Meditation on Proverbs 30:7-9

Father & Son Fishing

I have not done many devotional studies as part of this blog but not too long ago I was reading through Proverbs. As often happens, in reading through a text that I had read many times before, I was struck by something new. Proverbs 30:7-9 says:

7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you  and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

This proverb is perhaps unique in that it is a prayer directed to the Lord, a request from a person who has a living faith to the God who sanctifies him. It is by no means intended to be the exclusive prayer of the saint, but it does show the importance of two qualities in the Christian life which are often neglected.

The Importance of Honesty

The proverb directs the believer to ask God to make him an honest, truth-telling person. Perhaps it is overly simplistic to note that this exhortation has to be made. However, the fact that the prayer is offered points out the Christian may still be tempted with, and fall into, dishonesty. As a result, the proverb makes an appeal to the Lord that He would work in the Christian what he is unable to accomplish on his own. The prayer of the proverb is that he be kept from “falsehood and lying.” But why is truthfulness so significant to the Christian?

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the embodiment of the truth (John 14:6), while the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). Since the Bible calls believers to imitate the Lord (Ephesians 5:1) and since Jesus attributes the lies of the Pharisees to the fact that they are children of the devil (John 8:44), the issue of truth telling is very closely related to spiritual parentage. In fact, speaking the truth is so important that God includes it as part of the Moral Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. The ninth commandment specifically deals with honesty.

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s explanation of the ninth commandment it summarizes its function as “maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man.” That means its intention goes beyond telling the truth in a court of law. Verses like Proverbs 30:7 bear that out as it is addresses removing falsehood and lying in a more general sense.

Falsehood can have an obvious meaning, but there is a sense in which we can actually use the truth to promote falsehood. An example would be gossip. Gossip is a truthful communication of facts for a false end. Of course, falsehood is also the communication of what is not true. An example would be slander. In slander false information, or maybe information that is only partially true is shared. Both gossip and slander show up in Christian circles. The proverb exhorts Christians to ask God to turn them away from those things. However, the more obvious meaning about falsehood deals with lying.

Lying is the willful and intentional distortion or withholding of the truth for the purpose of deceiving another person. So, if someone asks another how his day is going, and he answers with a non-chalant, “fine,” he has not lied even if he did stub his toe earlier in the morning. There is no intent to deceive. But if a person conceals or alters the truth in an attempt to deceive, then he has lied. That person is speaking the language of the devil; it is sinful. And sin requires a Christian response.

The Christian struggling with honesty must repent of his sin. Confession should be made to the Lord and to the person who has been deceived. Yet the Christian is not concerned merely with forgiveness. He delights in the putting on of Christ and His righteousness. That is not simply a forensic and legal condition. The Christian delights to “walk in His ways.” (Deut. 26:17). Prayer is a request for God’s strength to make that a reality, to be enabled to speak the truth in love and forsake the temptation of speaking falsehood and lies. But that is only the first request in the proverb. The second part deals with riches.

The Importance of Contentment

The second part of the prayer offered in the proverb is that of contentment. It asks God to provide for material needs without either deprivation or excess. It is not unlike the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Westminster Shorter Catechism #104 summarizes that petition as asking for a “competent portion of the good things of this life.” That same request is made in this proverb as well. It asks for neither riches nor poverty.

Agur asks the Lord to provide him with his needs so that two scenarios would be avoided. First, he does not wish to be tempted to steal through poverty. Second, he does not wish tempted to deny his need for God because of his riches. And the balance of the Christian life is to receive from God’s hand whatever shape his providential distribution of wealth may take. The riches of eternal life and reconciliation to God received in Christ are of far more worth than any material blessings of this life. Therefore, the heart of the Christian ought first to be delighted with the gift of salvation resulting in contentment in all other circumstances. This proverb is not the only place in the Bible where contentment is urged.

Contentment is the positive subject of the 10th commandment. Negatively, this commandment forbids covetousness, which is a desire for the things providentially given by God to others. But in studying the law of God, the intent in the negatives is not simply to curtail certain behaviors, but to encourage the Christian to pursue the opposite virtue.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:

80. What is required in the tenth commandment?
The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.

There is a tremendous emphasis on contentment in the Bible. That contentment is grounded in viewing Christ as the greatest treasure of all. When that treasure is graciously given to a person, all other things will fade into the background. Of course, people fail to live out their gratitude consistently.

1 Timothy 6:10a warns the Christian that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Jesus Himself says it another way in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” There is the danger of forming an affectionate attachment to riches, setting them ahead of the Lord, looking to them as what gives joy and purpose. That is to create an idol in life. On the other hand, what is seen in Jesus’ own words is not a rejection of all forms of wealth. That would be to deny that all good gifts come down from heaven (James 1:17). However, the concern for riches should always be a subservient concern. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism #1).

But a love for God is a love for who He is. He is the truth and He is the Christian’s treasure. There is, of course, much more that can be said about God and how belonging to Him changes the Christian. But here in this proverb there are two “acceptable sins” and yet these are singled out for a special prayer by Agur. That makes this section of Scripture a good aid for self-examination and a good place to visit as part of family worship.

Experiencing Worship with Children

Lately I’ve been preaching through the “kingdom psalms” (Psalms 93-100). These psalms include as their common theme a call to worship God. That theme got me thinking about Christian parents leading their families to worship. No one is exempt from challenges in leading their family in worship at church. So how can parents live faithfully before God in this area? How can parents responsibly lead their families to meet with God and His people in worship? Those questions could be addressed by sharing information, or it could examine the experience of worship in families.

In this article there will not simply be a consideration of knowledge. Knowledge is crucial to the Christian life. Normally in adults life is a progressive movement from knowledge in the head to belief in the heart to expression with the hands. However, in children parental example is integral to form assumptions in the minds of children. These can have a lasting impact on the way they will understand life as adults. So rather than considering what facts children should know about worship, this article looks at parental leadership and example and how it informs an understanding of worship in children before they may even understand all that is happening. I will begin with a parent’s negative example.

  1. The Impact of Neglecting Worship

There are many reasons why people for a season excuse themselves from worship. Some of them are legitimate, some are understandable but not helpful, and some are simply bad reasons. The latter two will have unwanted negative results in children.

First, there are legitimate reasons. These include suffering an illness, or caring for someone else who is, employment in areas of mercy and necessity. Nurses, doctors, nursing home staff performing necessary medical service to the sick and elderly does nothing to neglect the call to worship, but actually compliments it. There other such reasons, but these legitimate reasons will in no way be a negative example to children.

Second, there are understandable reasons that are not helpful. There are times when, as a pastor, I sympathetically understand why folks stay away from worship. But when I talk to them, I counsel them to be present at worship because it is actually more helpful to them. For example, a person who has suffered a trauma in his life such as the passing of a loved one, or an embarrassing confession of sin may be tempted to stay away. Perhaps the difficulty of repeatedly answering the same painful questions seems too much to handle. These struggling brothers and sisters should be encouraged by the spirit of gentleness displayed by the saints (Gal. 6:1) and welcomed in the church.

However, when worship is neglected in these circumstances, it teaches a lesson for watching children. They see parents worshiping God when things are going well, but when hardship comes worship is withdrawn. They see people looking for comfort and encouragement away from the people of God in their most pressing needs. And yet, the Bible teaches that all circumstances come from the Lord, and so His worship should not be neglected on account of hardship.

Third, there are bad reasons to neglect worship. These reasons include preferring time to visit with friends or family who are in-town for the week-end, catching up on needed work around the house, and so on. The unnecessary neglect of corporate worship is a significant disconnect with a Christian profession of faith. Psalm 122:1 presents the heart of the Christian when it comes to worship: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (English Standard Version). But for the watching eyes of children, parents who stay away from worship teach children a detrimental lesson with unpredictable consequences.

Using the example of neglecting worship for time with family and friends, parents in that moment teach the child, perhaps unintentionally, that family is more important than God. I do not know Christian parents who would say that, but their actions at time establish that. The choice has been presented and God has not been preferred. And once that choice has been presented as a legitimate option, the parent will have no grounds to object to the preference of personal choice in any other area. Children may apply the same choice to recreation, work, or other things. In that scenario, actions have spoken and the lesson is clearly taught.

  1. A Valuable Lesson to Be Taught by Being Present in Worship

But parents do come to worship. They do set a positive example by being present at church, which has positive practical consequences. Broadly speaking, participating in worship gives children a healthy understanding of their importance compared to God.  An important aspect of being a well-adjusted person is the correct understanding of personal importance. In today’s self-help secular parenting world, children are often raised to think they are uniquely special. Their needs are to be met, and their opinions are to be respected and maybe even followed. Of course, it is good to make sure children know they are precious to their parents. But that affirmation should have limits. No child is more precious that God. And so, it is good for children to learn there are moments where their personal preferences and desires must “take a back seat.” Worship is one of those moments. What parents allow and forbid as part of worship prepares a child to recognize that he and God are not peers, which has further implications for all of life. Parents can set prohibitions and requirements to aid in learning that lesson.

First, children should not be an unnecessary distraction in worship. The church has gathered to focus on the Lord, not to focus on children. Therefore, no child should be allowed to make himself the focus either by excessive noise, disobedience, or turning around in the seat and entertaining the people sitting behind. When a child is not able to be in church without becoming a distraction, he should not remain. Perhaps there is a quick fix that can happen in the foyer of the church. Perhaps more training is necessary in the home to prepare a child to sit still. If the church has a nursery, parents should take advantage. Parents themselves should then assess together what is missing that would enable their child to be part of corporate worship. It is not always easy to discern, however a constant parade in and out of a service to correct a wayward child, indicates that child may not be ready to sit in church. Not only will both parent and child not participate in worship, most likely the people around them will not either. And that is to miss the purpose for coming together. Do not misunderstand. As a pastor, I am glad to hear the noises of a child learning to adjust himself to worship. The loud, off-key singing is great. The out-loud answer to rhetorical questions in the sermon often puts the adults to shame. Even the restless wiggles being brought under control should not distract a person who has come to worship. But there is a point when a child becomes an unhealthy distraction.

Second, children should not be permitted to act on every impulse they have during worship. The two main culprits in this regard are probably requests from children for drinks of water and going to the bathroom. Dealing with requests for drinks of water is by far the easier of the two. From a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that your child will not survive the remaining 30 minutes of a service without a drink of water. Requests for a visit to the bathroom carry with them a greater sense of risk. However, just a little bit of thinking ahead can even alleviate the urgency of this question. Parents can require a visit to the facilities before the service starts. That requires attentiveness from the parents and perhaps a couple of calculated but risky refusals.

In reality, children asking about bathrooms and water fountains are probably looking for a reprieve from sitting still more than presenting an actual need. But whatever the case, here parents have an opportunity to practically demonstrate that the child is not as important as the worship of God. A parent may say, “No son. We are here to worship the Lord. You can wait for a drink until we are done.” That refusal demonstrates to the child that their impulse for a drink or simply to move around does not outweigh or supersede the call to glorify God in the context of the gathered worship of His people.

Third, children should be prepared to participate in worship. Some preparation will happen through the accumulation of experience in worship. The week-in, week-out participation in Sunday worship will make children relax and enable them to join in. However, there are also some proactive things that can be done at home. For churches which recite creeds or the Lord’s Prayer corporately, children can be helped in committing them to memory. Once memorized they will be able to participate. Parents can insist that older children participate in the songs of the church and give them a little pro-active “coaching.” Perhaps it is as simple as, “Remember, we are going to worship the Lord today, and I want to see you singing along with the rest of the people.” Parents can also provide ways to help children listen to preaching. Children can be encouraged to write down a few notes of things they heard the pastor say. However, be careful that this tool is not allowed to cause the child to tune out what is said as he develops his favorite cartoon characters. In all these ways, children can be shown the privilege of worshiping God. And the aim is not just quiet children, but those who respect worship and, more significantly, participate in it.

All parents have failed in leading their family in worship. Some have been too lacks, others too strict. But past failures should not excuse a renewed commitment around healthy expectations in our families regarding the worship God. Parental instruction or example should not undermine the supremacy of God, and where parents have allowed that to happen, adjustments should be made. That is no cause for shame or embarrassment. It is a necessary and on-going correction that all people must at times make. It is part of their own sanctification and their responsibility to present their children to the Lord for worship.

The Christian and God’s Law

Ten Commandments

“The law sends us to the Gospel that we may be justified; and the Gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified.”[1]

Recently the topic of the relationship between the Law and the Christian has been occupying a significant amount of my thoughts. That is for two main reasons: 1. I read Charles Leiter’s book The Law of Christ; and, 2. I am preaching through the book of Romans. Why have these things made me consider God’s Law?

First, Charles Leiter’s book is antinomian. That does not mean he is unconcerned with holiness or urging Christians to a righteous life. It is antinomian because Leiter dismisses God’s Law. His basic premise is that the Law (ceremonial, civil, and moral) is abrogated and serves only as an example for the new covenant Christian, unless explicitly repeated in the New Testament. To be renewed by the Holy Spirit, argues Leiter, means the heart is changed and there is a desire to imitate Christ. Therefore the Law is no longer needed. That book forced me to think about the abiding use of the Law from the perspective of someone who would remove it.

Second, preaching through Romans makes me think about the Law, but for a very different reason. Paul is constantly talking about the law. Romans has been divided into 433 verses. 51 of those, or 12% of the verses, mention the word “law”. Sixty-six of those 78 mentions are in the first seven chapters. Of those 51 verses which mention the Law, 41 appear in the first seven chapters. There are 186 verses in those chapters, which means that 22% of the verses in the first seven chapters of Romans use the word “law”. That is a major theme. But in this book, the Law is not being cancelled. Paul is helping the Christian think of the right use of the Law in his life. The Law cannot be used unto salvation, but salvation encourages a right use of the Law.

All of these things have caused me to be refreshed by the Biblical teaching that the free offer of the gospel does not negate the Law’s usefulness for the Christian. There are many Scriptural references to support this way of thinking:

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Romans 3:31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

Romans 8:7 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

1 John 3:4 “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Texts like these have formed the foundation for the protestant Christian’s belief in the abiding value of God’s Law. The universal nature of this acceptance can be seen in the theological documents that were formulated throughout the Protestant Reformation.

The Sixteenth Century

The Heidelberg Catechism was published in 1563, written primarily by Zacharias Ursinus. It quickly came to be viewed as the best summation of the teachings of reformed Christianity and continues to be used and loved in many Reformed denominations. In Q. 3, the catechism establishes the Law as a convicting agent: “From where do you know your sins and misery? From the law of God.” It is commonly accepted that the Law functions in this way, but the catechism has more to say. It also describes life after the new birth, when man is renewed by the Holy Spirit. This life is the forgiven life, when man is pardoned for sin and declared righteous by faith in Christ. Describing that time, Q. 90 says, “What is the coming to life of the new nature? It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.” And so as to make no mistake about the nature of these good works, the Catechism gives a clarifying definition in Q. 91: “But what are good works? Only those which are done out of true faith, in accordance with the law of God, and to his glory, and not those based on our own opinion or on precepts of men (Italics mine).” In the Heidelberg, the doing of good works which is part of the coming to life of the new nature, is defined by living in obedience to God’s Law.

At about the same time as the Heidelberg Catechism was published, another Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession was published in Zurich. It was authored by Heinrich Bullinger first for his personal use, but then letter as a summary of the teaching of the Reformed Churches in Zurich and beyond in 1566. This confession deals with the law in Chapter XII, “Of the Law of God”. There it says,

“HOW FAR THE LAW IS ABROGATED. The law of God is therefore abrogated to the extent that it no longer condemns us, nor works wrath in us. For we are under grace and not under the law. Moreover, Christ has fulfilled all the figures of the law. Hence, with the coming of the body, the shadows ceased, so that in Christ we now have the truth and all fulness. But yet we do not on that account contemptuously reject the law. For we remember the words of the Lord when he said: “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them” (Matt. 5:17). We know that in the law is delivered to us the patterns of virtues and vices. We know that the written law when explained by the Gospel is useful to the Church, and that therefore its reading is not to be banished from the Church. For although Moses’ face was covered with a veil, yet the apostle says that the veil has been taken away and abolished by Christ.”

In other words, the law is not given to justify a man in the sight of God, but rather to show to Him God’s definition of good and evil. The aim is that the man who trusts in Christ alone for salvation rightly understands the law as not causing his salvation, but as an explanation of the good a man should do and the evil he should leave off doing in light of that salvation.

The Seventeenth Century

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), The Savoy Declaration (1658), and the London Baptist Confession of 1689 are all 17th century theological summaries. The Westminster Confession of Faith forms the foundation for the latter two. The reason for including their mention is to show the broad agreement in Reformed churches on the issue of the Law. This agreement can be seen in that the Savoy and London Baptist both leave the language they borrow from the Westminster Confession on this subject unchanged:

“6 Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.

7 Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”

In essence the Confession of Faith mirrors Romans in saying that the Law has no use leading up to man’s justification. To affirm law keeping as part of being pardoned and declared righteous would be to live under a Covenant of Works again. The Confession says that is not possible. Man comes to God by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ only. However, the freedom Christ purchases for His people is not some moral autonomy. God defines a “rule of life” and defines good and evil. This definition is found in His Law. That is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17). Those who are redeemed make it their delight to walk in these unchanged ways.

Conclusions

So is it right to say the Law of God has no further use? Certainly not. And I give the following reasons:

  1. The Bible does not teach such a thing, but rather shows the inadequacy of the Law unto salvation, but the benefit of the Law for the one saved by grace through faith only;
  2. The Reformed churches of many stripes and places all taught that the Law leads a man to Christ for salvation and afterwards is a guide for thankful, holy living;
  3. Though it is right to claim the heart of the Christian is made new and that he desires to live as Jesus did, it is impossible to separate the law out from that way of living. Even if imitation of Christ was the objective, Christ obeyed the Law perfectly. To imitate Christ is to live in obedience to the Law;
  4. A person who lays aside the Law rarely lives a life of greater dedication to Christ. It is usually done to allow a behavior that is prohibited under the law.

The Law of God is man’s friend if he is in Christ. It is not his master, and it cannot condemn him. But it does help as a good friend does. It directs him away from the things of the flesh because when he lives this way he is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). In that state he will not submit to God’s Law. Instead the Law informs him of God’s definitions of what is good and evil. And it helps him to see just how love for God in Christ should be expressed.

Samuel Bolton was right: “The law sends us to the Gospel that we may be justified; and the Gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified.”

[1] Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (London: Banner of Truth, 1964) 76, 71, quoted in Charles Leiter, The Law of Christ(Hannibal, Missouri: Grand Ministries Press, 2012) 219.

Theological Thought » On Sin and Its Punishment

“Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner.”
Westminster Confession of Faith 6.6

Chapter six of the Westminster Confession of Faith lays out what man did in God’s perfect creation. It answers the question of how this good world became such an awful place. 

The first thing established in this chapter is that even the fall of man is not outside of God’s control. God permitted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. In fact it is part of God’s purpose for this world for the sake of His own glory.

The consequence of that sin is tremendous. Man is no longer righteous, but corrupt. He no longer is in communion with God but hostile toward Him. He is no longer alive, but dead in ever part.

What is more, the guilt of Adam’s sin, because he is the representative of the whole of humanity, is charged to every person who conceived in the normal way. This truth is often seen as unfair, and yet 1 Cor. 15:21-22 apply the same principle to man being credited with righteousness because of Christ, his representative.

Because man is no longer righteous, but corrupt, his inclinations are now also different. They are only evil, all the time which can be seen in the sinful acts he commits. This corruption remains also in the Christian and is manifest even in temptations that originate in man’s heart. In other words, the desire to sin is itself sinful.

That sin, whether Adam’s original sin, or man’s sins which flow from it, is enough to condemn man to God’s curse, wrath, and judgment. The good news is that God does not leave His people there. 

Tips for Family Worship

Christian parents, practice family worship, family devotions, or whatever it is that you would like to call it. There is an urgency to the responsibility of parents. And one of the things parents must take most seriously is the call to teach their children the word of God.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

I recognize the text says, “Fathers…” but this article is written in the context of the proliferation of divorce and single parent families. And in the homes where the father is not present or is neglecting his duty, the responsibility to fulfill this task falls to the mother or other primary care givers. So, to those who have been given responsibility to raise children, the Biblical mandate is that we are to be actively discipling them. There should be no expectation that you or your methods will be able to awaken the child’s heart, but it is good and right to plead with God that He would use your ministry to them in a saving way. And though this article will try to give some helps in the area of how family worship can be done, it is actually far more important that family worship is done.

Learning the skill of leading family worship is done “on the job.” If I can assume agreement that discipling your children is a worthwhile enterprise and that parents are generally speaking trying to make it happen (albeit imperfectly and maybe inconsistently), let me encourage you. As family worship is practiced, it will become easier and more natural. Personal styles will be developed, children will get used it as a feature of their home, and wonderful conversations about important truths will be had. However, there will be days when efforts to gather the family will seem like they are not helping anyone at all. In that day of discouragement, do not yield to the voice that whispers, “Why bother?” Press on, because God entrusts the responsibility to teach His children to parents. They have the blessing of scattering seed that may not sprout or bear fruit until years after it is sown. Who knows how God waters the seeds parents sow. But there must be a commitment to regular Bible study with the family. What if that commitment is not there? Where it is lacking it should be taken up. And where that discipline is inconsistent, it should be practiced more regularly. It is part of your parental example to your children as you prepare them to leave your home.

Having said all that, the aim of this article is not to make the case for family worship. Rather it is meant to provide encouragement for parents who are in the middle of it. By providing a few helps, parents can be greatly encouraged in their pursuit of teaching and applying God’s word in the lives of their children. So what are some things you can do to help family worship?

Make an appointment. In my experience family worship is most faithfully done when there is a regular set time for it. Most people are not likely to skip appointments. However, it has been my experience that people who set out to do family worship “when they get to it” struggle more with actually doing it. There are lots of opportunities for informal discussions about the things of the Lord throughout the day. And these are wonderful and good. But in these moments, an issue arises, either positive or negative, and parent either praises or corrects. However, the getting together, opening the Bible, and letting God’s word choose the topic happens best by setting aside a regular time. For some that will be waking the family first thing in the morning. For others it makes sense to schedule time right before bedtime. And others still take advantage of the family gathered for a meal. Whatever timing works best for your family, schedule a time.

Open the Bible and read it to your children. A person who trusts his profound lesson or great method will have missed the main reason for family worship: to teach God’s word to his children. The most important part of family worship is the clear, sincere, and eager reading of God’s word. Yes, the Word can and should be explained. Yes, how you engage your children matters. However, the key component to teaching children the Bible is…the Bible.

Consider the age of your children. One of the mistakes I made when I began family worship was expecting too much with my little kids when it came to family worship. Little kids are…little. Their attention spans are usually shorter and they lack the theological vocabulary that may have acquired in years of gradual study. For young children, keep the readings brief and focus on the accounts of Scripture. It is not wise to read devotionally to a three-year old from Calvin’s Institutes, or some other theological work. At the same time, as they mature, it is good and even necessary to have more significant conversations to find out if they have understood. It is important to explain and define significant theological terms. And when there are a variety of ages, these things will have to be held in balance. Do not simply teach to the lowest common denominator. Spend time addressing each group according to their age.

Do not overwhelm yourself with too much preparation. This tip may seem counter-intuitive. But it is a simple call to using time efficiently. There can be tremendous benefit to using what has already been studied. For example, thoughts that arise from personal devotions or rehearsing the message of the sermon preached the previous Lord’s Day are efficient uses of time. Certainly, there are seasons in which personal preparation for a certain study will greatly benefit the family. However, those who seek to reinvent the wheel each family worship lesson will be more prone to becoming wearied in the process. These will be more tempted to abandon the practice because they do not have the emotional energy to continue.

Include the children in the exercise. The goal of family worship is not just to have family worship. Rather it is to instill into children a knowledge of who God is and what duties He requires of His people. To that end, family worship should be highly interactive. Some examples:

    • Have the children read a part of the Scripture if they are able, even if it is just one verse.
    • Have them participate the prayer time, whether it be by asking for specific prayer requests, or if it is by having them offer their own prayer in turn.
    • Include singing if you can. For little ones sing “childish” Bible songs, even if you seem to sing it every night for one month. But also teach the songs most frequently sung in church services. For older ones, reinforce the songs of the saints and speak highly of them. If there are some family favorites that your local church does not sing, integrate them into family worship. If music is a struggle, have some good recorded music and singing available.
    • Ask questions of the children about what was read, and invite their questions. Answer them as you can but if you do not know the answer, admit it and tell them you will find the answer and get back to them. When you say that, you actually have to do it as well.

These suggestions are not the result of some scientific study or a careful survey. They come from about 27 years of practicing family worship in my home and time spent in pastoral ministry. Not all family worship will look the same. There will be variety based on each family’s personality. But family worship should be done as Christian parents seek to fulfill their biblical obligation to raise their children up in the knowledge of the Lord.

Theological Thought » God’s Providence

Divine providence. Even if it is difficult to define, all people interact with it every day. Chapter 5 of the confession defines some terms to help us understand. The first paragraph describes both the scope and category of the term “providence”. 

Firstly, the term “providence” is firmly in the category of governance. It indicates that God, as the Creator, governs His creation. Secondly, the scope of this governance is “over all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least.” This governance over all things is not dependent on anything, but only God’s will.

In the second paragraph the direct line between God and all events is firmly established.  Yet, though God is directly in control of all things, He makes them happen through “secondary causes”. That means God does not usually intervene in the world through miracles, but works through people and circumstances, though the third paragraph makes it clear He is not obliged to do so.

The fourth paragraph makes it clear that even the fall and man’s sins are subsumed under God’s providence. Without attempting to explain it, the Confession does clarify that God is not the author of sin.

The righteous are under this providence tested and sanctified by God, while the wicked have His grace withheld causing them to harden themselves. And finally God’s providence is over the church in a special way.

Not all of these things are easy to understand, but God’s providence shows His glory.

Theological Thought » Creation

the Creator seen in creation

The third chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, deals with God’s decrees. In the Shorter Catechism (Q&A 8) we are taught that God’s executes His decrees in part through the work of creation, which is the subject of the Confession’s fourth chapter. 

It opens by summarizing the doctrine of creation from Scripture. It affirms God’s unique work of creating out of nothing, that His work of creation includes both the visible and invisible, that it took place in six days and that He created all things good. The goodness of God’s creation is central to what is taught in the next paragraph.

In emphasizing that man was good when he was created, the Confession shows that man was not inclined to evil as he is today, but was created righteous, knowing God and His Moral Law. And yet, God in His wisdom created man able to sin.

This explanation of creation shows man’s happy original state in relation to God. Man is able to satisfy the requirements of his Creator and as long as Adam adheres to these good commandments he is in peaceful communion with God. 

This original condition sets the stage for the wonder of God’s decrees as touching man’s salvation. In creation, man is given this special relationship with God, and also a place of prominence over the rest of creation, and yet is able to fall. 

Creation establishes man’s foundational relationship with  God. No wonder the world seeks to minimize its significance. 

Theological Thought » God’s Decree

The third chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith addresses the doctrine of God’s decree. Some of these truths are difficult to accept for some Christians, but they make us to dwell on the glory and power of God.

The first thing asserted in chapter 3 is that God ordains “whatsoever comes to pass.” To understand this truth there must be a clear distinction drawn between God making something necessary on the one hand and compulsory on the other.

For something to be necessary means the outcome cannot be avoided. That is what the Confession is saying about God’s decrees. However, that does not make the choice of man compulsory, in the sense that man is forced to do anything against his will.

What follows from that is that God never is responding. He does not make decisions based on gaining new information even through seeing things before they happen. However, the main controversy around this subject comes in its discussion on salvation.

The Confession teaches that God choses the eternal condition of all men and angels, whether it be heaven or hell. This choice is not based on what God knows about people, but according to His own purpose. People have difficulty accepting this truth.

Rather than making anyone boastful about receiving salvation, this doctrine should only serve to exalt the God who chooses and humble the person who receives salvation, because none are worthy of it.

Theological Thought » On God

The second chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith addresses the doctrine of God. 

The first paragraph deals with God’s attributes, both those which can be seen reflected in man (communicable attributes) and those which are unique only to God (incommunicable). The latter include His unchangeableness, and various aspects of His infinity, such as regarding time and space. These establish God as far greater than His creation and keep man from assuming some kind of peer-relationship with God who is highly exalted.

At the same time, God shows that His own image is placed on man. Man reflects his Creator in many ways, though the attributes of God that we mirror are not held in the same degree. Man may be wise, but God’s wisdom is without limit. Man may be merciful, but not to the same extent that God shows mercy. 

The second paragraph treats God’s independency, also called His aseity. God does not stand in need of anything to complete Him, neither does He gain any knowledge from His creation.

The third paragraph describes the mysterious nature of the Trinity: “three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity.” These are distinguished from each other by their properties.

Much more could be said, however the summary above is sufficient to direct man to worship. God’s greatness demands that His creation yields to Him any worship, service, or obedience He may require of it.

Theological Thought » The Attributes of Scripture

Bible Open

There are two basic categories any person needs to live in the presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth. First, he must know what he is to believe about God. Second, he must know how he should live before such a God. These two broad categories cannot be discerned from what is around us, and therefore it is imperative that any man begin with a study of the Bible.

The significance of the Bible is explained by many. Reformed Christians can turn to their confessions for a summary of what Scripture teaches about itself. The Westminster Confession of Faith is one such resource. Its first chapter deals with Scripture. It answers anyone who is asking what they should believe about the Bible.

First, it teaches that the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are necessary. It explicitly rejects the apocryphal books adopted by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are necessary that man would know God’s plan of salvation. What can be known about God in general revelation (nature, God’s providence in history) is not enough to teach us of Christ, repentance and salvation.

Second, the Bible is authoritative. There are many times when people demand proofs about what is said in God’s word. This demand essentially sets man up as judge over the Bible. However, since God is the Bible’s author, it is to be received, not challenged. In the Bible God sets down all that is necessary for faith and practice. As such the Bible is the final court of appeal for any belief or practice among God’s people.

Third, it is clear. All that is necessary to know God and holy living is clearly taught in the Bible. That does not mean that all parts of the Bible are equally easy to understand. However, the essential message of the is clear to all who would read the Bible. A child who applies themselves to read Scripture will understand that God is Creator, man is sinner, Christ is Redeemer, that holiness is expected, and that glory will be the final outcome for those who trust in God through Christ.

Fourth, it is inspired. Its content is breathed out by God Himself. Meaning that wherever the Bible asserts something as fact it is true. Keeping in mind that poetic sections are not to be read in a wooden, literal fashion, there are no errors in what God says to His people. That is true of all the Scriptures, not just in the concepts that it teaches but in every word that is spoken in it.

Fifth, Scripture in infallible. That means the Bible does not fail to accomplish its purposes. Its study accomplishes the redemption of God’s saints and the hardening of His enemies.

For a Christian, the Bible must be the starting point because it is only in his reading of what God has spoken that he can properly make sense of his life. Not only does he need it for knowing God, but also for how he must serve and worship Him.