5 varieties of congregational church government

People, Friends, Together, Happy, Kid, Person, Brothers

My main source for this article is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. You might be surprised that all the churches that you like might govern differently. George Ladd said that you can not read the Bible and conclude that a certain form of church government to “the model”. I favor the congregational, plurality of elders model, with every member ministry, and full body-life. But, I also believe that every model can work and be fruitful, in Christ. Abuse and dysfunction can occur in any of these models.

Before we get into the five varieties of congregational church government, let’s peek at the other two: Episcopalian and Presbyterian.

In the Episcopalian ‘system’, we have a powerful group of people who are ‘the priests’. And the most powerful priests exercise their authority outside of local churches and over geographic areas. One word that describes Episcopalians is hierarchy

In the Presbyterian model, each local church elects elders to a “session”. A session means a sitting or to sit on a board. The pastor of the local church is also one of the elders, theoretically equal in authority. Some or all of these elders are also members of a presbytery, which is a group that has authority over churches in a region. A smaller subset or elders are part of a larger regional or national authority.

Here is how Greg Bahnsen, OPC scholar, described Presbyterianism:

Presbyterianism is the rule of the church by multiple, elected elders—not the dictates of one man, nor those of the whole congregation. These elders must be chosen by the people from among themselves (men to whom they are willing to vow submission), but also examined and confirmed by the present governing board of elders in the congregation or regional body of elders (the presbytery).

In Episcopalianism, we have a powerful singular priesthood. By contrast, theoretically; in Presbyterianism, we have a powerful eldership, and in Congregationalism, we have a powerful congregation, often led by elders. And this is an oversimplification.

Another way of explaining the differences is that in the E system, there is a big clergy/laity divide. That divide is still very powerfully there in the P system, but in the C system, is is less and in some cases not at all. In the C system, elders are all about their role, whereas in the E system, we have priests in the office. And in the P system, we have elders who are officers and are also in their role.

One last way of contrast is that you are more likely to see “the priesthood of all believers” in C congregations than E and P congregations, and a shorter shrift on “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry”.

The 5 varieties of congregational church government, in a nut-shell

  1. Single elder, single pastor

One elected or selected elder, sometimes with a board of deacons; elected by the congregation, who serve under the pastor and support him. The authority of the pastor varies from church to church and usually grows over time. The deacon board’s authority is ‘advisory’. Many decisions are brought to the congregation for a vote.

The NT does not require a plurality of elders, but more than one elder is seen or practiced when the size of a congregation grows. A small, one pastor, one elder church could grow to have more than one.

Keeping to one pastor, even after a church is growing, is seen as an advantage by some people, but is not Biblical. The qualification for elders passages speak of elders in the plural. It can be extrapolated that a normal church has elders, plural.

Proponents of the single or solo pastor/elder may also bring up the word ‘bishop’ used in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7 to butress their argument. Bishop is used here in the King James, and the Revised Standard Version, and translations that follow these (NKJV, NRSV, etc.). Other popular translations say, ‘overseer’, which is what a bishop and an elder are. In these two verses, Paul is speaking of one among a group. The church in Ephesus, Timothy’s church, had elders (plural), according to Acts 20:17. And Paul speaks of elders (plural) in 1 Tim. 5:17. And the context for Titus, verses 5 to 7, tells us Paul is talling about elders (plural), but singles out what a bishop is. It is a stretch to say Paul is here teaching the solo elder or pastor model. And it appears that bishop and elder and pretty much synonymous.

Proponents of the single pastor, whether he is part of the episcopate or the presbytery; sometimes see and teach that the angels referenced in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapter two, are ‘the pastor’ of those churches. We know that angel means messenger, and yes, John was called a messenger, using the same Greek word.

Are the angels mentioned in Revelation 2 angelic beings, the pastor, or someone else? There simply is not enough evidence to support the notion that these angels are the pastor. I believe that the angels mentioned are the recipients of each church’s letter, who’s responsibility was to carry the special messege from Christ to these churches.

And the word elder is usually used plurally: “call the elders”, James 5:14, “I exhort the elders”, 1 Peter 5:1; “Appoint elders”, Acts 14:23. Although Apostle James seems to be the spokesperson for the church in Jerusalem, Acts 15:2 says there were elders in the church in Jerusalem.

There is also something called “the Moses model”, where the pastor, is either a solo pastor/elder; or has pastors under him (under shepherds) that he is the boss of; when the church grows. This person may also function as a CEO. A church board may be installed, who offer support and council to the pastor and aid, especially when crisis arises.

In the single/solo pastor/elder model, he may have helpers, who are functionally elders, but may not hold the office. There might be pastors ‘on staff’, who function as elders, but do not claim the title.

There is a very common blend or half way point between solo elder and plurality of elders, called, ‘first among equals’, where the pastor, who is an elder, serves beside other elders, but holds more power and responsibility in that he regularly preaches and leads the church in a visible function. In other words, he is the face of that church.

Besides the single or solo elder/pastor being problematic, because of the concentration or power and temptation, coming onto the shoulders of one person; and his lack of accountability; this model has no support in the New Testament, just like the ‘single bishop’ of the episcopalian model doesn’t. These hierarchichal models seem more based on practical precident, rather than a careful examination of the New Testament. Even the apostles did not govern in this manner, which should make this an open and shut case, but the church has continued to follow the ways of the world.

2. The Corporate Board

This is called the “you work for us” model, based on the business world; where the pastor or any other ministers, work for (hired/fired/guided) a board, who are oftem members of the church, who sometimes are hidden from most other congregants. This is unbiblical.

3. Plurality of Elders

We have a group of elders (two or more), who govern the (local) church, with the authority bestowed by Christ, who is the head of the church, and by the Holy Spirit. You can have a ‘pastor’, or a ‘senior pastor’, who is one of the elders; and he is not the boss of the other elders and they are not his boss, but he has a distinct role or ‘preaching and teaching’. And all the elders must be able to teach.

In this system, the pastor, who preaches and teaches, and leads the church; while maintaining equality with the other elders, may be the only one of them who is ‘full-time’, and paid a salary. More than one elder or all the elders may or may not work full-time and take a salary. All or some of the elders may also be bi-vocational. And, perhaps none of the pastors take a salary, for various reasons.

The senior pastor, or preaching elder; may have powerful delegated authority, that is given by the whole of the group of elders, who he is accountable to and who also defend and support him, functioning in unity under the authority of Christ. Ideally, the one, more visible elder, will never be able to function as a dictator, because of the shared power. In other words, even though he might be the point person or the face and voice of leadership, he still only gets one vote, when the elders make decisions.

Is the power of the elders unlimited? First, the bar is high to become an elder. Second, the congregation must vote in an elder. Third, there may be a limited term of office, or mandatory sabbatical years. The preaching elder may be exempt from these, but have a different schedule of sabbaticals or mandatory rests. Fourth, many large decisions will be brought to the congregation for approval, including calling a new pastor.

4. Pure Democracy

This is the logical extreme of congregational government, where every decision goes through the congregation. This takes a part of how the Bible teaches church government and makes it the whole, resulting in endless arguments and decision paralysis. This is unbiblical.

5. “Holy Spirit Governed”

Consensus is arrived at through everyone’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in their lives. This model is not faithful to the scriptural prescription for church authority, and very prone to abuse.

After reading all this, you might have a question like this: If plurality of elders leading is in the middle, with the episcopate on one side, that has been redressed as the solo or senior pastor; and the pure democracy model whether it is dressed as Spirit governed or ‘power to the people’; what is the difference between congregational, elder-led and Presbyterianism?

An article at SBETS said this about the church led by a plurality of elders:

In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

Obey your leaders?

A verse worth considering and mentioning, because it can be misunderstood is Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

When the CEB translation came out, I noticed they had a different way of doing Hebrews 13:17

Rely on your leaders and defer to them, because they watch over your whole being as people who are going to be held responsible for you. They need to be able to do this with pleasure and not with complaints about you, because that wouldn’t help you.

What is going on here in the original language? Tony Reinke wrote a piece on this:

What follows are a few important thoughts on this passage, beginning with a closer look at the idea of “obeying.”
Here is how W. E. Vine defines the Greek word “obey” (πείθο):

In Hebrews 13:17, believers are commanded to obey their leaders. The word used is peithō which has the usual meaning of “convince” or “persuade.” The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuō, “to trust,” are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

Peithō, “to persuade, to win over,” in the passive and middle voices, “to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey,” is so used with this meaning, in the middle voice, e.g., in Acts 5:36-37 (in v. 40, passive voice, “they agreed”); Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 3:3.

The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

In other words, when “one allows oneself to be convinced by someone: one follows and obeys him” (EDNT).

Submission here, when we look at the Greek in the text and the context of the whole NT, is to Christ and his word. If one is bent out of shape about submitting to their church leaders (elders) because these guys might abuse their authority and then we’re in some kind of a cultic thing, there is nothing to worry about, because what the verse really means is submit to Christ and his word. I submit to an elder as (key word) I submit to Christ. And if I don’t submit to Christ I will not be able to submit to a man who is acting as Christ’s under-shepherd. And if I can not or will not submit to Christ and his word, I am not a Christian.

Even though it sounds like it, Hebrews 13:17 does not advocate authoritarianism.

Notable Denominations who are congregational:

Most Baptist churches
Assemblies of God
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Churches / Churches of Christ
Church of God in Christ
Church of the Brethren
Evangelical Covenant
Evangelical Free
Plymouth Brethren
Quakers / Friends


Notable churches and their government:

Foursquare: “Modified Episcopal”
Calvary Chapel: “Moses Model”
Christian & Missionary Alliance: Presbyterian
Church of the Nazarene: Episcopal
Evangelical Lutheran: Episcopal
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: Presbyterian, but Congregational in many functions
Moravian: Presbyterian
Salvation Army: Episcopal
United Methodist: Episcopal
Wesleyan: Episcopal

Caring Confrontation

Daily Verse: 1 Timothy 1:5

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

-1 Timothy 1:-5 (NIV)
1 Timothy is a letter by Paul, to Timothy, who was an apostilc leader and protege of Paul (not a pastor, not the pastor or the senior pastor of the Ephesian church).
This letter was written because of problems with elders.

Before the mid second century, leadership was carried out in the church by a plurality of elders.  They would never say, “meet the pastor”, but, “meet the pastors”.  And they would have identified them as pastors for what they were doing.  Pastor is a role and function and a gift, not a title.

And everyone who is older is not an elder.  Elders are appointed to serve and guide. “Elders who rule over you”, actually means, “Come along side you and guide you”.

The command here is to stop majoring on the minors.  There is novel teaching that is not edifying.  For example, when whole sermons are about interpreting current events.  Paul tells Timothy to tell the leaders to get back to the main things.

In the first century, here in 1 Timothy, teachers were getting off-track and teaching about extra-biblical stuff and these endless genealogists that Paul calls strange.  This is the context of Paul’s ear tickling comment later.

We can talk about stuff that is interesting, may or may not be true, and that might give us a rush.  That is majoring in the minors.  Sermons, a whole sermon series, and books written on the blood moons comes to mind as a current example.

People that major on teaching these esoteric things may be asked to stop it or even be removed from teaching roles.  When asked to cool it, they will sometimes get offended and quit.

That’s the context here, that’s what this is about.

And the goal of teaching and when we who have oversight, teaching teachers not to teach strange things, is love.  What does this mean?

  • We need to approach confrontation carefully.
  • Our motivation is to help, not hurt the person.
  • Don’t let your correction be the cause for losing the person.
  • Be loving with them, verbally and non-verbally.
  • Loving confrontation expresses care and respect.
  • Be honorable.
  • Convey and desire mutual understanding and respect.
  • Be careful of timing, location, and setting; when you confront.
  • Be sensitive to the other person’s feelings, seeing then as a loved person.
  • Be open and willing to hear them disagree or confront you back.

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church: Good Shepherds

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church

Good Shepherds (chapter 5)

“For those who have never had to deal with floods of people strongly stating their opinions about you, be grateful. I have met very few people who have navigated that world and remained humble and loving yet courageous.

“Large crowds do something strange to all of us. We can subconsciously begin preaching to avoid criticism rather than teaching truth regardless of the response. We live in a time when people are so volatile.

“If we say one wrong word in public, it can wreak havoc. It is only going to get more difficult for pastors to speak in front of large crowds with boldness and humility.

“Maybe that’s why we are finding fewer pastors known for being humble and courageous. I was deeply affected by a pastor in China who said to me, “In America, pastors think they have to become famous to have a big impact.

“In China, the most influential Christian leaders had to be the most hidden.” My soul leaped when I heard that, imagining a chance to fight for impact and obscurity all at once.

“It feels as if our current way of doing things in America sets us up for failure. Those who pursue massive Kingdom impact seem to always be fighting a losing battle with pride.

“It is how the Enemy lures us away from the very character that makes us effective.”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
-Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

“Leaders, I want to challenge you to examine your lives and see whether you can truly tell people in good conscience to follow you as you follow Christ.

“For those not yet in positions of leadership, as we go through the qualities that are essential for good, biblical leadership, I urge you to examine your leaders in a spirit of grace and humility to discern whether their faith and way of life is something you want to imitate. For some of you, God may be calling you to step into leadership, and I implore you to devote yourself to growing in the following areas.


“That heading may sound ridiculous, but is it safe to assume all pastors are Christians? Just because we claim to believe in Him or went to school to study for ministry, it doesn’t ensure that our hearts are His.

“Having spent two years in Bible college and three years in seminary, I can tell you that a degree can be proof of intelligence or discipline but not spirituality. Those were easily the five worst years of my life.

“Remember that in Jesus’ day, some of the religious leaders were the most evil. Scripture is always warning us to be on guard against false teachers.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

“And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.
-2 Peter 2:1-3a (ESV)

“There will always be false teachers on this earth.

“Jesus taught that wolves will come in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). What better camouflage than as a minister? Some will teach false doctrine because of their desire to be accepted. Others will preach truth while living a lie

“Whether it’s their message or lifestyle that is false, both are condemned. If you read the rest of 2 Peter 2, you will see that terrifying judgement is reserved for them.

“If you are reading this and living an immoral life, it is time to step down. The worst thing you can be is a false teacher. There is nothing more evil you can do during your few years on earth than to lead people away from their Creator.

Runover Christians

Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning.  For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.-Titus 3:10-11
Have you ever met someone, who seems like all they want to do is argue?
Have you been that person?
A nice event or gathering is ruined by a person who is obnoxious with their words and tone.

They might be condemning, or judgemental; harsh or attacking.

Some people seem to purposely say things to get others annoyed or angry.
It is one thing to hold a differing opinion, but quite another to purposely stir up strife.

Why would a person want to and even enjoy getting someone’s goat?

This is the kind of thing and the sort of person that Paul is talking about here, to Titus.  A divisive person.  

What were these foolish debates?

Examples of these kinds of controversies that the Jewish commentaries have preserved are the following. Should a Jew eat an egg laid on a festival day? What sort of wick and oil should a Jew use for candles he burns on the Sabbath? The genealogies in view were speculations about the origins and descendants of persons, which some thought had spiritual significance (1)

Does that sound familiar, if not in content, but in tone, to someone you have met?  People came to church and wanted to quarrel over these matters.

Wiersbe opinied:

I have learned that professed Christians who like to argue about the Bible are usually covering up some sin in their lives, are very insecure, and are usually unhappy at work or at home. (5)

Paul says, “avoid”, which means to turn away from, so as to face away from it.  And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that such debates are unprofitable and useless.  A waste of time and energy.

But why?  Because they are divisive.

Simpson, writes that the word here, translated ‘divisive’, is:

An opportunistic propagandist who promotes dissention by his pertinacity. (2)

The King James Bible has ‘heretic’ here:

If a man is a heretic, after the first and second admonition reject him,

Heretic is an overused word today.  I’ve also never liked the misuse of words like ‘highjack’ or ‘crusade’.

Simpson’s definition is closer to the original meaning, than how we use heretic today.  The point is the divisiveness of such a person, and not their ‘heresies’.

We need to say, “you are being divisive, and you need to stop”, and not say, “you are a heretic, and you need to leave.”  We are quick to call people names: racist, bigot, ____phobe, luddite, liar, nazi, socialist, or misogynist.

Divisiveness is the problem.  Debate, differences, discussions, and disagreements are totally normal- a healthy part of life together that we expect and embrace.

But divisiveness is different.

The divisive person can not agree to disagree.

They can not mix in and be part of a family of people who hold different opinions or see things differently or have different traditions- ways and practices to express their faith.

In a group, everyone does not believe everything and all that the others believe.  Some have stronger faith.  Some have come to different conclusions.  Yet we live together and are able to discuss, debate, and disagree on things.

A divisive person is not able to do this.

Not able to live at peace and in love with differences between us, but seeks to constantly divide over those things.

A literal translation of that word could also be sectarian.  Sectarianism is a sin.  It’s wrong.

Sectarianism is when you do not recognize the body of Christ, but want to remake it after your vision of what it should be.

A sectarian is a person who, when they come into contact with you, notices the differences and wants to fight over them.  ‘Chip on their shoulder’, or ‘axe to grind’, are phrases that might describe these people.

We all have differences of opinions.  A group of people can all believe in Christ, who he is and what he did, but come from different traditions of how we worship, how we celebrate communion, how church services are run, and how to live out the life.

The divisive (“stirs up division”, ESV) person enters into a group of Christians and divides them in a harsh way.

I think one of the keys is that this person is not making disciples of Christ, but of him/herself and of their doctrine.  They make doctrinal arguments, but where is the love for Christ and the desire to see people work out their lives with the living savior?

This is the character of the false teacher that Paul warns Titus about.  The key is their character.  A person can even have seemingly good doctrine but bad character.  Seeming gifts without fruit.

Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16).

Debate, discussions, and learning through questions; are all good.  But this is something different.

Have you ever had a discussion in a classroom, or with friends or family. or in a fellowship situation; that was edifying?  You enjoyed the company and learning something new.  You might be frustrated and say that you understand the other point of view or you may be persuaded to change your mind.  You may end the discussion saying, “wow, now I have to think about this”.

But a toxic conversation is something else, where you are not edified.  With a divisive person, you walk away feeling bad to worse.

The person to avoid and reject, after two warnings is pertinacious:

a steadfast adherence to an opinion, purpose, or course of action in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion (Webster’s)

If you say, “he’s obsessed with this”, of “she just won’t listen”, it might be petinacity- an unhinged, twisted obsession with an opinion.  Making something, ‘a hill to die on’, that should be set aside, for the sake of unity.

What does it mean to reject this person?

It is a vague term (cf. 1 Tim. 4:7) which does not convey the idea of excommunication, but means merely ‘to leave out of account’.  The first approach to these false teachers is to be by means of admonition… The lenience advocated is striking, for it is only on the third occasion of admonition that the more serious action of avoidance is to be taken. (3)

I hear tolerance from Paul.  We are not ‘hair trigger’ in kicking people out, of a conversation, of fellowship, or our lives.

But after the third time, they are out.  If that seems harsh, here is the reason Paul gives.  Guthrie’s further comment:

Titus must realize that the stubbornness of the man is evidence of a perverted mind.(3)

 For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. -Titus 3:11

  • has gone astray (CSB)
  • is warped (ESV)
  • is twisted (NET)
  • are warped (NIV)
  • a corrupt (Voice)
  • is perverted (NRSV)

The sinning referred to must be understood in light of the previous verse, i.e. the desire to promote dissensions.  It is useless to contend with men of twisted minds, and there is no need to condemn them for they are self-condemned.  The reference, however, seems to be so much to a deliberate act of condemning oneself, which is admittedly rare, but to the fact that perverted and sinful action in the end automatically condemns the doer. (3)

When I was in seminary, in my preaching class, we had a brother who was a Seventh Day Adventist.  We each delivered two sermons.  His first one was on keeping the sabbath.  We all heard him out and discussed his sermon with him at the roundtable afterwards.

When he was up a second time, he preached the same message, from a different text.  This brother seemed to be deliberately divisive.

Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning.  For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.
-Titus 3:10-11

When a man or woman resists Christ, but promotes their doctrine about Christ, there is the potential for a problem in that and with that person as far as their teaching goes.

The larger context of the letter to Titus, is that there are a bunch of new churches in Crete, of which Titus is overseeing, for Paul.

The problem for which the letter was written, was the need to strengthen these young churches.  An exacerbating problem were the false teachers circulating into these church plants.

The prescription Paul writes is to raise up elders and teach sound doctrine.  Weak leadership gives you weak congregations.

Strong leadership means Christlike.  Paul gives Titus a list of what to look for in a man who can be an elder in the church. (Titus 1:5-9)


  • must be blameless: 
  • the husband of one wife, 
  • with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion. 
  • As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless: 
  • not arrogant, 
  • not hot-tempered, 
  • ot an excessive drinker, 
  • not a bully, 
  • not greedy for money, 
  • but hospitable, 
  • loving what is good, 
  • sensible, 
  • righteous, 
  • holy, 
  • self-controlled, 
  • holding to the faithful message as taught, 
    • so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching 
    • and to refute those who contradict it.

Elders are leaders and caretakers.

Paul then makes a contrast, showing what an elder is not like, showcasing the false teachers (Titus 1:10-16).

I would argue that the people Paul is upset with are the opposite of the qualities in the elder list.  For example, bullies.

False teachers (the Cretan formula):

  • rebellious people, 
  • full of empty talk and deception, 
    • especially those from the circumcision party. It is necessary to silence them; 
  • they are ruining entire households 
    • by teaching what they shouldn’t 
      • in order to get money dishonestly.

The rest of Titus (ch. 2 and 3) is how to live, based on what God has done, for us through Jesus.

The thesis of Titus is:

The essential connection between evangelical truth and the purest morality. (6)

 A false teacher is someone who does not have this.  They have a truth, a doctrine; and maybe part of or a lot of the real truth, the core truth about Christ.  But that is not what they are selling, and this is the problem.

From a veteran pastor’s perspective, listen to how Eugene Peterson states the passage from chapter three that we opened up to today:

I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off. -Titus 3:9-11 (MSG)

And listen to how Peterson, again, from a long-time churchman’s perspective, handles the rebuke (reprimand NLV) passage in chapter 1:

For there are a lot of rebels out there, full of loose, confusing, and deceiving talk. Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst. They’ve got to be shut up. They’re disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck.          -Titus 1:10-11 (MSG)

I was struck by the line, “brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst”.  Do you know that person?  This is Peterson’s take on the line where other translations have it, “especially those of the circumcision party”.

To me, I hear Paul saying that these guys were obsessed with circumcision.  Their message was not even about Christ, foremost, but about circumcision.  “You must be circumcised”.  I am not sure what they said about Jesus, but they were coming into these new churches, with new Gentile Christians, and saying, “you gotta be circumcised”.  Paul touches on other things they talked and taught about, but Paul gave them the label, ‘circumcision party’.

What would this equate to today?  Imagine a group of new believers, learning about Christ and walking out the life.  And then someone joins their fellowship and starts saying, you can’t be a Democrat and must change to Republican; or the opposite.

Some theologians say that circumcision in the old covenant, equates to baptism, in the new covenant.

The false teachers in Titus, might be like believers baptism advocates (propagandists) entering a fellowship of Christians who believe in baptizing children, and arguing obnoxiously, to try to change their minds, or tell them they are wrong, or even tell them they are not saved.

The habitual practice of holding a pet doctrine and then of critiquing the doctrine of other Christians, that is not in the center; is what is going on with these people.  I have cited political party and baptism as examples.  It could be a dozen other things.

The Cretan agitators may or may not have believed in the right things about Christ, but the point is that they  divided what they believed and taught.

And the reason why someone would make something peripheral into ‘a hill to die on’, or to divide over, is rotten character- a personality that is not taken over by Christ and beginning to live in him.

Have you met people that just argue, that find fault, that put people down or peripheral beliefs down, that they don’t hold?  They seem to need to attack those beliefs or viewpoints, belittling and smearing.

This is essentially, bigotry:

A stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. (Dictionary.com)

This is not what Jesus calls us to.  They will know we are Christians (that Christ has come and is real) by our love.  The Pharisees loved their doctrines so much that they killed Jesus.  That’s how we don’t want to be.

I have read some of Eugene Peterson and seen him on video and he seemed to be a gentle (pastoral) man.  About this divisive person, he translates Paul as saying, “They’ve got to be shut up” (1:10) and, “Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him” (3:10).

If you are a leader, in the church, you are going to have to face divisive people, disruptive people, and  bigots.  These people can be redeemed and reformed, reset, recalibrated, and transformed by God.  But, at the moment, they are acting up.

And the proper thing to do, is for the leaders to reprimand them.  Peterson bluntly puts it, “shut them up”.  Or, “warn the person once or twice, and then be done with them.”  Done does not mean irredeemable.  It means, done with their antics, done with them doing their schick in your group- done with them being allowed in your fellowship.

I have, more than once, had a disruptive, divisive person in my group; and I pretty much did nothing.  It was like at one of those monster truck rallies, their huge tires drove over us.  When we are in a group with someone like this, we feel beat up.

We have to say, “stop it”, because it is unedifying and hurtful.  They either need to stop or they will have to leave.  For myself, I am relieved to have studied Titus and finally seeing this great advice.

It’s neither ‘one strike and you’re out’, nor ‘anything goes’, in that we have to bear with the divisive, disruptive, argumentative person, out of the love of Christ.

I have read Proverbs, and I know about the foolish person who is a brawler, that loves arguing and spouts off about things they don’t know.  But, I have always been too tolerant, and thought that the rebuke or reprimand was unloving, or not Christ.

But I was always bothered by this, as in, there must be a better way.  And here it is, right here, in Titus.

There are going to be tons of new Christians, soon; and we need to know how to handle this sort of thing.

And here is the irony.  The people who do this, who are problems for leaders are not the new ones, but the old ones messing with the new ones.  Exactly what Peterson said, from Paul, “Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst.”

In my experience, I see this.  The ones that do this are never the new believers, but people who have been long-time believers.

C.S. Lewis said, “Of all bad men, religious men are worse” (Reflections on The Psalms, p. 32)

And they often would not qualify as elders, because their lives are not in order, not under Christ’s order.

I say this, because the worse case is that the false teacher becomes a leader in the church.

Listen to Hayne Griffin on this:

Failure to confront problems within the church, whether theologically or practically based, may be indicative of a basic indifference with regard to God’s truth or the nurturing of truly Christian relationships. The fear of giving offense and a highly individualized view of personal faith may discourage church leaders from following the biblical mandate to rebuke. The restoration that is possible both in fellowship and in sound doctrine is compromised by this reluctance to confront. Loving, sensitive, yet firm confrontation can result in stronger relationships and restored unity or perhaps a needed purging of those who deny the truth. (7)

I have to care enough to confront (8), be willing to be assertive (9), and set boundaries (10).

Both Jesus and Paul would tell us to look at someone’s life, their fruit.  Bad acts, with whatever you want to say: good, interesting, intriguing, thoughtful, moving; teaching, in a life, means a bad person.

A person’s walk, not their talk, really reveals who they are.  People can talk up a storm.  “Wow!”, we say after hearing them.  But what about who they are outside of their ‘show’?

Let me also note this, that it is a lie, a deception to say that what you believe and how you live (act and behave) are seperate.

The whole idea of the Christian life is that obedience comes out of salvation.  We live like Christ, because Christ has saved us.  To not live like Christ and in Christ, but to believe and preach Christ, is antithetical and deceived.

That person becomes a false teacher, because they are living a double life, and are selling religion, but not the living Christ.

Something terrible happens to a man or a woman who comes in the name of Jesus, but secretly and deliberately does not live their lives in Christ and for Christ.

For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.              -Titus 3:11

You don’t want to be that person.  This is a person that should be warned to stop and if they don’t, asked to leave.  Their behavior is not appropriate.

“Gone astray”, means they are more than “out there”, or “free range”, but rather:

  • Out of line (MSG)
  • Turned away from the truth (NLT)
  • Twisted (CEB, CEV)
  • Such a one is entwined with his sin (TPT)

The person who gets this way is a Christian in name only.

Because they simply don’t have Christ living through them.  They don’t die daily.  They have not taken up their crosses and denied themselves, because we can see there is no fruit.

Self-condemned simply means that by their own actions, by their own unbelief, they condemn themselves.

The seemingly harshness of asking someone to stop and then asking them to leave is simply meeting the stubbornness of that person.  There are some people that you can not argue with, because they have a closed mind.  They only want to change your mind to their mind, instead of arriving at the truth together.

If someone is running people over, we need to tell them to stop.  And after warning them twice, and they persist; the only thing we can do, as leaders, is tell them to leave.  Their own actions precipitated their ejection.  All we are doing is protecting people from abuse.


1. The Pastoral Epistles (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), Knight, p. 353
2. The Pastoral Epistles, Simpson, cited by Guthrie, p. 208
3. The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Guthrie, pp. 208-9
4.  1, 2 Timothy, Titus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), Lea & Griffin, p. 328
5. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:268
6.  Hiebert, “Titus,” in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 424.
7. Ibid., p. 290
8. Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger
9. When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, Manuel J. Smith
10. Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend


The harsh word for Cretans

Paul tells Titus to be assertive with these people who are ruining the new Cretan churches.  Paul even engages in a harsh word for them in these verses:

One of their very own prophets said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith  and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth.   -Titus 1:12-14

Did Paul (and this is scripture!), just call these people, “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons”?  Think about if you have ever been taken aback by an insult that a leader leveled, and then look at this scripture.  Apparently, there is such a thing as sanctified name calling.

Paul (Gal 1:9) and Peter ( 2 Peter 2:12) and Jude (12-13) have very harsh words for false teachers.  Why?  Because leading people astray about things relating to Christ or how to walk with God, is a very serious sin.  Why?  Because they lead people astray.  James says don’t become a teacher in the church lightly, because we will be judged more scrupulously (James 3:1).

Fun Facts:

  • Titus is one of the three people that Paul called his sons.  The other two were Timothy and Onesimus.
  • Titus and Tim were not pastors. (D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus and Philemon, p. 7.)
  • Titus is Paul’s second to last letter, written between 1 and 2 Timothy (Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, p. 19).
  • Homer said that Crete had 100 cites (Barclay, p. 268.).

Whitewash The Tombs

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity.  In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

-Matt 23:25-28
Perhaps the greatest sin is hypocrisy.  Check yourself for it.  Jesus called this one sin out. 
Public hypocrisy angered Jesus more that private sin.  Why?  Search for Jesus saying, “Woe to you”, to any other group.
Jesus took issue with the hypocrites for appearing righteous without being righteous.  Why is hypocrisy so bad, so insidious, and the one thing that Jesus castigated people for?
Religious hypocrisy is, in practice, God-mocking atheism.  Jesus is exposing people who are pretenders, fakes, frauds, and deceivers; who pretend to be real but are counterfeits.  
Hypocrites praise God, they feign worship and piety, while pretending that God does not know the truth of their life, in their hearts.  Hypocrisy is insidious because it keeps us out of touch with God’s grace.  Hypocrisy ruins a persons soul, because it blocks out righteousness from Christ and lives in the play-acting world.
The group that made Jesus angriest were the people that he resembled.  Jesus also obeyed the Mosaic Law and quoted the teachers of the law (Mark 9:11-12; 12:28-34), but he verbally attacked the Pharisees as hypocrites.
Why would Jesus be so mad at people who extolled family values, tithed, and devoted their lives to Bible study?  Legalism is not authentic spirituality.  Their expressions of love for God were only ways to impress others.

The proof of spiritual maturity is not how “pure” you are but your awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door to God’s grace.

-Philip Yancey

The road to perdition is trying to look good rather than be good, caring more about how others see you than developing moral values that you live by.

To be a hypocrite is to give others the impression that we are holier than we actually are. It is the same as being false, or telling a lie. Jesus pronounced a curse on hypocrites seven times in Mt. 23:13-29. It is possible to tell a lie without even opening our mouths. Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit without saying a word – when he pretended to be a wholehearted disciple of Jesus (Acts 5:1-5).

Jesus told the Pharisees that their inner life was “”full of self indulgence”” (Mt. 23:25) – which meant that they lived only to please themselves. Yet they gave others the impression that because they knew the Scriptures well and fasted and prayed and tithed their income, they were very holy. They appeared very pious externally. They prayed lengthy prayers in public, but they did not pray at length in private – just like many today. It is hypocrisy if we praise God only on Sunday mornings, but do not have a spirit of praise in our hearts at all times. God looks at our hearts.

-Zac Poonen

It has been said that hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. While Jesus makes it perfectly clear that hypocrisy is morally wrong, why is it? Why are hypocrites especially despised by others? Sometimes we hear people say, “I may have this shortcoming or that, but at least I’m not a hypocrite.” As we have seen, hypocrisy involves: dishonesty, deception, and self-deception. It is insincere and disrespectful of others. It is unjust because a hypocrite attempts to receive good by doing bad. It kills the moral spirit by undermining the incentive to live morally. It flouts God’s standards.

We could say that hypocrisy is hydra-headed; it is many sins in one. No wonder it justifies the extreme repugnance that it provokes or the strong resistance we have in being accused of hypocrisy.

-Steven C. Riser

We read Jesus calling people hypocrites and read that as saying that they said one thing, but did another.  That may be true and may be part of what Jesus is saying.  But the hypocrite charge, used in Matthew 23, by Jesus, is actually worse.

I learned and you may have also learned that the word that is written here means ‘play actor’ or one that wears a mask, a fake, a fraud.  In a word, Jesus was calling the Pharisees here, ‘frauds’.  Frauds say one thing and do another.  They are liars, two-faced.

A ‘play-actor’ plays a part which is assumed for the occasion, who is not their true self.  Jesus was not saying that all Pharisees for all time are hypocrites, but that these particular ones were.

Jesus’ hypocrisy charge was worse than that these ones were just fakes.   They were false teachers.

Jesus says, in a sense, “You frauds!”, and then lays out seven charges or indictments.  These people were worthy of the charge and we need to understand what Jesus meant, in order to identify what or who this sort of fraud is today.

This is a note I wrote, while listening the Scot McKnight: “Jesus’ hypocrisy charge against the Pharisees is not best understood as a contradiction between what a person teaches and what they do, BUT was that they were false teachers, leading people away from God’s will, God’s true will.

Jesus called these Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’.  At that time, they would paint and repaint tombs, so that people would not touch them, and become unclean.  The whitewash did not attract you, but repulsed you.

Jesus was saying to these guys, that they beautified their outward appearance, but that this was actually a sign that on the inside, they were corrupt.  The way that they taught had a positive or attractive presentation, but was dead, below the surface.  In other words, their hearts and souls were bad.  In legal terms, they had bad faith.

The bad faith charge means that their way that they taught in not the way of God, not the way of Christ.  Their way is immoral, in that ultimately they are the law unto themselves.  They are making it up as they go.  They were, at best, majoring in the minors.

Alexander MacLaren wrote this:
So He would say, with terrible irony, that the apparent holiness of the rulers was really a sign of corruption, and a warning to keep away from them. What a blow at their self-complacency! And how profoundly true it is that the more punctiliously white the hypocrite’s outside, the more foul is he within, and the wider berth will all discerning people give him! The terrible force of the figure needs no dwelling on. In Christ’s estimate, such a soul was the very dwelling-place of death; and foul odours and worms and corruption filled its sickening recesses. Terrible words to come from His lips into which grace was poured, and bold words to be flashed at listeners who held the life of the Speaker in their hands! There are two sorts of hypocrites, the conscious and the unconscious; and there are ten of the latter for one of the former, and each ten times more dangerous. Established religion breeds them, and they are specially likely to be found among those whose business is to study the documents in which it is embodied. These woes are not like thunder-peals rolling above our heads, while the lightning strikes the earth miles away. A religion which is mostly whitewash is as common among us as ever it was in Jerusalem; and its foul accompaniments of corruption becoming more rotten every year, as the whitewash is laid on thicker, may be smelt among us, and its fatal end is as sure.

This is what NT Wright wrote about Matthew 23:
Jesus’ criticisms were primarily against those of his own time who, he could see, were leading Israel astray, causing Israel to look in the wrong direction, at the very moment when its hour, and indeed its Messiah, had come.  The main reason he is taking the trouble to denounce them in such detail is because they are distracting attention from the crucial moment  Their particular failings are simply extra evidence that they are not in fact the true guides that Israel needs at this fateful moment in its history.

Equally, some have supposed that Jesus, whom we think of as kindly and loving, could never have denounced anyone, least of all his fellow-Jews, in such sharp tones…  This present chapter consists, in fact, as a solemn, almost ritual, denunciation of them for their hollow piety and misguided teaching.

Anyone who supposes, however, that these failings were, or are, confined to one religion, culture, or group should look at their own society, and (alas) at their own church, and think again…

…There were saints in that tradition, all right.

But we have every reason to suppose that there were many, probably the majority, who went along for the ride, or more particularly the political agenda that the Pharisees adopted.  They like the idea about being rigorous about the Torah because it suited their nationalistic ambitions.  But when it came to the actual moral and religious struggle to make the inside of the house match the outside, they hadn’t even begun.

Once again, this whole attack on the Pharisees only makes sense within the larger picture which Matthew is drawing.  Jesus is on his way to accomplish the real covenant renewal (see 26:28) which all the Pharisees’ intensification of Torah could not achieve…  It would be a bad mistake to read a chapter like this as simply a moral denunciation.  It would be still worse to read it as a moral denunciation of somebody else.  That’s halfway to committing the very mistake that’s being attacked.

Having said that, we shouldn’t miss the note which emerges at the end, and points to what is to follow.  Jesus sees the present self-styled teachers of the law as fitting in exactly to the pattern of previous generations:  killing the prophets and truly righteous people of old.  

How do I sum this all up?  The Pharisees Jesus castigated were the Puritans of their day.  They were high minded in their brand of separatism, but at the core, they were corrupt murderers.

Just like the Puritans who executed other believers they branded as heretics, the Pharisees had that kind of corruption.  The irony is that such a religion is a true heresy against God.

Take a look at how Christians have persecuted other Christians throughout history and into today.  Disavow it and don’t be a part of it.

Perhaps the worst people are those who claim to represent God, but do not.  They do not fool God and they are some of the only recipients of excoriation by Jesus.

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, that ends Matthew 23, is one of the most poignant and revealing statements in the Bible.  He came to save a people who despised, rejected, and killed him.

Today, Jesus is still calling people out of the ‘Christian in name only’ religion, that rejects the living Christ.

Jesus calls us to a life that is being transformed on the inside and might look messy or not make sense on the outside.  We are transparent and don’t have all the answers, ask a lot of questions, are loved, and trust God no matter what.  We are little people with a big God.  We are inviters, includers, gracious, and hospitable.  And we know how to rest in Christ.  We are generous, forgivers, optimistic, and dreamers.  And we live with God and each other in the reality of the already and the not yet of the kingdom.


Whitewashed Tombs, by Richard Phillips

Matthew For Everyone, NT Wright, pp. 104-07
The New Testament Era, Bo Reicke, pp. 156-63

The painting above:

Brooklyn Museum – Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens) – James Tissot (1836-1902)

Equipping The Saints

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong.

He gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, and for the building up of the body of Christ.

-Ephesians 4:11-12 (CEV, MEV)
The ministry of Christ is meant to be done by the people who make up the church, who are ‘the Saints’.  In Christ, we are all saints.  Get rid of the legalistic idea that you are ‘no saint’, because in Christ, we are all saints.  
The issue is being in Christ.  If you aren’t in Christ, you simply are not a Christian, because that is what a Christian is.
Now, there has been a battle raging over ministry.  This issue was not solved during the beginning of the Reformation.  It is the church’s “third rail”.
In order to really come into what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, professional ministers who’s vocation is ‘ministry’ are simply going to have to step down.  They need to step down and be on the level with the whole church.
The ‘org chart’ of the church is flat, with one line pointing up, to Jesus.  He leads and builds and we all serve and we all do the ministry.  All of us.
The New Testament does not inaugurate a priestly class of people who are ‘the ministers’, that is 1, 2, 3, or 4% of Christians.  Everyone is a priest and everyone is a minister.
For various reasons, around the 2nd or 3rd century, this problem started.  The church invented the clergy/laity split that is not at all envisioned by the New Testament.  The Reformation, with Luther and the others, did not finish reforming this issue; but it started to.  That is when we started rediscovering the idea of ‘the priesthood of all believers’.
Many Christians nod to this while not being in favor of the concept of ‘every member is a minister’.
Ephesians 4 teaches us that all Christians (the Saints) are the ministers, in the church.  Some people are ‘equippers’ or ‘trainers’, for the ministry done by others.  These are people called apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, or teachers.  That is what APEST stands for.
There has also been a debate as to whether Paul is talking about four or five groups of people.  Are there pastors and teachers as separate categories or is it pastor/teacher as a hybrid?  Both are probably true.
An aspect of the fierce debate is that the vocational ministry side, which is multifaceted; says that all pastors (ministers or preachers) have to be teachers.  Their argument is linked to the idea that pastors (vocational pastors, ministers, or preachers) are elders and elders must be able to teach.   That is true, but you can not superimpose that idea as your interpretive key to Ephesians 4.
The topic of Ephesians 4 is Christ and the church.  Paul says that Christ has made some people equippers, so that the rest of us can do the ministry.  This runs counter to the idea that the clergy do the ministry and the rest of us give them support money and passively receive their ministry.
Vocational ministers are defensive about Ephesians 4.  Besides discounting the idea that ministry belongs in the hands of everyone, another point of contention is that these are not five equipping ministries, but four.
But the truth is that there is pastoral ministry that does not involve teaching and there is teaching ministry that does not involve pastoring.  There are people who are gifted as pastors, who are not gifted as teachers.  They would not be qualified to be elders.
It is that simple.  Pastors who are not teachers are healers or caregivers.  A hospice worker or chaplain, for example.
Some teachers are not pastors.  They are outstanding at teaching, but do not have a shepherding giftedness.  
We are all called to bear the fruit of the Spirit, grow in godliness and become Christlike.  But some people are not the best ones at certain things
Ephesians 4 tells us that there are people who are in the five offices mentioned (APEST), who know their stuff so well that they are gifted to train the rest of us in how to effectively minister in that realm that they know.
When we look at the five APEST ministries, some or one will stand out for each of us in being what we are for or passionate about.  Taking an APEST quiz might help you get in touch with what kind of ministry you are passionate about or feel designed to do.

Promotion and Demotion Time

When I choose a time, I will judge fairly.

-Psalm 75:2 (CSB)
There is a time when God does something.  It is a window of time that is remarkable. Throughout history, there are times that are ‘opportune moments’.
The New Testament Greek has two words for time, ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’.  Chronos is measured time: how much time has gone by.  Kairos means a moment or window of time that is particular and unique.  It comes and goes.
When they translated the Old Testament into Greek, ‘time’ here in Psalm 75, is ‘kairos’,
Kairos time is the moment when the grand slam home run wins the game or those two or three innings when one team just kept getting hits.  It is a specific, unique window of time.
Another way to describe this kind of time is ‘season’.  A season comes and goes.  Titus 1:3 is an example of kairos time:

In his own time he has revealed his word in the preaching with which I was entrusted by the command of God our Savior.

Two more examples are Acts 1:7-8 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

About the times and the seasons: Brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.

I believe that the concept of time in Psalm 75:2, “When the time is ripe I will arise, and will judge the world with perfect righteousness!” (TPT), is ‘kairos’ time.
There are times when God intervenes in history.  God is not a micromanager nor the clockmaker who is sleeping.  God is a living person who lets humans have free will, but also does interventions.
There’s a note, before the first verse of Psalm 75, that says it is a work of Asaph, to the tune “Do Not Destroy”.  David tacked on this same note to Psalms 57-59, which are songs that cry out for God’s intervention.  I looked up this Hebrew phrase “al-tashcheth”, in many dictionaries and they all say they are not sure what it means, beyond just what it says.
Is the phrase, “Do not destroy”, spoken towards God or towards people?  I can not tell.  But there it is, at the top of those four Psalms.  I am going to take it at face value and guess that it means what it says.
It is a tone of lament in crisis.  The tone, tune or vibe being set is: “Don’t let things be destroyed”.  We say that sin is destructive.
Injustice, lies, gossip, greed.  The list of destructives goes on and on.  Saul was acting destructively towards David, and that is where we first see this phrase.

The Hebrew idea is destruction and corruption.  People who commit adultery destroy themselves (Prov. 6:32).  And being a fool who says, “God does not exist”, is the essence of corruption (Ps. 14:1, 53:1).

Psalm 75 is set to the tune or the tone of the idea or motif: “Do Not Destroy” and destructiveness also carries with it the idea of corruption.  The scene or backdrop of Psalm 75 and Psalms 57 to 59, are a season of rising destructiveness and corruption.  This Psalmist, Asaph, and his mentor, David; wrote these four songs in times of trouble, asking for God’s intervention.

Asaph was either reflecting on how God has functioned in the past and speaking encouragement that God will do it again, or he is speaking purely as a prophetic songwriter, giving words to what he heard God say.  Both ways are actually prophetic in the NT sense, because encouragement is the essence of NT prophetic ministry.

This is what God says:

“When I choose a time, I will judge fairly.”

There are judgement times.  I am talking about God intervening and exercising his sovereignty to demote and promote.

Psalm 75 has ten verses.  Verses 2-5 and verse 10 are words that Asaph is quoting from God.  He either heard God or he is writing inspired words of what God has said in the past, that are God’s character to say.

The song opens with thanksgiving.  We come into God’s presence through thanks:

We give thanks to you, God;
we give thanks to you, for your name is near.
People tell about your wondrous works.

This is an awesome opening.  “Your name is near”, means “We sense your presence”.  It means, “We are overwhelmed by your gracious presence.”  God’s name to us is, “Near one”.  These words prophetically resonate out through time and point to Jesus and the Spirit of God and the Father, who gives good gifts to his children.
Then we have the first oracle portion where what God said is quoted and sung back to God:

“When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the one who steadies its pillars. Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.’”

Notice that it does not say, “At the end of time”.  Nope.  It says that God chooses a particular time.

God, in Asaph’s words, sees wicked ones, like an animal, like a rhino with it’s horn coming at God.  Maybe the horn is a weapon.  I think it is symbolic of power.

In the next verse, Asaph writes words about promotion and demotion.  He says that God is the one who ultimately promotes.  God is seeking to promote people into higher levels of authority and assignment.

God brings people down and puts others up.  That is what it says here.

We had a conference at my church once, where everyone was asked to stand and the speaker prayed for God to confirm or deny the ministries of each one.

This is another time, I personally believe, where God is sorting people out; both in the world and in his church.

These are the next words of the song:

Exaltation does not come
from the east, the west, or the desert,
for God is the Judge:
He brings down one and exalts another.

I do not claim to understand this next section.  This is what the NET Bible notes say:

“The psalmist pictures God as forcing the wicked to gulp down an intoxicating drink that will leave them stunned and vulnerable. Divine judgment is also depicted this way in Ps 60:3; Isa 51:17-23; and Hab 2:16.”

Here’s the next stanza:

For there is a cup in the Lord’s hand,

full of wine blended with spices, and he pours from it.
All the wicked of the earth will drink,
draining it to the dregs.

As for me, I will tell about him forever;
I will sing praise to the God of Jacob.

The “telling about him”, is remarking about God as judge, who demotes and promotes.  He did not just do it to Egypt, but does it now, at times.  
The song ends with another quote from God that the singers sing to remind us about God, what he does and will do when the time is right:

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

There is your praise chorus for today:

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

That is the summation of this song.  God is going to cut the power from the wicked and lift up the righteous.  Demotion and promotion time, when God says it’s time.
And ‘the righteous’ are not self righteous, religious, pious people.  The righteous are just people who are walking with God, people of faith, people who are faith-full.  Righteous people are God’s kids.  Righteous people are people who have Christ in them and who Christ is living his life through.
There comes a time when God judges and promotes some people and demotes others.  That’s my message for today.  Blessings.

The Falling of The Failing ‘Gods’

However, you will die like humans and fall like any other ruler.
-Psalm 82:7

There is a saying that goes, “He got too big for his britches”.  It means that a person began to live or function in an inflated unreality about themselves, which ended up causing their demise.

I listened to someone this week, who’s message is humility.  He said, ‘everything in life is about humbling us, so that we can be closer to God and obedient to him; and so that we can know God, serve God and go into a rewarding afterlife’.  I’m paraphrasing, but this guy’s message, who is also bold, but humbly bold for Jesus; is that life is all about being obedient to be who God made you to be.

Around 99% of us are called to be obscure.  You may have a thousand or more social media followers or a book or two out and still be pretty obscure.  And on the other hand, you might ‘catch fire’ and see big growth in sales, income, numbers, influence or fame.

In any of these scenarios, the goal for your life is humility. Our calling is to humbly walk in fame and fortune or failure and poverty, loving God and loving people.  Our problem in discontent, at whatever station or level we are in or at, and then corruption, whether we manage one person or are looked up to by thousands of people.

The message of Psalm 82, is to remember that you are human and to humble yourself.  On the world’s stage, we see people who have been given great authority blow it.  Instead of doing good, they basically do bad.

The writer of Psalm 82 saw a picture, a vision, of God coming to judge every judge and ruler.  God evaluates and judges the judges.  Part of God’s word to these people is, “You are human: you’re going to die”.

Why would God say that to anyone?  Because they are acting like they are above humanity, untouchable ‘gods’.  That is exactly how you do not want to be in your leadership.

Humility is the way of Christ, while pride is the other way.  Psalm 82 is a poem or song that was a rebuke or take down of judges.  These judges, who were rulers, had the opportunity to do the right and just things, with their power.  But they failed and instead did nothing.

People gain power and authority in various ways, but all of it is allowed by God and judged by God.  Having power is to be like God, who holds all power.  It is disastrous to think that because you have some power or authority, fame or a following, that you are a god.

But that is the way, oftentimes, outside of Christ.  We can marvel that God has given us or that we have certain power or authority.  But to think we are God or a god is a grave mistake.

There are people who have been given authority to make them ‘like gods’, who have operated like their own sort of ‘god’, who are misrepresenting God.  And God has a time when he shows up and takes over for those who have not been doing the job on the earth, that was given to them to do.

The rebuke or take-down is to say to them, “You are human and will die like everyone.  The power you were given made you ‘like gods’, not ‘gods’!”.

Men and women are given authority on the earth, which is like being ‘gods’.  The key word is ‘like’.  You have power and authority, like God does, except you are not a god, but human.

I like the way that The Message renders Psalm 82 and I will highlight verse 7:

God calls the judges into his courtroom,
he puts all the judges in the dock.
“Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
and prosecute all those who exploit them.”
Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
They haven’t a clue to what’s going on.
And now everything’s falling apart,
the world’s coming unglued.
“I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
deputies of the High God,
But you’ve betrayed your commission
and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”
O God, give them their just deserts!
You’ve got the whole world in your hands!
The message here is that God is calling judges to account.  The Judge is judging the corrupt judiciary.
What does this verse, “However, you will die like humans and fall like any other ruler”, mean?  It means, remember that you are human and not divine.  There is one divine one, the three in one God.
We need to humble ourselves or face humiliation.  Everyone dies and we need to be reminded of that.
And God does come on the scene, if he chooses to, and strips leaders or judges of their power and authority, that is ultimately from him, when these people are blowing it.

When Leaders Fall, Be Civil

How the mighty have fallen!

-2 Samuel 1:19b, 25a, 27a
When an influential television evangelist fell, in the late 1980’s; some Christians celebrated.  The cheering was over that fact that God was cleansing his house.  
A better response is, “How the mighty have fallen!”  
David sang a song of lament and had the song distributed to all of Israel.  The song says, “How the mighty have fallen!”  This sentiment is the proper response when leaders, who had great influence, fall from grace, or are exposed in their hypocrisy, betrayal and sedition.
Remember that our brother or sister is never our enemy, even when they continually act like one and treat us as theirs.
The story of Saul’s death, that led to David leading Israel, in mourning and lament, rather than celebration; is recounted in 2 Samuel 1:9 to 2:7.  Saul was mortally wounded, but not yet dead.  An Amalekite man, someone living in Israel, but not an Israelite while still coming under the rules, regulations, faith and practices of Israel: this man killed Saul, at Saul’s behest.
The young Amalekite man killed Saul and then took his crown and royal armband.  He then journeyed to David’s camp and sought a meeting with David, to give these to David.  As soon as David received the bad news about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he and all his closest men went into grieving.
After a short time of mourning and fasting, David questioned the young man.  He found out that the man was someone who was living in Israel.  He was accountable to the laws of God, and should have known better.  David immediately had the young man executed for the murder of Saul.

Then he begged me, ‘Stand over me and kill me, for I’m mortally wounded, but my life still lingers.’ So I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen he couldn’t survive. I took the crown that was on his head and the armband that was on his arm, and I’ve brought them here to my lord.”

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and all the men with him did the same. They mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for those who died by the sword—for Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel.

David inquired of the young man who had brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I’m the son of a resident alien,” he said. “I’m an Amalekite.”

David questioned him, “How is it that you were not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” Then David summoned one of his servants and said, “Come here and kill him!” The servant struck him, and he died. For David had said to the Amalekite, “Your blood is on your own head because your own mouth testified against you by saying, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

-2 Samuel 1:9-16
Assisted suicide is not ok.  If an an authority gives an order that goes against God’s orders, we must obey God.  The right thing to do, for the Amalekite man, would have been to stand with Saul and defend him or drag him to shelter, if possible, so that he could die, if he was to die, in peace.
Everything the young Amalekite man did went against God’s laws.  The text makes note of the fact that he was both young and without excuse.  He lived in Israel and the prohibition against murder was well known, and he was young, which did not excuse him.  Perhaps the text is telling us, as the whole book of Proverbs does, that when you are younger, you need to be more careful to learn wisdom and leave folly and gain life experience and not think you know everything, when you do not.
Another notable feature of this story, is that David first mourned.  He mourned first, before trying to assign blame or make a judgement.  He only did the later after he did the former.
David, the warrior, knew how to cry.  That is a huge lesson for us.  Become a warrior, but grieve deeply, when appropriate.  Stoicism is not wisdom, Godly or Christlike.  
David neither reacted in anger nor went into stoic denial.  He mourned and fasted.
Then, after some processing, he interview the young man and had him immediately executed for murder.
David indicted the man from his own words.  You may not kill the one who is the Lord’s.
There was an extreme audacity in the man, in that he thought he was doing the right thing.  The right thing by God?  The right thing by David?  Saul?  No, no and no.
What he did was purely selfish.  It was mercenary.  We can surmise that he was looking out for himself.
He murdered and robbed a dying man, who had mental health issues and was loved by God and David.  The Amalekite was completely deluded to think that this was the right thing to do and that David would congratulate him.
We can become just like this guy and somehow deceive ourselves that sinfulness is ok in certain circumstances.  We kill people, often leaders, with our words.  And we rationalize that it is ok because that person is a heretic, or carnally sinful.
For some Christians, their favorite indoor sport is wishing for the death of leaders, whether Christian (even Catholic) or political.  If you are a self-identified Christian, look at what Jesus said about murder and how religious people commit murder with their words:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

-Matthew 5:20-4
Somehow, we fool or deceive ourselves into thinking we are on God’s side or God is surely on our side, when we bash, trash and kill someone with our words whom we deem to be under God’s judgement or we  rap on about how bad that person is.
When a corrupt leader falls from grace, is exposed, loses God’s protection and is ravaged by the enemy; that is not our time, our cue, to kill them and steal their jewelry and audaciously try to claim a reward.  No.  
David lived in the tension that we are all called to live in, of the prophetic future beckoning, while the present has not given way yet completely.  How to live into our prophetic destiny without ‘helping’ God and letting God develop you in that tension is what we are all called to.
David led the nation in mourning for Saul.  David knew he was called to be king, but the whole nation was not there yet.  They didn’t get that.  What they may have got and what they may have appreciated about David though, was his abilities as a worship leader, a poet, an artist and a songmaster.  
So, in that sphere of his giftedness where they did see him and appreciate him, he served them, the nation; by disseminating this song of sorrow and lament that also celebrated and said “good-bye” to Saul and is regime:

David sang the following lament for Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the Judahites be taught The Song of the Bow. It is written in the Book of Jashar:

The splendor of Israel lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen!
Do not tell it in Gath,
don’t announce it in the marketplaces of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
and the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.
Mountains of Gilboa,
let no dew or rain be on you,
or fields of offerings,
for there the shield of the mighty was defiled—
the shield of Saul, no longer anointed with oil.
Jonathan’s bow never retreated,
Saul’s sword never returned unstained,
from the blood of the slain,
from the flesh of the mighty.
Saul and Jonathan,
loved and delightful,
they were not parted in life or in death.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet, with luxurious things,
who decked your garments with gold ornaments.
How the mighty have fallen in the thick of battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother.
You were such a friend to me.
Your love for me was more wondrous
than the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen
and the weapons of war have perished!

-2 Samuel 1:19-27
There you have the example of the proper response and a hymn to the fallen leaders.
The last part of this story, that I want to touch on, is in the next scenes.  David asks God, “Now what?”  And God tells him his next move.  And David is anointed king, not over all of Israel, but just over the house of Judah.  
Then we have the report of the men who bravely buried Saul.  We know where David is headed and who he is, but many people at the time were slow to realize this and might have thought that another son of Saul was the next king.  David had to both be obedient to God and be diplomatic with those who were not on-board yet.
The lessons here are that David was bold and filled with faith, but he waited on God to open the doors; and that he was a bridge to the future and not an island that demanded others join him in God’s obvious will.  In other words, David’s feet were firmly planted in the prophetic future of his destiny, while at the same time, his hand was reaching out to others, in kindness who did not get it yet.
The final words in this section are David’s words to men who are grieving and coming to grips with David’s rise to power.  We know God is behind David, that David was God’s choice; but they do not.  And, we can only imagine that if David sat down with them and told them, “Guys, you’ve got to see that I am the one God has chosen!”, that they may not have believed him.
So, he is as kind as he can be and he does diplomacy maybe.  He says these words to these men, as he calls them to grasp the reality of what needs to happen and who he is, saying, “be strong and valiant”.  Why does he say that?  Because more civil war is imminent and he is encouraging them to choose the right side.
Here is 2 Samuel 2:1-7:

Some time later, David inquired of the Lord: “Should I go to one of the towns of Judah?”

The Lord answered him, “Go.”

Then David asked, “Where should I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord replied.

 So David went there with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelite and Abigail, the widow of Nabal the Carmelite.  In addition, David brought the men who were with him, each one with his family, and they settled in the towns near Hebron. Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. They told David: “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul.”

 David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “The Lord bless you, because you have shown this kindness to Saul your lord when you buried him.  Now, may the Lord show kindness and faithfulness to you, and I will also show the same goodness to you because you have done this deed.  Therefore, be strong and valiant, for though Saul your lord is dead, the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

A lesson here is that God provides the opportunity to do the right thing, but often, people choose otherwise.  This led to the personal destruction for the Amalekite man.  Choosing to be on the side that opposes what God is doing with a person, and David is that person in the lesson of this story, will lead to your own pain, suffering and even death.
And we can not blame God, because God makes provision for our weakness.  Every day, people chose a side that is against God and they will suffer consequences for it that were preventable.  God made provision for them not to be deceived, but they said “no thanks” and drove into the ditch.
There is a way to respond when a leader falls from grace or is exposed.  And there is an improper way to talk, speak and write; that comes from a heart that is not right with God.
There are steps to follow and ways to discern what God is doing.  The first step is to be obedient to the ways of Christ living in me.  Jesus was obedient and kind and was an active participant in waiting upon Father and seeing and doing with Father what Father was doing.
David is “the man after God’s own heart”, said God (1 Sam. 13:14).  His number one thing was passion for God, personally.  Being king was secondary and God’s idea for him. 
David, like many of us, was a reluctant leader, as far as we know.  And he was a passionate God-seeker, musical artist at the genius level and a skilled warrior; who God chose to be king.  
The guy who had been on the hard road for quite a while, spoke out of his experience in suffering and becoming more courageous, when he said to potential enemies in the looming civil war, “be valiant”.  In other words, “You know what the right thing is to do, and it might seem harder and far more dangerous.  Search your hearts, be brave and do the right thing.”  That is what I think David was saying to people who were shell-shocked by Saul’s epic failure and what is next.

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