A Common Strength: Sound Shepherds

A Common Strength

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

The Bible teaches that the church is involved in God’s work, the greatest work on earth. We are, therefore, “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9, KJV). Yesterday, we observed that this work involves steadfast servants. That’s all of us. Everyone has something to do.

In addition to steadfast servants, the work of the Lord needs sound shepherds.

Shepherds, also called elders, bishops, overseers, and pastors in the New Testament, are vital to the work of the church. As we did yesterday, let’s notice their prerequisites, their purpose, and the source of their power.

The Prerequisites

The qualifications to be an elder are specifically given to us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. While the purpose of this discussion is not to look at these passages in depth, it is worth noting that an elder is to be a married man (“husband of one wife”) who is an experienced Christian (“not a novice”). He is to be a righteous man who is able to lead his own family in spiritual ways because he will be leading the church. He is to love what is good, and he is to be prepared to answer any false teaching or criticisms that may come against the congregation.

The Purpose

Shepherds have an important purpose in the church. By the way, you never read in the New Testament of just one elder. There are always a plurality of elders in a local congregation.

The purpose of elders, or shepherds, is seen in a study of the words that are used in Scripture to identify them. I’ve already mentioned the terms overseer, bishop, shepherd, pastor, and elder. These terms are used to signify certain aspects of their work. The terms overseer and bishop come from the same Greek word. An overseer is one who is watching over the congregation to ensure its safety from outside threats as well as its overall health. Like overseer and bishop, the terms shepherd and pastor come from the same Greek word. Think about what a shepherd does in tending to a flock. He protects, he guides, he feeds those sheep. The pastors (who are not preachers, by the way – they are more than that) are doing those things for the congregation. They will give account for how well they have done these things. Finally, the word elder refers to one who is chronologically older. With age comes wisdom. The idea is that these men are spiritual mentors. We can look to them for spiritual advice and for a great example of a Christian.

Bishops have an important purpose in the work of the church.

Their Power

It’s clear that shepherds have a lot of power in the church. From where does that power come? The New Testament teaches that they are not to lord that power over the congregation. Instead, they serve with the congregation, leading them in the right direction. They serve under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). So elders must be careful that they are relying on the power of God rather than upon themselves as they shepherd the flock which Jesus purchased with His own blood. This is a heavy responsibility.

Let’s wrap it up: Shepherds, pastors, bishops, overseers, elders – All terms that are used interchangeably to refer to the work of experienced Christian men who lead the local congregation in the ways of Jesus. They have an important job, don’t they? Let’s be sure that we make their job as easy as possible. Let’s count them worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). We need them.

A Common Strength: Steadfast Servants

A Common Strength

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building (1 Cor. 3:6-9).

There’s a very important phrase found in 1 Corinthians 3:9. Paul says, “For we are God’s fellow workers.” That’s the New King James translation. I like the way the King James Version translates it: “For we are labourers together with God.”

Stop for a minute and analyze that phrase: “labourers together with God.” As Christians, we are laborers. There is work to do! Further, we are laborers together. We’re not alone in our Christian journey. In fact, we can’t do it alone! It takes all of us working together as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). Finally, he goes so far as to say that we are laborers together with God. Now that is amazing! God is our strength; it is from Him that our power comes to accomplish His will in our lives (Rom. 1:16).

Today, I want us to consider the work of the church in light of that power from God. The work in which we are involved is the most important work on earth! We’re talking about soul-saving, eternity-determining matters! God gives us the strength to accomplish this great work through His amazing word.

The work of the church needs steadfast servants, sound shepherds, and stationed supporters. Let’s examine each of these individually over the next three days.

Today, we turn our attention to the steadfast servants.

God wants everyone to be a steadfast servant. He has given us the guidance we need to know what we are to do and how we are to do it. Consider three areas: the prerequisites, the purpose, and the power.

The Prerequisites

For one to be a servant of God, he or she must be obedient to the gospel. That’s how we become part of God’s family, added to the church (Acts 2:47). The Christians at Rome had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Rom. 6:17). They met the prerequisites.

The Purpose

We are not redeemed by Christ’s blood merely to occupy a pew several times a week. There is work to do! The work of the church has been categorized into three sections: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. Evangelism is the spreading of the gospel (Mat. 28:18-20). Edification is the building up, the encouragement, of the church, our brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 4:16). Benevolence is assistance that is provided to those in need (Gal. 6:10).

The Power

Finally, let’s notice once again that the power to accomplish these three important tasks is found in God – and only in Him! His gospel is the power to save (Rom. 1:16). His nature has shown us comfort so that we can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). His Word promises that our labors are not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Let’s wrap it up: We have important work to do. Are you involved in the Lord’s work? Are you a steadfast servant, one who is unwavering in God’s work? Live up to the potential for which you were reborn into Christ by giving your life to Jesus and working for Him every day.

A Great Tool for Spiritual Growth


Everyone suffers – the good and the bad, the old and the young, the rich and the poor. No one is exempt. Christians certainly aren’t excused from suffering. Jesus said that the prophets were persecuted and we will be, too (Mat. 5:10-12). Paul said that all Christians will suffer (2 Tim. 3:12). He knew, in a deeply personal way, the pain of suffering, yet he said that today’s sufferings can’t compare to eternity’s glory (Rom. 8:18).

Persecution is an opportunity for spiritual growth. Do you want to be closer to God and to God’s people? There’s hardly a better way to deepen your faith than to endure persecution. That’s why James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2), because “the man who endures temptation … will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12).

Allow me to direct our attention to 1 Peter 4. Much of this entire book is devoted to the topic of suffering for our faith. Peter says that Christ suffered for us and that we were called to suffering ourselves (1 Pet. 2:21). He continues the conversation about Christ’s suffering in chapter three: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). It is with that backdrop that chapter four begins.

Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

Will you respond to suffering in a way that will bring about spiritual growth for your soul? Peter tells us how to do it here in 1 Peter 4.

1. Be defended.

Peter says that we need to be armed to defend ourselves against one of Satan’s most powerful weapons, persecution. You know as well as I do that the devil will use suffering to shake our faith. Peter says that we must arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. When Jesus “suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). That’s what we must do.

2. Be determined.

Some people are going to think that we’re weird for choosing a path that could bring suffering our way (1 Pet. 4:3-4). Peter assures us, “do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). We do that, don’t we? We suffer and wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”. But why do we think that we’re the only Christians who will never suffer? Why do we think that we will be the only Christians in history who haven’t been persecuted?
Peter says that our suffering is not strange. Instead, we ought to be determined to rejoice in it (1 Pet. 4:13), to glorify God in it (1 Pet. 4:16), and to commit our souls to God in it (1 Pet. 4:19).

Let’s wrap it up: Do you really want to be a strong Christian? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Mat. 5:10). When the pain comes, let’s choose the path of growth. Christianity is called “the Way” in the book of Acts. We don’t claim that it’s the easy way. We don’t claim that it’s the way of least resistance. But it is the right way. It’s the way that Jesus says leads to eternal life and rest with Him and with God. That’s the way that I want to walk. What about you?

Blessed are the Persecuted


Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mat. 5:10-12).

This is the last of the beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12. While the other beatitudes are one verse apiece, this final thought demands a little more elaboration – probably because it would be harder to bear.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted”?? The word “persecuted” means to put in rapid motion. The idea is that the disciples are caused to flee because of the intense threats and even murder of God’s people. Jesus goes on to say that God’s people would be insulted by their persecutors, and people would use their words with the intent of tearing them down by spreading lies about them.

So why do bad things happen to good people? You know, that’s really not the right question. The truth is, bad things happen to everyone. So the question is not “Will I suffer?”, the right question is “HOW will I suffer?”.

Peter makes this distinction very clear.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter (1 Pet. 4:15-16).

Sometimes we bring suffering on ourselves, don’t we? We sin and we reap the consequences. Other times we suffer simply because suffering is a part of life as we know it. We live in a world that is dominated by sin, and everyone feels its effects. Peter shows us that even Christians suffer. In so doing, he also illustrates to us that there is a right way to suffer and a wrong way to suffer. How will I react to suffering?

Suffering as a Christian is glorifying to God. Peter says, “let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:16). Further, we read that love suffers long (1 Cor. 13:4), and that long suffering, or endurance in the face of trials, is a part of bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Oh, and don’t forget that Jesus said that those who suffer for the sake of righteousness are “blessed” and should “rejoice” (Mat. 5:10-12).

Let’s wrap it up: We are not the first people of God who have been persecuted throughout history. Jesus said, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:12). Paul reminds us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). So it comes down to this: I can hurt and reject God or I can hurt and glorify God. Which do you choose?

Blessed Are the Peacemakers


Webster defines peace as “a state of tranquility or quiet.” The definition goes on to define peace as the absence of war or fighting. It could even include the agreement to end war.

The Bible has a lot to say about peace. It naturally contains a lot about peace because it’s Source – God in heaven – is the God of peace. Romans 15:33 and Romans 16:20 both emphasize that God is the God of peace.

We often talk about love and how God is love (1 John 4:8). When we say that God is love we mean that love comes from God; we can’t know love apart from God. I submit to you that it is the same way with peace. God is the God of peace, and you and I will not know true peace until we have a relationship with God. The same could be said of Jesus, couldn’t it? Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

The Sermon on the Mount shows us that the theme of peace is an important part of our Lord’s teaching. He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9). Who is Jesus calling blessed here? Is it world leaders who do whatever it takes to avoid wars between countries? Is it social activists who rally in peaceful protest in defense of a cause? Is it two individuals who put differences aside and choose to get along rather than to fight? Being a peacemaker includes all of these things, but it goes deeper than that. You can’t know peace if you don’t have a relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

That’s why, when Jesus was born, the angels praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). That’s why Paul says that “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). That’s why the Hebrews writer puts peace and holiness together in Hebrews 12:14 and says that without both of these “no one will see the Lord.”

There are some things that, if we truly want them to be a part of our character, we can only receive from drawing closer to God. I think sometimes we forget that when it comes to characteristics like love, unity, and peace. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He’s pointing us to the God of peace and to Himself, the Prince of Peace. Once we have that peace, then the passage in Romans 12:18 begins to be possible: “live peaceably with all men.”

Let’s wrap it up: There is an inseparable link between God and peace. That’s why Paul says, “live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). James says that the wisdom that is from above is peaceable, and that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). Be a true peacemaker by first securing peace with God, and then you will be ready to strive for peace with your fellowman.

Church Division: The Fix at Corinth


Yesterday, we noted some of the problems that caused the division in the church at Corinth. Ultimately, we learned that their problem was one of focus. Their focus was on the messenger more than the message, on immaturity more than increase, and on self more than service. We noted that their focus needed to be on Christ instead of on themselves.

Today, let’s look at the specifics of Paul’s solutions to these three issues.

1. They needed to put their faith in the power of God, not the wisdom of men.

The “preacher-itis” in Corinth would be fixed by a clear focus on the power of God’s word and the foolishness of man’s wisdom. This theme is clearly discussed in chapters one and two of 1 Corinthians. Later, Paul says, “Let no one boast in men” (1 Cor. 3:21). The message Paul preached was “not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

2. They needed to act their age.

This was the cure to their spiritual immaturity. They would accomplish maturation by doing three things. First, they needed to eat right. Paul says that they needed to get away from the milk and move toward a more adult diet (1 Cor. 3:1-2). Second, they needed to “man up.” Paul asked them, “Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). It was time to act like men of God. Finally, they needed to put off the works of the flesh and put on the fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:3, he says that they were involved in “envy, strife, and divisions,” all things that are found in Galatians 5:19-21 when Paul lists the works of the flesh. They needed to act their age.

3. They needed to learn their place as servants.

All Christians are servants. Too many of us are looking for what the church can do for us instead of what we can do for Christ. Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that they were nothing without God. He said,

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor. 4:7).

The realization that we are nothing without God is a great cure to self-centeredness and arrogance.

Let’s wrap it up: We will thrive as the church today when we are together, united in our common bond of Jesus Christ. We will do that by putting our faith in God and His Word (not in human wisdom), by spiritually growing as God expects, and by learning our roles as servants together and servants of God.

Let’s thrive as God’s people!

Church Division: A Problem of FOCUS


What can we do to help the church thrive? I’ve read lots of articles and blog posts in the recent past about how the Lord’s church is on the decline. I’ve talked with preachers and church leaders about the problems in congregations all across the country. As the new you, you have been added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47). You are a part of the church – you are the church!

So, again I ask, what can you do to help the church thrive? When we read 1 Corinthians in the New Testament, we see that the church in Corinth wasn’t thriving. They had lost sight of their common bond in Jesus, and therefore had lost their focus.

They focused on the messenger more than the message.

“Preacher-itis” is a terrible disease. In Corinth, some Christians were dividing under different preachers like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (1 Cor. 1:12-17). Paul told them that they were actually trying to divide Christ! In chapter three, he said that such division is carnal (3:4).

They focused on immaturity more than increase.

In 1 Corinthians three, Paul said that he “could not speak to them as spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (3:1). They hadn’t grown as Christians. Notice that God expected them to grow. They didn’t have the option not to grow. Paul says, “where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (3:3).

They focused on self more than service.

The Corinthian Christians were “puffed up on behalf of one against the other” (1 Cor. 4:6). Arrogance is toxic to any relationship. If you want to tear apart the congregation of God’s people and ruin the influence of that congregation upon the community, then just start acting like you’re better than someone else. That’s all it takes.

Let’s wrap it up: The division in the Corinth church of Christ was a problem of focus. They focused on the messenger more than the message, on immaturity more than increase, and on self more than service.

Skewed focus will cause today’s church to be divided, too. Instead, focus on Jesus and on living life His way. In 1 Corinthians chapter one, Paul mentions Jesus in every verse of the first ten verses. Do you think the Holy Spirit is using Paul to impress something upon us as readers? I do. Set your focus on Christ. Realize that the church belongs to Him – not to you – and you will help the church not only survive, but thrive in our culture.

Children of God


What an amazing privilege to be a child of God! Because of Jesus, we can be adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). As such, we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him” (Rom. 8:17).

In 1 John, the Holy Spirit has a lot to say about the blessings of being a child of God. Here are four lessons about being God’s child from 1 John 3:1-2.

1. God’s grace makes it possible for me to be a child of God!

John says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). The word “behold” is designed to fix our attention, to cause us to take a long, penetrating look so that we are impressed with God’s great love. We should be amazed and in awe that God permits us to be His people, to be called by His name. He has “bestowed,” or given us this wonderful privilege.

2. The world does not know me because I am a child of God.

Not everyone appreciates God’s people. We shouldn’t take it personally, because the world “did not know Him,” either, according to the end of 1 John 3:1. In other words, Christians will be rejected today for similar reasons that Jesus was rejected during His earthly ministry. R. C. H. Lenski, in his commentary, stated it this way:

The names of God’s greatest saints are not engraved on the tablets of the world’s temple of fame. This cannot be otherwise; if it were, the world would not be the world, and we should not be God’s children (page 450).

3. I can know that I am a child of God.

The early gnosticism that permeated the culture during the time that John wrote this epistle was attempting to degrade the faith of the faithful Christians. John assures them, “Beloved, now we are children of God” (1 John 3:2). We can know that we are God’s children, and we can know that we are God’s children right now!

4. I will see Jesus because I am a child of God.

John continues, “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Paul put it this way over in Philippians 3:20-21:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

Let’s wrap it up: What an amazing blessing it is to be a child of God! It is by God’s grace that I am His child. The world may reject me, but I know that I am His. One day, I will see Jesus and be with Jesus forever. You’re a New Testament Christian! You’re a child of God! That’s a great reason to have some pep in your step today.

By the way, if you are not a New Testament Christian, I want to encourage you to become one. I’d love for you to contact me so that we can discuss this further.


TheNewYou1400 This is a partial transcript from my weekday podcast, The New You, where we focus on maintaining and accentuating the new that Christ created in each of us as Christians. A new episode is available each Monday through Friday on The Light Network. Click here to see all of the episodes.

Ten Thousand Talents


In the beatitudes, Jesus taught that the merciful are blessed. Jesus had a lot to teach us about mercy. Some of it He taught by example, while other lessons He taught directly through what He said. Today, let’s look at an interesting story Jesus told in Matthew 18, and note two important lessons from it.

Lesson 1: Mercy feels so good to receive.

Jesus told a touching story of a servant who owed his master a lot of money. The master had been away for a while, but had returned to settle accounts. The servant, however, couldn’t pay his debt. He owed ten thousand talents.

A talent was a measurement of weight. Therefore, the value of a talent depends upon what you are weighing. If these were ten thousand talents of gold, then this servant owed his master $11.9 billion by today’s standards (according to Wolfram Alpha). If the talents were of silver, then ten thousand talents would convert to around $161 million today.

The master commanded that the servant be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, so that payment might be made. But the servant fell to his knees and begged his master to have mercy. The master was “moved with compassion” (Mat. 18:27), and forgave him of his debt.

Stop for a minute and think about how good that must have felt for this servant. One minute he owes millions or billions of dollars, and the next minute he’s forgiven of that debt. Imagine the weight that was lifted from his shoulders! Imagine the stress that was suddenly relieved!

I wish the story ended there, but it doesn’t. There’s another lesson we need to learn.

Lesson 2: Mercy is so hard to give.

The forgiven servant goes and finds one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. A denarius was one day’s wages (Mat. 20:2). If you take today’s minimum wage – $7.25 per hour – and multiply that by twelve hours, you come to $87 per day. One hundred denarii would equal $8700 by today’s standards. Is that a lot of money? Absolutely! But is it possible that this servant could have paid what he owed? It is.

The servant who had just been forgiven demands his fellow servant to cough up the hundred denarii. The servant begged him to be patient, but this guy wouldn’t hear it. He threw him into prison until he could pay.

The other servants had seen everything. They went back to the master and told him what happened. The master called the first servant to him. He was angry. He delivered him to the torturers until he could pay all that was due to him.

Then Jesus says these chilling words: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Mat. 18:35).

Let’s wrap it up: Mercy is great to receive, but it can be really difficult to give. However, Jesus says that the merciful are blessed. They are the ones who will obtain mercy from God. Everyone needs mercy. Including you and me. But you can’t give it if you don’t have it. And if you have it, but withhold it, you aren’t going to be shown mercy anymore. Let’s be merciful.


TheNewYou1400 This is a partial transcript from my weekday podcast, The New You, where we focus on maintaining and accentuating the new that Christ created in each of us as Christians. A new episode is available each Monday through Friday on The Light Network. Click here to see all of the episodes.

Blessed Are the Merciful


You can’t give what you don’t have.

I remember Dr. Billy Smith teaching us that in his Preparation and Delivery of Sermons course at Freed-Hardeman University. It applies to preaching, and it also applies to our study of the beatitudes.

In the beatitudes, we learn that being a disciple of Jesus is about more than simply occupying a pew. It is about knowing my place, understanding my sin, giving myself to God, transforming my desires, and beginning inside my heart.

True discipleship affects the people around us for the better. We will make an impact on others because Christ lives in us. That concept brings us right back to the thought with which we began: you can’t give what you don’t have.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mat. 5:7). Mercy is something that we have received and it’s something that we are to give. But we can’t give it until we have it. If we fail to give it, we won’t have it anymore.

So, what is mercy?

The original word translated mercy in our New Testaments means compassion. The idea is this: I step inside someone else’s skin, experience life from their perspective, then step back inside my own skin and treat that person how I would want to be treated. Obviously, the Golden Rule has a lot to do with mercy, too.

God has lovingly extended mercy to us. His only begotten Son has walked in our shoes (Heb. 4:15), and has, therefore, provided a way for God to extend His mercy to us.

So Micah 6:8 comes to mind:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

This verse was on the wall in our living room when we lived in Tennessee. Micah says that God wants us to treat others well, “to do justly.” Then, he says that we should love mercy. Others are going to need mercy from us, and we’re going to need mercy from them. Finally, he says, “walk humbly with your God.” When we humble ourselves, He will lift us up.

Let’s wrap it up: Everyone needs mercy. That’s why Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful.” His disciples are people who will be salt and light to those around them. Let’s walk in other people’s shoes. Let’s consider life from their perspective, and treat people the way that we would want to be treated. That’s when we will begin to have a great impact on our world.


TheNewYou1400 This is a partial transcript from my weekday podcast, The New You, where we focus on maintaining and accentuating the new that Christ created in each of us as Christians. A new episode is available each Monday through Friday on The Light Network. Click here to see all of the episodes.