Posts tagged Paul
Far Be It From Me: The Scandal and Sin of Pastoral Prayerlessness

There are many ways to fail as a pastor. Moral lapses, theological error, and spiritual apathy are just a few of the more obvious ways we can harm the congregations we serve. But there is perhaps one failure that gets overlooked. We can build successful ministries, influence people with biblical truth, and give the general appearance of faithfulness without anyone ever knowing that we are prayerless men. But this is to our shame. Do we truly believe that we can properly care for the people of God without bringing their names and burdens before Him in prayer? Our prayerlessness indicates we do. More than that it underlines the reality that we have drifted from the biblical and historical view of what it means to be a pastor.

Two stories from 1 Samuel demonstrate how seriously spiritual leaders (prophets and priests) took their responsibility to pray for the people in their care. The first comes from Samuel himself. After anointing Saul as king over the people, Samuel tells them they have committed evil against YHWH by asking for a king to rule them (1 Sam. 12:12–18). The people recognize their sin and say to him, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die” (12:19). Samuel’s response is telling, especially when he considers his role in their future obedience: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way” (12:23). For Samuel, prayer for the people is such a vital part of his role that to abandon the practice is unthinkable. More than that, to neglect this prayer is “sin against the LORD”.[1]

A second story comes later in the book after YHWH has rejected Saul and chosen David as king. David was on the run from Saul and came to Nob where Ahimelech the priest gave him the consecrated bread for food and Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 21:1–10). When Saul hears that Ahimelech has aided the fugitive David, he sends for all the priests and interrogates them on the charge of treason. In his paranoia, Saul accuses the priest of giving David food and arming him with a sword, as well as having “inquired of God for him”—that he sought to determine God’s will and seek His help for David’s mission against Saul. Ahimelech’s answer again demonstrates how essential this prayer was: “Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me!” (22:15). Ahimelech’s intercession for David was not unique, but rather a normal part of his role as priest that he was bound to carry out.[2]

Turning to the New Testament, we again see the central role of prayer when we examine the Apostle Paul’s relationships with the churches to whom he wrote. He tells the Romans, he “unceasingly” mentions them in his prayers (Rom. 1:9), as he does the Ephesians (Eph. 1:16) and Philippians (Phil. 1:3–4). That these prayers are made “unceasingly” indicates the importance Paul attributes to them—as if they are essential for the churches’ growth in Christ. Beyond Paul’s personal example, we have the instruction in James for the elders to pray for the sick that they might be healed (Jas. 5:14). The prayers of pastors for their people are essential to God bringing about His healing purposes in their lives.

With this quick biblical picture in mind, it is no wonder that, “For the majority of Christian centuries most pastors have been convinced that prayer is the central and essential act for maintaining the essential shape of the ministry to which they were ordained.”[3] Indeed, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg argue that it is the “principal and main work” of pastoral ministry since it is the first way we exercise care for our people and the first step toward an effective teaching ministry.[4] If Scripture and historical practice tell us prayer for our people is central to fulfilling the ministry to which we’ve been called, it is truly a scandal when we neglect it. Far be it from us that a day should come when we fail to lift up the names and needs of the people entrusted to our care. God help us all be men of prayer.

  1. See Ryan Fullerton, “A Call for Pastors to Pray for Their People,” 9 Marks Journal (Spring 2016): 7–11. I am indebted to this article for prompting my reflection on this topic. See the journal for other helpful articles on making prayer a priority in your life and church,–2016.pdf.  ↩
  2. Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 229.  ↩
  3. Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 26.  ↩
  4. Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 65.  ↩
Grace and Peace. So What?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, ESV)

This phrase has been recognized as the standard Pauline greeting—and rightly so, for he uses it in each of his thirteen canonical letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philem 3). Unfortunately, as in most things, ubiquity dilutes gravitas. Because it is so familiar to us we often pass over it in our sermons and devotional reading, in the same way we would a salutation at the end of an email (e.g., Sincerely, Best Regards, In Christ). By so doing, however, we take a massive theological sentiment and make it a throwaway line.

In Romans 1:7 Paul closes his lengthy prescript (in Greek Romans 1:1–7 is one sentence) with a benediction—the bestowal of a blessing, a good word. I will draw out three things I think Paul is doing in his standard greeting.[1] Before so doing, however, I would like to highlight what I believe is an oft-missed fact: this is not Paul’s greeting.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, emphasis added).

This is not Paul’s greeting, per se. That is to say, this is not from Paul to the recipients of his letter. He is the mere medium of this greeting that is extended from God (“from God…”) to his beloved on earth . We must not neglect the fact that this blessing resounds from the throne room of God and echoes into his world through his apostle (messenger/sent one), Paul, to God’s people (which includes us!). Jewett elucidates:

The power to grant the content of the blessing, “grace and peace,” derives not from the person uttering the words as they are read aloud in the Roman house and tenement churches, but from the source of all blessing: “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

With that, we can move on to the three things Paul is doing with “his standard greeting.”

  • 1) First, as some commentators have suggested, Paul’s use of “grace and peace” echoes elements of the Aaronic benediction, originally spoken over Israel, recited at our church every week at the conclusion of our gatherings—May the LORD be "gracious to you…and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26, emphasis added).[3]
  • 2) Second, as is his habit, Paul transforms this exclusively Hebrew blessing and applies it to a mixed group of believers (Jew and Gentile) through layered meaning. Paul not only extends the Aaronic blessing but he also co-opts the standard Greek expressions of greeting and injects it with theological meaning. He combines the standard Greek (“grace/joy” charis) and Hebrew (“peace” šālôm/eirēnē) expressions of greeting to address “all those in Rome who are loved by God.”
  • 3) Third, I believe that “grace to you” is the action whereby God extends his covenantal favor revealed in the Son to all who believe in him (Rom 5:2), and this “peace,” which is flourishing-joy and right relationship with God, is the result of God’s action in us (Rom 5:1). Dunn paraphrases this passage thusly: “May you know the generous power of God undergirding and coming to expression in your daily life.” This, he says, “is a prayer for the unbounded and wholly generous outreaching power of God which makes for humankind’s best well-being.”[4]

In one phrase Paul acknowledges the ethnic diversity of his original recipients, addresses them with the Aaronic-blessing, thereby recognizing her as a continuation of the people of God, or as R.T. France has convincingly argued, “the resurrected Israel”[5], and closes his introduction with a concise presentation of God’s gracious gift in salvation and the peace that results from a relationship with him. Paul expects that this grace of God poured out on all people indiscriminately will result in peace among God’s beloved saints in Rome (and in our churches as well!).

  1. These three points serve as a surface gleaning of the text, and do not in any way represent a concretized, exhaustive list of Paul’s intended meaning. Since the Bible is God’s Word it cannot be exhausted. Therefore, our reading can (and should) be enriched by a variety of approaches.  ↩

  2. Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 116.  ↩

  3. For example, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 33, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 228.  ↩

  4. James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 20.  ↩

  5. R. T. France, Matthew:Evangelist and Teacher (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 229–30.  ↩

Do I Have to be Baptized to be Saved?


“St. Paul saw in Baptism the normal but not necessary, the helpful but not indispensable sign and seal put upon the act of faith appropriating the gift of God in Christ.

Charles A. Anderson Scott, Christianity According to St. Paul, 114.

The Creator God

One of the most obvious tensions believers face with their unbelieving neighbors is our different accounts of humanity's origin. The scientific community (and ancient astronaut theorists) offer different accounts of our "arrival" or evolution, and in so doing they deny the foundational distinction between us and God, namely, that he is the Creator and we are the creatures.  

This tension presents believers with a couple of obstacles:

  1. Christians must be prepared to explain the biblical account of creation: God created all things from nothing and fashioned human beings in His likeness.
  2. Christians must consider how our evangelism ought to be shaped by an utter denial of the Creator God. 

While most Christians have gone around and around with a coworker or friend about the first point, the second point receives much less attention. 

That's why I was delighted to read a section on Paul's evangelism to the pagan societies of ancient Lystra and Athens in Tom Schreiner's New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (142-143). He points out that Paul's evangelistic strategy in communities that denied God's identity as the Creator was far different than his evangelism to the Jews (who affirmed the Old Testament teaching of God as Creator). 

In both cases (found in Acts 14 and 17, respectively) Paul focused on God as the Creator who was the source of life and the One who was uniquely qualified to receive worship. This is significant because, as Schreiner concludes, "Those with a pagan worldview need to be nurtured in the creation theology of the OT in order understand that Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of the creator God" (143).

Perhaps this is an important thing for us to consider as we proclaim the gospel to people who have astonishingly similar worldviews to the ancient Lystrans or Athenians. Our gospel presentations can no longer assume familiarity with the storyline of Scripture or God as Creator. Instead, we must begin where Paul began, with the Creator God.