Leadership of the Local Church: Philosophy of Elders and Deacons

The structure of the local church leadership must be a biblical structure. What do I mean by biblical? Essentially, church leadership is patterned after the examples and explanations within Scripture. The closer the structure of biblical patterns the more biblical the implementation. In other words, when the structure of church leadership looks like the pattern set forth in Scripture, then the structure of church leadership is biblical.

So what pattern of biblical church leadership do we see?

Elders

1) Plurality of Elders (aka. Pastors, Overseers, Presbyters, Elders – these titles are interchangeable)

Note, for example, (“appoint elders”), followed by v. 7 (“for a bishop must be blameless”). The very fact that the sentence in v. 7 begins with a “for” shows a connection: bishops are elders. Otherwise, why would Paul mention the qualifications of a group that were not whom Titus should appoint? In Paul calls the “elders of the church” of Ephesus together for a final meeting. Then, in v. 28 he addresses them as “overseers” (or bishops). Thus, any passage that deals with bishop is equally applicable to elders.

2) The leadership of the church from the earliest period always had elders, even if it did not have deacons. Young churches only had elders; more mature churches had both elders and deacons.

But the consistent Biblical pattern in the New Testament was for a plurality of elders. Note the following passages where either elder or bishop is used:

–elders at the church of Antioch

–Paul and Barnabas appoint “elders in every church”

–elders at the church in Jerusalem

–elders/bishops at the church of Ephesus

–elders at the church in Jerusalem

–the church at Philippi has bishops and deacons

–elders at the church of Ephesus

–Titus is to appoint elders in every town

Jas 5:14–“the elders of the church”

–“the elders among you”

And if there is any question as to what the role of these elders are, consider the book of Hebrews:

Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.

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

Elders are a team of men who are set apart by God to shepherd the church, the Bible refers to these men as bishops or overseers or elders (terms used interchangeably). They have biblical qualifications as outlined in 1Tim3v1-7 and v6-9. Functionally, I like to break down what they do by the 4 D’s:

Doctrine – Elders govern, teach & guard the doctrine that the church holds to.

Direction – Elders seek to shepherd the church in the direction that God is leading them.

Discipline – Elders seek to ‘discipline in love’ wayward church members to win them back to repentance and restoration.

Display – Elders seek to display a Christ-like character worthy to be copied.

A biblical church must have a biblical pattern of leadership- multiplicity of Elders. This also means, when a church plant is established, there must be a plurality of Elders/Pastors (meaning at least two). We can infer that a team of Elders are establishing the church plant- not a single Pastor. We can further infer a Lead Pastor with Support/Assistant Pastors. The point is there must be a plurality of Elders.

What are the qualifications of the Elders?

1) Blameless – A general requirement followed by specific areas in which the Overseer must be blameless. To be blameless is to be irreproachable. No one should be able to lay a charge against an Elder and make it stick.

John Calvin explains an Elder “must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority. There will be no one found among men that is free from every vice; but it is one thing to be blemished with ordinary vices, which do not hurt the reputation, because they are found in men of the highest excellence, and another thing to have a disgraceful name, or to be stained with any baseness. In order, therefore, that a bishop may not be without authority, he enjoins that there shall be made a selection of one who has a good and honorable reputation, and not chargeable with any remarkable vice. Besides, he does not merely lay down a rule for Timothy what sort of person he must select, but likewise reminds every one of those who aspire to that rank, to institute a careful examination of himself and of his life.”

2) The Husband of One Wife – Better understood as a “one woman man” It is not a requirement for Elders to be married but men who are married to be married to one wife. This is an express prohibition of polygamy for an Overseer/Elder.

I believe Paul has in mind. The language establishes the issue of “one woman man”. Paul confirms the Old Testament teaching that God’s command from the time of creation is a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh. The Elder must be blameless with respect to the law of God concerning marriage.

3) Vigilant – Sober, not drunk, clearheaded, self-controlled, frugal, prudent, reasonable.

An Elder must be on guard and alert, just as a shepherd must always be watching for wolves and anything else that might endanger the flock. An Elder who is not vigilant in his private and public life will not be watchful over and care for the people of God.

4) Prudent – Thoughtful and self-controlled. The greek word refers to wisdom, good sense, a sound mind, and good jugdement.

5) Respectable

6) Hospitable – The meaning of the word means “One who loves to be a host” – whether for friends or strangers. It’s all inclusive. He loves to be a host regardless of who he is hosting.

7) Skillful in Teaching

8) Not given to much wine

9) Not a violent man – Does not strike, wound or cause harm due to a blow.

10) Not fond of shameful gain – Shameful gain is anything that a man gets by dishonest means, or which itself is shameful or wicked.

11) Gentle

12) Not Quarrelsome – Not given to quarrels, disputes, or strife, uncontentious, not a brawler.

13) Not loving money

14) Ruling his own house well

15) Not newly converted

16) A good testimony to those outside (the church)

Deacons

What are the qualifications for Deacons?

1) Reverent – The qualifications for Deacons follow on the heals of the qualifications for Elders. Grammatically of depend upon . “Reverent” is the first of five qualifications in the first sentence, which covers 8 & 9.

2) Not double-tongued – Also known as talking out of both sides of your mouth. He must not say one thing but mean something else. He must not say one thing to one person and the opposite to another person.

3) Not given to much wine – Paul uses the same word here as he wrote to Timothy saying, “to devote oneself to reading, exhortation, and teaching in . Deacons are not to devote themselves to wine as they would to the important things mentioned previously.

4) Not fond of shameful gain

5) Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience – Deacons like Elders must be instructed in right doctrine, should know the Scriptures well, live according to them, and be able to use them kindly in all situations that occur in daily life.

6) First be tested – Both Deacons and Elders must be tested prior to taking office in the church. This testing can take many forms but it must not be done in haste. The office of Deacon must NOT be looked upon as the bottom of the church leadership ladder, as it were. A Deacon is NOT a “Junior Elder”. It is not wise to put a man in the office of Deacon to “try him out” and see if he does well. And if he does well, let him continue in that office or move on to Elder.

7) Blameless – Different word than , but meaning is identical.

Differences between Elder and Deacon

In essence, the qualifications for both Elder and Deacons are virtually the same- even described with different words, but the meaning is the same. The significant difference is Elder is skilled at teaching. The deacon is the servant of the Elders and by extension the servant of the congregation at large. The deacons are given charge for specific duties to spread the burdens of the Elders and make the burdens light.

provides us with good detail as to the nature of the office of Deacon.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Deacons are appointed to serve. They are to lead by serving. They are the ones which exude servant leadership most. To put it in common language, they are the table waiters of the church. This is not derogatory or demeaning. This is glorious and wonderful- to exude Christ-likeness in serving others.

Who should be a Deacon? Look for those who are faithfully serving others above and beyond the rest. The test prior to taking the office of Deacon? Are they serving?

An important note to make here. The “Deacon Board” is not a competing board of power versus the “Elder/Pastor Board” – It is the Elders who oversee the Deacons- giving them direction. The Deacons then make their decisions based within and upon the direction the Elders have given them.

This brings us to my question of “Trustees” – Trustees, as related to legal issues, should be the Elders, not the Deacons. Why?

Elders rule over the congregation in general and Deacons more specifically. The Deacons do not have ruling power, other than to serve and appoint others to help serve in the “table waiter” functions of the church- today we would classify this as grounds, building, fellowships, meals, finances, etc… But at the same time there are Elders over these areas to give direction for the overall implementation of the tasks.

This means Elders must be Trustees. Because those outside the church (i.e. government with legal requirements) see the Trustees as the leaders of the church. The Elders are those who are the leaders and rulers of the church and must be recognized as such outside the church.

In typical form, there is the pastor, the deacons, and the trustees. The trustees really should be called “deacons” and the deacons “elders” in such a model and trained to be so accordingly. If a deacon functions as an Elder/Pastor, then they should be called as such.

To reiterate the bottom line, when government interacts with the “Trustees,” they should be interacting with the Elders since the Elders are truly the leaders and rulers of the church.

I have not addressed every issue nor every word or verse regarding the roles of Elders and Deacons. That is beyond the scope of this note. You may find “holes” in this note, but it may be my intention not to address that point at this time. I have written this quickly and wanted to present the case for the conclusion that I see naturally flowing from Scripture.

With that in mind, comments welcome!

Further thoughts – responses to people’s questions.

from what I see in Scripture, the Elders are the leadership and the Deacons are, as you say, leaders of teams/committees. I would not classify them as a “board” since there is nothing for them to discuss. In we see that the Deacons were appointed to specific tasks- at that time it was to help provide food and possibly other things to the widows.

I would see this in practical application today in the following ways:

An Elder would be Overseer of various ministries of the church- grounds and technology for instance. I see the Elders appointing Deacons to a specific task- a Deacon of Grounds, a Deacon of Technology..

The congregation would then affirm who the Elders have appointed.

I see the Elders appointing people and the congregation affirming the appointments (this is also key). The Deacons would then set up teams to fulfill the duties (with approval of the Elders).

An aside, if the congregation can not trust the appointment (or anything) the Elders have made, then maybe the congregation should replace those Elders with Elders they trust. Hence, the appointment / affirmation helps keep the Elders accountable (hence Steve Camp’s article on keeping Pastor’s accountable is key).

Further, I see Deacons as “team leaders” who specialize in their particular area. You want a Deacon who knows technology to be the Deacon of technology. You want someone who knows something about grounds keeping to be the Deacon of Grounds. And so on….

The Elders, then can Oversee things give direction to the Deacons. The Deacons do not need to meet as a board b/c their duties do not intersect for the most part-

Maybe they can meet to discuss how they implement their duties- but that would be once a year at most? That’s up to the Elders on how they want to implement that.

The point is to free up as much time for the Elders to devote to prayer, teaching and the Word. This does not mean they have no more administrative duties. They must administrate, but the actual carrying out of the duties are done by the Deacons. Further the Elders would listen to the Deacons and what they suggest as the means to carry out duties (budget, tools, etc..) but the Elders would appoint budgets and significant expenditures with congregational approval and give direction to the Deacons.

The Presbyterian form of gov’t is a good guide, really- even for non-Presbyterian churches. A church (with the structure I’ve outlined) plants a church with a Lead Pastor (Evangelist) and the other Elders of the Parent church help fulfill the plurality of Elders for the church plant.

I would further say, once the church plant becomes its own identity (officially becomes a church), that church should have a plurality of Elders inherently.


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This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (ESV)


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On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (ESV)


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30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (ESV)


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23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (ESV)


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And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Acts 15:4 (Listen)

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

Acts 15:6 (Listen)

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

Acts 15:22 (Listen)

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

Acts 15:23 (Listen)

23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

Acts 16:4 (Listen

And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Acts 15:4 (Listen)

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

Acts 15:6 (Listen)

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

Acts 15:22 (Listen)

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

Acts 15:23 (Listen)

23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

Acts 16:4 (Listen)

As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. (ESV)


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17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

Acts 20:28 (Listen

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

Acts 20:28 (Listen)

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (ESV)


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18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. (ESV)


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1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (ESV)


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17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (ESV)


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This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (ESV)


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5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (ESV)


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Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (ESV)


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17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (ESV)


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1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (ESV)


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Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (ESV)


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2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (ESV)


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And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (ESV)


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3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)


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Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (ESV)


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13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)


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through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (ESV)


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6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (ESV)


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6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (ESV)

A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 3

A right eschatology does not liberate us from the present; it liberates us for the present.

An Aside: Apocalyptic language and metaphor

As Matthew Malcolm4 shares,

If you’ve encountered the opinion that unless we interpret the Bible “literally” we are not doing justice to it, this could be a useful resource:

The Charge of Replacement Theology

What I’m finding is that those who charge Amillennialists as “Replacement Theologians” are establishing a straw man argument. The non-Amillennialist does not rebut the actual arguments of the Amillennialist, chiefly, the remnant of Israel is One, namely Jesus. He is the True Remnant of Israel, the True Israelite: read this post for details.

Because Jesus is the True Israelite (the True Remnant of Israel), everyone who believes in Jesus the Christ (the Messiah) becomes one (i.e. there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift).

This means that both Jew and Gentile are joint-heirs with Christ. This is not replacement theology. This is exactly the way it was meant to be in the first place.

Another way to look at it: Because Jesus is the True Remnant of One of Israel, Israel is expanded to include both Jew and Gentile, hence, this is Expansion Theology.

OR if you would like to keep pressing the point, Jesus replaces Israel (the unfaithful son) as the Faithful Son, the True Israel and then all who are joined in Him by faith becomes the New Israel — the two becoming one new man in Jesus:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. ~

The BIG Question

The big question non-Amillennialists need to answer is,

How is Jesus not the True Remnant of Israel– a Remnant of One?

This is not a liberal / Conservative Discussion

Charles Spurgeon5 (a Premillennialist but not a Dispensationalist) explains,

Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ so not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed at one time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about. These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body. Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way—they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall.

Promises / Fulfillment

I have never read a persuasive argument for why we should have such a hard distinction between Israel and the Church. Because of the documentation I have presented, I am more convinced than ever that just as Israel is used in different ways (due to context – i.e. Israel as nation, Israel as true Spiritual Israel), the Church is used in different senses (i.e. physical representation of God’s people, the Church universal aka Spiritual Israel.

I do not see how we can get around this when there are promises made to Israel yet applied to the church.

Promises Made to Israel Fulfilled in the Church

Promise to Israel

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God. –

Fulfillment in the church

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.’ ‘And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God. –

Promise to Israel

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ –

Fulfillment in the church

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. –

Promise to Israel

On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; –

Fulfillment in the church

Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. ‘And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works. –

Spoken to Israel, Applied to the Church
Spoken to Israel

And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. ‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. –

Applied to the church

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…’But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. –

Spoken to Israel

And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. –

Applied to the church

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; –

Spoken to Israel

My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. –

Applied to the church

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. –

Spoken to Israel

Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. –

Applied to the church

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ –

Spoken to Israel

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– –

Applied to the church

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’ –

Self-Condemnation of Dispensationalism

Charles Ryrie, in his early writings, makes this significant statement:

If the church does not have a new covenant, then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been clearly shown that the Old Testament teaching on the new covenant is that it is for Israel. If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to the one new covenant. This is the position held by many premillennialists, but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the church.

This is why I am not a Dispensationalist. This is why I am Amillennialist because everything I see revolves around Christ and the Amillennial position expresses that most clearly.

References

1See more about a Christological Focus in An Amillennial Rebuttal to Dispensationalism 2.
2The Greatest Challenge and Privilege of OT Preaching by Mike Bullmore Senior Pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin.
3Dispensationalists should “Re-interpret” by Bobby Grow and here is the article Bobby links to: « Sign this petitionMilbank on Gay Marriage »
Fundamentalist hermeneutics serves a secular, atheistic agenda
by Matthew Malcolm
4Apocalyptic language and metaphor by Matthew Malcolm
5Spurgeon, “Jesus Christ Immutable,” MTP, 15:8. via Charles H. Spurgeon and the Nation of Israel: A Non-Dispensational Perspective on a Literal National Restoration by by Dennis Swanson

See A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part One
See A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 2
SEe A Gospel-Centered Manifesto Part 3

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

10  Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (ESV)

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” (ESV)

23 and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” (ESV)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (ESV)

11 “In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old, (ESV)

14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’ (ESV)

28  “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (ESV)

2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.

Acts 2:16-21

16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (ESV)

and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (ESV)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (ESV)

16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. (ESV)

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (ESV)

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (ESV)

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (ESV)

20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (ESV)

Why Church Membership? Humility

Note: In short, read the book Humility: True Greatness by CJ Mahaney for a popular yet fuller treatment of Humility.

This is a short treatment of why I believe church membership is a biblical practice. Yes, Scripture does not explicitly command membership. However, implications of the five reasons addressed leave no other conclusion but church membership. This is a rough draft and certainly not complete in thought, but the intent and conclusion should be evident. The overarching question to consider while reading is, “Am I truly living humbly before God as He desires me to live? Am I humiliating myself as Christ humiliated Himself even to the extent of becoming a member of humanity and ultimately dying for all who believe in Him- even the death on the cross?”

My simple aim is to demonstrate the biblical necessity for church membership. The details regarding church membership are beyond the scope of this tiny series. Once we have established the biblical necessity for church membership, we must then deal with the details- which is something I do not want to take the time to go through at this time.

Let me say right out, there is no perfect church. There can’t be. Every local body of believers is FILLED only with fallen people- in need of a Savior, in need of fellowship and breaking of bread and the constant reminder we are not Lone Ranger Christians. We are a BODY of believers – not a group of individuals. Like the eye can not take the place of the rest of the body, neither can we being a part of the body substitute the whole.

Like you, I once (and still do at times) resent the idea of church membership. However, I began to realize, this hard grace of God is necessary for our edification and sanctification.

With this said, please read this in the spirit in which it is intended- to share the necessity of this grace in which we live.

“Contrary to popular and false belief, it’s not ‘those who help themselves’ whom God helps; it’s those who humble themselves.” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 21.

“It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” ~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 38 via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 21.

“Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 22.

“If you were to speak to any of my friends, they would confirm how I continually surprise them with fresh discoveries of my inadequacies. I even provide them a certain degree of entertainment, especially when it comes to the hands-on and the mechanical.

One day my daughter informed me that our car was making a strange noise, so I went out to investigate. She tired to prepare me, but in no way did I anticipate the violent shrieking that assaulted my ears upon starting the car. I immediately turned off the engine.

In such a moment, wisdom demands one course of action only: Get out of the car, walk back into the house, and call a trustworthy auto-repair service.

That would have been the appropriate and prudent response. Instead, I followed the arrogant male instinct, which requires at bare minimum that the male lift the hood and stare intently at the engine. After all, neighbors might be watching, and we want to at least give the appearance that we have some mechanical knowledge.” C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 25-26.

So often “church” is giving the appearance that we have some spiritual knowledge and awakening, yet we often do not want to humbly place ourselves under the Leadership and Lordship of Christ over our lives in and through the church as members.

“At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” ~ John Stott, “Pride, Humility & God,” Sovereign Grace Online, September/October 2000, http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/sgo/v18no5/prt_pride.html (accessed August 3, 2005) via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 29.

If we have not placed ourselves in covenantal membership in a local assembly, can we say we are truly living humbly before God?

“As I sat with my family at a local breakfast establishment, I noticed a finely dressed man at an adjacent table. His Armani suit and stiffly pressed shirt coordinated perfectly with a power tie. His wing-tip shoes sparkled from a recent shine, every hair was in place, including his perfectly groomed moustache.

The man sat alone eating a bagel as he prrepared for a meeting. As he reviewed the papers before him, he appeared nervous, glancing frequently at his Rolex watch. It was obvious he had an important meeting ahead.

The man stood up and I watched as he straightened his tie and prepared to leave.

Immediately I noticed a blob of cream cheese attached to his finely groomed moustache. He was about to go into the world, dressed in his finest, with cream cheese on his face.

I thought of the business meeting he was about to attend. Who would tell him? Should I? What if no one did?” ~ Attributed to Pastor James R. Needham in a 2004 illustration from www.preachingtoday.com via C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 123-124.

My Own Cream Cheese Moment
“Let me tell you about a cream cheese moment in my life, one of many such experiences that have helped convince me that no sin is more deceptive than pride.

I’m in an accountability group with men who care for and watch over my soul. In a meeting with these brothers, I was telling them of a specific pattern of sin I had noticed in my life in the past week. I’d become aware of this sin and been convicted about it, and I’d confessed it to God and received His forgiveness. Now I wanted to inform these men about it as well–then move on, because there was another particular issue I was more concerned about and wanted to discuss with them.

But as I described in detail my sin from the previous week, my friends started to ask caring and insightful questions about the root issue behind the sin. I assured them the root issue was obvious: It was pride. I even transitioned into a brief teaching on pride, then let the guys know I wanted to move o n to something else I thought was more important and more serious. I’m sure there was mild irritation in my voice.

But the men had more questions. They had observations. And they began to challenge me to look deeper at the pattern of sin I had shown in the previous week.

Again I felt irritation. I assumed I understood that particular sin completely. Why were we spending so much time on something I’d already figured out?

In essence, there was cream cheese all over my face, and I didn’t know it. My underlying sin had decieved me. I was blind. I didn’t see it and couldn’t see it. But they saw it clearly.

In my pride, I thought no one understood my heart as well as I did. But Scripture doesn’t support such a conclusion. Actually, God’s Word tells me, ‘No, C. J., sin is subtle, sin is deceitful, and sin blinds you. And you need feedback from others in order to understand your heart.’

By God’s grace, because the men seated around me in that room are true friends who care for me and aren’t afraid of me, they persevered. Though I was arrogant–not only in assuming I fully understood my sin and its root issue, but also in my relunctance to explore it more deeply–those men persevered in kindness. And only by their kindness and perseverence, and only by God’s grace, did I finally begin to perceive how much my sin had indeed deceived me. I saw that my confidence about fully knowing my soul in this situation, and in assuming I needed no one else’s eyes upon it, was actuallyy the hieight of arrogance.

They were guarding my heart and helping me to see the true extent of my sin. I thought I’d already wiped the cream cheese from my face and it was gone, but they were faithfully telling me, ‘It’s not gone; we’re staring at it! And were telling you this because we love you.'” ~ C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), 125-127.

Again, are we truly humiliating ourselves to such a degree that we truly demonstrate the humility of Christ to others?