No Small Churches

It is all too easy to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10) when it comes to one’s view of small churches – to think little of a church based on its size (or lack thereof). As a pastor of a rather small church myself, I must confess that at times it is easy to be discouraged when I see empty seats on the Lord’s day.

And so it was no small encouragement to come across the following remarks by John Murray (1898-1975) in a sermon that he preached on Matthew 18:20 over half a century ago. That text of Scripture is as follows:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)

Professor Murray offers the following hypothetical scenario for our consideration:

“Let us suppose that on a particular occasion, where a much larger number of people are accustomed to gather, only two happen to come to the service. When the minister came to the pulpit and found that there were only two there, he said to them, “Well, since there are so few of us here today, we better suspend the service.” Of course, the minister then would be doing the gravest dishonor to the promise of Christ. He would be offering the gravest insult to the Lord of Glory himself.”

O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?, p.223

He goes on to suggest that the same would be true if even only one person came to the service, so that the pastor only had an audience (so to speak) of one! But why would this be such a grave insult to Christ and his promise? Murray goes on to say:

“For Christ’s institution is, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” We must always remember that where there are only three, there are also four – and the fourth is the Lord of Glory. And where there are only two, there are always three -and the third is the head of the church, Christ himself.”

Ibid, p.223-224

Are we unduly impressed by large numbers of people in attendance, when the Lord Jesus Himself, the Lord of glory and the head of His church, is present among us? Likewise, do we despise the day of small things and offer insult to the honor of Christ by looking down our noses at His church when we see only a handful or so in attendance?

You could say that for the true church, even the smallest outpost of the visible church on this earth, if viewed rightly according to Scripture, is a really mega-church, for Christ is in her midst! In other words, in some rather important ways there is no such thing as a “small” church!

There are certainly a number of challenges and difficulties faced by smaller churches. But let us not compound the problem by having a low view of the church where Christ is present. And no matter how big or small our church might be, may we always be mindful of the presence of Christ among us in public worship on the Lord’s day, so that we seek to do all things in a manner that is well-pleasing in His sight, regardless of who else is or is not in attendance.


Praying HandsIn our brief study through the Lord’s Prayer we now come to the sixth request, which is “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13) . Sometimes the first half of that verse is thought to be a separate request from the latter half, and so “deliver us from evil” would then be the seventh request. Either way you slice it, the two parts are very closely-related. Simply for the sake of space, we will consider each half separately.

I must confess that I grew up reciting and praying the Lord’s Prayer in church from as far back as I can remember in my childhood. But in all that time I don’t think that I ever gave it enough thought to ask the obvious question – why do I need to ask God not to lead me into temptation? Does God ever actually lead his people into temptation? If not, is this request in the Lord’s Prayer superfluous? If so, then in what way can it be said that God does that? And why?

First things first – this request is not redundant; it is there for a reason. So we must conclude that in some way God may at times lead us into temptation. But the Scriptures are very clear that God tempts no one. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (ESV). No ambiguity there – God tempts no one. Period.

The account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness may prove helpful here. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (ESV). So the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the place of temptation. But who did the tempting? The devil. To be led into temptation is to be tested. To actually tempt is to try to cause someone to commit sin. There is a big difference between those two things. God’s goal in testing is never to cause sin. Satan’s goal in temptation is always to cause sin.

The Lord Jesus Christ passed the test in the wilderness that Adam failed in the garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 3), and that we all fail on a regular basis. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). That is why sinners can be saved by the “precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot ” (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

If we would sincerely pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12), then we must also ask the Lord to keep us from temptation so that we do not just keep on committing those very same sins. A.W. Pink writes,

” . . .past sins being pardoned, we should pray fervently for grace to prevent us from repeating them. We cannot rightly desire God to forgive us our sins unless we sincerely long for grace to abstain from the like in the future.” (The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, p.117)

To desire forgiveness of a sin while not also desiring to be kept from that sin is nothing short of hypocrisy. And so the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness of our debts or trespasses, and also to pray for God to keep us from the temptation to sin as well.


Praying HandsThe fifth request found in the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). It is all too easy to focus our attention on the first part of that request (i.e. “forgive us our debts”), while giving little or no thought to what follows (“as we forgive our debtors”). We looked at the first part in our previous post, and so it is the latter part of this request that we will consider together here.

The Bible repeatedly reminds us of the need to forgive one another. There must be a reason for that! And so this part of the Lord’s Prayer serves as a reminder that forgiveness will be necessary. And it will be necessary because we all still sin against each other. Sometimes we will be the one sinned against; sometimes the shoe will be on the other foot and we will be the offending party. (Frankly, each of us probably fits the latter description more often than we might care to admit.)

This holds true in marriage. One of my favorite books on marriage is titled, When Sinners Say “I Do”, by Dave Harvey. The title alone speaks volumes, and is instructive. Even the most godly marriage imaginable is still a marriage between two sinners (even if forgiven, redeemed sinners). And so forgiveness will often be necessary. Harvey repeats one statement a number of times throughout the book: “Forgiven sinners forgive sin.” In some ways that is a good summary of this part of the Lord’s Prayer.

This also holds true in churches. Do you expect to find a perfect church? A church that is without sin? Good luck with that. In fact, the church this side of heaven is made up entirely of sinners. In this life every believer in Christ is a forgiven sinner, even a sanctified sinner (!), but still a sinner nonetheless. Put enough of those sinners in close proximity for long enough, and some sparks are bound to fly! And so we pray together as the Lord Jesus taught us, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

So when (not if!) we are sinned against, we must learn to forgive. And we must forgive as Christ has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Likewise when we sin against someone else, we must be quick to repent, and seek out forgiveness and reconciliation with them.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, may the joy of being freely forgiven of all of your sins, lead you more and more to freely forgive others as well.

Forgive Us Our Debts (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART VII)

Praying Hands 2The fifth request found in the Lord’s Prayer is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). There is so much packed into that one seemingly-simple request, that we will need to unpack its meaning and application over the course of more than one study. (So consider this as part one of a two-part study of this particular request in the Lord’s Prayer.)

Perhaps the first thing that we should learn from this request and its inclusion in the model prayer that the Lord Jesus taught us to pray is that we actually need forgiveness. If we need to ask for forgiveness, that necessarily means that we are sinners, doesn’t it? In fact, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (KJV). How many have sinned? All. How many have therefore “come short of the glory of God”? All. Every last one of us.

And in this request our sins are referred to as “debts.” Sin puts us in debt to God. Being in debt to another person is bad enough, but being in debt to God should be a sobering thought for anyone! What every person owes to God as his or her Creator is obedience – perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience. But ever since the fall of mankind in Adam’s sin (Genesis chapter 3) we have all failed to obey God, and have transgressed his holy law in more ways and more often than we can even begin to comprehend. Our debt of sin is un-repayable by us. It makes our ever-mounting national debt seem like chump change in comparison. And so we desperately need forgiveness.

What is forgiveness? The word “forgive” in Matthew 6:12 has the idea of sending something away or removing it. It brings to mind the imagery of the “scapegoat” found in Leviticus 16:7-22. There we are told that two goats were to be used as a sin offering – one goat would be killed as a sacrifice to the Lord (v.15), while the other goat (the scapegoat), after having the sins of the people confessed over it, would be sent away into the wilderness (v.21), bearing the sins of the people far, far away, never to return.

Those two goats together picture for us the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in both making atonement for sin, and in carrying our sins far away from us. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (KJV). The reason that we can ask God for forgiveness of our sins is only because the debt of our sin has been paid in full by the only one capable of paying it – through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And forgiveness is not something that we just need to ask for from God at the beginning of the Christian life, but will continue to be an ongoing (even daily!) need in the lives of all believers. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that in this life we will never outgrow our need to continually ask God for forgiveness. (And so the Lord’s Prayer clearly rules out any idea of perfectionism!)

Praying for the forgiveness of our sins should also be a regular part of both private and corporate prayer (i.e. praying with other believers in groups as well as in public worship). After all, it does say, “forgive us our debts,” not just ‘forgive me my debts.’

I sincerely hope that you know the joy and peace that only come through the forgiveness of sins, and which is freely offered to you through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing else in this world that can relieve a troubled conscience like the knowledge that, in Christ, a holy God has freely forgiven all of your sins!


Praying HandsIn our brief series going through the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4), we now come to the third request, which is “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (v.10). This is closely-related to the previous request (“Thy kingdom come” – v.10). After all, one of the primary ways that a king’s kingdom is manifested is in his will being done. The one must lead to the other.

What does it mean to pray for the Lord’s will to be done? It means (as Jesus goes on to tell us in v.10), that His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done in heaven? Perfectly. Perpetually. Personally. That is how the angels themselves do the will of God in heaven! They obey Him perfectly. There is no disobedience or sin in heaven. None. (That is part of what makes heaven, well, heaven!) They obey Him perpetually. In other words, they do His will at all times. Always. And they obey Him personally. They live to serve the LORD and do His will.

That has important implications for those who confess the name of Christ and who would sincerely pray the Lord’s prayer. If you are going to pray for the Lord’s will to be done on earth, that has to start with His will being done in your own life, doesn’t it?

But what does that entail? It means first of all that we humbly submit to and accept His will in whatever He sends our way in this life. That is to pray as Jesus Himself prayed in the garden of Gethsemane – “not as I will, but as You will” (NIV). To pray this way requires that we trust God that His will is good, and that He knows what He is doing (even when we ourselves do not). Do you pray that way? Do you pray for the Lord’s will to be done in your life, even in times of trial or suffering? The Lord “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). All things. And so He alone is worthy of our trust at all times.

It also means that we must seek to do the will of the Lord in our own daily lives. And if we are praying for the Lord’s will to be done without a sincere desire and aim to do what the Lord has commanded in His Word, then we are just going through the motions in prayer. There is a word for that kind of thing – hypocrisy. As Jesus Himself said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NIV).

So let us learn to pray for the Lord’s will to be done, both in our own lives as well as in our families, our community, and even “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Thy Kingdom Come (The Lord’s Prayer – Part IV)

Praying HandsIn our series about the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), we now come to the second request found in the prayer – “Thy kingdom come” (v.10). Much like the previous request (“Hallowed be Thy name” – v.9), this might not really sound much like a request, but that is precisely what it is. Another way of putting it would be to say, “Let your kingdom come.”

But what exactly does that mean? As brief as this request may be (only three words in English!), it is not necessarily all that easy to understand, is it?

Theologians have often distinguished between the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory. These are not two separate kingdoms, but rather are two aspects of one and the same kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The old Puritan writer, Thomas Watson notes that “they differ not in nature, but in degree only” (The Lord’s Prayer, p.59). In other words, the kingdom of grace is the present-day expression of rule of Christ, while the kingdom of glory is the future, final, and complete expression or manifestation of that very same rule. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition? A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

So when we pray for the coming of the Lord’s kingdom of grace to come (i.e. this side of glory, before the return of Christ), we pray for things such as the destruction of Satan’s kingdom; the salvation of the lost; that sinners would be brought to repentance from sin, and faith in the Savior; that the Lord’s rightful reign would be more and more acknowledged by all; that his good and righteous commandments would be affirmed, upheld,and obeyed in all spheres of human life; and for the good news of the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth.

And when we pray for the coming of the kingdom of glory itself, we are then echoing the words of Revelation 22:20 – “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (KJV). To pray for that is to pray for the Lord himself to return in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and to rule in glory with his redeemed people forever in heaven. In that great day the words of Revelation 21:3-4 will finally become a reality:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (ESV)

When you see it put that way, who wouldn’t want to pray, “Thy kingdom come”! May the Lord be pleased to teach you and I how to pray. And may he advance and hasten his kingdom in answer to the prayers of his people!

Hallowed Be Thy Name (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART III)

Praying HandsThis is the third post in a brief series of blog posts about the Lord’s Prayer. As I pointed out previously, the Lord’s prayer is intended to be a pattern or model for believers to follow in prayer – it is given in order to teach us how to pray. In Matthew 6:9 the Lord Jesus introduces this pattern prayer by telling his disciples, “Pray then like this . . . .”

The fact that the Lord’s Prayer is given as a pattern or model prayer means that the Lord’s redeemed people can (and should!) learn any number of things about prayer by a thoughtful examination of its contents. There we learn what kinds of requests ought to be commonly mentioned in prayer. For example, we as believers are to pray that the will of our heavenly Father might be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). There we are also taught to pray for our daily bread (v.11), as well as for forgiveness (v.12). So those things should occupy a prominent place in our prayers.

But we can also learn a lot about prayer from the structure and order of the Lord’s Prayer. You may be familiar with the old adage, “first things first.” It means that some things have a higher priority than others. Well, what comes first in the Lord’s Prayer? It may surprise you. In Matthew 6:9 Jesus begins the prayer this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Now “hallowed be your name” may not sound much like a request, but that is exactly what it is. Another way of putting it would be to say, “Let your name be hallowed” (or revered as holy).

Think about that for a moment. The very first request in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s name would be hallowed. In other words, the glory of God is to be the number one concern of the prayers of God’s people! It is not merely first in sequence, but in priority as well! That is no doubt a revolutionary thought for many in our day. How many of us actually pray that way? Is the glory of God at the top of your prayer list? It should be. Jesus himself says so!

May the Lord be pleased to teach you and I how to pray. And may his holy name be greatly glorified and hallowed in answer to the prayers of his people!

Our Father Who Art In Heaven (The Lord’s Prayer – Part II)

Praying HandsThis is the second post in a brief series on the Lord’s Prayer. (If you are not familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, it can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.) Before we get ahead of ourselves in discussing the various requests found in the prayer, it is vitally important that we rightly understand what is sometimes referred to as the “address” of the prayer. The address is found in Matthew 9:9 where the Lord Jesus instructs his people to begin our prayers this way: “Our father in heaven . . . .”

Is God your “Father in heaven”? Are you a child of God? The Bible says that to all who receive the Lord Jesus Christ, who believe in his name, “he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, ESV). So no one is inherently a child of God all on their own; no one is a child of God simply by virtue of being created by God; certainly no one is a child of God on the basis of their own virtue or goodness, not even by being religious. But one becomes adopted as a child of God through faith in Christ. He alone is the Son of God; sinners are forgiven and adopted as God’s children through faith in God’s Son!

The Fatherhood of God could be considered the central theme of the entire “Sermon on the Mount” (i.e. Matthew chapter 5-7). As you read those three chapters (which are the context of the Lord’s Prayer), you will find the Lord Jesus referring to God as “Father” no less than 17 times! In his teaching specifically on the subject of prayer in those chapters (which includes, but is not limited to, the Lord’s Prayer), he speaks of God as “Father” at least 7 times. Sounds like a pattern, doesn’t it?

It is not too much to say that the Fatherhood of God is in many ways the key to prayer. Believers in Jesus Christ are not to pray like hypocrites, who pray in order to be noticed by others (Matthew 6:5-6). Why? Because “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.6). Believers are also not to pray like pagans, who, by the mindless repetition of empty phrases in their prayers, treat God as if he were an idol to be manipulated, and treat prayer as if it were a mere mechanical process (Matthew 6:7-8). Why? Because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v.8). Prayer is not for show. Prayer is not a way to manipulate God. It is rather to be understood as taking your concerns to “our Father in heaven.” If you can pray to God as your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), that changes everything!

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) teaches that because God is almighty God, He is able to do all things for the salvation of his people, and that because he is a “faithful Father” he desires to do so (Q.26). In other words, if God is your heavenly Father, you can be sure that he is both willing and able to answer your prayers. As God, he is most certainly able to answer prayer. As Father, he is also then willing to answer prayer. What a comfort! What an encouragement to prayer!

The Biblical View of the Bible (Part 3 – Inerrancy)

bible-808633_1280This is the third post in our series on the biblical view of the Bible. We have briefly looked at both the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and now we want to touch upon another very important corollary of the inspiration of Scripture, that is its inerrancy.

Inerrancy, simply defined, means that there are no errors or mistakes in the Bible. None. Now that may sound like a preposterous claim to some, but I make no apologies for stating it. The inspiration of Scripture (i.e. that it is “breathed out” by God – 2 Timothy 3:16) implies and even demands that the Scriptures be without error. The Word of God, because it is the Word of God, is true, sure, and trustworthy in all that it says. It can be believed, trusted, and relied upon.

Some prefer the term infallibility, which is merely the idea that the Bible will not steer you wrong. That sounds all well and good, but it is sometimes used as a pretext for denying the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. And if there are errors in the Bible, by what standard are we to determine what those errors are? And how are we to discern what parts of the Bible are to be believed and followed? Church tradition? Our own reason? Sadly, human reason, as fallible as it is, often ends up becoming the substitute standard. One then reads the Bible and simply rejects or reinterprets what it says based upon his or her own prior convictions and thoughts. Another way of saying that is to say that we are then placing ourselves above Scripture – we essentially become our own standard, the measure of truth and understanding. But are we wiser than God? I think not.

What was Jesus’s own view of the Bible? In the “sermon on the mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) He told the crowds, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18, ESV). Think about that. An “iota” is a reference to the smallest letter in the Hebrew Alphabet (which looks much like a comma); and a “dot” is a reference to the smallest marking in Hebrew writing (which looks like just what it sounds like – a dot). So the Lord Jesus Christ did not just claim that the Scriptures were true in some general, vague sense, but rather boldly stated that everything in it will be fulfilled, right down to the smallest letter or mark! The Word of God is trustworthy and true – all of it!

Temptation & the Law

In Matthew 4 (and Luke 4), Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted by Satan.

And how He responded should be instructive for us in a number of ways.

It is often pointed out (and rightly so) that He fought temptation with Scripture.  Three times he replies to Satan by saying “It is written”, followed by a quote from the Old Testament.

What is not often pointed out is that all three (3) of the quotations He chose were from the book of Deuteronomy.  In other words, He quotes from the Law.

Now the law does not justify.  And many have pointed out that the Law does not give us the power to obey, and that (as Paul tells us in Romans 7:7-12) the law can actually stir up sin in the unregenerate heart.  But the problem was never the law (which Paul says is “holy and righteous and good” – Romans 7:12), but rather sin itself, which reacts in rebellion against God’s law.

But the way that Jesus used the Law of God when He was being tempted should show us the goodness and downright helpfulness of the law in the lives of  believers.  Are you fighting against temptation?  Then do not neglect the role of the law.

While we certainly need more than law when tempted – we need the grace of God & the power of His Spirit – we must not conclude that the law is a thing to be avoided.

The Psalmist writes,

    I have stored up your word in my heart,
        that I might not sin against you.  (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

There should be no doubt that much of the Word that the Psalmist stored up in his heart was from the law.  In fact, Psalm 1 speaks of the blessings of delighting in the law of God and meditating upon it day and night (v.1-3).

So don’t rely solely on the law in your fight against temptation, but don’t neglect it either!  And next time your daily Bible reading plan finds you in the book of Deuteronomy, think about the example of Jesus in the wilderness and how He used that particular book to ward off the temptations of the evil one.