Strong In Knowledge But Weak In Love

One thing I have seen over the years that has baffled me is people who are really strong when it comes to knowing the Bible but weak when it comes to love.

I should say that it use to baffle me. Now I think I get it.

It’s very possible to be reading one’s Bible, to be active in church and yet fail when it comes to being transformed by the gospel.

What is the fruit of the gospel? Making sure others know you are right? Correcting the mistakes of others? Winning an argument? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that when a person is abiding in Christ the result is…

“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

I can say from personal experience that as I draw closer to Jesus my own sin becomes more and more painfully obvious to me. As I continue to press into the gospel I find myself amazed that Jesus would love and die for such a sinner as myself. This gospel immersion leaves my heart soft and broken and desiring to pour out the same grace that I have received to others. It also makes me incredibly patient with others because I know how patient God is with me every single day.

There will be times when we need to speak the truth into someone’s life but Paul was clear in Galatians 4:15 that our words of truth must be done in a spirit of love.

When I find that people are divisive, self-righteous, or just plain hard to get along with I know that they may be busy with religion but somewhere in their soul there is a gospel disconnection.

But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. -Center Church, p. 73-74

Jeremiah 29:7. Does this apply to the church today?

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. -Jeremiah 29:7

How many times have you seen this verse quoted in such a way to encourage Christians to serve and love the city in which they reside? Let’s just say “a lot.”

The question must be asked, “do the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in 600 B.C. really apply to the church today? And if so, how?” 

exileSo why should we apply the exhortations of Jeremiah 29 to the church today? In the Bible, we see the people of God living in three configurations. From Abraham’s day onward, God’s people existed as an extended biological family. From the days of Moses, they exited as a nation-state, with laws and a king and an army to enforce those laws by civil sanctions. During the exile, however, God’s people existed as a dispersed fellowship of congregations (synagogues) living in many different nation-states. God’s law did not take a civil form during that period-the disobedient were expelled from the congregation, but they were not executed.

After the exile, the Jews went back to being a nation-state. Yet the New Testament does not envision the Christian church in this way. Instead, it shows that the church continues to exist as a dispersion of people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2), just as Israel did in the exile (see Jas 1:1, Peter 1:1). Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the church should continue to the human cities of our time, not as the people of God did under Abraham, Moses, or David, but as they did during the time of the exiles.” P.147-148, Center Church

Peter clearly tells us that as the church today we are called to live as exiles (1 Peter 2:11-12). One of the problems I see today is that many Christians are not taking the tone or posture of an exile, rather they are living as if they are in a position of power. Perhaps the post-Christian culture that we are living in today is going to force us to let go of the facade of being in a position of power and instead embrace the reality that God has called us to live as exiles for the good of the city/suburbs in which we reside. 

What does it look like when we live as if we are in a position of power?

  • We seek to impose our “rules” on society.
  • We come across as arrogant and angry.
  • We are shocked and outraged when others do not submit to our “rules”.
  • We end up putting too much hope and faith in politicians for the transformation of society.
  • Unfortunately we stop looking and sounding like Jesus

What does it look like when we live as exiles?

  • We listen to and serve people in our culture because we realize that we are not in a position of power.
  • We don’t assume that culture will play by our rules. Instead, we show them an alternative way to live. The way of Love.
  • Our tone and posture is less militant and more sacrificial and compassionate. Quoting John piper, “This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. Where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.”
  • We don’t hate culture, we see our role as salt (redemption) and light within culture.
  • We walk in the ways of Jesus (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 20:28) and truly reflect the gospel to the world around us.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? -Psalm 137:4

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. –1 Peter 2:11-12

24 Of My Favorite Quotes From Center Church by Tim Keller

1-Preaching to young secular adults

Preaching is compelling to young secular adults not if preachers use video clips from their favorite movies and dress informally and sound sophisticated, but if the preachers understand their hearts and culture so well that the listeners feel the force of the sermon’s reasoning even if in the end they don’t agree with it. This is not a matter of style or program. p. 15

2-Different ways to present the gospel

If we conceive the question in the first, more individualistic way, we explain how a sinful human being can be reconciled to a holy God and how his or her life can be changed as a result. It is a message about individuals. The answer can be outlined: Who God is, what sin is, who Christ is and what he did, and what faith is. These are basically propositions. If we conceive of the question in the second way, to ask all that God is going to accomplish in history, we explain where the world came from, what went wrong with it, and what must happen for it to be mended. This is a message about the world. The answer can be outlined: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. These are chapters in a plotline, a story.

As we will see in the next chapter, there is no single way to present the biblical gospel. Yet I urge you to be as thoughtful as possible in your gospel presentations. The danger in answering only the first question (“What must I do to be saved?”) without the second (“What hope is there for the world?”) is that, standing alone, the first can play into the Western idea that religion exists to provide spiritual goods that meet individual spiritual needs for freedom from guilt and bondage. It does not speak much about the goodness of the original creation or of God’s concern for the material world, and so this conception may set up the listener to see Christianity as sheer escape from the world. But the danger in conceiving too strictly as story line of the renewal of the world is even greater. It tells listeners about God’s program to save the world, but it does not tell them how to actually get right with God and become part of that program.” p. 32

center church3-The temptation to move on, away from the gospel, and into deeper forms of spiritual truth

There is always a danger that church leaders and ministers will conceive of the gospel as merely the minimum standard of doctrinal belief for being a Christian believer. As a result, many preachers and leaders are energized by thoughts of teaching more advanced doctrine, or of deeper forms of spirituality, or of intentional community and the sacraments, or of “deeper discipleship”, or of psychological healing, or of social justice and cultural engagement. One of the reasons is the natural emergence of specialization as a church grows and ages. People naturally want to go deeper into various topics and ministry disciplines. But this tendency can cause us to lose sight of the whole. Though we may have an area or a ministry that we tend to focus on, the gospel is what brings unity to all that we do. Every form of ministry is empowered by the gospel, based on the gospel, and is a result of the gospel. p. 36

4-What in the world do we mean when we say “Center Church”?

A church that truly understands the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the “word of God dwell in it richly” (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes. Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach, and church planting. This makes it look like and evangelical-charismatic church. Because of the upside-down, kingdom/incarnation aspect, the church will placed great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, radical giving and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor.  This makes it look like as Anabaptist “peace” church. Because of the forward-back, kingdom/restoration aspect, the church will place great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people to work in “secular” vocations out of a Christian worldview. This makes it look like a mainline church or, perhaps, a Kuyperian Reformed church. Very few churches, denominations, or movements integrate all of these ministries or emphases. Yet I believe that a comprehensive view of the biblical gospel-one that grasps the gospel’s inside-out, upside-down, and forward-back aspects-will champion and cultivate them all. This is what we mean by a Center Church. p. 48

5-Most of our problems in life come from…

Most of our problems in life come from a lack of proper orientation to the gospel. Pathologies in the church and sinful patterns in our individual lives ultimately stem from a failure to think through the deep implications of the gospel and to grasp and believe the gospel through and through. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts and our thinking and changes our approaches to absolutely everything. When the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look unique. People will find in it an attractive, electrifying balance of moral conviction and compassion. p. 51

6-Churches, over time, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel

Over time, all churches, no matter how sound their theology, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel and fall into practices that conform more to other religions or to irreligion. Their doctrinal instruction loses sight of how each doctrine plays a role in the gospel message, and their moral instruction is not grounded in and motivated by the finished work and grace of Christ. The leaders of the church must always be bringing the gospel to bear on people’s minds and hearts so that they see it as not just a set of beliefs but as the power that changes us profoundly and continually. Without this kind of application of the gospel, mere teaching, preaching, baptizing, and catechizing are not sufficient. p. 54

7-How to spot an idol

A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us. p. 70

8-Doctrinally correct but self-righteous

But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. p. 73-74

9-Jesus is the main point of every text

The main way to avoid moralistic preaching is to be sure that you always preach Jesus as the ultimate point and message of every text. If you don’t point listeners to Jesus before the end of the sermon, you will give them the impression that the sermon is basically about them-about what they must do. However, we know from texts such as Luke 24:13-49 that Jesus understood every part of the Bible as pointing to him and his saving work. This is not to suggest that the author of every biblical passage intentionally made references to Jesus but that if you put any text into its full, canonical context, it is quite possible to discern the lines that point forward to Christ. p. 77

10-How does revival occur?

Revival occurs as a group of people who, on the whole, think they already know the gospel discover that they do not really or fully know it, and by embracing the gospel they cross over into living faith. When this happens in any extensive way, an enormous release of energy occurs. p. 79

11-Ministry in the suburbs or city? Which is more important?

I have made as strenuous a case as I can that the city is one of the highest priorities for Christian life and mission in the twenty-first century. Now I want to press even further. These chapters on City Vision may have given you the idea that I think that all Christians should move into cities and serve there. To be clear, this is not what I am saying. I believe that there must be Christians and churches everywhere there are people. In one sense, there are not little places or people. God loves to use unimportant people (1 Cor 1:26-31) and unlikely places (John 1:46) to do his work. Jesus wasn’t from Rome or even Jerusalem but was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth-perhaps to make this very point. We have been told that now something like 50 percent of the world’s population live in cities-but that means that half the population does not live in urban areas, and therefore we must not discourage or devalue gospel ministry in the hundreds and thousands of towns and villages on earth. And ministry in small towns may not change a country, but it surely can have a major impact on its region. p. 166

12-Integration of faith and work

Traditional evangelical churches tend to emphasize personal piety and rarely help believers understand how to maintain and apply their Christian beliefs and practice in the worlds of arts, business, scholarship, and government. Many churches do not know how to disciple members without essentially pulling them out of their vocations and inviting them to become heavily involved in church activities. In other words, Christian discipleship is interpreted as consisting largely of activities done in the evening or on the weekend. p. 175-176

13-Politics and the poor

By setting our sights on gaining and retaining political influence, it is possible to miss the biblical themes of how God regularly works among the weak and the marginal and how any truly Christian society must promote shalom-peace and justice for every citizen. One of the more worrisome aspects of the religious right to this point has been the apparent absence of concern for the poor. p. 201

14-God’s poetic justice

Yet we could also argue that the greatest problem for the church today is our inability to connect with nonbelievers in a way that they understand. Isn’t it a major issue that the evangelical church exists as a subcultural cul-de-sac, unable to speak the gospel intelligibly to most Americans, and is perceived to be concerned only with increasing its own power rather than a common good? Of course it is. Early Christian bishops in the Roman Empire, by contrast, were so well known for identifying with the poor and weak that eventually, though part of a minority religion, they were seen to have the right to speak for the local community as a whole. Caring for the poor and the weak became, ironically, a major reason for the cultural influence the church eventually came to wield. If the church does not identify with the marginalized, it will itself be marginalized. That is God’s poetic justice.

15-Is the current culture redeemable, or fundamentally fallen?

I believe most of these concerns can be reduced to two fundamental questions. The first question deals with our attitude toward cultural change: Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the possibility for cultural change? The second question exposes our understanding of the nature of culture itself and speaks to the potential for redemption: Is the current culture redeemable and good, or fundamentally fallen? Our answers to these questions reveal our alignments with biblical emphases as well as our imbalances. p. 225

16-The God of mission and the church

In short, God does not merely send the church in mission. God already is in mission, and the church must join him. This also means, then, that the church does not simply have a missions department; it should wholly exist to be a mission. p. 251

17-Does evangelistic church=missional church?

To reach this growing post-Christendom society in the west will obviously take more than what we ordinarily call an evangelistic church; it will take a missional church. This church’s worship is missional in that it makes sense to non-believers in that culture, even while it challenges and shapes Christians with the gospel. Its people are missional in that they are so outwardly focused, so involved in addressing the needs of the local community, that the church is well-known for its compassion. The members of a missional church also know how to contextualize the gospel, carefully challenging yet also appealing to the baseline cultural narratives of the society around them. Finally, because of the attractiveness of its people’s character and lives, a missional church will always have some outsiders who are drawn into its community to incubate and explore the Christian faith in its midst. So the idea that “to be missional is to be evangelistic” is too narrow. A missional church is not less than an evangelistic church, but it is much more. p. 265

18-Six marks of a missional church

1. The church must confront society’s idols.

2. The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular.

3. The church must equip people in mission in every part of their lives.

4. The church must be a counterculture for the common good.

5. The church itself must itself be contextualized and should expect nonbelievers, inquirers, and seekers to be involved in most aspects of the church’s life and ministry.

6. The church must practice unity. p. 274

19-The chief way in which we should disciple people

The gospel creates community. Because it points us to the One who died for his enemies, it creates relationships of service rather than selfishness. Because it removes both fear and pride, people get along inside the church who could never get along outside. Because it calls us to holiness, the people of God are in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus the gospel creates a human community radically different from any society around it.

Accordingly, the chief way in which we should disciple people (or, if you prefer, to form them spiritually) is through community. Growth in grace, wisdom, and character does not happen primarily in classes and instruction, through large worship gatherings, or even in solitude. Most often, growth happens through deep relationships and in communities where the implications of the gospel are worked out cognitively and worked out practically-in ways no other setting or venue can afford. The essence of becoming a disciple is, to put it colloquially, becoming like the people we hang out the most. Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternative society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are. p. 311

20-Keep ’em separated? Religion and work

In the West during the time of Christendom, the church could afford to limit its discipleship and training of believers to prayer, Bible study, and evangelism because most Christians were not facing non-Christian values at work, in their neighborhoods, or at school. They did not need (or did not think they needed) to reflect deeply about a Christian approach to business, art, politics, the use of community resources, or race relations, to name a few examples. In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness.

But even this conviction is counter-cultural. Our Western cultures continue to cherish the Enlightenment “fact-value distinction”, namely, that only things that can be proven scientifically are facts and therefore constitute the only legitimate basis for public work and discourse. Conversely, everything religious, transcendent, or subjective belongs in the sphere of values and should therefore be kept private. The implication for persons of faith is that their religious convictions are not to be brought to bear on their work, whether it is banking, acting, teaching, or policy making. In such an increasingly secular and post-Christian culture, it has become normal for believers to seal off their faith beliefs from the way they work in their vocations. The few who resist usually do so by being outspoken about their personal faith rather than by allowing the gospel to shape the way they actually do art, business, government, media, or scholarship. The church plays an essential role in supporting and encouraging individual Christians as they engage the culture, helping them to work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions. p. 330

21-We must support and encourage those who are engaged in “secular” work

We must, therefore, reject approaches to work that counsel withdrawal or indifference regarding the culture. Members of such churches are told to either evangelize and disciple through the local church or, at the very least, to send in their tithes so the more committed Christians can please God directly by doing the work of ministry. In these types of churches, there is little to no support or appreciation for the “secular” work of Christians. On the other hand, we must also reject the approach that stresses social justice and cultural involvement but fails to call us to repentance, conversion, and holiness. We want to avoid both simple cultural confrontation and cultural assimilation and instead become an agent of cultural renewal. We want to disciple our people to work in the world of of a Christian worldview. p. 332

22-If Jesus is Lord of the cubicle are we training people to live in light of that truth?

The question for the church is this: If we believe that Jesus is Lord in every area of life, how do we train our people in the practice of that Lordship? p. 333

23-Church planting and cessationism

In Acts, planting churches is not a traumatic or unnatural event. It is woven into the warp and woof of ministry, and so it happens steadily and naturally. Paul never evangelizes and disciples without planting a church. For decades, expositors have looked to Acts to make lists of the basic elements of ministry: Bible teaching, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and worship. I have always found it odd that there in Acts, along with everything else the church is doing, is church planting-yet this element of ministry is consistently ignored! I believe there is a dubious, tacit cessationism at work. Almost unconsciously, readers of the book of Acts have said, “Yes, but that was for then. We don’t do that now.” I believe this conclusion misses a key aspect of a healthy church, namely that church planting must be natural and customary, not traumatic and episodic. p. 355

24-How to argue well

1. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own.

2. Take your opponents’s views in their entirety, not selectively.

3. Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form.

4. Seek to persuade, not antagonize-but watch your motives!

5. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology-because only God sees the heart. p. 372

What does a gospel-centered church look like?

I find myself constantly thinking through the implications of the gospel in my personal life and in the life of the church. In fact I want my mind to be like a gospel grid in which I see, interpret and understand everything in this world. With that said, here is a wonderful description from Tim Keller, Center Church, of how the gospel impacts every aspect of the church. First of all let’s articulate what the heart of the gospel is…

New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole offers the following outline of the gospel taught by Paul and the Gospel writers:

1. The Son of God emptied himself and came into the world in Jesus Christ, becoming a servant. This is the incarnation and the upside-down aspect of the gospel.
2. He died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice. This is the atonement and the inside-out aspect of the gospel.
3. He rose from the grave as the firstfruits of a whole renewed world. This is the resurrection and the forward-back aspect of the gospel.

So those are three key aspects of the gospel. How does that impact the church?

A church that truly understand the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the Word of Christ dwell in it richly (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes. Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach, and church planting. This makes it look like an evangelical-charismatic church. Because of the upside-down, kingdom/incarnation aspect, the church will place great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, radical giving, and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor. This makes it look like an Anabaptist “peace” church. Because of the forward-back, kingdom/restoration aspect, the church will place great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people to work in “secular” vocations out of a Christian worldview. This makes it look like a mainline church or, perhaps, a Kuyperian Reformed church. Very few churches, denominations, or movements integrate all of these ministries and emphases. Yet I believe that a comprehensive view of the biblical gospel-one that grasps the gospel’s inside-out, upside-down, and forward-back aspects-will champion and cultivate them all. This is what we mean by a Center Church.

It is critical that we are teaching and training our people to think about how the gospel plays out in the context of everyday life (home, neighborhood, work, culture). It is equally as important that we are equipping our leaders to deeply reflect on how the gospel affects every area of ministry in the church. The moment we divorce the gospel from life and ministry we, and our church, become more religious than we are Christ-centered (gospel-centered).

Taken from Center Church, Chapter 3, “The Gospel Affects Everything”

Spiritual Revival and Prayer (Excerpt from Center Church, Tim Keller)

While the ultimate source of revival is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit ordinarily uses instumental, or penultimate, means to produce revival.

To start every revival, the Holy Spirit initially uses what Jonathan Edwards called extraordinary prayer-united, persistent, and kingdom centered. Sometimes it begins with a single person or a small group of people praying for God’s glory in the community. What is important is not the number of people praying but the nature of the praying. C. John Miller makes a helpful and perceptive distinction between “maintenance” and “frontline” prayer meetings. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and focused on physical needs inside the church. In contrast, the three basic traits of frontline prayer are these:

  1. A request for grace to confess sins and to humble ourselves.
  2. A compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church and the reaching of the lost.
  3. A yearning to know God, to see his face, to glimpse his glory.

These distinctions are unavoidably powerful. If you pay attention at a prayer meeting, you can tell quite clearly whether these traits are present. In the biblical prayers for revivals in Exodus 33; Nehemiah 1; and Acts 4, the three elements of frontline prayer are easy to see. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that after the disciples were threatened by the religious authorities, they asked not for protection for themselves and their families but only for boldness to keep preaching! Some kind of extraordinary prayer beyond the normal services and patterns of prayer is always involved.

P. 73 “Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City”, Tim Keller