Today, I lay before you a bill. It is due on receipt. It is a most urgent bill. It’s a bill that God intends to collect.
The Bible is quite clear that the congregation owes its ministers. There are different views of church government and church leadership. It’s not my intention to address them today. My own view is that all elders are shepherds, but the validity of my message today is not dependent on that view. Some of the biblical texts I’m going to expound refer, in my view, to more than the preaching pastor, the “vocational elder.” But they certainly do apply to him also, and he’s the one to whom I refer. In the Bible, there’s a parity of eldership, but there’s also a division of labor.
The preaching pastor is God’s man to fill the pulpit, and I want to tell you today what you owe him.
In Heb. 13:7 and 17, we learn that you owe him your obedience. Obedience to authority — any kind of authority — is about as popular as sexual purity these days, which means: not much. The egalitarian crusade in our culture is relentless. The Left wants to topple every single hierarchy in our culture — except one: the hierarchy of the state. And the state hierarchy is necessary for one reason and one reason alone: to topple and coercively destroy all other hierarchies.
The war on authority
But know this: this widespread attack on duly constituted authority is, underneath it all, an attack on God. God is the ultimate duly constituted authority. When the Left attacks the family, and manhood, and the church, we should be aware: it’s God they’re really after. Because they hate God’s authority, and because they cannot destroy it, they try to destroy earthly, visible representations of his authority. In the end, they won’t succeed, but they’re wreaking cultural havoc in the process.
This aversion to authority sometimes enters the church. And, to be fair, some pastors abuse their authority. This abuse, of course, is a prostitution of their office. Pastors are shepherds. God calls them to be “not domineering over those in [their] charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). Moreover: “[T]he Lord’s servant must . . . be . . . kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24). God doesn’t allow the pastor to be an authoritarian, and he establishes other elders to whom the pastor must be accountable. Still, the sheep are called to obey their local shepherd. The pastor watches for your souls, and he’ll have to stand before God one day on how he leads you (Heb. 13:17).
The pastor’s job description
The pastor is not a CEO, not a cheerleader, not a human potential coach, not a college lecturer. He’s a shepherd. We live in a depraved society, and God calls the pastor to lead you in a way to protect you from this depravity. I mean the fornication. I mean the neglect of the Lord’s Day. I mean pornography. I mean gaming and drug addictions. I mean prayerlessness. I mean pride and phariseeism. I mean husbands who don’t cherish their wives and wives who don’t submit to their husbands. I mean teenagers who love the ways of the world. Guiding the sheep away from these and other evils is part of the pastor’s job description. If you get upset with him when he does this, you’re actually getting angry with him for doing his God-appointed job.
Consider the outcome
Our text contains a fascinating command: “Consider the outcome of [his] way of life” (Heb. 13:7). Ask yourself: will his life and ministry lead you away from the Triune God? Will your children become more worldly by living as he lives? Would you have less faith or more faith if you follow the example of his life? Will you spend more time in the word of God or less if you attend to his preaching? You see the point, don’t you? If this man’s life and preaching and ministry will draw you to greater faith, greater obedience, greater worship, greater gospel living, then you are bound by God to obey and follow him.
You owe him your obedience.
Second, you owe him your trust. Paul writes in 1 Tim. 5:19, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Of course, this was a quotation from the Old Testament. Paul, you see, was not one of those “New Testament-only preachers.” He was a biblical preacher, and he understood that the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament.
Attacks on God’s man
Paul also understood that the pastor, because of his prominent position in the Lord’s kingdom, would frequently be under attack. Sometimes that attack takes the form of gossip or slander. Paul’s instruction is clear: if somebody comes to you with an accusation against your pastor, you simply don’t listen. You stop that person, and say, “Unless you have proof [of multiple witnesses], I don’t want to hear it, and you need to shut your mouth right now.”
It clearly implies that the pastor enjoys a position of trust. Now, this should be perfectly reasonable. The shepherd of the flock, the man that oversees the church, should have the trust of those he’s leading. If you can’t trust the pastor, why are you there in the first place? Yes, some pastors abuse their trust; but know this: bad pastors don’t make pastors bad. The pulpits of sound, Bible-believing churches today are filled with humble, courageous men of God. And they deserve our trust. I know many of these men. They wouldn’t dare look at a woman besides their wife. They’d rather amputate their right arm than misappropriate church funds. They’ve sacrificed their time and money and life for the church of Jesus Christ. We owe them our trust.
Members who don’t trust their pastor can unleash havoc in the church, and God will bring them to account for their sin if they don’t repent.
Protecting the pastor’s wife
Protecting the pastor’s reputation means protecting his wife. There’s perhaps no person more vulnerable in the congregation of the pastor’s wife, and in many ways she’s the most important gift to the congregation. She suffers the attacks on her husband more acutely than he does. She deserves your love and support and understanding and prayer. She deserves for you to go out of your way to sacrifice for her and protect her and love her. I’m tempted say that the pastor’s wife is the most important member of the congregation. I’ll give in to that temptation and say it.
And the same is true of your pastor’s children. They’re constantly scrutinized, and they’re constantly under satanic attack. The pastor is called to rule his house effectively, and Satan will attack his house so that he can neutralize the pastor’s ministry in the church (Tit. 1:6).
False doctrine about the pastor’s children
We have every reason to expect that children in devout Christian families will all grow up to be strong in the Faith. But children make covenant choices. Those choices are real and fateful choices. Sometimes those choices are sinful choices, even very sinful choices. Not all children reared in Christian families grow up to be zealous in the Faith. It doesn’t always happen even in the pastor’s family — and it certainly didn’t happen in biblical history.
I want to take a moment and refute some utterly false teaching that has entered certain sectors of the church as of late. This is the idea that if a pastor’s children grow up and drift from the Lord and depart from the Faith, he’s somehow responsible and has forfeited his ministry. This view is often well-meaning but it’s illogical and contra-biblical. We read in Isaiah 1:2,
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
Question: was Jehovah at fault? Did Jehovah fail as a Father to Judah? I think not. The issue in the Scripture is always whether the pastor both in his family and in the church rules faithfully, not whether everyone follows that rule. It’s ironic that some of the same pastors who claim that an adult wayward child disqualifies the pastor, don’t claim that a wayward church member disqualifies them in their own church. They talk about “covenant headship” — but they get suspiciously quiet when their church members grow wayward under that covenant headship. They should have understood the biblical truth in the first place: their ministry is validated by their faithfulness to God, not the faithfulness of those they lead.
Your pastor’s children desperately need your love and protection and prayer. And if — we pray it never happens — they start to drift from the Lord, your job is not to target him and his dear wife. Your job is come alongside them and pray for them and help them and work to bring those children back into the path of righteousness.
You owe your pastor your trust.
Third, you owe your pastor your money. Some preachers are reluctant to talk about money, but I’m not. Jesus talked about hell more then he talked about heaven, and he talked about money more than he talked about hell. Paul talked about it too (read 2 Corinthians). He requires that the church give the minister “double honor,” and he means by this: money (1 Tim. 5:17–18). The man who watches over your souls and the souls of your children is owed double remuneration. I would remind you that these are God’s inspired words, not mine. The principal responsibility of deacons and others in the congregation is to ensure that this man’s financial needs are amply cared for.
The church’s first financial obligation
More broadly: the church’s first financial obligation is not to pay building rent or utilities or to send foreign missionaries or launch a Christian day school but to pay their pastor, and pay him well. If the church is smaller, it should, as quickly as possible, get the pastor to a full-time salary. This is not a privilege; this is not a luxury; this is what God’s law requires. And if the church doesn’t do this, it’s disobedient, and will forfeit God’s blessings.
Now, it’s remarkable how far many churches have drifted from the word of God on this point. Their philosophy of remuneration to their pastor goes like this: “Lord, you keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor.” Or, at best: “We want him to make a salary commensurate with those in the congregation.” That’s sensible — and totally un-biblical — reasoning. Paul says that the elders who deliver the word are worthy of double honor, and no doubt he has in mind Deuteronomy 21:17, which says that in ancient Israel the firstborn should get a double financial portion. And like the Levites in old covenant Israel, the ministers should be overwhelmingly compensated.
You owe your pastor your money. And if you obey God in giving him your money, God will abundantly bless your obedience.
Finally I turn to 2 Thessalonians 3:1. I wonder if this is the most important thing we owe the pastor. And that is: prayer.
Let me say initially that I am amazed at how much the Bible talks about prayer and how little we talk about it — and how little we do it. I’ve come to believe that this omission is sinister and diabolical. Prayer moves the mighty hand of God to unleash his power in earth, and Satan knows this, and Satan therefore will do anything he can to undermine the prayer life of the church. Do you realize that God the Father suspends the evangelization of the world on the prayer of his Son (Ps. 2:8)? And this is why Paul is constantly begging his congregations to pray for him.
Prayer: decretive versus prescriptive
One of the great false teachings about prayer is to pit it against God’s sovereign decrees. This is a false antithesis. Faithless, unbelieving, disobedient prayers go like this: “God, we’re not sure if this is in your eternal will, but if it is, please save sinners”; or, “We beg you to heal our brother and sister, if you will it”; or, “Would you be kind enough to provide for us — but only, O God, if it’s in your sovereign, secret will.” Let me tell you, almost no godly Christian in the Bible prayed that way. They didn’t pray in light of God’s decretive will, but according to his prescriptive will (in the Bible).
The saints in the Bible knew that God loves his people and wants to do kind things for them. They knew that when God answers prayer, he bolsters the faith of his saints. They knew that to pray big prayers is to pray that God will demonstrate his greatness in the earth. They knew that answered prayer is a powerful contribution to evangelism: when people see how great God is, when he intervenes massively in history, they throw their trust in him (1 Kin. 18:36–39). Shriveled, anorexic prayers do not honor God. Big, bold, robust prayers honor God.
Perhaps the greatest debt you owe your pastor is prayer. You must be calling out to God every day that he will empower your pastor with his Spirit, that he will protect God’s man and his family from Satan’s attacks, that he will increase your pastor’s faith and courage in these apostate times, and that God will radically increase your church’s influence for the kingdom of God under your pastor’s leadership.
Not to pray for your pastor faithfully is an epic fail.
Let’s review: you owe your pastor your obedience. You owe him your trust. You owe him your money. And you owe him your prayer.
An old minister was fond of saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” God has given many of you one of the greatest gifts a Christian can enjoy: a faithful, zealous, knowledgeable pastor married to an equally devout wife. Do not take these gifts for granted. If we take these gifts for granted, God is in the habit of removing them. Remember what you owe your pastor.
And remember that if you pay what you owe, God will abundantly bless your obedience. He’ll bless your church. He’ll bless your marriage. He’ll bless your children. He’ll bless your vocation. You’ll bless your future.
Pay your debt to your pastor. God is no man’s debtor. And remember: God always pays up.
U. B. Phillips
It is arresting to observe the constancy of older men and women within the variability of historical flux and the inevitable change it engenders. The world has changed, but they have not. They seem an anachronism to their juniors, for whom the unquestioned assumptions of the present age are normative. The elders carry with them the perspectives, virtues, convictions, prejudices, and vices of the peculiar era of their youth. To their idealistic juniors, the prejudices and vices predominate, and the virtues and convictions evaporate at the scrutiny of youthful eyes naively conditioned by a single era, their own era, whose normativeness they would not think to question. Little do they know that as they age, and a new generation succeeds them, they too — and their prejudices and vices — will be an anachronism. The world changes about them, but their own habits of mind, their own worldview, long before solidified. The world moves elsewhere, and they with it, but they carry their own private world, the previous world, in their bosom.
But though their habits of mind and worldview persist, they as human beings do grow. They grow in knowledge and in wisdom, which often stand outside, and sometimes contrary to, the knowledge and wisdom of the age that succeeds them, for there is no more reliable characteristic of youth than its aversion to the deepest intellectual convictions of the age of its predecessors (“There is no greater heresy,” a friend once wryly intoned, “than the one from which you’ve been most recently rescued”). These seniors are able to impart that wisdom to their predecessors — if only the latter will hear it.
“The Truth Always Comes Too Late For Us”
What they generally cannot do, as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, is to change themselves. “The truth,” he writes, ”always comes too late for us.” Like the twig bent in its youth, whose subsequent trajectory of growth becomes permanent and final, so the era in which they came of age has so shaped them that they cannot change — even under the ripening knowledge of their own cogent advice — without breaking their very being. While, however, they cannot change, their juniors whom they advise, whose trajectory is not yet solidified, can change. It is this phenomenon that spurs what is perhaps Rosenstock-Huessy’s most incisive observation: we should not calculate a man’s lifetime from his own birth to his own death, but from his own fifties to his son’s fifties. In short, I will not know if I have been successful as a man — much less a father — until my sons have lived through their fifties. One can assess my life’s and my parental work not when my sons are young, but only when they have had time to develop the implications of my own life when I myself lived during my fifties, not during my twenties, when the implications of my own thinking were immature. In most cases (though not in mine personally, since I sired sons at a very young age), this means that one will not be alive to discover whether he has in fact been a successful man and father. That judgment will be left to others. His chronological (but not his influential) lifetime outlives him in his children, just as his father’s lifetime is outlived in him.
“The Strangeness of the Past”
What Alister McGrath terms “the strangeness of the past” survives in us as we grow older. The younger often perceive this strangeness displayed most patently in dress and mannerism, but its actual root is man himself — in his ontology. Different ages stamp men differently. This historical conditioning is, in large measure, what produces different kinds of men all stalking Earth at any one given time. It also produces intergenerational conflict. What in the 1960’s was termed the “generation gap” is, however, precisely the opposite of what should occur. A conversation, not a gap, is what is most needed. A generational conversation is essential not only to transmit the best elements of the past’s “strangeness” to a succeeding generation but also to exhibit the subversive fact of historical conditioning to the previous one, which ordinarily glories in the peculiar features of the age of its youth, and intensely so the older it grows. The act of growing older proves — or should prove — that the mores and convictions of one’s youth should not be absolutized — that the “good old days” were never that good, that the future is open to progress, not destined to regress. The reality of growing older, on the other hand, should indicate to a succeeding (younger) generation that youth is fleeting, that the assumptions they are incurring and will later absolutize are not in fact absolute or otherwise privileged, and that the older can change their thinking — even when they cannot change themselves.
Meanwhile, we gaze in fascination, and sometimes even awe, at our immediate predecessors, who carry the past with them, a past that survives only in them, a past that is fleeting, a past that will accompany them to the grave — just as we will carry our own past to the grave. It is only man, man made in God’s image, that can transmit a little of that past — his own peculiar past, not just the general past of the era of his youth — to the future. The solidarity of humanity is marked partly by this gripping trait — the ability not merely to span eras (“tradition”) but to commit a small portion of one’s own past, one’s private, unrepeatable tradition, to another individual.
In this strange way, a little of the past, and with it we ourselves, live on.
Babies as providence
All five of our children were born in Lake County Hospital East in Painesville, Ohio. In the maternity wing, there was a large maxim displayed on the wall. Many of you have already heard it. It’s by Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
If you think about it, babies are graphic testimony of God’s sustaining providence. Recently I saw again the dystopian movie Children of Men. It’s set in the near future in which some global pathogen or environmental toxin prevents pregnancy. After a few years, there’re no children in the world.
It’s a scary scenario, but it’s not going to happen. God created man and woman to steward his glorious creation for his own glory (Gen. 1:28–30). Mankind is God’s deputy in the earth. Man’s job won’t be finished until Jesus returns to usher in the eternal state. So we needn’t worry about man’s being exterminated. Man is God’s deputy, and man will be around earth for a long time.
Babies are God’s means of keeping his deputies going on — and keeping the world going on. Babies aren’t a freak of chance evolution. Babies are God’s design. Babies are proof that God is continually sustaining his plan for the earth.
But the earth has fallen into sin, and as Christians we must bring up our children in a sinful world. This is nothing new, of course (sin has been around a very long time); but in our own time, our culture is turning radically away from God’s truth. We call this apostasy: abandoning God’s path.
Apostasy doesn’t involve just actions. It starts with sinful thinking. In fact, it’s the sinful thinking that leads to sinful actions. The thinking about child training surrounding us — including sometimes by friends and relatives — is apostate thinking. A great danger confronts us Christian parents every day: are we adopting this apostate way of thinking about rearing our children? We must constantly be on our guard, because very few of the child-rearing ideas surrounding us are God’s ideas.
Today I want to address three biblical truths and exhort us to follow those truths rather than the apostate untruths in our surrounding culture.
Apostasy — The childfree life
I’m not sure how many of you saw the August 12, 2013 cover of Time magazine.  The lead article was “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.” As you can probably figure out, this article is not about marriages that are simply unable to produce children. Marital infertility is an aspect of God’s providence. And marriage that can’t produce children is not a second-class marriage. We know this, because God created Adam and Eve, before they bore children, and he said that his creation, all of it, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). In other words, children are not required to have a very good marriage.
But that’s not what the Time article is talking about. Instead, it’s talking about spouses who intentionally refuse not to have children in order to enjoy their self-centered existence. This narcissism is not an example of providential childlessness; it’s an example of sin. How do we know this? Because the Bible commands spouses to have children if we are physically able (Gen. 1:28). One of the main reasons that God brings a man and a woman together in a marriage is to produce covenant children (Mal. 2:15). To have an intentional childless marriage, therefore, is rebellion against God. Increasingly, this is the world’s way, and it is the sinful, rebellious way. Don’t buy into it.
God’s way — The blessing of children
Psalm 127:3 tells us that children are an inheritance and reward from the Lord. Children are a blessing. You spouses and parents need to know this, and your children need to know this. They’re God’s gift to you parents and others surrounding them. Never call them a “little accident.” Never treat them as though they are a bother. Remember: they’re a big part of God’s providence to keep the world moving forward for his glory. Tell them this.
Bring them up in a church (like Cornerstone) that treats them as part of the church — because they are. Children don’t become a part of the church when they arrive at a certain age. By baptism they’re marked out as God’s covenant children. They partake of communion. Paul calls them holy — meaning, they’re set apart for God’s use (1 Cor. 7:14).
If you let your children know that they belong to God, and that Jesus’ blood was shed for them and God’s precious promises are their promises (Ac. 2:38–39), they can live in a great spiritual comfort and security. No, children aren’t “born Christians,” but children of Christian parents are born into the Christian church. They’re meant to be nourished in the Gospel and educated in salvation.
This isn’t the world’s way, but it is God’s way.
In Ephesians 6:4 Paul writes that fathers should bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Actually, the term translated “fathers” also means parents. It’s similar to our use of “forefathers”: meaning, our ancestors, both male and female. Parents are called not to anger their children, but to instruct them and make them disciples of Jesus.
Apostasy — self-expression
The world’s way is antithetical to God’s way. The world’s way of child rearing is increasingly the way of freedom of self-expression: “Don’t stifle your child’s creative spirit. Don’t tell your child that he or she is wrong. Don’t do anything to dampen your child’s self-esteem.” This is the world’s way, and it is not God’s way.
Children are born into sin: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Why wouldn’t they be sinners? We parents are sinners. No one needs to teach children to sin; parents need to teach children to obey.
We live in a time in which many people believe that our society and our environment corrupt us. We’re actually very pure and sincere in our hearts, but their internal goodness is corrupted by our society. Therefore, if we can all just “follow our heart,” including, perhaps especially, our “innocent” children, we’ll end up right.
God’s way — discipling our children
According to God’s way, this has things just backwards. Because our heart is sinful, when we follow our hearts, we end up wrong. That’s why our culture is so evil: because we all do follow our heart! We need a new heart. This is what the Holy Spirit gives us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is why we must teach and admonish children. We can’t assume that they have pure hearts. Our job as parents is to train them in the Gospel and in the truth.
Paul says we are called to discipline our children. This means to make them disciples. It means the entire process of training. In other words, to use modern language, parents must be pro-active. Don’t allow your children simply to live and act, and then respond to them.
The next word for Paul is “instruction.” This word really focuses attention on language, what you say. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that God likes to talk to us, and he wants us parents to talk to our children. They need for us to tell them what is right and what is wrong, what is wise and what is unwise. Our attitude can never be, “Well, I’ll let them make up their own mind.” One of the cruelest things we can do to our children is to abandon them to their own life choices: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).
That last verse brings up another important truth. Our secular world is increasingly opposed to all spanking, corporal discipline. Because of the comparatively infrequent incidents of child abuse, many parents equate ordinary spanking with abuse. This is simply wrong, and it’s a godless approach. This biblical teaching will test our fidelity to God’s word. None of us enjoy spanking our children, but if we do not, we are not following the word of God.
We spank her children, when necessary (and it shouldn’t be necessary too often), because they need to learn at a young age that the consequences of sin are painful. If we constantly insulate children from the painful consequences of their sin, including painful physical consequences, we’re teaching them that God’s world is not governed by his law. We’re teaching them to be lawless. We’re teaching that sin doesn’t hurt them physically. This is cruelty. They must understand God’s moral universe, and a small but important part of understanding that universe is understanding that sin is painful, and sometimes physically painful. We must stand with God’s word against the world’s way in discipling our children.
Finally, Moses teaches in Deuteronomy 6 that were called to drench our children in God’s ways. Did you notice the language in verses 8 and 9? The Jews later took these verses quite literally. They attached little leather containers to their heads and their arms containing scraps on which God’s word was written. They put little boxes containing these scraps on the doorframes of their homes. I don’t think this is what Moses was specifically talking about. He was speaking metaphorically. But at least the ancient Jews understood the gravity of this point. We should surround our children by God’s truth and God’s ways.
Now, before I tell you how to do that, let me remind you that this approach is totally different from the world’s approach.
Apostasy — sacred-secular distinction
We live in a dramatically secular world. We live in a world that wants to make a sharp sacred-secular distinction. We live in a world that says, “At best, you’re allowed to attend church on Sunday, but don’t stress all that religious stuff in your family and at work during the week. If you want a nice, pretty liturgy at church on Sunday, that’s fine. But don’t bring your religion out of church.”
This really is a practical outworking of a secular culture. And if we do this, we teach our children that following Jesus isn’t really important. At best, it’s a mildly important, tiny part of our lives on Sunday morning. We can be good Christians on Sunday morning, and good secularists the rest of the week.
But I must say: there is no such thing as a sacred-secular distinction. There’s only a sacred-profane distinction. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t honor God, it profanes God. In other words, there are no permissibility secular things. Everything either honors God, or it does not honor God.
God’s way — The God-drenched life
What are the applications of this in training our children? First, we need to understand that our secular society doesn’t reinforce our Christian truth. In most cases, what our children encounter in the world is going to be contrary to God’s ways. I mean magazines in the grocery store. I mean the way many unbelievers dress. I mean much of what they see on TV. I mean how most people talk.
Perhaps somebody asks, “Andrew, are you saying that most of what our children see and hear as he or she live in the world is contrary to God’s ways?”
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And that’s why we must constantly be teaching our children, all the time, about God’s ways.
When they encounter a self-centered boy or girl throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, use that as a teaching moment — we are not our own; we belong to Jesus Christ; we don’t always get our way. We want to please Jesus, not ourselves.
When your children see lascivious, fornicating dancing on TV, use that as an occasion to teach them about sexual purity, even at a young age.
When your son or daughter hears the neighbor or somebody on TV taking God’s name in vain or using scatological language, tell them what the word of God says about such sinful language, and about the language to God requires.
Most important, we must nourish our lambs in the Gospel. It means that, again and again, we must tell our children that although we are sinners, Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, and he will save us and be our Shepherd as long as we trust in him. Teach them over and over that Jesus is our Shepherd, and that the Shepherd leads us by his word, and that we should know and love his word. It leads us into paths of righteousness. We should teach them that the Shepherd will take care of every need we have and that we should pray to him at all times, in all conditions.
Our world is so secular, that nothing short of immersing our children and God’s ways will suffice.
Let’s review: (1) the world’s way is that children are a bother; God’s way is that children are a blessing; (2) the world’s way is that children are to be left to themselves to express their inner goodness; God’s way is that parents should lovingly disciple them; (3) the world’s way is that society should be secular; God’s way is that children should be immersed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in his paths of righteousness.
The calling of Christian parents is to forsake the world’s way for God’s way.
 Lauren Sandler, “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children,” Time, August 12, 2013, 38–45.
When I wrote “Sin Enslaves, But God Is in the Emancipation Business,” I quoted 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Today we learn that Jesus came to earth for another reason: to give abundant life to his people. These two reasons Jesus came aren’t in conflict with each other; they compliment one another. Jesus didn’t come to earth for just one reason. He came to earth for several reasons, and we need to read the Bible to understand all of them, because all of them are important.
In John 10, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and his people, the church, to sheep. Our Lord leads all his sheep (Jn. 10:4), and they know his voice, and they follow him. He goes to the ultimate length to care for his sheep: he sacrifices his very life for them. All shepherds who preceded him were false shepherds. The sheep will never follow a false shepherd. They know the Shepherd’s voice, and he’s the only one they’ll follow.
God doesn’t economize in salvation
The Shepherd came to bring the sheep abundant life (Jn. 10:10). I’m focusing on that fascinating word today. That term abundantly means “excessive, more than is necessary, superadded” — superfluous, or even wasteful, we might say. This is a striking idea. It means the life that Jesus came to bring us is not economical.
We wouldn’t consider it economical to pay $12 for a loaf of bread with a sticker price of $3. We must economize because we have finite resources. But God’s resources are infinite. Therefore, God doesn’t economize in salvation. He didn’t come to give us life merely to survive. Jesus is intentionally “wasteful” in the salvation life he drenches on his people. Salvation life is meant to be lavish. It’s not carefully parceled out.
Sometimes I’ve heard this verse applied to mean that Jesus came to grant lavish material possessions. There’s a whiff of the health and wealth gospel in this idea. Now, I agree that any material blessings that obedient Christians enjoy are God’s gifts. But I’m convinced that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Why? Because it has nothing to do with the life of sheep, and that’s the figure of speech that Jesus specifically selected. Where, then, would we find the kind of life that God sent Jesus to bestow on his sheep? The chief answer is Psalm 23. Please go there. I’m not going to offer an exposition of this chapter, but simply expound a few vital highlights in light of God’s wasteful salvation.
Right at the beginning we might get the idea that Jesus is only interested in giving us just enough life to get by: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want [or lack anything].” That sounds like David is saying, “The Lord takes care of just when I need — and not a thing more.” But if we look more closely the chapter, we find that he saying much more than that.
The life of a sheep
Think of the life of a sheep. The sheep is a simple, defenseless animal. It has many predators. It’s easily startled. For a sheep, the abundant life is the life of provision and security and rest. And these are precisely what the Shepherd gives the sheep.
Now, let’s think about us human sheep. We’re weak and vulnerable in this world. We’re subject at any time to misfortune, illness, disease, heartache, and death. One morning we awake on top of the world, and by evening that entire world can have come crashing down. God knows the future, but we do not. The fact that we can’t anticipate the future leads us to unsettledness and anxiety. This is why one of our greatest needs is peace. And that is precisely what the Shepherd gives us. He makes us to lie down in green pastures and waters of rest (Ps. 23:2). That’s a lovely metaphorical picture of peaceful rest.
Now, it’s interesting how often the Bible speaks about peace. It doesn’t just talk about peace with God, vital though it is (Eph. 2:14–17). It also talks about the peace in our own hearts that God alone can give (Rom. 15:13).
And as we read the rest of Psalm 23, we can understand how he does that. It’s quite simple, and equally powerful: the Shepherd is sovereign; he has everything under control. He does the leading (v. 2); he does the providing (v. 5a); he’s the one that protects us against all enemies (v. 5c).
Our present eternal life
Now here’s a striking fact we often don’t consider. When we trust Jesus, we don’t merely trust that he’ll take us to heaven in the future. We trust our present life to him. When we trust Jesus, we entrust our entire life to the Shepherd. It’s remarkable that we often can trust Jesus the Christ to take us to heaven when we die, but we have difficulty trusting him to protect us and comfort us and to minister to us in the difficulties of this life. But eternal life isn’t just something that we have in the future. It’s a gift we have now — in the present. And when Jesus promised his disciples abundant, superfluous, “wasteful” life, he means right now.
And that’s why, no matter what the circumstances, we can live a peaceful life. Not a peaceful external life. God never promises there will be no hardships or difficulties. In fact, he even promises right here in Psalm 23 that there will be hardships (read vv. 4–5). But he promises the life of lavish peace to those who simply trust in the Shepherd.
It’s when we overcomplicate and over-analyze matters that we begin to worry. We’re anxious about how we will respond, about what God is doing, about how other people will respond — when all we really need to do is simply to trust the Shepherd.
A rejuvenated life
When David (the assumed writer) says the Shepherd restores his soul, he means his life. That’s what the word “soul” in the Old Testament means. Now to see how this makes our life abundant, let’s consider “soul” and “life,” even using those terms the way we often do.
When we say the musician put real soul into his music, what we mean is that he put his full force into it. When we attend a concert and we charge that the musician “mails it in,” we mean that he just goes through the motions; he doesn’t put his vital life into his music.
Think about this in another way. Sometimes when our relatives and friends endure tragedies, we say, “They lost some life.” A little of their internal vitality slipped away. Something about the joy and fullness of life was lost.
Please note, then, what David is saying. He saying that the Shepherd can restore that lost vitality, that lost life. We Christians sometimes hold the naturalist idea that life is like an hourglass. It slowly ebbs away. But that’s not true. Time ebbs away, but time is not life, or soul. Just as God reverses the effects of sin, God reverses the effects of the loss of our vitality. He “restore[s] … the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).
So, if you’ve lost the vitality of life, don’t despair. Don’t assume that it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s problems in your family or marriage. Maybe it’s a financial hardship. Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s a long-time vexation or grief. Appeal to the Shepherd who restores our life. He gives us back our vitality.
The peaceful, righteous road
I can’t help but point out something in the last part of v. 3 that’s especially pertinent in our own culture — and today’s church. The Shepherd leads us down roads of righteousness, and the roads of righteousness are the roads of peace. Did you get that? Rebellion and fornication and pride and gossip and pornography and laziness and covetousness do not give us peace. Mick Jagger is 100% right: you just can’t get “no satisfaction” in immorality. If you want peace, you can have it. But you must have it God’s way — by following the Shepherd on the road of righteousness.
If you’ve driven around Santa Cruz, you have seen lots of bumper stickers that say only, “No Fear.” For an unbeliever, that’s simply a lot of bravado. They fear all the time; they simply put on a good front. I’m sure that some of them put the “No Fear” bumper stick around their car just to get up enough courage to get through life.
But that’s not true of our Lord’s sheep. At least, it shouldn’t be. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we won’t fear evil. This passage doesn’t necessarily mean that we needn’t fear death, though we shouldn’t. It means the valley of darkness, as dark as death. ”Darkness” means gloom, no surrounding joy, no external light giving direction. This means a very dark, harsh valley. Some of us of have walked through that valley. For some it’s been the loss or waywardness of a child. For others, it’s a destructive disease. For others, it’s divorce. For still others, it’s complete financial loss.
Notice that David had just said the Shepherd leads him in “paths of righteousness.” And then he immediately says that he sometimes walks through a dark, gloomy valley. This can only mean that Jesus the Shepherd is the one who leads us into that gloomy valley. By the way, do you remember John 10:4? Jesus said that he leads the sheep by going before them. He leads us; he doesn’t drive us. Notice again in Psalm 23:4. David doesn’t fear the gloomy valleys of life because the Shepherd is right there with them: the Shepherd doesn’t send us into the valley; he leads us into the valley. In no tribulation of life that we endure is Jesus anywhere else. When we are thrown into the fiery furnace of affliction, the Son of God is there with us (Dan. 3:25).
In the first part of the Psalm, David rejoiced that the Shepherd led him into peaceful, calm circumstances. But now he says the Shepherd leads him into hard, gloomy circumstances. This point in both cases is comforting. In each case, the Shepherd is providing for us abundantly. When we’re grazing peacefully with all provision, the Shepherd’s goodness is abundant. When we’re enduring the great hardships of life, the Shepherd’s comfort is abundant. The reason we feel internally more secure during the externally calm, peaceful, bountiful times is because our security is misplaced. “[C]ertainly, the reason why we are so terrified,” writes Calvin, “when it pleases God to exercise us with the cross, is, because every man, that he may sleep soundly and undisturbed, wraps himself up in carnal security.” But our security isn’t in circumstances. Our security is in the ever-present Shepherd.
The Shepherd is not the variable
Here is a great key, in fact, to our assurance. We are not somehow less secure when we walk in a gloomy valley, or more secure when we rest on a peaceful riverbank. The Shepherd is guarding and protecting and governing and preserving and comforting us in both situations. Our life situations fluctuate; his care for us doesn’t fluctuate.
God’s retaliation against Satan
The picture in v. 5 is riveting. All of David’s enemies are surrounding him in a valley, but God is right there preparing for David a great feast. And because God is present protecting him, all that his enemies can do is watch in frustration and resentment. God’s is lavishing his blessings on David in the very sight of his enemies who want to do him great harm. It’s as though the Shepherd is preparing a great meal for the sheep as all the wolves are looking on hungrily — but there’s nothing they can do about it.
David, of course, is talking about his personal enemies, but behind all of then is Satan. In the Garden of Eden, Satan seduced man and woman in the attempt to overthrow God’s good earth. And now God’s grace retaliates against Satan, publicly humiliates him, graciously providing for his people — in Satan’s full view.
I said that God doesn’t economize in saving us. Jesus taught that in John 10, and he teaches it here, in verses 5–6. Here David says, “My cup overflows.” When your cup overflows, you’re wasting liquid. Some of it won’t get used.
That’s precisely what David is saying about his and our salvation. God gives us too much. He wastes provision on us. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. God doesn’t just provide; he lavishes. His mercy isn’t stingy; he drenches us in it. Know that his goodness and mercy will follow us. We don’t simply ask for them; his goodness and mercy chase us down.
The false, stingy God
In reading Psalm 23, do you recognize that you might have a very false conception of God? Do you get the idea that God might be economical and stingy with his people? That’s not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible loves to waste his salvation on his people. Just when we think that he’s given us all that he can or should, he gives more. God is constantly surprising his people with his goodness.
 See also Ezek. 34:11f.
 “[W]aters of rest” is a literal translation. See F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 5,1:330.
 Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 1977), 51–58.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Kindle edition (no loc.: Osnova, n. d.), commentary at Ps. 23:3.
 Actually, the writer drops the shepherd/sheep metaphor in v. 4, but of course the underlying truth abides.
 F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” 5,1:330.