

The non-believe in Christ still lives with the necessity of atonement and still spends their life seeking to come up with some other atonement besides the atonement that we have spoken of here briefly this morning.

Modern man is riddled with guilt and being riddled with guilt and refusing the atonement found in Christ he is forever seeking to provide self-atonement for himself. Indeed, the man apart from Christ busies himself all his life seeking an atonement that will cover the guilt he can not escape. People outside of Christ are dangerous for this reason.

They are dangerous because there are only so many options to look to for atonement when the atonement that is found in Christ is rejected.

Sinful and guilty Man outside of Christ can only find relief from his guilt and sin in an atonement that comes from either

1.) His paying for his own penalty (Masochism)
2.) His looking to pass on his sin and guilt to another so as to find atonement (Sadism)

These are the options for those outside of Christ who do not have Christ as their atonement. The need for atonement does not go away and so it is either the pursuit of Masochistic self atonement – the constant punishing of the self, or it is the sadistic activity on making others your atonement.

Let us make this clear;

Man apart from Christ is guilty.
He will not have Christ has his atonement
He still must do something with his sin and guilt
He still must have atonement
That atonement will be found in masochism or sadism
So, atonement is an inescapable category. It is never a matter of atonement. It is always a matter rather of which atonement will be sought out.

For our purposes I have drawn definitions of Masochism and Sadism form Websters Dictionary.

Masochism per Webster is – a taste for suffering

And I am insisting that modern man who has not fled to Christ and His suffering atonement will seek out his atonement with a taste for self inflicted suffering.

Now as it touches this Masochistic atonement modern man is like all that went before. I remember when I first read about the traveling flagellants. In medieval Europe they would travel from city to city carrying whips and flailing themselves on their backs.

The Flagellants were religious followers who would whip themselves, believing that by punishing themselves they would invite God to show mercy toward them. The Flagellants would arrive in a town and head straight for the church, where bells would ring to announce to the townsfolk that they had arrived. Having recited their liturgies the Brethren would move to an open space and form a circle, stripping to the waist and then walking around the circle until called to stop by the Master. They would then fall to the ground, adopting a crucifix position, or holding three fingers in the air (perjurors) or lying face down (adulterers). Having been thrashed by the Master, the Brethren would stand and begin to flagellate themselves. After some period of this self-torture, the Flagellants would throw themselves to the ground once more, and the process would begin again.

Each whip consisted of a stick with three knotted thongs hanging from the end. Two pieces of needle-sharp metal were run through the centre of the knots from both sides, forming a cross, the end of which extended beyond the knots for the length of a grain of wheat or less. Using these whips they beat and whipped their bare skin until their bodies were bruised and swollen and blood rained down, spattering the walls nearby. I have seen, when they whipped themselves, how sometimes those bits of metal penetrated the skin so deeply that it took more than two attempts to pull them out.–

Heinrich von Herford (c. 1300-1370), Chronicon Henrici de Hervordia

Much of the medieval system of forgiveness was all about masochistic behavior in one form or another

Modern man outside of Christ and without His atonement disguises this better but you can be sure that those without Christ are inflicting suffering among themselves in an attempt to provide a self-atonement. All people who are not Christians are either masochists or sadists or both. They are determined and govern by masochistic/sadistic impulses.

RJR agreed w/ us here writing;

“E.J. Warner, has written a very telling book, again from a totally non-Christian perspective, titled The Urge to Mass Destruction. This masochistic impulse is ultimately suicidal, because man, feeling his guilt and his sin, feels the need for punishment and the penalty of death, and so his activities become suicidal progressively, and the more deeply guilty a culture becomes and the more it departs from God, the more suicidal it will become until it is governed by what Warner called the urge to mass destruction, and Warner, writing approximately ten years ago, said that this urge to mass destruction was taking over the politics of modern man so that our modern politics is the politics of the urge to mass destruction. These men are all talking about atonement, about the desperate, the crying need for atonement in the heart of man, and it’s a sad fact that the pulpit doesn’t recognize that everything we deal with every day is wrapped up in this mad desire for self-atonement, for atonement without Christ.”

Lift your eyes and look around. What else can account for the odd behavior that we a currently seeing except for the mad pursuit to find a masochistic self-atonement? What else is all this piercing and tattooing … what else is all this gender dysphoria that pursues drugs and surgeries… What else is all these various addictions to various substances except the attempt to self-atone. The weight of sin and guilt is known. They will not have Christ atone for them and so they look to provide their own suffering and atonement.

With this realization how can there not be a place in our hearts that just weeps for these people? How can we look on this self-cruelty that seeks to provide a self-atonement and not have compassion and pity? How can we not long for them to know the only one who can so atone for them that they will be done with their own attempts at self atonement.

And now I’m fixin’ to meddle. What else can it be besides an urge to provide self-atonement that finds much of the leadership in the Evangelical/Reformed world that insists that the White Christian should be satisfied with being replaced in his own land thus suffering as hewers of wood and drawers of water? What else can it be but trying to pay for a false guilt that even were the accusations true (and they’re not) should be entrusted to having been paid for by Christ in His atonement. No… instead, so the narrative goes, we White Christians are to pay for the putative sins of our Fathers by taking upon ourselves a masochistic self-atonement.

No…. I will not play this game. My sins have been atoned for and I owe nothing to those who know not the atonement of Jesus Christ and so are trying to provide for their own self-atonement by sadistically foisting off their sin of envy upon me and my people.

And what of the attempt to self-atone that is Sadism which is defined in a delight in cruelty towards others?

There are those who, not accepting the atonement of Christ will instead of seeking masochistically to pay for their sins will instead sadistically seek to foist their sin upon others thus arriving at self-atonement?

Here we find the race pimps and race hustlers as I already mentioned. Here we find the Narcissist (and unsurprisingly we find Narcissism is growing by leaps and bounds in our culture) seeking to make everything the fault of someone else. Most of us have known them. They never take responsibility for anything… even if the same thing happens over and over again. They are forever pointing fingers at somebody else and are forever coming up with justifications for their behavior. Forever trying to find atonement by inflicting cruelty on others.

To all this masochism and sadism in our culture we have but one answer. That answer is the atonement of Jesus Christ who is the only way who is sufficient to provide atonement so as to save us from our own self-atoning efforts. It is Christ as our atonement who turned away the Father’s just wrath against sin. It is Jesus as our atonement who took away our sins. It is Jesus the Christ who reconciled God to us and us to God. It is the Lord Christ as our great High Priest who provided redemption.

Let us practice being satisfied with His atonement.

Elder’s Rule … Laity Submits

Acts 20:38 — Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

I Corinthians 16:15 I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints— 16 that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.

I Thessalonians 5:12And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 In love, hold them in highest regard because of their work. Live in peace with one another.

I Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

Hebrews 13:7 Remember those who [a]rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct….

17.) Obey those who [e]rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

The function and role of an elder is well summarized by Alexander Strauch in his book Biblical Eldership:

“Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17Titus 1:71 Peter 5:1–2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:22 Timothy 4:2Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:1728–31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:132 Timothy 3:13–17Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14Acts 6:4], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:6]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church” (16).

Obvious truths we have learned from the Scripture we have cited;

1.) There exists and has always existed a God ordained hierarchy not only in the home where husbands are to rule their wives and children, and not only in the civil realm where Magistrates are to rule the citizenry, but also in the Church where the Elders are to rule the laity.

2.) This truth in turn reminds us when discussing all of this of the necessity to understand Jurisdictionalism. There are these sphere of jurisdiction that God has appointed and in those spheres of jurisdiction God has named different authorities. These jurisdictions are important to keep in mind since the respective authorities in the differing jurisdiction must seek to honor the distinct jurisdictions.

For example, as an Elder, I do not have the authority to come into your home and rule your home unless for some reason you have grossly abdicated your legitimate authority by no longer ruling your home “in the Lord.” At that time the Elders will come to you, point out the appropriate Scripture that someone is walking contrary to, and then will ask you to repent. This is the kind of action that we see the Apostle Paul call for in I Corinthians 5;

 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even [a]named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are [b]puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord [c]Jesus.

Here St. Paul is taking up his authority as an Elder to correct both an individual in the Corinthian congregation but also the Church as a whole.  St. Paul later in II Timothy gives Timothy the Elder to do this very same kind of work:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction,

Now obviously this kind of authority, like all authority can be abused. The maxim, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” does not find any exceptions among those who are Elders in Christ’s church. So, when we insist, with Scripture that the role of the Elder is to engage, when necessary, in reproof and correction of the flock Elders should understand that power can go to their head. This is why, we have a plurality of Elders so that no one Elder is holding all the authority.

So we see here that one area in which an Elder rules in the Church and one area therefore upon which the laity are obliged to submit (Hebrews 13:17) is when it comes to the area of morals and doctrine. The Elders are to be the gatekeepers for the proper thinking (Doctrine) and proper morals (Behavior) as among God’s people. This is why St. Paul told the Church in Corinth to excommunicate the man who was sleeping with his step-mother. It is why Scripture repeatedly calls Elders to guard what was committed to their trust (I Timothy 6:20-21).

The Church is the Bride of Christ and it is the role of the Elders to protect the purity of the Bride.

Now, of course Elder’s fail and given this high and holy calling they can’t help but be hypocrites since they themselves can never reach the standard that is placed upon all God’s people for holiness of living and thinking. Yet, despite that reality Elders are called to rule and the laity is called to submit.

Now, what we have seen so far?

1.) We have seen a wee bit what Elders are called to do in their role as God’s appointed leader of the Church.

2.) We have noted that the role of the laity is to submit when their Elders are ruling them as “in the Lord.” Now, if an Elder comes to you to speak on some matter of course the initial route is not likely going to be instant ultimatums but rather the course is going to be one of reasoned conversation. The exception to that is if someone here would be doing something extreme like sleeping with their stepmother or advancing Radical Two Kingdom theology among the saints.

3.) We began to look at the notion of jurisdictional spheres and tried to emphasize that the authority of an Elder rests in the jurisdictional sphere of the Church just as the role of the Father/Husband rests in the jurisdictional sphere of the home.

Let’s talk about that one just a wee bit more.

The jurisdictional spheres as found in the Scripture means there are boundaries for authority. Jesus Christ is the only one who has all authority. Any authority here whether exercised by husband, Elder, or Magistrate is authority that exists in a very circumscribed sphere.

So a Magistrate cannot enter the Church and based on his authority as a magistrate violate the jurisdiction of the Church by presuming to rule in the affairs of the church unless the Church has grossly abdicated its legitimate authority by no longer ruling the Church as “in the Lord.” In the same way Elders in the Church cannot enter the civil sphere of the Magistrate and on the basis of his authority as an Elder violate the jurisdiction of the Magistrate by presuming to rule in the affairs of the civil order unless the Magistrate has grossly abdicated its legitimate authority by no longer ruling the civil order as “in the Lord.”

So, we have these spheres of jurisdictions and we have proper authorities ruling in each jurisdictional sphere. Conceptually this is not difficult to understand. Practically, if the God ordained rulers of each sphere rule as “in the Lord,” there is not going to be a problem in honoring those jurisdictions or the authorities therein. However, when one sphere gets out of whack that makes matters often very difficult.

For example when one jurisdiction ceases ruling as “in the Lord” then eventually authorities from another jurisdiction are going to have to interpose into that errant jurisdiction and set matters right. This is called the doctrine of interposition.

But let us not get to far afield from where we are at this morning. We will talk, I think, more about interposition in a later sermon. Right now let’s concentrate on the fact that the Church is a jurisdictional sphere of authority where God has placed a structure of hierarchy so as to have a ruler and ruled ecclesiastical order.

We have seen that Elders in the Church have ruling authority. This is indisputable from the Scripture that we have looked at. However, we pause to note again this stated hierarchy because it is in some sense disputed in some circles. Among the Anabaptist movement today one will learn that there is a leveling when it comes to the roles of leaders. In the Anabaptist movement (Mennonites, Amish, Brethren,) there is the principle that there is no such thing as interposition of human authority since the New Covenant. This means that the role of Elder in those Christian communities are going to be more egalitarian.

As such Anabaptist churches and Christians have a view of ecclesiastical authority that is going to be very different from the view of ecclesiastical authority as found among Roman Catholics who go to the opposite extreme. If the Anabaptist have a tendency to level all hierarchical structure in the Church, Rome and ecclesiastical models like Rome tend to absolutize ecclesiastical authority in the Church so that Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Popes are seen as being vested with uber-authority that is not to be questioned.

The Reformed understanding of the role of Elders as a rulers was that of a ministerial role and not a magisterial role such is found in Rome. The Reformed understanding of the role of Elders as a rulers was that of the Shepherd of the flock who is a sheep himself with real authority  and not as just some kind of life coach such as might be found among the Anabaptists.

And because the Elder has real authority to lead, to lead by serving, and to rule the flock is called upon to submit as they are “ruled in the Lord.” We’ve seen that in the Scripture this morning. We also see it in our Confessions;

“All men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with the Church, maintaining the unity of the Church;3 submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ;4

Belgic Confession Article 28

Now let us talk a wee bit more about what Elder authority looks like and how does it apply?

And for the answer to that we have only to reference our own Heidelberg Catechism as it faithfully teaches Scripture.


Question 82: Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?

Answer: No; for by this, the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation;10 therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons 11 by the keys of the kingdom of heaven till they show amendment of life.

Question 83: What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?1

Answer: The preaching of the holy gospel, and Christian discipline,2 or excommunication out of the Christian church;3 by these two, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers.

We learn here that by sound preaching the Elders exercise their authority. This would mean that every Lord’s Day upon your attendance at Morning, and Evening service as well as Sunday School  you are at that point practicing a submission to the Elder’s authority by sitting under the preaching of the Gospel.

As to Christian discipline, the word discipline in the Greek is paidea and it means to instruct or correct. Elders have the responsibility to instruct and correct the flock. This can happen as easily as in a casual conversation and it can happen as officially in official Church discipline. Most often it should happen in casual conversation. The more drama that is injected into the context of Christian discipline the less likely there will be a satisfactory result.

Question 85: How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by Christian discipline?

Answer: Thus: when according to the command of Christ,8 those, who under the name of Christians, maintain doctrines or practices inconsistent therewith,9 and will not, after having been often brotherly admonished, renounce their errors and wicked course of life, are complained of to the church or to those10 who are thereunto appointed by the church;11 and if they despise their admonition, are by them forbidden the use of the sacraments;12 whereby they are excluded from the Christian church and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ; and when they promise and show real amendment, are again received as members of Christ and His church.13

Q. 85 here demonstrates again that the Elder is to rule and one means of ruling is to admonish (to lead, to have charge over) and the rule of is to be submitted to by the flock because a lack of submission means excommunication.

Now, having noted all this lets be realistic about Elder’s ruling and the flock submitting in today’s Church. I’ve been at this long enough now to know how this works in real life. When there is something that needs correction I go to the person in question and they blow me off. For example there have been numerous times over my 35 years in the ministry that I would challenge people about a tender subject and they would essentially tell me to mind my own business. If the matter is serious enough such as someone sleeping with their stepmother what happens is that somewhere along the path to excommunication they just up and leave and join the church down the block who doesn’t care about where they were because the other church is just happy for the new meat in the seat. Because, that is true the authority of the Elder in today’s church is largely irrelevant in the every day life of the Church.

And yet not irrelevant to God. Elders should take up their authority even if they know it will have little impact because in doing so they are being faithful to God even if there is little or no submission on the part of the laity and even if there is little or no fruit as a consequence of seeking to exercise Godly authority.

Finally, all that being said, as an Elder, I recognize how hard it must be for the flock to submit to Elders today given the character and lack of wisdom that we as clergy and Elders demonstrate today.

All of this is a matter we should be diligently in prayer about. The Church in the West is a mess and only God can deliver us now.

The good news is that in His time He will certainly do that. God will, in His time once again raise up good men to be Elders who wield authority with humility, yet with boldness. God will, in His time once again raise up laity who will see that their safety and well being lies in submitting to godly Elders. God will, in His time, renew, reform, and revitalize His Son’s bride so that she is once again without spot and without blemish.

May it happen in the lifetime of some of us in attendance today.

I Cor. 15:58 — New Years 2023

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
I Corinthians 15:58

“Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ”  Galatians 6:9

As we come to vs. 58 we see one of St. Paul’s famous “therefore” statements. When we run across these “therefore” statements (and Paul does this frequently in his writing) we must work to remind ourselves of the connectivity between what is about to be said and what has just been said.

And so, briefly, Paul has just argued that Christians can be confident of the coming Resurrection. Christian can be certain of their final triumph and this because Jesus Christ has triumphed. Their resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness is a pledge of your participation in Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Paul says now, in light of all this reality


Therefore—because you are sure of the victory—be steadfast,” 

Therefore.–Because all this is so–because there is a life hereafter that we know we will share in–let this life here be worthy of that life to come that we are now participating in by being in Christ.

It should say something to us about Christianity that a chapter which leads us step by step by a irresistible logic  and arresting eloquence into the teaching of the Resurrection and immortality leads to the invoking of a “therefore” that throws all of us back upon the most plain and practical of duty. It should teach us that Christianity knows nothing where teaching is all abstraction and theory with no mention of Casuistry. Any Christianity that severs the life line between the life which is to come from the life that now is should come with signs stapled to it saying “there be dragons here.”

Notice also, before we get to the meat of the matter how St. Paul starts here. He addresses these Corinthians as “beloved.” This word is derivative of the Greek Word Agape. It is the tenderest and most resilient of all type of loves possible. I only bring this out to note how gentle Paul could be. If there ever was a Church that was populated by sundry and various rapscallions it was the Church in Corinth. Why, it was almost as bad as the modern Western Church. And yet, St. Paul calls these vexatious Christians… “Beloved.”

It would do well for all of us to pray that God might give us this kind of love for those in the Church who are troublesome, vexing, irritating, and downright distasteful. Paul was not being hypocritical here. He calls the Corinthians “Beloved” precisely because he loved them. May the triune God enlarge our  own hearts so that we both genuinely love all the saints and so that we realize it is we ourselves who really are the worst of all rapscallions.

It really is a matter of discernment here on our parts. Calvin said that God has given the minister two voices. One voice to drive off the wolves and one voice to gather the lambs. We have seen, on repeated occasions where St. Paul has used his “drive off the wolves” voice. Here we see his “gather the lambs” voice.

So the inspired Apostle writes,

Therefore — that is — “Seeing that you ought not to despair, but to share in this confidence of triumph.” —

Be Ye Steadfast.

The idea here is they were to be firmly fixed in your own conviction

Paul will say something similar in Colossians 1:23 where he writes that the Colossians are

not (to be) move(d) from the hope held out in the gospel.

And the singular mind of God speaks again as John says in 2John 9

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

The duty that St. Paul enjoins upon the Corinthians in light of the Doctrine given them in chapter 15 is to “be ye steadfast.”

ἑδραῖοι (hedraioi)
Strong’s 1476 — Sitting, seated; steadfast, firm, fixed. From a derivative of hezomai; sedentary, i.e. immovable.

St. Paul is calling for the recipients of his letter to not easily change.

Steadfast people are people who are implacable and because of that they are single minded. Steadfast people will not be moved. If the immovable that  comes next has to do with not being moved by others, steadfast would refer to not turning aside ourselves.

St. Paul is telling them to be laser-focused… single minded… hell bent for leather in the Christian life.

St. Paul understood that this Christian virtue of steadfastness was necessary for the Christian life. He had enough experience with those who had been the opposite of steadfast. Let’s call the opposite of being Mr. steadfast “Mr. Change with every wind of doctrine.”

If you remember St. Paul had to deal with men in his ministry who had abandoned him. There was Demas. There was Alexander the Coppersmith. There was, to his mind at least, even John Mark. To the contrary, St. Paul himself was the epitome of the steadfastness for which he is calling for. Perhaps no Christian throughout the annals of time was more steadfast than St. Paul.

For decades now steadfastness has been comparatively easy for a Christian but the time is  coming and now is wherein we are going to discover how difficult and at the same time how necessary this steadfastness  is. I suspect that the times are upon us when the Christian life is going to require a good deal of grit. Steadfastness is one component of the grit that is going to be required.

And remember, the steadfastness that is being called for is derivative of the confidence that we have that the victory as seen in the doctrine of the Resurrection which St. Paul had so thoroughly discussed. Our steadfastness is the byproduct of our certainty that we share in Christ’s victory. St. Paul, in order to anchor their steadfastness, points to the sinless Man – to the fulfilled idea of Christ. His argument previously, which all could understand, is summed up in the words, “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is risen.” Your resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness is a pledge of your participation in Christ’s resurrection from the grave therefore, because all that is true, be steadfast.

Well, fellow Christian, will your resolve right now again, that you won’t back down and that you will stand your ground? Will you resolve to be steadfast in light of the victory we have in Christ?

Being steadfast is not one of those particularly glamourous virtues. It just means remaining certain in our Christian convictions in a long direction. It means not being fickle or indecisive.

In a post-modern age this kind of steadfastness can be hated even as among our own midst. I had a Christian minister friend once who told me he how he was chided once by his leadership because in the pulpit he came across as “too certain about the matters of Faith” The complaint in essence was that he was too steadfast. What a strange world we inhabit when ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are chided for being too steadfast regarding our undoubted catholic Christian faith.

Well, in 2023 let us resolve to continue to be steadfast.

Let us push on here because we are also called here to be


Unmoveable. By others (Ephesians 4:14). Abounding in the work of the Lord. Doing diligently and ungrudgingly the work of your lives, which is his work. That your labour is not in vain. The thought of the verse is the same as that of Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”   4. A fourth point to be observed is the wisdom with which St. Paul holds himself aloof from speculative fancies, he does not, like Plato, appeal to the doctrine of “reminiscence” (anamnesis), or of unfulfilled ideas. He does not, like Kant, build any argument on man’s failure to obey “the categorical imperative” of duty.

ἑδραῖοι (hedraioi)
Adjective – Nominative Masculine Plural
Strong’s 1476: Sitting, seated; steadfast, firm, fixed. From a derivative of hezomai; sedentary, i.e. immovable.

St. Paul is calling for the recipients of his letter to not be easily changed.

Steadfast people are people who are implacable and because of that they are single minded. Steadfast people will not be moved. If the immovable that is comes next has to do with not being moved by others, so steadfast would refer to not turning aside ourselves.

St. Paul understood that this Christian virtue of steadfastness was necessary for the Christian life. He had enough experience with those who had been the opposite of steadfast. If you remember St. Paul had to deal with men in his ministry who had abandoned him. There was Demas. There was Alexander the Coppersmith. There was, to his mind at least, even John Mark. To the contrary, St. Paul himself was the epitome of the steadfastness for which he is calling for. Perhaps no Christian throughout the annals of time were more steadfast than St. Paul.

For decades now steadfastness has been comparatively easy for a Christian but the time is  coming and now is wherein we are going to discover how difficult and at the same time how necessary this steadfastness  is. I suspect that the times are upon us when the Christian life is going to require a good deal of grit. Steadfastness is one component of the grit that is going to be required.

And remember, the steadfastness that is being called for is derivative of the confidence that we have that the victory as seen in the doctrine of the Resurrection which St. Paul had so thoroughly discussed. Our steadfastness is the byproduct of our certainty that we share in Christ’s victory. St. Paul, in order to anchor their steadfastness, points to the sinless Man – to the fulfilled idea of Christ. His argument, which all could understand, is summed up in the words, “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is risen.” Your resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness is a pledge of your participation in Christ’s resurrection from the grave therefore, because all that is true, be steadfast.

Well, fellow Christian, will your resolve right now again, that you won’t back down and that you will hold your ground? Will you resolve to be steadfast in light of the victory we have in Christ?

St. Paul also calls them to be immovable

[and] immovable.
ἀμετακίνητοι (ametakinētoi)
 Strong’s 277 — Immovable, firm. Immovable.

If the call to be steadfast was in reference to one’s self, this call to be immovable is likely in reference to not allowing one’s self to be moved off the dime of truth by others. So steadfastness is self directed and immovable is directed to the negative influence of others.

What is expressed here between the two then is the idea of Christian perseverance in general, under the figure of standing firm.  The Greek word here presents the perseverance more precisely as unseduceableness being in opposition to the possible seductions through the deniers of the resurrection.

Here St. Paul is calling the Corinthians, when it comes to the matters of what we know we believe and why we believe it to be pig-headed. If the call here is to be unseduceable it is because there are so many out there who are seeking to seduce. It was the case in the 1st century, and it remains the case now that it is huge marketplace of ideas. These different ideas — like the denial of the resurrection — look so shiny but St. Paul calls them to be immovable.

We are to be steadfast and unmovable on the doctrines of the Christian faith, one of which is the reality of the resurrection. We would of course note there are others such as the Deity of Jesus Christ, the idea of substitutionary atonement, the centrality of covenant, the importance of the visible Church as Institution where one can receive the means of grace. Currently cutting edge doctrines of the Christian faith that we must be steadfast and unmovable on is the idea that grace does not destroy nature but that grace renews nature and the exhaustive Sovereignty of Jesus Christ over every area of life.

So what has St. Paul said here? He has said we Christians are to be the stability of our times. We are to be steadfast and unmovable. Cinder blocks of truth that are not going to budge.

Now, if we are to be those cinderblocks of truth that are steadfast and unmovable then we need to be consumed with a desire to know the truth and upon knowing it, not to be moved from it.

Paul is not quite yet done. The man is always completely thorough in his arguments. He now gives the “do this” side that compliments his do not be moved side. He writes these Corinthians to be;

“always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” I Corinthians 15:58

πάντοτε (pantote)
Strong’s 3842: Always, at all times, ever. From pas and hote; every when, i.e. At all times.

Note here that we are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. The call is not to be always abounding in the work of the Lord when we are in the grace realm while always abounding in the work of Natural Law when we are in the common realm. No, we are, as Christians, to be always and at all times to be abounding in the work of the Lord. There are not some areas we walk in where we are not to be abounding in that area in the work of the Lord.

περισσεύοντες (perisseuontes)
Strong’s 4052; From perissos; to superabound, be in excess, be superfluous; also to cause to superabound or excel.

Now the question might be raised … “What is the work of the Lord in which we are to be abounding?

And our catechism answers that question;

Question 91: But what are good works?

Answer: Only those which proceed from a true faith,5 are performed according to the law of God,6 and to His glory;7 and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.8

One more observation;

Knowing your labor is not in vain.

Why does the Apostle write this? It is really quite simple. He writes this because that is what he is fighting against. He is fighting against a people who might be concluding that their labor unto Christ is in vain since it has been argued that the resurrection was past. No, Paul says, your labor is not in vain. You good works will follow you. You will hear the “well done thou good and faithful servant.”

There is a temptation always in this life to say “What’s the worth.” Vanity of vanity all is vanity.” Paul steps up to the mic here and says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “You labor is not in vain.” As Francis Schaffer used to say… “No little people. No little places.”

Here we are tucked in Chartucky Michigan or in other like places. It might be easily to conclude that our labor is in vain. But of course it is not. We must not let the enemy discourage us. We must not let our own diminutive statures convince us that our labors are in vain. God has told us our labors are not in vain therefore we know that to be the truth.

Because all this is true, therefore, let us take these for our New Years Resolutions for 2023

1.) I will be steadfast
2.) I will be immovable
3.) I will be always abounding in the work of the Lord
4.) I will remind myself at every turn that my Labor is not in vain