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One of my earliest memories of church as a young boy was working on memory verses. Though my middle and high school years I was devoted to anything but Scripture, the verses I learned during early years stuck with me. I became a believer during my second year of college and the men who taught me how to follow Jesus encouraged me in the discipline of Scripture memory. The passages and individual verses I learned in those early years as a believer shaped my Christian growth and set the course for the rest of my Christian life.

My greatest struggle with Scripture memory is daily consistency, and I doubt that I am alone. Many of us suffer from the disease of being great starters but fumbling on day to day follow through.

This daily discipline of learning, memorizing, and reviewing Scripture is necessary for the Christian. We think our greatest problem is “finding” the time to work on Scripture memory, but, in reality, our the real struggle is in giving it the attention it deserves.

When we understand why we must do something, often the how starts to take care of itself.  In this post, I want to cover why we need to devote ourselves to Scripture memory. In a later post, we will come back and cover the how.

Memorize Scripture for Encouragement

Believers struggle with discouragement, doubt, and melancholy more often than we like to admit. Memorizing Scripture aids us in our fight against discouragement and despair by reminding us of God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s providence. Having passages like Romans 8:28, James 1:2-3, or Psalm 23 at your disposal when you feel like you are drowning in despair would be of great advantage to you.

Memorize Scripture for Meditation and Prayer

“I don’t know what to pray for.” We often use this as our excuse for slacking in the duty and privilege of prayer. When you don’t know what to pray for, Scripture memory provides fuel for the fire in your prayer life. Take a passage that you are learning and roll it over and over again in your mind. Stop and think about each word. Repeat the passage several times while emphasizing a different word with each repetition. As you repeat it, think about how this verse should lead you to praise God or thank God. Ponder how this verse might reveal a sin of which you should repent or an area of your life in which you need the strength to obey. When you give this kind of attention to Scripture memory and the related discipline of meditation, you will have plenty to of fuel to reignite your prayer life.

Memorize Scripture for Your War with Sin

“I have stored up your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” The author of Psalm 119 helps us to understand how we can fight against our sin. Scripture reminds us who we are in Christ and why we should put sin to death. Biblical passages warn us of the danger of sin, the beauty of the Gospel, and the blessings of obedience; so shouldn’t we store them in our hearts so we can grow? Memorize verses related to the area of sin you are struggling with and store them up in your heart as ammunition for the battle.

Memorize Scripture for Conversations with Others

Have you ever been in a conversation with a person you thought you could help and just couldn’t remember the Bible verse you needed to give them? We’ve all been there. Scripture memory saves you from being Concordance crippled. Take the time to memorize basic verses related to the message of the Gospel and several topics related to the Christian life you can use in your conversations with people. You will find you are much more effective in these discussions if you have biblical passages at your disposal.

In the book Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, lives during a time when the authorities burn all books because they are afraid that they will upset people with their content. Montag, who has been reading, escapes to the wilderness where he meets a group of book lovers. They have memorized various works for the time when society will appreciate them again.

While we don’t live in a time where people are burning books, we don’t always have the luxury of having a Bible in our hands. Even though we might have a Bible app in our pockets, what if you don’t know the location of the passage you are attempting to remember? The best answer for this is Scripture memory. We need to know, understand, and live out the Bible’s message, and Scripture memory is an integral component of our growth.

Related Posts”
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

The First 15 Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

 

 

For the first three months of 1997, I wrestled with whether or not I knew Christ on a daily basis. Every night before I closed my eyes to sleep I prayed the sinner’s prayer hoping that this would be the time I finally felt like a Christian.

The problem was I wasn’t a Christian and had no basis upon which I should believe that I knew the Son of God or have a peace which surpassed all understanding. Despite two trips through the baptistery, enrollment in a Christian university, and a “call” to the ministry, the reality of the Gospel had never become clear to me. I had never abandoned trust in religious rituals or good works and rested in Christ alone for peace with God.

On Maundy Thursday, I rode across Mobile Bay with a friend to hear an evangelist we knew preach to a community worship gathering on a high school football field. I could not recreate an outline of the sermon I heard that night, but the words “some people have just enough religion to soothe their souls” cut me to the core. That night, seated in an uncomfortable metal chair on a high school football field, I repented of my sins, trusted in Jesus Christ, and experienced what I can only describe as the light coming on.

The thrill of my early Christian assurance soon ran into the brutal reality that I was still a sinner. This led to my lack of assurance returning with fury. Wanting to turn to the Bible to find assurance, I misread the tests in 1 John and only found assurance based on how well I was obeying God. This led to an unhealthy roller coaster. A “good” day of obedience meant full assurance and enthusiasm to come before the throne of grace. A day marked by a lack of obedience often led to shame and fear which stymied my desire to pray. Then this created more shame and fear further eroding my prayer life which culminated in DEFCON 1 levels of shame and fear. The cycle had to be broken or the joy of my salvation would never be a reality.

Most people don’t expect to find the answers to their spiritual questions in a three-hundred-year-old confession of faith, but the 1689 London Baptist Confession brought light into the dark night of this young Christian’s soul. Speaking of the assurance of grace and salvation, the confession says “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel; and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and, as a fruit thereof, keeping the heart both humble and holy.” The writers of the Second London Confession said that Christians can have an immovable assurance. To discover this assurance, they point Christians to the promises of the Gospel, the fruits of faith in their lives, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to find it.

Many teachers use the vivid, but imperfect image of a three-legged stool to help Christians understand how to have the assurance of their salvation. Just as a person cannot sit on a three-legged stool when one or two legs are missing, a Christian cannot have the full assurance of their salvation, as well as the peace and joy which accompany it, when one of these three key elements are missing from their lives.

The formulation laid out by the Second London Confession echoes the teaching of John’s first epistle. In this letter, he wrote to Christians so that they may know they have eternal life. To show them how they might have this confidence that they know Christ, he pointed to all three legs of the stool. While many readers of 1 John most see his appeals to the fruits of the faith most clearly, he holds up the promises of the Gospel and the witness of the Spirit in a clear manner as well.

If you are a Christian who struggles with assurance, you can look to these three sources to find the joy and contentment which comes with knowing that you know Christ.

The Promises of the Gospel

Unfortunately, our three-legged stool analogy has one major flaw. One leg bears more weight than the others. The most fundamental source of Christian assurance is faith is the promises made to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) “My little children, I am writing these things so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

These verses reveal the basics of the Christian Gospel and remind us of important truths we must believe so that we might have assurance. 1 John 2:1 reminds us that we have an advocate with God the Father when we sin and identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous. Ordinarily, our advocate would stand before the judge and plead our lack of guilt, but we are guilty and this guilt cannot be covered up or denied. That John identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous gives us a clue as to what our advocate pleads before the Father- his own perfect righteousness. The Christian has no righteousness of our own to plead, but through faith in Christ he pleads his own righteousness for us.

We look to Jesus because of his perfect life, and also because of his death for us. John identifies Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. Jesus died in our place for our sins, bearing the wrath of God for us, and turning his wrath away from us. We should be judged eternally by God for our sins, and yet Jesus bore our guilt so we could go free through faith in him. Because of Jesus’ death, we have the privilege of living as the adopted sons and daughters of God who have a future and a hope through him. When the Christian does sin, we confess our sins to God and he keeps his promise to forgive and cleanse because we are in union with Christ.

This good news forms the fundamental basis for our assurance because it is the one leg that is fixed and outside of us. As we look at the other two legs of the stool of assurance, we will see that they wax and wane. The promises of the Gospel will never change and will never fade. The death of Christ for us will always cleanse us from our sins and his perfect life will never cease to justify us before God. When the other two sources of assurance look foggy, take a clear look at the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fruits of Faith

John doesn’t only point us to Christ for assurance, but also to look at the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said his disciples would bear much fruit and John shows how the fruit of obedience demonstrates itself in our lives. John lays out several tests to help Christians evaluate whether their profession of faith is real.

He accomplishes this by showing the fruit that will be present in the life of a Christian. The question is not one of perfection, but of direction. The Christian will have these things in them and they will be growing. At the same time, the person who possesses a false profession of faith will demonstrate it in the lack of transforming graces.

Sanctification

John shows that a Christian will be a person who is growing in godliness and putting to death the sin in their lives. Both in 1:5-7 and 3:4-10, John shows the changes that will take place in the life of a Christian because of their union with Christ. The Christian walks in the light instead of in the darkness. Just as God is light and has no darkness at all in him, the Christian increasingly walks in the light instead of the darkness. The Christian does not make a practice of sinning because Jesus came to take away sin and destroy the evil one. Because these things are true, Christians should examine their lives to see if they are making progress in the faith because this is a test of the reality of their faith.

Love

John’s teaching on love for our brothers and sisters in Christ takes up a considerable amount of real estate in his letter. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Jesus said the world will know his disciples by their love for each other. Since Christians have experienced God’s love in Jesus Christ, they will now show that love to others. The one who has been born of God and knows God loves their brothers; the one who has never been born of God does not know God. God is love, and John says those who know the loving God will love their brothers.

Separation

In the upper room discourse, Jesus said his disciples would be in the world and not of it. Building on this John says Christians will not love the world or the things that are of the world. He does not mean the people of the world or the physical creation, but what the world values and promotes. He defines these as “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The person who is a Christian will see an increasing hatred of the things of the world, forsaking them to pursue the things that are eternal.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

“And by this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  John mentions this leg of the stool briefly, but this does not diminish its importance. God gives believers his Spirit to dwell in us and the Spirit gives us the assurance that we belong to the Lord. We call this the internal witness of the Spirit and it is the inward testimony of the God’s own Spirit that we belong to him.

Paul elaborates on this for us in Romans 8 when he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of adoption,” and explains the Spirit’s ministry in our lives as one of testifying to our adoption as the sons of God. Every Christian will reign with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth, but we often doubt the reality of our promised inheritance. The Spirit bears witness to the reality of our adoption and his presence in our lives is God’s pledge to the surety of our heavenly reward.

Look to Christ

The witness of the Spirit and the fruits of faith in our lives ebb and flow, but they will surely be there. The Christian will experience the Spirit’s testimony and see the increasing fruit of a maturing walk with Christ. When we don’t see or feel these realities as strongly as we have before we must resist the temptation to morbid introspective navel-gazing. Instead, we must look to Christ who perfectly obeyed on our behalf and then gave himself in our stead. Even when we don’t feel the witness of the Spirit or see the fruit of the Spirit as strongly as we think we should, we should remember the promises made to us in the Gospel. Look to Christ, and you will never be disappointed or cast away, but will find the inexhaustible joy God gives to his children through his Son.

Related Posts:
When a Christian Dies

How Do I Know if My Child Has Become a Christian?

For Further Reading:
The Quest for Full Assurance by Joel Beeke
How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian by Donald Whitney

 

Every Christian, no matter how long he has walked with Jesus, struggles with temptations to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world with its allurements, and the enemy of our souls bombard us with temptations to walk in that which the Lord forbids or to ignore those things he has told us to do. We struggle with these temptations, and often try to overcome them through our own fortitude or just give in.

We shouldn’t grow weary in our fight against sin when it gets tough. Even though gratifying our flesh seems right, the pleasures of the world look fulfilling, and the temptations of the enemy are a delight to the eyes, we need to keep running away from them.

Why should we do this, though? Why should the person who trusts in Jesus put sin to death and keep running after our Savior?

In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul gives us three powerful motivations to continue waging the war against our sin. He points us to the work of Christ in us through the Gospel and gives us powerful motivations to keep fighting the good fight.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

We Possess an Unshakeable Hope

The passage begins with Paul encouraging the Colossians believers to seek Christ because they have been raised up with him. The pattern Paul will follow for the rest of this passage emerges in the first verse. He calls Christians to seek Jesus and put to death sin in light of what God has done for us in Christ. He reminds us of the Gospel and its implications, then he calls us to obedience in response to his grace.

In verse 4, Paul says that Christ, who is our life, will appear and that we will appear with him in glory. We only have life because of Christ, and the life we have in him is currently “hidden” in him. We are already new people, but the reality of that newness has not been fully realized. It will be when Christ appears and we live in the expectation of his imminent return.

After calling this hope back to our minds, Paul says “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” His point is that we should put to death our sin because of the hope that we have laid up for us in Christ. The expectation that we will appear with Christ in all his glory makes us want to live in a manner consistent with that blessed hope. As John says in 1 John 3:3, “whoever thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.”

We Are Saved from God’s Wrath

In verse 5, Paul recites a list of sins that should be put to death. Notice the language he uses here. “Put to death.” We do not play with sin or offer it the opportunity for a foothold in our lives. Instead, we must take practical steps to cut the head off of the practice of sin in our lives.

Paul says these sins should be put to death because “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” It seems strange that Paul should mention the wrath of God to a Christian church. They aren’t destined for the wrath of God, so why even mention it to believers? He wants to remind us of that from which we have been saved. Why would we want to live in things that bring the wrath of God when we have been saved from the wrath of God?

Charles Spurgeon makes this point clearly in his comments on Romans 6 in his book, Morning and Evening.

“Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den? Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish! Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler—be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again!”

We Walk in Newness of Life

When we read the Bible, we need to pay attention to seemingly mundane things like verb tense. “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” Paul says that the sins of the flesh were characteristic of us, but by using the past tense he shows that they are no longer. Christians must realize that we have been changed by the grace of Christ and this means that we are radically new people. Because of this new life, we should no longer be slaves to our old way of life.

Paul offers another laundry list of vices to avoid in verse 8 and implores believers not to lie to each other in verse 9. After this admonition, he says that the motivation for not lying to each other is our having put off the old self and putting on the new self in its place. This again points to the new heart we receive at our conversion and the intense change brought about by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christians can truly say that we are men and women who have been made new.

The new self experiences a consistent renewal into the image of the one who created it. In other words, Christians walk through progressive sanctification. Over time, through repentance, faith, confession, and walking by the Spirit, we grow to be more like Jesus and less like who we were before we knew him. This growth is only possible because the new life we have because God took out our heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh.

When we stop to consider what God has done for us in Christ, how can we not put our sins to death? When we think about the hope laid up for us in Christ, does a lifestyle of sin seem in keeping with what we will appear to be with Christ in his glory? As we remember the life of sin from which we have been rescued, does anything about it seem so appealing that we would abandon Jesus to go back to it? And, realizing the new life we have because of Christ, is there any way that walking in sin would be consistent with it?

All of the answers to these questions are “no” because in Christ we hear “yes” to all of the promises of God. What we have in Jesus is so wonderful that the fleeting pleasures of sin are of no value to us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we turn away from them because what we have in Christ is of infinite worth.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

How to Stop Losing Your Temper

For Further Reading:
Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor

Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

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This past Sunday I finished preaching a three-month series in the book of Proverbs. Solomon collects wise statements to share with his son so he will choose the path of wisdom that leads to life instead of the path of folly that leads to death. The book of Proverbs has been a great help to me and I read one chapter from it every day, but preaching from it can be perplexing. This can be especially true for the pastor who usually preaches expositions through books of the Bible. How to preach chapters 10-31, how to deal with texts that seem to teach the prosperity Gospel, and how to point to Jesus are all practical considerations that can trip up pastors.

From my preaching through Proverbs and reading to prepare for it, here are six practical tips I would offer to the pastor who seeks to preach through Proverbs.

Preach Chapters 1-9 with Normal Expositions

Solomon composed the first nine chapters of Proverbs differently than he did the last two-thirds of the book. Proverbs 1-9 is a series of teachings designed to call his son to the wise life. His son won’t listen to the wisdom contained in the rest of the book if he does not make this fundamental choice.

This section divides into paragraphs with an obvious main theme and connecting words to help you trace the argument. In many ways, you can preach through these nine chapters in the same way you would any other book of the Bible. The one caution I would offer is that if you take too long on the first nine chapters, you will end up sounding repetitive. Take four or five weeks and hit the high points of Solomon’s appeal. Then you can come back into passages like 5:15-23 and 6:6-11 as you tackle subjects from the rest of the book.

Preach Chapters 10-31 Topically

There is structure to many of the sections in Proverbs 10-31, but they don’t lend themselves towards what we would ordinarily associate with expositional preaching. Instead, the best practice in chapters 10-31 is to preach topics that run across these chapters. You can cover the wisdom Solomon prescribes for our marriages, parenting, money, work, integrity, conflict, anger, words, friendships, courage, and more.

There are resources like Practicing Proverbs and Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs contain lists of Proverbs on various subjects. I personally recommend reading all the way through the book and categorizing individual verses as you read. This takes longer, but it helps you get a feel for how often a subject comes up and the contexts in which it is mentioned. Then, take all of the Proverbs on one subject and break them down into subtopics that can become the outline of a sermon. Use one main text in the sermon and bring in the other Proverbs to show the multifaceted way Solomon covers a topic.

Preach to the Heart

Proverbs 4:23 saves us from a great temptation we face when preaching through Proverbs. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If we are not careful, we can preach Proverbs as if it is merely great advice for the people who will take the time to listen to it. This verse won’t let us go there. Our hearts drive our desires and our actions. We are not blank slates who look at two choices and carefully choose which direction to take after dispassionate study. Because our hearts love sin naturally but have been made new in through the work of the Holy Spirit, we will approach decisions with a variety of motives.

When you preach through Proverbs you must aim your preaching at the hearts of your hearers. Yes, they need to stop losing their temper, but probe deeper and talk about what causes them to react to situations with anger. Solomon shows that people must save money instead of wasting it and going into debt. Address the heart issues that cause them to treat money in the manner that they do so that you get into what and who they actually worship. When aimed at the heart, the Proverbs can be arrows that sink deeply and bring great change.

Show the Joy of Wise Living

In preaching to the heart and addressing our motives, we must show our hearers the goals of wise living. When we live wisely, we bring glory to God through our lives and experience great joy ourselves. Throughout Proverbs, Solomon tells his son that wisdom offers, “life.” We should read “life” in this context to have a similar meaning as Jesus’ saying that, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to bring us the new life of his Kingdom that changes who we are at the deepest level. Through this new life, we know the one true God and experience everlasting joy.

We get to experience this joy in part when we walk in wisdom because we save ourselves from the misery that comes from foolishness. In most cases, the Christian who knows how to control his temper and keep a cool head with escape the misery and guilt that comes from blowing his top. The person who keeps a secret to himself rather than revealing it does not have to deal with the consequences and broken relationships that come from a waggling tongue. Therefore, as you preach, show the misery that attends foolishness and the joy that comes from glorifying God through wise living.

Remember the Other Wisdom Books

“Train your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” How often has this verse been a millstone around the neck of godly parents who have seen their children go astray? They often think, “I must not have trained my child in the way that he should go since he has departed from it.” The assumption is that if I meet my part in the conditional statement of the Proverb, then the attendant blessing should come automatically.

This would be true if we did not live in a broken world, but we do. The wicked often prosper and the godly often suffer. Children raised in godly homes go astray and people who are wise with their money come into financial ruin. The other wisdom books, especially the book of Job, help us make sure we preach Proverbs properly. If we read Proverbs while forgetting that we live in a world tainted by sin, we would think that Job is a man who should never suffer. He did suffer, though, and our preaching in Proverbs should remind people that they need to read the blessings attached to particular Proverbs in light of the rest of Scripture.

Preach Christ as Our Only Hope

Thankfully, thanks to books like Jonathan Akin’s Preaching Christ from Proverbs, there are resources available to help us understand how to preach the Gospel in our sermons on Proverbs. Doing this well often depends on connecting the themes in Proverbs to other themes running through the rest of Scripture or showing how Christ ultimately fulfilled what this Proverb points to.

For example, if you are preaching through the Proverbs on money, you can connect Solomon’s words with Jesus’ teaching that how we use money is a reflection of what is in our hearts. This reflects Solomon’s command to guard our hearts because the springs of life flow from them. Or, when preaching on a verse like Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense,” you can show that we overlook offenses because Christ has borne all of our offenses. Because Jesus died in our place, God no longer holds our sin against us. This frees us to forgive others because we have experienced forgiveness ourselves.

Preaching through Proverbs often requires more thought and planning than preaching through New Testament letters. The work it takes to preach expository sermons from Proverbs is worth it, because through them God’s people look to Christ, look to their own hearts, and begin to experience the joy that comes from wise living.

Related Posts:
Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Stay Silent?

What Do You Do if the Sunday Sermon Was Bad?

For Further Reading:
Preaching Christ In All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus

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Often when you mention reading the Bible every day to Christians, they either hang their head in shame or start reaching into the excuse pile for a justification. For some reason, we struggle with the daily reading of God’s word at the time in history when it is the most accessible. We blame our lack of time and lack of understanding, but neither of these holds water as a reason to neglect the treasures that lie in God’s written word.

In a previous post, I have dealt with the reasons why a Christian should read the Bible consistently. We often get the why, but struggle with the how as we balance family, work, and social obligations. Every person ultimately needs to find the best practical ways to work this out for themselves, but here are some suggests to get you started reading the Bible every single day.

Have a Plan

If you don’t know what you are going to read, you will either pick up your Bible and half-heartedly leaf through it or just say that you will get to it later. On the other hand, if you have a plan in place for reading your Bible, you don’t have to spend time figuring out what to read so that you can just sit down and do it.

I personally believe Christians should try to read through the entire Bible every year, but this may not be best for everyone. The most important thing to do is to find a Bible reading plan that you can faithfully follow and benefit from. If you are not sure where to find a Bible reading plan, many Bibles have one in the back, or you can consult this list from Justin Taylor. Another helpful practice is to work through a helpful devotional book that has you reading through the Bible. D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God works through the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan and Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus goes through the book of Psalms.

Have a Place and Time

One of the best ways to establish a rhythm of daily Bible reading is to find a set place and time to do it. For me, I have found that I need to be awake and have eaten breakfast before I try to read. So I work out first thing in the morning, cook some breakfast, and then sit down to read my Bible. When I follow things in this order in the mornings, my Bible reading becomes a natural part of what I do so that I don’t have to wonder whether or not I’m going to read my Bible that day.

This is what I have found works best for me, but you are going to need to work through this in your own life and schedule. Can you get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning to read your Bible, or do you need to stay up fifteen minutes later? Can you make time during lunch, or would reading right after you came home work out better? Know yourself, your schedule, and when you are the most alert, then make sure nothing interferes with this time.

Having a consistent place where you read is also important for you as well. Now, there is not such thing as a holy place where Bible reading must be done, but have a particular place where you read so that it acts as a mental cue for you can be important. When I sit down to eat breakfast at our dining room table, it reminds me to read the Bible when I am done. The same can be true for a particular chair or desk in your home. Find a place to read daily that signals to you that it is time to read Scripture.

Have a Pen or a Pencil

Most of us suffer from short attention spans and our minds frequently wander when we are reading the Bible. One practical way to fight against this is to read with a pen or a pencil in your hand. Reading with a pen or a pencil in hand moves you from passive reading to active reading. Circle significant words, underline verses that stand out to you, and write down questions or insights that you have along the way. In doing this you will find that you pay closer attention to your reading and remember more of what you have read.

Also, a journal could be useful in your Scripture reading as well. Take a few minutes and write a paragraph about what you read. Also, you could use it to write down areas of application or things you need to think through in your personal life after reading. Either way, writing things down after reading Scripture changes the way you read and the way that you remember.

Have a Practical Reward

It sounds strange to reward yourself for reading the Bible since reading the Bible should be a reward on its own. What I’m talking about is having a way to track your faithfulness in reading Scripture so you can look back and be encouraged by your progress. I recently downloaded the app, Don’t Break the Chain. It’s modeled off of a practice of Jerry Seinfeld’s where he would place a red “X” over the date on the calendar after he had spent time writing. Eventually, he had a long string of X’s and didn’t want to break the chain. Something simple like this or checking off a box after reading builds encouragement and momentum for your daily Bible reading.

Every Christian needs to read the Bible every day. We need to be pulled out of our self-focus and worldly preoccupations so that we can come face to face with God’s revelation of himself. We need the humility and encouragement that comes from reading the Gospel message. The wisdom, correction, and training that comes from God’s word changes who we are at the core of our being. Since the Bible does these things in us, we need to work on practical methods that will help us be more faithful in our daily time in God’s word.

Related Posts:
Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

Why I’m Using a Physical Copy of the Bible Again

For Further Reading:
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

This past weekend my sermon in Proverbs focused on what Solomon has to say about marriage. In talking to husbands and wives about marriage, I found myself spending some time in Proverbs 31. I walked into this passage of Scripture with a little bit of trepidation because over the years I have seen how many women find this passage to be overwhelming and intimidating. If you Google “I Hate the Proverbs 31 Woman,” you will find many posts by women who grew frustrated by” the excellent wife” who had deep, godly character, cared for her husband and children with the utmost diligence, and contributed to the well-being of her household through entrepreneurship.

Any time a passage of Scripture becomes a millstone around the neck of Jesus’ followers we have either misunderstood or misapplied it. Jesus said those who follow him would be free indeed, and that his load was easy and his burden light. He does not throw the onerous yoke of the Pharisees on his people, but instead gives them rest as they follow him.

One of our problems we face when we approach passages of Scripture that tell us what to do is that we often misunderstand how to respond to them. Sometimes we come to them with a legalistic mindset. We read them, try our best to do them in our own power, and then feel guilty when we don’t. Other times, we realize we are licked from the start and fall into a kind of license where we say we can never live up to this passage so we never try.

What if there was an alternative to legalistic obedience in our own power or a licentious resignation to failure? What if we explored how the Gospel shaped our approach to these passages before we buckled down to try harder or simply gave up in shame?

We know that every passage of Scripture that tells us to do anything will reveal where we fall short. When we read, “love your neighbor as yourself,” we remember many times we failed to love our neighbor. Hearing “do no lie to one another” conjures up memories of times when we have been deceptive with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The same is true in Proverbs 31. When you see the hardworking, godly woman in this passage you often run into ways in which you have failed to be the things which she exemplifies. So when you see this as a Christian, how do you respond? (What follows is a slight modification of the grid for thinking through the relationship between Law and Gospel used by Bob Thune and Will Walker in their book, The Gospel-Centered Life.)

Look to Jesus’ Death

Often when we are confronted with the reality of our sin we either minimize it or wallow around in shame. Either one of these responses evidences a mindset that is only focused on me and my personal obedience. Instead of looking to ourselves and our performance, we should look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and see him dying for us. We must remember that Jesus gave his life for our sins. Every way we could sin against God by flagrantly breaking his demands or by failing to do what we should have done has been covered by the Lord Jesus on the cross. For every look we take at ourselves, we should take three looks at him.

Look to Jesus’ Life

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul tells us that just as our sin was laid on Christ at the cross, so his perfect righteousness is credited to us by faith. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father in every way. He never broke God’s law either by doing what he should not have done or by failing to do what he should have done. He stands perfectly accepted and approved of by the Father. When we are united with Christ through faith alone in him, God counts us righteous in him. In other words, the Christian stands before God as if we had lived Jesus’ life. Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God so that we stand before God with Christ’s perfect obedience counted to us.

This is great news for the believer who finds herself staring hopelessly at Proverbs 31:10-31. You do not have to summon up the strength to be the Proverbs 31 woman. In Jesus Christ, you already are the Proverbs 31 woman. Through faith in Jesus, you stand before God draped in Christ’s perfect righteousness. You stand before him fully accepted and fully loved. In your position before God, he sees no flaw or defect in you whatsoever.

Look to the Holy Spirit

Our daily practice doesn’t match our position in Christ, though. We often struggle to live in a way that is consistent with our righteous standing before God. We are called to walk obediently before God because of the new life we have in Christ. There is more good news because we do not have to obey God in our own strength and power. Not only do we have a new heart and new desires, but we also have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks in Colossians of laboring for the sake of God’s kingdom in the strength that God supplies. This means that our obedience to God and our faithfulness to his commands is empowered and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we forgiven by God and counted righteous in Christ before God, we have been given the Spirit to empower us so that we can live the joyous Christian life we have been called to live.

There’s so much more that could be said about the realities to which Proverbs 31 points. (The personification of wisdom as a woman throughout the book, its relationship to Ruth, etc.) However, in this post, the main thing we need to see is this, do not read Proverbs 31 as if Jesus had never lived, died, and been raised from the dead. This overwhelming reality changes how you read these verses. You read and respond to them as someone who has been changed by the grace of God and who through the Holy Spirit have been empowered to obey.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

For Further Reading:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson

photo credit: Cindee Snider Re IMG_3677 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Cindee Snider Re IMG_3677 via photopin (license)

We live in times of unprecedented biblical illiteracy. In this post from earlier this year, Al Mohler works through concerning statistics about the state of biblical knowledge among American Christians. The conclusions he discusses remind us of an inescapable truth- Christians must read the Bible more than they do at the present time.

It would be wise for every Christian to read the whole Bible at least once a year. There are exceptions to this suggestion, but they would be to read certain sections of the Bible in greater detail and not to neglect the discipline of reading at least three or four chapters every day. While this sounds overwhelming, it takes less than half the time a person would spend watching an episode of TV. In my ESV Audio Bible, it takes the narrator less than thirteen minutes to read Colossians and a little over 20 minutes to read four chapters of Ezekiel. Imagine cutting out one episode of TV or the time it takes to scroll through Facebook and devoting that to reading the Bible! What kind of tangible difference would that make in your life? (This great post by Andy Naselli has a chart that shows how long it would take to read each book of the Bible. It doesn’t seem so overwhelming when you see it broken down like this.)

Here are seven reasons we should read the Bible at least once a year.

To Know God

Many of our modern worship songs talk about our deep desire to want more of God and we sing them with passion while ignoring the chief way we know more of him. The Bible comes from God and in it, he reveals himself to us. The more we read the Bible the more we know him. In the pages of the Bible, we gain a greater understanding of God’s being. This paragraph could become book-length if I were to list all of the glories of God we see in Scripture and began to reflect on how each one helps us love and trust him more. God is altogether glorious and good, and what the Bible reveals to us about him helps us to glory in who he is and understand how he works in the world more deeply.

For Your Spiritual Growth

The more we read the Bible the more we will understand who God is, what Christ has done, who we are through faith in Christ, and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Developing this understanding is crucial to spiritual growth. Everyone wants four tips on how to be a better parent or three ways to get along with their spouses, but this is like training someone to do brain surgery without first teaching them anatomy and physiology. Scripture doesn’t just teach us the right things to do, but forms our character and changes our hearts.

To Develop a Sound Theology and a Biblical Worldview

We live in a culture rife with thorny ethical and cultural issues that Christians must know how to navigate. Scripture, while written almost 2,000 years ago, was inspired by the eternal God and speaks across all cultures. All issues are theological in nature, and so the first questions we must answer when thinking through our current controversies and pressure points are related to God and his truth. The basic truths about how we know what we know, who God is, the nature of the world he has made, the nature of human beings, the root of all human problems, what God has done to redeem humanity, what happens to the people whom God has redeemed, the mission of the church in the world, and what God bring about when the world ends help us understand how to think about protecting the unborn, human sexuality, racial reconciliation, caring for the poor, the proper role of government and showing hospitality to the refugee.

To Face Trials

I often hear pastors say things like, “I want to tell people on Sunday that they can put into immediate use on Monday mornings.” This sounds nice, but it creates an unhelpful expectation for both sermons and Bible reading. Many times we don’t learn things from a sermon or in Bible readings that apply to our lives in the moment, but the repeated reading of God’s word over time gives us a storehouse of truth to draw from when we need it. We often don’t know that the horrible phone call about the death of a relative, the diagnosis of cancer, or the pink slip is coming on the day it happens, but having God’s word stored up in our hearts gives us the resources to face these difficult circumstances with grace when they do. When I get bad news, I don’t want a sermon, but I remember many I have previously heard. In the same way, my initial response to tragedy is not to grab my Bible so I can sit down and read it, but a flood of God’s word comes to my mind. Like Joseph storing grain for the coming famine, the best way to be prepared to apply God’s word is to store it up in your mind and treasure it in your heart ahead of time.

To Teach Your Children and Model it For Them

One recent discipline I have established is having my personal devotions at home while eating breakfast before I go to the office. Often this means my kids are joining me at the table for breakfast while I’m reading Scripture. This has led to some great discussions about God and them picking up the importance of reading the Bible themselves. The other day my eight-year-old daughter asked why I highlighted verses, underlined certain lines in pencil, and drew boxes around particular words. I explained that I like to highlight and underline things that stand out to me. A few days later I was reading my Bible and she reminded me of that conversation. She said she was reading Psalm 96 in her bed and drew a box around “Sing to the Lord a new song” because that stood out to her. Now this is just one story from one of my kids and doesn’t establish some kind of statistical pattern, but I do believe that reading the Bible often in our home creates a love of Scripture in our children. They begin to read it themselves, and the Lord does amazing things in people when they are exposed to his word. In addition, when we are reading Scripture frequently ourselves it gives us the answers we need as our children are asking us questions about life’s most important issues. We won’t be tripped up by these conversations, but will be prepared with the truth of God’s word.

For Your Evangelistic Conversations

One reason many Christians are hesitant to share their faith is because of their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. They are afraid they will get questions they won’t be able to answer. I think this hesitation is often overblown, as we only need the most basic knowledge of the Gospel to share it and shouldn’t be afraid to say we don’t know how to answer a question, but the best way to overcome this fear is to grow in the knowledge of the Scriptures. As we grow in our grasp of the Bible, we better know how to address people where they are in their current state instead of giving them a prepared Gospel presentation and will know how to think on our feet when we hear objections and questions. Also, since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ,” knowing the Scriptures will help us to quote them along the way as we explain the Gospel.

To Help Other Believers

Not only do we grow in our evangelistic effectiveness as our biblical understating increases, but it also serves as an aid in our discipling other Christians. We know how to help and encourage struggling believers more clearly when we know the Bible. We can offer them strong and solid words of hope instead of reciting tired platitudes and verses taken out of context. When we talk with a believer mired in sin, we can point them to Scripture that will give them real help as they seek to follow Jesus more faithfully. As we encounter Christian friends who are straying in their understanding of basic Christian truths, we will have solid explanations for these doctrines that will steer them in the right direction.

Many great Bible Eater plan intriguing.) Choose one and begin discovering the riches of the whole of God’s word.

Related Posts:
The First 15 Bible Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts

In June I wrote about eight passages of Scripture every Christian needs to commit to memory. The response to the post has been great and I have been encouraged at the hunger to memorize Scripture I have seen. At the end of the post I asked what passages people would add to the list. If you look back at the original post, every passage contains at least six verses and some close to twenty. My aim in that post was to point to longer foundational passages for Christians to commit to memory. Most of the feedback I received listed single verses, and realized that new Christians following my advice would miss many well-known verses that Christians usually memorize early in their Christian life.

In light of this, I put together a list of passages for young or new Christians to memorize so they would grow in their understanding of the character of God, the work of Jesus, salvation by faith alone, and the basics of the Christian life. We need to focus on these issues early in the Christian life because if we just start learning Scripture’s commands without understanding who God has revealed himself to be and the heart of the Christian message we will develop an unhealthy view of what it means to live as a Christian.

When memorizing these verses, work on learning them for the long haul and not just to check them off of a list. Learn them thoroughly and accurately, then develop a system for reviewing them so they stay fresh in your mind. As you learn and review these verses, meditate on them, take notes on them, and pray through them. You will find that committing Scripture to memory, studying it, meditating on it, and praying through it will give you aid in trial, temptation, discouragement, and evangelism opportunities. (If you need help memorizing Scripture and developing a system for review, I recommend the ScriptureTyper app. It has been a great aid to my Scripture memory over the last two years.)

If you are a new Christian, young Christian, or have never memorized Scripture, these are the first 15 verses and short passages I would commit to memory.

Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The Bible’s first verse introduces us to the God who always has been and always will be. He created the heavens and the earth by the word of his power, which sets the stage for his creating humanity in his own image.

Exodus 34:6-7

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”

Moses asked to see the Lord, so the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while he passed by him in his glory. As he passed by Moses, he proclaimed these truths about himself. These verses form a central confession of the character of God and the biblical writers quote them in Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalms, Jeremiah, Joel, and Jonah.

Deuteronomy 6:4

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Moses’ declaration teaches us about both the character and uniqueness of God. When we confess with these verses that God is one, we confess that he alone is God and there is no one like him. Then Moses shows the exclusive claim the covenant Lord has upon our heart and lives.

Psalm 119:11

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

The longest chapter in the Bible proclaims the beauty of God’s word and the transformative role it plays in our lives. Psalm 119:11 reminds us that when we put God’s word in our hearts, it aids us in our war against indwelling sin.

Isaiah 53:6

”All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

To properly understand the message of the Bible we must understand the centrality of Jesus’ death on behalf of his people. Isaiah 53, written seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, points forward to the day when the sins of wayward people would be placed on God’s faithful servant.

Matthew 28:18-20

”And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Matthew records these last words from Jesus. Speaking to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded them to take the Gospel to every nation on earth, baptizing those who believe and teaching them to obey Jesus’ words. As we read, study, and memorize the Great Commission, we remember that we are called to join Jesus in his mission so that more people might become his disciples.

John 3:16

”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This stood as the best known Bible verse in our culture for many years, and rightfully so. Jesus, speaking about the time when he would be lifted up on the cross, tells Nicodemus that this happened because God in his love wanted to bring life to those who are perishing. This verse teaches us about the love of God, the deity of Jesus, and that we experience new life through faith alone.

John 14:6

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Our culture often exhibits an allergy to Christianity’s exclusive truth claims, which means we need to be able to know, understand, and explain them. In this simple and straightforward text Jesus explains that he is the only way to the Father. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he makes the way for sinful people to know the eternal hope offered by our gracious God.

Romans 6:23

”For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In this succinct statement the Apostle Paul reminds us that if we stand before God with only what we have done we will experience death. However, God holds something out to us we could never earn- eternal life. This verse exalts the grace of God and reminds us of the futility of trusting in our own goodness.

Romans 8:28

”And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Every Christian needs a deeply rooted trust in the promises of God for when the storms of life crash in. Romans 8:28 stands as a rock solid promise that God takes everything through which we walk and works it for our good. The Christian going through difficulties and trials can hold tightly to this verse and be reminded of the goodness and providence of God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

”For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

These two verses proclaim the central truths of the Gospel message, so Christians must know, understand, and cling to them. Paul reminds us that Jesus died in our place bearing our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the dead never to die again. The Christian never moves beyond this main thing to which the Scriptures testified from the beginning. Without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have no good news for sinful people.

2 Corinthians 5:21

”For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

At the heart of the Christian message stands a great exchange. Jesus took our sins upon himself and gives his perfect righteousness to us. For the person united to Christ by faith, we no longer stand before God dressed in the shreds of our own sins, but robed in the perfect life of Christ. This simple verse helps us understand, rejoice over, and explain this good news

Galatians 5:16

”But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

When we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ we will grapple with the desires of our sinful flesh. Rather than giving into those desires or venturing into crippling legalism, Paul says we should let every step of our lives be in step with the Spirit so we will not gratify our flesh. This verse helps us to see the role of the Spirit in our lives and to know the freedom that comes from consciously walking by him each day.

Ephesians 2:8-10

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Verses about the free grace of God saturate this list because we never grow out of our need for it. Here Paul reminds us that our salvation is not through our good works, but by his grace through faith in Christ. When I learned these verses growing up we always stopped at verse 9, but that is to miss the wonderful news of how grace transforms us. We many not be saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. These verses help us grasp the connection between our free salvation and the transformation it effects in our lives.

Philippians 4:6-7

”Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Every Christian wrestles with difficulties, stresses, anxieties, and hurts. Here Paul instructs us to stop wallowing in them and to pray instead. This alone is good news because this means that God wants to hear where we are hurting and struggling. He invites us to bring our deepest fears and lay them on him. In exchange God gives us peace to guard us. Hiding these verses in our hearts will remind us to pray in every time of need.

The most difficult aspect of writing this post was not coming up with fifteen Bible verses for Christians to memorize, but narrowing down the list so that it would be helpful and unintimidating guide to those starting out in Scripture memory. If you were working with a new Christian, what are some passages you would advise them to commit to memory so they might grow as followers of Jesus?

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

Why You Should Devote Yourself to Scripture Memory

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

A Few Good Reads

August 3, 2016
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Christianity’s Manhood Problem
Most Christian congregations have more women in attendance than men. This problem is not new, but it’s causes are many and the cures are vexing. Art of Manliness is starting a series on this issue and offer some startling statistics about men in the church in their introductory post. “Why does a religion started by a carpenter and his twelve male comrades attract more women than men? Christian churches are led predominately by men (95% of Protestant senior pastors and 100% of Catholic clergy are male) and are criticized by feminists as bastions of male patriarchy, power, and privilege; so why is the laity paradoxically composed largely of women?”

4 Differences Between Small Towns and Big Cities
Recently many have pointed out the futility of imposing big city models of ministry on smaller towns. Aaron Morrow helps pastors understand some differences between small towns and big cities so that we can appropriately contextualize how we do ministry in those towns. “Not many people in small towns are atheists, Muslim, or new agers. Instead, small towns tend to be loaded with religious non-Christians. They may not go to church very often, but they generally believe that God exists and the Bible probably has something to say about him. Small towns tend to attract and retain people who are more traditional in their outlook on life compared to those in larger cities.”

Let’s Sing the Beauty of Confession
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I love listening to rich, biblical Christian music when I’m walking through difficulty. I’m always on the lookout for something new, and was delighted today to see a new song written by D.A. Carson and composed and recorded by Sandra McCracken. The end result is beautiful. I was compelled by Don’s text because it’s a confessional and Psalm-like subject, and because confession isn’t en vogue in our contemporary church songs. I wonder if we often resist this subject in our corporate songs because, like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we’re swamped with a low hum of guilt as we go about our everyday life.”

7 Ways to Stop Gossip
Gossip destroys people and the body of Christ. Ron Edmundson offers seven suggestions for shutting down gossip before a forest is engulfed by a small flame.“Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.”

Onward
As this year’s bizarre Presidential election continues its march towards November, Christians need to remember what can and cannot be accomplished through politics. Thankfully, Russell Moore points the way forward for us. We need to ensure we come through these elections being people of the Gospel and not just our political party. “As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be good news for the church. What’s needed now, in shifting times, is neither a doubling-down on the status quo nor a pullback into isolation. Instead, we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.”
Proverbs 26:4

Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Proverbs 26:5

We have all been there. Someone says something so outlandish and wrong that it must be answered. As you get ready to speak you realize they may not respond well to what you have to say. You think you have to speak up though, because this error must be answered. You feel the confusion and rage welling up within you. Any person who looked at you would know you are in the process of deciding whether you should continue to bite your tongue or not. What do you do? Do you speak or do you keep your mouth closed? And how do you decide which one is appropriate in this situation?

Sometimes the Bible presents truths which on the surface seem contradictory but upon further examination we see how they harmonize. The two verses above provide a great example of this. Solomon’s proverbs present us with general wisdom, not promises or a guidebook for how to respond to every situation. We must take the wisdom offered to us by God in Proverbs and develop the skill to know how to apply them in everyday situations.

Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 provide a great opportunity for us to learn how to respond to people depending on the situation. Thankfully, we don’t have to shoot in the dark when it comes to making this decision. God’s Spirit gives us wisdom and help in our time of need and we can bring other passages of Scripture to bear in our thought process. Scripture interprets Scripture, and when we apply other Proverbs and similar passages we gain greater clarity as we seek to respond with grace and wisdom.

When Should I Choose Proverbs 26:4?

Sometimes we need to keep our mouths closed and not respond because we will risk becoming fools ourselves. We can drag ourselves into heated and futile arguments or needlessly alienate the people around us. Also we run the risk of responding when we aren’t in the right frame of mind and heart to do so, thereby saying the right thing the wrong way and detracting from the truth in our statement.

Here are some times you should stay silent instead of speaking.

If You are Angry

Solomon has a lot to say to his son about the foolishness of having a hot temper. When we are angry both the content of our words and the manner in which we say them will be rude and harsh. Those who hear what we say will not be blessed or challenged by them, but will be provoked to further anger or bullied into silence. This is why Solomon reminded his son in Proverbs 15:18 that, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” If what a person says to you makes you angry, either wait until you have calmed down to speak or remain completely silent. Speaking harsh words in a heated moment is not an option.

On Social Media

Social media encourages us to form strong opinions based on incomplete information. We hear something on TV or read an article and fire off our immediate thoughts without thinking them through and caring about how people are going to perceive them. Add to this the fact that no one can hear the tone of voice in which you would have spoken this and many people’s capacity for reading things into statements you didn’t intend and you have a recipe for disaster. The potential for quarreling and misunderstanding only escalates because often we state strong opinions and then feel the need to defend them instead of hearing legitimate pushback from people. If someone says something foolish and wrongheaded on social media and you feel that you must respond to them, find a time to meet in person or talk on the phone so you can hear each other’s voices.

In An Email

Email shares many of the same drawbacks as social media. I cannot think of a time I have seen a rebuke via email be received in the spirit in which it was intended. Instead we often project the most sinister of motives and rudeness of tone into these interactions and respond in kind. If you need to say something difficult to someone, say it in person or if you must, on the phone. If someone says something that needs to be corrected in an email, find a way to handle it in the most personal way possible.

If You Don’t Have Your Facts Straight

“The fool does not delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” These words from Proverbs 18:2 and 18:13 remind us to stop, listen, and think before we speak. It’s possible you misunderstood what the person was saying, or you are pretty sure they are wrong but you don’t know why. In these cases it is best to keep silent. Speaking when you didn’t understand the other person or speaking when you don’t have accurate facts to correct them will cause you to play the fool.

If You Aren’t Genuinely Concerned about the Person

Why do you want to respond to what this person said? Do you merely want to correct facts or do you want to lead them to better understanding for the good of their soul. While we can never have perfect motives, we should examine the attitude of our hearts when we speak. Our communication is not just about the content of what we are saying, and a lack of care or personal disdain for a person will speak louder than your words.

When Should I Choose Proverbs 26:5?

Sometimes we need to speak up when a person is wrong because we cannot allow them to continue in their error. They need to hear the truth, and if we know the truth we need to say something for the good of the other person’s soul. Assuming we are not speaking from anger or personal malice, our speaking up will be a blessing to them if they will listen.

Here are some times you should speak instead of staying silent.

If You are Under Control

Previously we spoke about the foolishness of addressing someone when you are angry. Angry words will lead nowhere, but a word fitly spoken can make a great difference. If “death and life are in the power of the tongue,” then our words of life accompanied by a cool and gentle spirit can bring great grace to those who hear. The difference between our words bringing life or death often has to do with the way in which we speak them. When we have a cool spirit, we think straight and communicate more clearly. When we have calmed ourselves, those who hear us can sense compassion and empathy. This opens the ears of our hearers instead of cutting them off.

If You are in an Appropriate Context

Knowing where and when to speak words of correction can be one of the most difficult choices we face. In addition to answering someone in person whenever possible, we need to consider who else may be around. Are they likely to be persuaded by what they are hearing? Also, will the presence of other people cause the foolish person to be so embarrassed they don’t hear us or will the presence of a crowd cause them to double down on their argument? Or, do you have the kind of relationship with the people who are present that they will be willing to listen to give and take? These questions are important to answer, and if the moment is not right for correcting someone, find an opportunity to talk to them later.

If The Issue is Worth the Possible Disagreement

Disagreements should not be avoided at all costs because sometimes they are absolutely necessary. In the Bible we see calls to correct others when needed and the example of the apostles who rebuked each other when one was out of line. If the issue about which the foolish person is wrong is a serious one, then you should take the opportunity to correct in kindness even if it means they may not receive what you have to say. Issues that touch on central doctrines and personal sin need to be addressed. Check your motives, check your heart, and open your mouth to speak.

This list is probably not exhaustive, but serves as a good starting place. Let us learn by God’s grace to speak words of grace with the intention to bring grace to those who hear.

Related Posts:
Why We Need a Strong Dose of Proverbs in 2016

Speaking Like a Christian

For Further Reading”
How to Read Proverbs by Tremper Longman III

Speaking Truth in Love by David Powlison