How Much Authority Does a Pastor Have?

The Master's Seminary Blog

How Much Authority Does a Pastor Have?

By Austin T. Duncan, Feb 14, 2020

If Jesus, the sinless and perfect son of God, limited Himself to speaking nothing during his incarnation except the truth He received from His father, how much more should those who have been called into His ministry speak only on the authority of divine Scripture?

– John MacArthur

Heavy-handed, cult-like leaders abound in churches today. These types of leaders are in all sorts of churches—both small and large. Micromanagers of the flock and power-tripping elder boards are not confined to corporate mega-churches. Pastoral authority has been abused and has overreached its God-given boundaries. But this top-down leadership, CEO mentality, bullying, and intimidating are not Jesus’ style of leadership. I believe much of the problem is rooted in a misunderstanding of the nature and limits of pastoral authority.

Pastors and elders need a functional understanding of spiritual authority. A lack of clarity will make both leading and following in the church more difficult. Authority is a precious gift from God intended for our stability and direction.

God’s authority is ultimate.
The pastor’s authority is delegated and limited by the Word of God

The pastor who understands his authority is a blessing to the church because he operates within the boundaries of God’s written word, he increases his people’s confidence in the Scripture, and he honors the conscience and competence of spirit-filled people.

So, what are the nature and limits of pastoral authority? There’s not a single verse that explains everything, but by compilation and consolidation of the Bible’s teaching on authority, we can derive several principles that will help us define pastoral authority as the following:


Learning to be Teachable

Yesterday I posted on Proverbs 4:13 – Instructionand how important it is to take hold of the instruction God provides. Today I came across this in my Inbox and realized it goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post. We must be TEACHABLE in order to TAKE HOLD of the instructions of God. – Mike 

The Master's Seminary

Learning to be Teachable

Hohn Cho | 

History is filled with poor decisions—decisions that leave the world shaking its head, wishing things could have somehow just gone a bit differently. The following are several of the worst.

The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records in 1962 because one person at the label thought guitar groups were falling from favor. As it turns out, that guy was wrong. It is believed that one helmsman on the Titanic made a small steering error, and correction wasn’t made in time. Less than three hours later, the Titanic rested on the floor of the icy Atlantic. In June of 1812, an overconfident Napoleon Bonaparte sent his troops into Russia for certain victory which, according to Bonaparte’s calculations, would take no more than 20 days. Napoleon forgot to calculate supplies, freezing temperatures… and the entire Russian army. Napoleon lost half a million French soldiers on this quick and easy expedition.

It is hard not to stop and wonder, what “could have been” if these people had just stopped and sought the counsel of another? What if Napoleon had just stopped and made sure they had enough supplies to make such an expedition? Or if he asked what the weather was like in Russia? What if the helmsman had double checked his steering with another helmsman?

The world might be a different place if these people had been just a bit more teachable.  And just like history, our own lives are filled with (hopefully smaller, less catastrophic) poor decisions that could have benefited from greater wisdom.

If you want to be wise, you must chase after counsel

Chasing after counsel is at the core of what it means to be teachable. And teachability is one of the main themes in the book of Proverbs; it runs throughout the entire book. Here are just several examples: “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov 11:14); “Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors, they succeed” (Prov. 15:22); “Prepare plans by consultation, counsel and make war by wise guidance” (Prov 20:18); and “For by wise guidance, you will wage war and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov 24:6).

The references could go on. But it should be obvious after this short list that the Scriptures praise the chasing of counsel, the asking of questions, and the seeking of advice.

But we might ask the question why. Why is chasing counsel so highly praised? What are the benefits of asking for advice?

Sometimes we are just too close to a matter to make a wise decision.

Often in confusing and complicated situations, our heart is just too involved in the matter to be able to clearly see the issue for what it is. The over involvement of the human heart is rarely a good thing. Just listen to what the prophet Jeremiah has to say about the human heart: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). When we are too emotionally invested in a situation, our hearts have not only the potential, but the likelihood, of deceiving us. And the consequences can be daunting.

Solomon again writes, “He who trusts in his own heart is the fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Prov 28:26). Solomon understands the danger of overinvestment.

This is where an outside perspective—someone whose heart is not overly attached to the issue—can be beneficial. He or she will bring a level of objectivity that would otherwise not be present in the situation.

When we chase counsel, we expose ourselves to others and their own wisdom in applying God’s word to their lives.

By seeking the counsel of those around us, we learn to get outside of ourselves. It teaches us to see our issues from another perspective. “Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding, But in the hearts of fools it is made known” (Prov 14:33). It gives us a tangible picture of how other godly men and women wade through the complications of life, and it just might encourage us to follow in their footsteps as they follow Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

Seeking advices teaches our hearts humility.

It requires humility to open yourself up to another person, to give another person the opportunity to say something that could potentially change our plans or challenge our pride. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov 12:15). There is humility in placing yourself beneath the counsel of another, even for a period, and just listening and learning from them.

In order to do this, we should proactively let others know that they have the right to speak into our lives. We should ask, and not just wait for people to offer us unsolicited counsel, which could be seen as prideful and unwelcome. We should strive to be known as someone who would be easy to advise. Far better to be a poor but wise young man, than even a king who cannot be advised (Ecc 4:13)… much less a pastor or elder, who is not to be self-willed (Tit 1:7).

But there are also dangers involved if counsel is sought incorrectly or unwisely. Here are some warnings on how to go about seeking advice:

Don’t seek counsel after the fact.

There is a common phenomenon where we can seek affirmation in the form of “counsel” after we have already taken action, rather than asking for advice before the fact. Sometimes this can be a genuine attempt to see if we did something right or how we could have done better. But often this is not the case. Often this later form of counsel-seeking is done in an attempt to get a pat on the back of approval. This can put others in an awkward position, because you’ve already done whatever it is you’re now asking for advice or approval for. Oh, you blew it there is not an easy thing for anyone to say, but it might be the correct response. Try to not put those around you in this challenging position—if you have any time at all, the right time to ask for counsel on important decisions is beforehand.  “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word” (Prov 15:23).

Don’t shop for counsel.

This can be so deceptive—because it can seem to smell so strongly of humility. But it’s not always humility. Those who shop for counsel are often those who know that seeking advice is the wise thing to do, but whether they admit it to themselves or not, these people often already know exactly what it is they want to do. They are just looking for someone to rubber stamp their solidified plan.

This is what often happens: the shopper begins to ask for advice. The responses are consistently opposed to what he has in mind as his desired course of action. So, he keeps asking. And he keeps asking. And he keeps asking. Until he finds someone who backhandedly suggests that it is permissible, or even just fails to strongly oppose the thing the shopper wants to do.

Many have done (and will continue to) do this in the area of dating. It is common among young Christians to struggle with the impulse to date an unbeliever—after all, we’re not going to get married or anything; it’s just fun getting to know her. Nine people in a row might tell this smitten young believer, Yep, don’t do it. That’s just foolish. It too often results in disaster. But then there is the tenth person. This is the one who says, You know what? I actually dated my wife when she was an unbeliever, and she ended up getting saved.

Sir, you have wisdom from above!

Our shopper is done shopping for counsel. He’s found what he was looking for. This is the danger of shopping for counsel. It is one of the most toxic forms of selective hearing, because it completely fails to listen. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov 12:15).

Be careful of the quality of your counselors.

If we are people who value the word of God, we need to seek advice from those who know and love the word of God. This will generally (but not always) be found in older, more mature believers. It should be those whose Christian walks we respect.

It is so important to find those who earnestly want to please God more than they want to please us. It can be our tendency to run to those whom we know will support us no matter what, but we need to find those who would be willing to tell us things we might not be eager to hear. “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:5-6).

It would typically be a benefit to include people who are in authority in some way over you in this group, whether that be parents, mentors, or pastors. This can help to honor and strengthen that relationship, and it can also allow those who are responsible for you before God to be able to give an account (Heb 13:17).

Keep numbers small.

Unless you are considering waging war, you will probably want to keep your number of counselors relatively small. “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24). Remember this: quality of counselors is by far more important than quantity. If you have one wise person in your life who knows and understands you, go to that person. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). He or she will be more valuable than half a dozen pieces of advice from those who may not know you or your situation as well.

Be sure to provide quality information.

The counsel you receive is only as good as the accuracy and completeness of the information you provide. You will skew the quality of the counsel you receive by the quality of the information you share. If you paint a picture that everything is great when it is not, no matter how skilled the counselor, he or she won’t be able to care for you in an informed manner. In the same way, if you only ever cry on someone’s shoulder and never share the good, the counsel you receive will not be as helpful as it could be. If you are seeking counsel about your marriage, but you neglect to mention the weekly screaming matches, you will likely receive poor counsel. The mantra of garbage in, garbage out applies well to counsel. Remember the wisdom of multiple viewpoints to get to the truth of a matter, “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17).  And if you’re the only one “pleading the case” when you seek counsel, as is often the case, you have a greater burden to represent the entire matter as objectively as you can, as a matter of integrity. “The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them” (Prov 11:3).

Our Hesitation

If pursuing counsel is so clearly and consistently praised in Scripture, why is it that so few Christians seem to seek it?

There might be a host of reasons why believers don’t often turn to others for advice. But sadly, it can often be because we are too wrapped in pride and self-sufficiency. I got this is the anthem of many Christians, but Scripture simply refuses to agree with that bold assertion. Solomon again writes, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov 26:12). The Scripture readily calls a fool anyone who insists upon his own way and refuses to seek advice. I would earnestly plead with you, don’t do that. Don’t be a fool.

Develop a habit in your life of leaning upon those God has placed around you for advice. You don’t need to ask a friend every day what you should eat for lunch. But develop that habit in the more important things of life, whether that be job changes or matters of parenting or issues in marriage. You will teach your heart humility, and God esteems and gives greater grace to the humble (Jas 4:6).



How Do I Know if I Have Godly Sorrow or Worldly Sorrow?

How Do I Know if I Have Godly Sorrow or Worldly Sorrow?

Mike Riccardi 

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

2 Cor. 7:9-11

The world today wants nothing to do with sorrow. It drowns out its sorrow with busyness, music, therapists, and even medication. If it makes me sad, it must be bad! is a maxim to which we seem to adhere by default. But sorrow can be beneficial; it is not always a bad thing. Paul writes to the Corinthians that, though he did initially, he does not regret having caused them sorrow (2 Cor 7:8) because they were made sorrowful to the point of repentance, according to the will of God (2 Cor 7:9).

This verse makes clear that there is a kind of sorrow that is according to the will of God. There is a sorrow that God wants you to experience, because the sorrow that is according to the will of God “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10). Paul is teaching the Corinthians that an essential component of true repentance is genuine sorrow over having grieved God and belittled His holiness.

Defining Repentance

One of the most common definitions of repentance is a change of mind. That is the literal, etymological definition of the Greek word for repentance: meta—change; noeo — to think. But some take that to mean that repentance is nothing more than an intellectual alteration, an acknowledgement that you have sinned, and a commitment to think differently about it from now on. But the mind that is changed in repentance refers to the inner consciousness of the whole person. In the Bible, the mind and the heart are often used interchangeably.

So repentance begins with an intellectual recognition and confession of sin, but it does not end there. There is also a “change of heart”—an emotional component in which the genuine believer mourns over having sinned against the God whom he loves. That is why in the classic psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

The person who is truly repentant is not unmoved by his sin, as if it was just no big deal. “Oh, I broke the law of God again. Sorry God! So glad you’re so gracious!” No! If you are truly repentant, you apprehend the offense your sin is to God—a God so good as to deliver His only begotten Son to death in your place, a God so patient with you despite the fact that, even after He has saved you, you sin against Him still. When you understand that you have sinned against that glorious God, the only proper response is sorrow—to have a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

It is that broken spirit and contrite heart that motivates you to change course and return to God in faithfulness. John Calvin writes, “This is carefully to be observed, for unless the sinner be dissatisfied with himself, detest his manner of life, and be thoroughly grieved from an apprehension of sin, he will never betake himself to the Lord” (274). One Puritan famously said, “’Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

Genuine repentance is a matter of the heart. This is why Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who mourn over their sin: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4). Because it is only those who feel the shame of their sin—who feel the offense it is to the holiness of God and mourn over it—that turn from it in genuine repentance, and seek forgiveness by the grace of God, and are comforted by the God who does not despise a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

Sorrow, friends, can be beneficial.

Worldly Sorrow

But sorrow is not always beneficial. While those who are genuinely repentant will experience sorrow over their sin, sorrow itself is not repentance. There is a kind of sorrow over sin that does not produce repentance, and therefore does not lead to salvation.

Paul identifies this kind of sorrow as “the sorrow of the world [which] produces death” (2 Cor 7:10b).

The chief characteristic of worldly sorrow is that it is fundamentally self-centered. Worldly sorrow revolves around the pain sin causes to oneself rather than the offense and dishonor it is to God. Listen to the words of Philip Hughes in describing worldly sorrow: “It is not sorrow because of the heinousness of sin as rebellion against God, but sorrow because of the painful and unwelcome consequences of sin. Self is its central point” (273).

This is the sorrow of self-pity, the sorrow of getting caught, the sorrow over the consequences sin brings

People who have worldly sorrow are often defensive about their sin and attempt to justify it or explain it away; whereas godly sorrow causes you to own your sin and make no excuses. You know you are experiencing worldly sorrow when you are grieving for yourself—for the embarrassment you’re suffering and the pain you’re feeling—rather than mourning over the grief you have brought to the Holy Spirit for dishonoring the grace of Christ and belittling the glory of God.

One of the clearest examples Scripture gives of worldly sorrow is Judas. It is said of Judas that he “felt remorse” for betraying Christ, that he “returned the thirty pieces of silver” by which he was bribed, and that he even openly confessed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt 27:3). At this point, Judas’s actions are nearly indistinguishable from genuine repentance. He confessed his sin, felt remorse over it, and changed his course. But ultimately, we learn this was not godly sorrow leading to repentance, but worldly sorrow that produced death. How do we know? Because when the chief priests and elders wouldn’t take the money back, “he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself” (Matt 27:5).

If Judas was mourning over the offense he had committed against the Son of God—if his grief was fundamentally God-centered—his response would have looked much different. He knew, from walking with Christ for more than three years, that he could have found forgiveness and restoration in Him. Judas knew that Jesus had come to die for liars and traitors just like him, and that forgiveness was available to those who would abandon their sin and trust in Christ for righteousness.

But that wasn’t Judas’ concern.

His grief was fundamentally self-centered. He could not bear the shame and humiliation of having betrayed the Son of God, and rather than bringing that shame to the Savior who could pay for it, he sought to atone for his own sins by suicide.

Worldly sorrow produces death.

Worldly sorrow causes you to focus on how terrible of a sinner you are
rather than how gracious of a Savior Jesus is

The instinct of worldly sorrow is to try to atone for sin by brooding over it—by feeling so bad for yourself that you are reduced to despair. But the instinct of godly sorrow is to run to the cross of Christ where the only atonement for sin was made.

Genuine Repentance

True repentance does not stop even with godly sorrow, but issues in a changed life. Genuine repentance bears fruit.  And we see this as Paul details what the Corinthians’ repentance consisted in (2 Cor 7:11). From this description we can glean several characteristics by which we can assess whether our repentance is genuine.

True repentance is marked by earnestness.

Paul writes, “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you!” Earnestness refers to the Corinthians’ eagerness to change their course and to restore their relationship with Paul. This is also expressed by the final three words: “What longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!”

Genuine repentance is not apathetic toward sin; it is not indifferent about making restitution or restoring a relationship that has been damaged by sin. People who are truly repentant don’t need to be badgered into seeking forgiveness; they don’t need to be cajoled into pursuing reconciliation; they don’t need to be coaxed into making changes in their lives that will ensure that no provision is made for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Genuine repentance beholds the seriousness of sin and is eager to deal with it biblically.

True repentance is marked by a desire to be known for righteousness.

Paul next exclaims, “What vindication of yourselves!” (2 Cor 7:11) True repentance is marked by a desire to clear your name of the stigma of your sin, a yearning to have a reputation for righteousness rather than for iniquity. And how do you do that?

You do everything you can to make sure your repentance is as public as your sin was

You conduct yourself so that everyone who knew of your sin now knows that you have put off that unrighteousness, and that you have begun putting on the appropriate fruit of the Spirit in its place.

If your sin was gossip, you now endeavor to be known as one who speaks truth and never evil of another; if your sin was impatience toward someone, you now go out of your way to show them grace. You desire to be known for righteousness because you bear the Name of the Righteous One, and desire to bring no reproach upon His reputation.

True repentance is marked by indignation.

Those who repent of sin are righteously angry with themselves for having sinned against God. This is a natural effect of godly sorrow, but it’s more intense. Calvin writes, “The first step is that evil be displeasing to us. The second is that, being inflamed with anger, we press hard upon ourselves, so that our consciences may be touched to the quick” (276).

Charles Hodge adds, “This is one of the most marked experiences of every sincere penitent. The unreasonableness, the meanness, the wickedness of his conduct rouses his indignation; he desires to seek vengeance on himself” (561).

The repentant person does not coddle himself with positive thinking.

Repentance knows nothing of self-esteem

Repentance is concerned with God-esteem—or, as Paul puts it, “the fear of God.” Rather than concern for oneself, reverence for God and His wounded honor dominates the affections of the one whose repentance is genuine.

True repentance is marked by making things right.

Paul concludes with, “In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” This does not mean that they had never been guilty of sin, but that they had borne such fruit in keeping with repentance that they had made things right, and could no longer be held to blame for the sin they had committed.

That is the fruit of genuine repentance: an eagerness and a zeal—not a reluctance—to demonstrate a changed life to all those affected by your sin; an indignation with yourself and your sin, born out of the utmost reverence for God rather than for yourself or what other people think of you; a longing for the restoration of any relationship damaged by your sin; and a genuine concern that justice would be upheld as sin is disciplined and dealt with biblically. Be sure to examine whether your repentance is marked by these biblical characteristics.



He Made Himself Nothing

The Master's Seminary

He Made Himself Nothing

Mike Riccardi 

The mystery that Jesus is both fully God and fully man – the reality of the incarnation – receives perhaps its most detailed explanation in the book of Philippians. Paul writes this not just for the sake of lofty theology, but to give the Philippians an illustration of true humility.

Paul begins in Phil. 1:27 to explain what it means for the people of God to conduct their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel.  He writes that the Christian life chiefly involves being united with one another (1:27; 2:1-2). And the key to experiencing unity, he explains, is humility.

Disunity festers as long as it’s fed by selfishness, pride, and arrogance. But when believers have a proper view of themselves in light of the holiness of God, all notions of entitlement—the sense that it is our right to be treated a certain way—vanish. Disunity simply cannot survive amongst believers who are permeated with the kind of self-forgetful humility that seeks its own happiness in the happiness of others. And so Paul commands believers to do “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility of mind regarding one another as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:3).

Then he provides his readers with the supreme example of that kind of humility—the incarnation and gospel mission of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5).

The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ isn’t just a nice story to be read on Christmas Eve.

For followers of Christ, Christmas has ethical implications

The incarnation of Christ should have a visible impact upon our lives. It is intended to make us a humble people. Paul explained the fine points of Christ’s pre-existence and incarnation to demonstrate the heights from which the Lord came, and the depths to which He humbled Himself. And he gave us this picture so that we would have an example to follow as we pursue humility and service to our brothers and sisters.

The call of Christmas is a call to humility.

In this article, I want to consider the Christ in whom we behold the supreme example of humility, and meditate on the glory He renounced, the rights He relinquished, and the shame He embraced.

The Glory He Renounced 

Even before the baby Jesus was born, Christ was “existing in the form of God” (Phil. 2:5-6).

What this does not mean is that Jesus only seemed to be God in form, but wasn’t actually God. The Greek word that is translated as “form” is the word morphe, which speaks of the outward manifestation of the inward essence (Kent, 126). In other words, in His very nature, Jesus was God (see the NIV’s translation; see also John 1).

But what is the outward manifestation of the inner essence and nature of God? It’s His glory. When God manifests His presence in the midst of His people, the manifestation is His shekinah glory. This glory is seen all throughout the Bible—in the cloud and the pillar of fire and the smoke that fills the Tabernacle. And this glory has belonged to Jesus from all of eternity (see John 1:14; 17:5).

In Isaiah six, the Prophet writes that he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple,” and the angels cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:1, 3). John would later write that it was Jesus whom Isaiah wrote of in this passage (John 12:41).

This is the heavenly glory our Savior renounced. Jesus Christ is God Himself—God of very God! Before the world was, He eternally existed in the very nature of God, in the very essence of God, and in the very glory of God.

It is from this magnificent height of Heaven that God the Son descended in the humility of His incarnation. John Calvin writes, “Since, then, the Son of God descended from so great a height, how unreasonable that we who are nothing should be lifted up with pride!” (55).

The Rights He Relinquished

Paul writes to the Philippians, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (2:5-7).

Even though Christ existed before the world in the very nature and essence and glory of God, ruling creation in majesty, and receiving the worship of the saints and angels in Heaven, He did not regard these as things to cling to. Instead, He humbly renounced the glories of Heaven and welcomed the restrictions of humanity in order to accomplish salvation for sinners.

Paul writes that He “emptied Himself” (2:7). A better translation might be that He “made himself nothing” (NIV), or that He “nullified Himself.” He did this by “taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men” (Verse). Christ made Himself nothing by taking on human nature.

We tend to miss the gravity of the incarnation because humanity is all we know. But think of what Christ left behind. This is the Creator of the universe, the possessor of divine glory and majesty, the One rightly worshipped by all the heavenly host—taking the form of a slave. We should be astonished at the humility of Christ.

Consider how much you would love to rid yourself of the weaknesses of the flesh, of the sinfulness of your heart, of the pain and decay that characterizes the human existence. And then consider that Jesus—free from weakness, pain, and decay— contemplated the riches of His pre-incarnate glory, and humbly chose to take on humanity, to live and die as a slave. He is the ultimate example of one who regarded others as more important than Himself. He looked out not merely for His own interests, but also for the interests of others. And in so doing, He modeled for us what we are now called to do.

As sad as it is to admit it, the holidays for many are not a happy time. Empty chairs around the table remind families of loss and heartache. Dinner preparations, travel plans, and endless shopping fill homes with stress. And at this pivotal time of the year, expectations for gatherings can clash against each other, resulting in bitterness and disappointment. These all provide opportunities for tempers to shorten and pride to strengthen.

Especially during this time of year, we need to have in ourselves this attitude which was also in Christ Jesus. In the midst of conflict, though we might be right, we must remember the only One who ever had a right to assert His rights, and didn’t. Then we can regard one another as more important than ourselves, and give preference to one another in honor (Rom. 12:10) for the sake of true unity. Calvin wrote, “He [Jesus] gave up his right: all that is required of us is, that we do not assume to ourselves [a higher position] than we ought” (54).

If God the Son has stooped this far, to what depths of humility will you refuse to stoop?

The Shame He Embraced 

Paul continues, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8).

Jesus didn’t just become a man; He became an obedient man. From all of eternity the Son was equal to the Father in glory and majesty, but now in His incarnation, He relates to the Father in terms of authority and submission (see John 5:30; 6:38). And Christ’s humble submission to the Father leads Him to the point of death. Jesus was born to die. The point of Jesus’ incarnation is Jesus’ passion.

Christmas is simply the introduction to Good Friday

The Author of Life humbly submits to death. The One who is without sin humbly submits to sin’s curse. The One who has life within Himself (John 1:45:26)—the One who gives life to whomever He wishes (John 5:21)—humbly releases His grip on His own life in submission to the Father and in love for those whom His Father has given Him. This is humility shining as the sun in its full strength.

The cross meant one thing: the most horrific and shameful kind of death. In crucifixion, metal spikes were driven through the victim’s wrists and feet, and he was left to hang naked and exposed, sometimes for days. Because the body would be pulled down by gravity, the weight of a victim’s own body would press against his lungs, and the hyperextension of the lungs and chest muscles made it difficult to breathe. Victims would gasp for air by pulling themselves up. But when they would, the wounds in their wrists and feet would tear at the stakes that pierced them, and the flesh of their back—usually torn open from flogging—would grate against the jagged wood. Eventually, when he could no longer summon the strength to pull himself up to breathe, the victim of a crucifixion would die from suffocation under the weight of his own body.

There on Golgotha, 2,000 years ago, the innocent, holy, righteous Son of God died this death. God. On a cross.

This was the Highest of the high gone to the lowest of the low. And if He, the One who was worthy of all honor and praise could submit Himself to this, can we continue in selfish ambition and empty conceit? Can we continue to bicker with one another, and insist on our own rights? Can we withhold forgiveness? Can we do anything less than surrender all of our rights, and lay down our lives in the sacrificial service of one another?

A wise man once asked, “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?”

The Divine Curse

But as hard as it may be to believe, the shame and pain of the cross was not the lowest depth to which the Son of God humbly submitted Himself. The Old Testament taught that anyone hanged on a tree is accursed of God (see also Gal. 3:13). Worse than the pain, the torture, and the shame, crucifixion also brought with it a divine curse.

We need to dwell long and hard on what it meant for God the Son to be cursed by God the Father. He never deserved to know His Father’s wrath. He only ever deserved to know His Father’s delight and approbation. And there on Calvary, He was cut off from the apple of His eye, from the joy of His heart. And He was innocent! I can barely imagine the sense of bewilderment the Son of God must have experienced, when for the first time in all of eternity, He felt His Father’s displeasure. No wonder He cried out, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

That was my sin that did that. My wrath that He had to endure. That was my frown from the Father, my alienation. That was my cry of dereliction. I can barely handle that thought.

And friend, if you haven’t felt the pain of that thought in the depths of your soul, and cried out with every fiber of your being for God to have mercy on you, you remain dead in your trespasses and sins. But I beg you: feel it now. Cry out now in repentance and faith, and cast yourself on the mercy of Christ. Turn from your sin—abandon all your “good works” that you would rely on to get you to heaven, and beg for forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust entirely in His righteousness alone for salvation. And God promises you will be saved. His death will have become your death. His curse, your curse. And His righteousness, your righteousness. What could stop you from seizing eternal life, this very moment?

And to my brothers and sisters who have seized it, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” If He could come from the glories of heaven itself, all the way down to the abject degradation of the cross, surely we can humble ourselves to be servants of all. Surely we, mere creatures of the dust, can surrender our rights for the sake of maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The call of Christmas is the call to humility. May it be that we answer that call, by the grace of God.

Light in Darkness: Waging War with the World

CARLOS CHUNG | APRIL 23, 2019 ¦ Original Post @ Masters Seminary Blog

A secularized society is one that divorces itself from spiritual truths. It casts off what it perceives to be the foolishness of Scripture, and then each man begins to do that which is right in his own eyes. Over time, a secularized society will become increasingly hostile toward God and the people of God.

We have seen this progression in our own culture.

There was a time when God and Scripture were woven into the fabric of this nation. This is not to say that our nation was ever Christian, but if you look at the seminal documents that gave birth to this nation, you will find them replete with references not only to God, but Scripture. Today we live in a very different society.

As our culture plummets into secularization, it has grown in hostility toward believers. The pathway of American history is the one laid out in the first chapter of Romans. In Romans chapter one, Paul describes the downward spiral of men into the secular abyss.

Paul writes that man rejects Scripture by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), and as a result, the heart of man is darkened; therefore the mind of man begins to engage in futile speculations (Rom 1:21). Then, Paul describes man’s exchange of the truth of God for a lie (Rom 1:25). Eventually, secular man rejects God and jettisons the values espoused in Scripture. As a consequence, God punishes men by giving them over to the lusts of their heart, in essence, by no longer restraining him (Rom 1:26).

Thus, we find ourselves in a society that is increasingly militant against believers. In fact, secular culture has weaponized aspects of our society, whether that be institutions of higher education, political action groups, or community organizations – all are becoming increasingly aggressive, even rabid against the truths of Scripture. If we express even the slightest resistance to the LGBT movement or its ideology, we are vilified, slandered, and hated.

The question becomes how?

How do we shine the light of Jesus Christ in this increasingly dark world? How do we prepare for the war that is coming and is upon us even now? How are we to evangelize a world that has completely divorced itself from the truth of God’s Word?


Make no mistake, the world has declared war on us. They are the aggressors. They have brought the fight to us. And as faithful soldiers of Christ, we must fight. We are to be merciless. We are to be severe. We are to be militant. We are to fight relentlessly, aggressively, and zealously.

But not against the world. We fight against ourselves.

The Internal Battle

In the face of impending persecution, Peter writes, “Prepare your minds for action. Keep sober in spirit” (1 Peter 1:13).

The question is how? How are we to be sober in spirit and prepared for action? The next verse reads, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which are yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you be holy yourselves in all your behavior, because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Peter writes of obedience and holiness within the believer. That is how we prepare for action. This pursuit of holiness is an internal war. Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lust” (1 Peter 2:11). That is a negative way of urging believers to seek holiness. A war is being waged in the inner man.

But where do those fleshly lusts come from that wage war against our soul? These sinful tendencies that erupt within our hearts come from within (James 1:14). Our redeemed spirits are incarcerated in fleshly bodies where sin still resides (Rom 7:18). Thus, there is a sense in which the war that rages is against ourselves. We are in a civil war as our soul fights against our flesh.

In this war for holiness, we are often our own worst enemies.

Peter and Paul promoted the same strategy in the midst of persecution. Paul wrote to the Philippians when they were facing opposition and persecution from the world.

Paul writes,

It has been granted to you for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

Phil 1:29

In essence, Paul is saying, The battle has come to you, Philippians. You are suffering for the sake of Christ. With conflict at the doorstep, how does Paul instruct them to fight? Paul says, a war is coming, you are being persecuted. As this happens, work out your salvation. The salvation that was placed in you by God, work it into every crevice of your life. Work it out into every aspect of your life.

The first battle is the fight for personal holiness.

The soldier of Christ who wants to fight this war understands this: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore, let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of life” (Rom 13:12).

Before we can don the armor of light, we must shed our soiled garments. Lest this somehow sound romantic, let us not forget that war is harsh. There is a severity in which we are to wage war against ourselves, a sense in which we are merciless and ruthless, cold and militant, in the manner we engage personal sin (see also Matt 5:29Gal 5:24Rom 8:13). There is a take-no-prisoners, scorched-earth policy when it comes to this internal war with sin.

This is only the first half of the war.

The External Battle

While there is a battle within, there is also an external war to be waged. It is between us and this secularized world. But how do we fight against the world?

We fight with exemplary behavior.

In verse 12, Peter writes,

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may, because of your good deeds as they observe them, glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Excellent behavior among unbelievers is Christian guerrilla warfare. Our strategy against the world is excellence in all that we are and do.

The word excellent speaks of moral quality. All we do is to be noble and praiseworthy, blameless and excellent.

We see this exhibited in Scripture. Daniel excelled in a hostile kingdom, to such an extent that those who sought his downfall could not “find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God” (Dan 6:5). The primary weapon Daniel had against his enemies was his exemplary behavior.

And because of Daniel’s character, both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, first-hand witnesses to the righteous life of Daniel, gave glory to God (Dan 4:34Dan 6:26). This is exactly what Peter says will be the fruit of excellent living (1 Peter 2:12).

As we fight an internal war for holiness, it manifests itself in outward excellence, which in turn becomes the weapon by which God brings many to glory.

There is another way in which our excellence does battle out on the fields of conflict.


One of the greatest campaigns of war that Satan utilizes against believers is perception and attitudes – public opinion. Satan will ultimately focus the hatred of the world upon us by turning public opinion against us. Believers will increasingly be slandered, maligned, and disparaged, to such an extent that the world will one day rejoice to see us persecuted (1 Peter 2:12).

The question, once again, is how? How do we as believers counter the slander? How do we refute the false accusations?

The answer is found in 1 Peter 2:15, “For such is the will of God, that by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

The word silence literally means to muzzle. The purity of our lives and an untarnished moral character gags, or muzzles the slander.

We may not be able to stop this mob mentality against Christians, but on an individual basis, we can muzzle the slander against us.

There is a lesbian couple that lives across the street from my family. The day may come when my family, along with all other believers, is slandered as haters of homosexuals and lesbians simply because of our faith.

But my neighbors know firsthand the love and kindness that my family has poured out on them since the day we first met. Were anyone to charge my family and I as haters of homosexuals, I believe that that lesbian couple would be among the first to stand and silence our accusers. We have sought to be excellent before them. And our excellent behavior becomes the stage from which we boldly proclaim the gospel.

As Christians, may we live in such a manner that our lives are a living validation of the message we preach. Let our excellence become our primary weapon of warfare.

Carlos Chung avatar

Carlos Chung is an elder at Grace Community Church in the Mainstream fellowship group. Carlos has served in the legal field in the greater Los Angeles area for over two decades.