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In my last article, I defined and explained the main teaching of Scripture concerning Christian liberty. Contrary to popular opinion even among conservative Christians, true freedom as defined by the Bible is not the right to do whatever we please. Rather, it is the rescued condition of the believer from Satan’s bondage of selfish sin, pride, and guilt unto the sweet, selfless service of Christ. It is important that we keep this main idea in our minds, even as we consider a slightly different aspect of Christian liberty in this article.
As one of its sub-topics, Christian liberty includes what the Reformers like John Calvin called “adiaphora.” Although not the main idea of Christian liberty, Scripture does speak about certain grey areas in the Christian’s life—activities that of themselves are not (or are no longer) explicitly forbidden. God gave specific prohibitions in the Old Testament ceremonial and civil laws which believers today are not bound to. Along with that, God has also freed his people from all man-made rules added to Scripture’s moral code and imposed painfully upon the conscience. We are not required to obey such rules of “touch not; taste not; handle not” (Col. 2:21). Paul rather emphasizes,“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). Rare steaks, a glass of wine, clothing manufactured with today’s fashions, different music genres, smartphones, sports played and watched, many useful products and entertaining technologies of our culture are not evil of themselves, but parts of God’s creation that we may enjoy.
However, while God does not forbid them, neither does he allow our hasty indulgence in all things. In fact, he has set principles to guide our enjoyment of pleasures on this earth. Too often, Christians claim their liberty and rashly gratify their desires, forgetting or ignoring Scripture’s teachings. John Calvin warns, “The moment any mention is made of Christian liberty lust begins to boil, or insane commotions arise, if a speedy restraint is not laid on those licentious spirits by whom the best things are perverted into the worst.” Andrew Fausset comments along the same lines: “More are ruined by the unlawful use of lawful things than even by things absolutely unlawful.” We must carefully guard our hearts as we engage in any gray areas of Christian liberty.
Below are six questions based on Scriptural principles that you and I must ask ourselves honestly before engaging in any perceived liberty. Before I drink a beer, smoke a cigarette, watch a show, play a video game, view/send/post content on social media, listen to that popular song, kiss my significant other, wear that outfit, attend that concert or party, beg for candy on Reformation Day, engage in a controversial activity on the Sabbath, or buy an unnecessary luxury, I should be thinking carefully about these biblically based questions.
First, we should ask, “Am I sure God’s moral law does not address this?” While we do not have to obey the ceremonial and civil laws of Israel, God continues strictly to require our obedience to his ten commandments found in Exodus 20 out of thankful love. Many activities that confessing Christians claim as liberties are actually contrary to the Decalogue! For example, lustful behavior while dating, underage drinking, doing business on the Lord’s Day, “a bad habit” of smoking immoderately, and many more actions often claimed to be Christian liberties are not gray areas but are actually black areas clearly against the law of God. Our naturally deceptive hearts are skilled at obscuring God’s law and inner passions to excuse the sin we crave. Thus it is important that we reevaluate whether what we quickly construe to be a Christian liberty is not restricted by God’s law.
Secondly, we should ask, “Is my goal really God’s glory?” “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Doing everything for God’s glory must not become a mindless cliché as many have made it. To glorify God means much more than merely looking and sounding like a moral person while playing sports or shopping for clothes. It means that our hearts sincerely desire God’s good reputation, far above our winning. It means that our souls yearn for Jesus’ beauty reflected, far above our attractiveness. It means that we want God’s righteousness, love, justice, truth, and every virtue of his to be magnified even if it makes us small in the sight of others. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20). Out of gratitude for so great a Savior, our utmost desire must be his highest honor. If his glory is not our heart’s goal, then as much as we claim something to be our liberty, so much is it sin. Is “hallowed be thy name” your heart’s prayer as you enjoy life’s blessings?
Third, we should ask, “Will this help or hinder the cause of Christ’s church and kingdom?” Too low on our priority list as we indulge in our liberties is Christ’s kingdom. Yet Jesus clearly exhorts us, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God!” (Matt. 6:33). We often think that Christ’s church and kingdom work are totally unrelated to liberties we take for fun. But music choices, what we wear to the beach, time spent gaming—each and every action, private or public, is either going to serve his church or hinder his kingdom. How we enjoy our liberties will affect the witness of our churches and the peace of our congregations. There are times, therefore, that we must practice self-denial, even refraining from things lawful for the good of Christ’s church and kingdom. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).
Notice that the first three questions parallel the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. If we cannot pray while we enjoy any liberty, we must seriously re-think our participation in any activity. Now we take a look at the next three yet more specific questions.
Fourth, we ought to ask, “How is this affecting my own spiritual and physical welfare?” “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). In discussing Christian liberty, Paul explains that while many kinds of food, drink, and things of this earth are permitted by secular laws and God’s laws, we are not to conclude that all these things will help us spiritually and physically. In fact, many things immoderately received can easily become powerful idols under which we become addicted. Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana might be legal at my age and in my state, but are such addictive substances good for my spiritual and physical condition? Is my conscience clear as I obtain such things, so that I am “holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck?” (1 Tim. 1:19). YouTube videos, fast-food, and coffee are not evil of themselves, but do I find myself lacking self-control in my need of them for happiness? Is my enjoyment of social media or any entertainment promoting a God-focus or a self-focus? Is my body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, becoming more or less dedicated to God as I enjoy Christian liberties?
But it is not only my own welfare that I should be concerned about. Fifth, we ought to ask, “How will this affect my brother or sister in Christ?” This is the focus of Paul when he discusses Christian liberty in passages like Romans 13–14, 1 Corinthians 6, 8, and 10, and Galatians 5. Will my unnecessary but lawful enjoyment of (fill in the blank) edify our brother/sister, or will it offend and be a stumbling-block? Especially think about those younger than you in your family, church, and school who unbeknownst to you admire you. Is my example helping them towards the path of righteousness or leading them astray? Before we flaunt our freedoms, let us take Jesus’ words seriously: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). What is my witness like before the church and before the world?
Finally, we ought to ask before we enjoy a perceived liberty, “With whom does this bring me into fellowship?” “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14b). Paul warns the members of the church not to partake of lawful food and drink while in fellowship with the ungodly. Too many young people blindly excuse their participation in lawful activities without observing the company they are in. Who are you hanging out with and laughing with as you enjoying lawful activities? You yourself might not be doing anything wrong as such, but your fellowship with the ungodly (even church-goers whose behavior mimics the world) condones their behavior. “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Far too often, young people view Christian liberty as license to do anything in the realm of gray areas. I remember having this erroneous perspective as a teenager, and it is with great regret and sorrow that I now cry with the Psalmist, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7). From my heart I earnestly plead with you: As we live in a world multiplying many lawful things, let us be faithful in honest self-examination before we enjoy our freedoms. Let us, freed from the selfishness of Satan’s bondage, live as selfless servants of our Lord. And in doing so, let us never imagine self as better than others or contributing to our salvation, but always conclude, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do”(Luke 17:10).

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

They who, upon pretense of Christian Liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian Liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

~ Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20, Art. 1 & 3

Romans 6:17–18 “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”
The words “Christian liberty” conjure up in the minds of young people a host of ideas—these often being misguided. Far too many imagine that the liberty of a Christian is essentially a license to sin. Young and old both think that true freedom consists of being allowed to do what feels right. In its most blatant form, the erroneous evangelical idea of Christian liberty is the antinomianism of the time of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:20). This is pure lawlessness. In a different way, infiltrating the ranks of even the most conservative of churches, a subtle but foolish version of Christian liberty exists—that we are free to do anything we want, as long as we conform to the norm. Follow the outward standards of the “P.R. culture” on Sunday especially, while clergy are attentive, but then drop the charade and plunge into the secret frolics of sinful fun behind doors. Enjoy any fantasizing thought, pleasurable drink, or entertaining show, without examination of conscience or motive. And if anyone dares to confront, be ready to respond: “Don’t judge me. Don’t encroach upon my Christian liberty.”
Scripture explicitly speaks against such an idea of Christian liberty. “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Sadly, many are doing just that—twisting the doctrine of Christian liberty to use it as a cover-up (or an excuse) for sin. The Deceiver uses false conceptions of Christian liberty to attack young men and women in the church of Jesus Christ. Required and painstakingly necessary is a clear working definition of true, biblical, liberty.
Based on Romans 6:17–18, a proper definition of Christian liberty is spiritual freedom from the cruel slavery of sin under Lord Satan unto the sweet slavery of righteousness under Lord Christ. There are only two spiritual masters that man serves. Every single man, woman, and child is a slave belonging either to Lord Lucifer or Lord Jesus. None are neutral. All who imagine themselves belonging to neither master still belong to the Devil and need salvation. Christian liberty is the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue you from that dark lord and grace you with the position of friend-servant to the Most High God “who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13).
The biblical concept of liberty is emphatically not the long-standing American notion of having inalienable rights to the pursuit of your own happiness. If such is your concept of liberty, you are yet in bondage to Lord Lucifer. You vehemently deny this because he has exceedingly deceived you to believe that self-seeking is somehow freedom. But this delusion blinds many from the fact of their continuing bondage to Satan. True freedom consists not of doing my own thing and being who I want, but willingly surrendering my soul, body, and life unto him who has rescued me and conquered my heart by his amazing grace. True liberty is the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
To understand true Christian liberty, we must understand the biblical concept of bondage. Under Satan’s power, every human (except one) has been conceived with a sinful nature which, like shackles, binds the heart to sin and only sin. With that idolatrous heart, man might appear to be innocent, but the truth is that his heart is naturally bound by the sinful urge to please self, serve self, and trust self. In this captivity to self-service, men and women use (and often overuse) lawful things such as beer, cigarettes, and smartphones. Additionally, this yoke of self-gratification burdens mankind with unlawful things like pornography and gossip. This inordinate love of self is the very thing that drives mankind to labor in service of Lord Satan.
This captivity includes a pride that insists on self-righteousness. Such pride is like blindness which the cruel lord inflicts upon his servants. Men, women, and children—whether having grown up in a pagan community, raised in a heathen religion, or trained in a Christian institution—are plagued with this self-righteousness. Everyone enjoys accusing others of self-righteousness, but all these who are yet in Satan’s servitude are such blind Pharisees at heart. The worldling insists on being a good person, the Muslim claims he is doing enough to please God, and the confessing Christian truly thinks that his baptism, catechism, knowledge of Reformed slogans, and worship are his righteousness. Many of these continue in their sins privately while laboring with that self-righteous pride in an attempt to conform outwardly to their man-made standards of righteousness. Life involves constant blaming, excusing, and minimizing when conscience or comrade points out inconsistency with God’s law.
And yet the terrible irony is that there is in Satan’s captivity not only the shackles of sin and the blindness of pride but also terrible flagellation. That Slanderer whispers in one ear that you are righteous, and then in the other ear the opposite. “Sinner, sinner, sinner!” his serpent tongue speaks and slashes. “Hell is yours!” that tyrant threatens. “Labor, labor, labor, to make up for it,” that Pharaoh prods. And mankind blindly follows fearfully—guilt’s fear scourging, sin’s shackles remaining, self-righteous pride blinding.
All of this continues until there is true Christian liberty! Christ the Lord comes by his Spirit and rescues us from that bondage! He declares with authoritative words before us and Lord Satan that he has purchased us by his precious blood and righteousness. Satan has no right to hold us in his bondage! Christ cries, “I claim him as mine! I claim her as mine!” And by his Spirit he regenerates us. “He bade the gloomy shadows flee, broke their bonds and set them free” (Psalter 293, stanza 2). He brings us to conscious faith. He takes our wills that naturally want to continue serving self and Satan, sweetly but powerfully bending those souls to choose him. And thus we experience relieving liberation from the wicked lord and, at the same time, the sweet slavery of the Lord Christ.
His Holy Spirit releases us from the shackles of sin and empowers us unto obedience to him. We can turn from addictive sin and serve him in selflessness. Our blindness is healed so that we see our servitude, not as a way to maintain self-righteousness, earn salvation, or escape hell; we understand that our new Master has merited all that fully! Freed from guilt, our motivation becomes enthusiastic gratitude and ardent love. Under Christ’s sweet servitude, we are free—free from guilt’s scourge, sin’s power, pride’s blindness, and any law used to uphold our righteousness. Submission to our Lord is no longer a fearful and dreaded activity, but rather a delight! Now, we look up to Christ and sing, “I am, O Lord, Thy servant bound yet free!” (Psalter 426, stanza 9).
The calling is summed up well with Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Satan tempts our sinful natures every day, trying to lure us back into his bondage and behave as though we are still under his lordship. But Christ exhorts you to live as you are, in the true freedom he has won for you. Stand fast in your faith, looking to Jesus who has freed you from sin’s captivity. Stand fast in your faith, remembering that your liberty is freedom from self-idolatry unto the sweet sacrifice of self to your Savior.

In my first article, I explained and proved five basics of good communication— logical speech, face-to-face interaction, attentive listening, truthfulness, and depth of content. I took the time and space to do so to aid us in honest evaluation of whether our use of technology has been detrimental to our good communication. I pray that you were honest in your self-examination. Evaluation of my own personal life, as well as my observations of others, convinces me that our use of technology today is indeed inhibiting good communication.

But my concern is not only that our overuse of technology is threatening good communication. My concern is that this leads to weak relationships. Mediocre forms of communication are forming mediocre relationships—with each other and with God.

To understand the seriousness of my unease, you need to realize that good communication is absolutely necessary to every relationship. When a young man and woman are soon to be joined in marriage, I sometimes in pre-marriage counseling make this overstatement: There are three ingredients to a healthy marriage—communication, communication, and communication. The point is that good communication is essential to a good marriage. And that is true of any relationship. Young people who do not actually speak to one another usually are not friends. Teenagers who think it is lame to converse with their parents typically do not have a good relationship with them. High school buddies who do not maintain contact after graduation grow apart. Why? Because good communication is the means by which people both experience and strengthen bonds of friendship. Good communication is the life of a relationship.

There is a mysterious power in the words that one human being exchanges with another. When deep, logical thoughts are arranged into truthful sentences and breathed out into the ear of another who receives them with careful understanding, an invisible binding takes place. Through friendly dialogue there is a knitting together of hearts. On the other hand, if there is miscommunication, evil communication, disjointed communication, or no communication at all, damage to or even destruction of the relationship will follow.

Not only is good communication essential to earthly relationships, it is also vital to our relationship with God. We can even say that good communication is the way God saves us! Having chosen us in Christ, and having paid for our salvation with the blood of his Son, God begins the conversation with us by regenerating and calling us to faith through the gospel. With his word and by his Spirit, He communicates with us, especially through the preaching. In this way, we hear him speak to us. Having heard him, we respond by His Spirit; that is, we communicate with Him, prayerfully expressing our faith, repenting of our sin, and worshipping him for his precious forgiveness. Good communication is absolutely necessary for our relationship with God.

Having saved us in this way, God sanctifies and preserves us through such communication also! Think about our worship services—they are a means by which our faith is strengthened. We often think of going to church simply to hear a sermon, but what is going on in our entire worship service is communication—a holy dialogue or conversation with God. He speaks, “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we respond, “Our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth.” He speaks a benediction, and we respond in song. He speaks his law, and we respond with another song. We speak to him by praying and confessing our faith, and he speaks through the scripture and preaching. We sing doxologies, and he blesses us through benediction. Back and forth, back and forth, there is a meaningful conversation in worship. This communication is how our hearts grow in relationship with God.

This continues throughout the week. Devotions mainly consist of meditation upon scripture and prayer, because in a personal manner, God continues his conversation with us. He speaks as we read the Bible, and we respond when we pray. Through each day, as we pursue our individual callings, he reminds us of his word, and we pray to him continually. In this way, we have a continual conversation with him. In this way, our relationship with God is built and fortified. If a believer has a close relationship with God, his entire life will be filled with conscious communication with him.

To explain it in slightly different terms, good communication is necessary for a covenant with God. The biblical term, you see, for our relationship of friendship with God, is covenant. In order for us his people to have and experience this covenant, there must be good communication. Without good communication (begun by him, of course), there will either be no covenant with God or a very weak experience of such valuable friendship.

Now think. If Satan is trying to attack our relationships with each other and our relationship with God (and you can be sure that he is), then what do you think he is going to aim for? Indeed, he has his sights on the very building blocks of our relationship: communication. With great cunning, he works with technology night and day to interrupt, make shallow, halt, and destroy good communication. In doing so, our relationships with each other and with God greatly suffer.

I warn you of this because I personally feel these attacks as well. I not only notice some of the negative effects of technology on communication among others, but I experience it in my own life. I feel a struggle in my family life, in my devotional life, and in my mind itself as Satan seeks to make my use of technology detract from my communication with those closest to me. I know him to be successful at times, and am disgusted at the thought that he has used technology to the detriment of my relationship with my children, my wife, and my God! If we truly cherish our relationships with each other and with God, then good communication should be of great concern to us.

Knowing how essential good communication is to our relationships, let us go back to the five basics of good communication and ask some questions. Is your logical speech affected by your use of technology? Do you know how to speak clearly in complete sentences, or are the abbreviations and run-on clutter of device chatter dumbing down your speech? Do you know how to keep a conversation going without a phone? Do you know how to describe verbally how you are feeling without an emoticon? Instead of conversing after church, do you find yourself habitually going to the car to snapchat or text another young person in the same church parking lot? Would you rather text your parents or talk to your parents? When you sit around a table or in a living room, how much of that time is interrupted by a device? You may laugh at these questions, but I ask you to take them seriously. My observations of you and my own life make me conclude that the technological way of communicating is distracting, detracting from, and even destroying our logical speech with one another.

Is your face-to-face interaction affected? Do you know how to make eye contact when you talk to someone, or would you prefer to use an iPhone to contact them? Is face-to-face conversation your go-to method of conversation, or is it Facebook and Facetime? Are you seeking out a date in person, or is it through Snapchat or some other form of social media? As a pastor, I seriously wonder if people do not look me in the eye when I talk to them because their use of technology is eliminating that ability! The distant way of communication through today’s technology might make conversation more comfortable, but it is also removing the basic structure of face-to-face conversation that is essential to our relationships. Frankly, many are so accustomed to screen communication that they are terrified at the thought of actually talking to a real face.

Is your ability to listen attentively being affected? How often does it happen that your attention to your loved one is arrested by a tune, beep, or vibration, which feels more important than your present conversation? When your parents are talking to you, do you hear everything they say, or do your efforts to multi-task on a laptop, tablet, or phone make you miss their point? Are you getting so used to the stimulation of five or more conversations going on at the same time on your device that you find it difficult to pay attention to one conversation even when you put technology aside? How is your attention span in church, class, or day-to-day conversation? Young people, it has been scientifically demonstrated that the hyper-communication through the electronics of today impacts your brain’s thinking. Specifically, it reduces your attention span. If the overuse of technology is making all of us suffer from short attention spans, can we not see how that will affect the development of our relationships with one another?

Is truthfulness being affected? With less face-to-face interaction, the pressure to speak the truth drastically diminishes. It is much easier to lie to a person over the phone than it is to do so in person. How easy is it nowadays for you to text, tweet, or post a lie? Many are getting so used to dishonesty over social media that their consciences are no longer bothered. Blogs of false doctrines and posts full of deceit surround us on the internet. You can make your life look perfect on Facebook. You can photo-shop your pictures, construct a bogus profile, hide all your flaws, and present to the world someone very different than who you really are. Through social media, consciences are getting numb to guile. With easy communication comes the ease of lying, and it is slowly taking a toll on our relationships.

Is your depth of content in conversation being affected? Is it even possible for the content of a chat or tweet to be deep? Through technology, you might be able to share a video of a sweet dunk, pin an outfit idea, or communicate snippets of information, but how many deep conversations actually take place? Are your minds getting so shaped by shallow conversations that you cannot think deeply, much less converse deeply about any one topic? Does the quantity of information at your fingertips help you, or have you begun to respond to this information overload by trying to think about ten things at once, never getting deep with any? Are you able to store information in your memory, think critically about the same, and then articulate your original thoughts in conversation? Or has your overreliance on technology made you a lazy thinker and talker with no depth to your conversation? If your use of technology is filling in your conversations with shallowness, you can be certain that shallow relationships will result.

My greatest concern, however, is our relationship with our God. If our use of technology is negatively affecting how we listen and talk to each other, then would it not also affect our communication with God? When he communicates with us through logical speech, face-to-face encounters, with truthfulness and depth, are we able to receive it with attentive listening? The glazed-over looks and sleepy eyes that I see from my vantage point on the pulpit in worship make me concerned that technology is weakening our ability to listen to God. After listening to him speak to us, are we able to respond to him with the same good communication of logical speech, consciousness of his face, and with truthfulness and depth? When many people admit boredom in church and coldness in their devotional life, I am concerned that our overuse of technology might be the issue. One nasty side effect due to the overdose of the digital drug is deficient intimacy in our relationship with God. We must beware that our abuse of the ever advancing technology may result in a church similar to the people in the time of the Judges. “There arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord” (Judges 2:10).

It is time to take drastic action by gouging out chunks of technology usage from our lives. These devices are not evil of themselves, but they may be devices of the devil, used to tempt and destroy us. We may need repentance of this kind: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Jesus is not saying that we must literally pluck out our eye, nevertheless, the meaning for us in this technological age may be a plucking out or a cutting off of certain devices which we often treat as such precious body parts.

I am confident that God will preserve his people in the midst of this dangerous technological age. The warning of this article is not meant to bring doubt to our minds concerning his unfailing covenant with us. Yet we have a duty of gratitude before God to show that we cherish his covenant with us by guarding and nurturing our relationship with one another and with Him. Let us seriously re-evaluate our use of technology, making the necessary changes in our lifestyle for the benefit of closer experiences of covenant with God and each other.

 

*Rev. Mahtani is pastor of Cornerstone Protestant Reformed church in Dyer, IN.

About eight years ago, I remember sitting in a restaurant on a date with my wife, discussing a disturbing phenomenon surrounding us. People-watching being a bad habit of ours, we had noticed around us young dating couples, husbands and wives, families with children, sitting around their respective tables, eyes fixated not on each other in normal conversation at a meal, but on their phones and devices. There was an eerie silence. And after having bowed our heads to pray before our meal, we noticed that the heads of our neighbors were also bowed still over their screens. This hindrance to good communication troubled us.

What concerned us more, however, was our observation of many in the church, consumed by the same technology and allowing the same to distract and detract from their fellowship. Young and old (though mostly young) would come to our home, sit in our living room, and chat with each other—digitally. We honestly wondered if some of them even had the ability to communicate without their phones.

What drives me most to write this article however, is this: The interruption of communication that I observed in that restaurant and among church people I am startled to find in my own home and in my personal habits! In the last five years, we have accumulated in our home two cell phones (with unlimited text and talk), a desktop, a laptop, and an iPad. And too frequently, we have caught ourselves staring at a screen rather than enjoying communion with those we love the most.

This article is not merely another general critique of technology and social media. Young people, you probably hear enough complaints from your parents about how you are always wasting time on your device through texts, calls, Facetime, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and numerous other forms of social media. You probably even hear application from the pulpit warning about the dangers that these advances in technology present to you—how devices can become an idol, how they can increase the temptation of sexual sin, how they can waste your time, etc. Listen to these many wise cautions. But this article (and the next) is not a broad critique of technology. Rather, this is about how the use of technology, which is acclaimed to help communication, can be deceptively detrimental to it instead.

Let us then examine our lives and hearts and ask this question: Is our use of technology hurting good communication and thereby also our relationships with God and fellow saints? Honest evaluation will prove that while there are many benefits of technology—even to aid in communication at times—there are also many hindrances. These negative aspects are not easily noticeable, especially because our sinful hearts are not willing to see them. Our addiction to digital devices may even be blinding us from seeing the problem. To help in the evaluation of the effects of technology, consider five basic characteristics of good communication that our use of technology endangers.

First and foremost, good communication includes logically spoken words. This is not to deny that there are other appropriate ways to communicate, but it should be common sense that the highest form of communication is the spoken word. If friends communicate in all kinds of manners, but omit or neglect speaking audibly to one another, communication is deficient. Spoken words must enter the ears of the hearer and be understood. Those words not only have to be audible; they have to make sense. The speaker must use simple enough vocabulary, sentence structure, and proper transitions to connect ideas so that the brain of the hearer can follow the meaning of the speech. Logically spoken words are part of good communication. How is our use of technology interfering with this?

The need for logical speech is not only common sense, but biblical. What is the means which God chooses primarily to use when he communicates with us? While he can use all sorts of means, he chooses the spoken word, in preaching especially. “And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14b). And yes, that word must be logical. The very meaning of “word” in the New Testament is logos, from which we derive our English word logic. God’s way of communication to us in the covenant with him is through logically spoken words. If this is God’s preferred way of communication with us, then we should realize that audible, logical speech is also the best way to communicate with him and with each other.

Second, good communication consists of a face-to-face meeting. To clarify (and this is necessary today), that means a face-to-face encounter not through a screen, but in the literal presence of one another. Again, this is not to deny that some good communication can take place in the absence of the one with whom you want to communicate. But the best communication takes place when there is a literal meeting. In this way, we can hear better, read lips, see gestures, make eye contact, sense true feelings, and even make physical contact. Such close proximity during conversation significantly increases the positive effects of communication in a relationship.

This is also God’s preferred way of communication with us. When the scripture speaks of communication with God, it frequently speaks of being in God’s presence. Literally, the Hebrew word for “presence” is “face.” Psalm 95:2 says, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving.” Here the Psalmist is calling us to come before God’s face, that we might have a face-to-face conversation with the Holy One. Though his face is invisible to human eyes, he is truly present, especially in his house of worship. Heaven’s glory will be that we will converse with him in the greatest way: face-to-face. When we communicate with God, he commands us: “Seek ye my face” (Psalm 27:8). If God speaks of this face-to-face communion as the highest way of communication, we ought also to see it as best for our relationships on this earth. Is technology interfering with this?

A third basic of good communication consists of attentive listening. Communication is impossible if no one is listening. Did you hear that? Communication is impossible if no one is listening. If a pastor preaches a powerful sermon, but everyone is either sleeping, distracted, or absent, he has communicated nothing. If a man passionately expresses his love to a woman, but her thoughts are consumed only with the last Hollywood production she has watched, he has communicated nothing. If a mother repeatedly asks, yells, and begs for her teenage son or daughter to come to dinner, but the sound is turned up on his headphones, she has communicated nothing.

Good communication requires attentive listening—not only ears that work, but minds that are active with something called an attention span. It is necessary for the mind to grasp what the other person is saying and to be engaged for a sustained period of time without boredom or interruption. In this way, he is then able to continue the flow of conversation and respond appropriately. Such attentive listening prevents the erratic jumping in conversation from one topic to another, a pattern too common today.

When we communicate with God, it should be obvious that attentive listening is crucial. We must listen to him first in order to know how to respond. Our communication with him ought to be more listening than speaking. After all, he has much more to tell us than we have to tell him. If such attentive listening is necessary in our communication with God, should it not also be true of our communication with one another? How well do we listen in this technological age?

Fourth, good communication consists of truthfulness. Fabrications and exaggerations do not build a relationship, but rather, tear it down. Deception destroys trust, and without trust, a relationship is seriously damaged. But when truth and nothing but the truth is spoken, communication thrives and friendships prosper. When friends continue speaking the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15ff), they grow in their unity with one another.

This is obviously how God communicates with us also. His word is truth. He speaks to us the truth of Jesus Christ, that being the only way to a relationship with God (see John 14:6). It is the truth preached that causes us to grow in relationship with him. It is the Spirit of truth that invades our deceitful hearts and creates in us a desire to respond with honest confession that we are depraved and are in desperate need of his mercy. When he works truth in us, we are enabled to confess that truth back to him and before men. Truthful communication grows relationships with God and each other. How is our use of technology distorting this?

A fifth and final basic of good communication is depth of content. While it is appropriate to talk about the weather, the game last night, hobbies, and other easy topics of conversation, if that is all we ever talk about, such shallow communication will result in shallow relationships. The purpose of these lighter subjects is to set each other at ease, and then to draw one another into deeper discussions. Minds are engaged in using truth and logic, while hidden passions of the heart are revealed through intonation, gesture, and word choice. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 27:17) as profound thoughts are shared and discussion develops. Social activity becomes a spiritual bonding through depth of content.

When God develops his relationship with his people, he is very concerned about depth. You will find proof of that by simply glancing at the content of your Bible. Skim any passage and observe that God’s communication with us is deep. The Psalmist exclaims, “O Lord, how great are thy works! And thy thoughts are very deep” (Psalm 92:5). So deep is God’s communication with us that without a mind of faith illuminated by the Spirit, we cannot understand him. But Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” In order to grow our relationship with him, he reveals these deep secrets to us. God has ordained that his relationship with us be deep, and therefore makes the content of his conversation with us the same. If depth of content is a characteristic of our conversation with God, this should be reflected in our earthly relationships as well.

Do you find yourself engaged in these basic and biblical principles of good communication? Is this how you communicate most of the time? Is this how you communicate especially with those with which you have the closest of relationships? Authentic examination will lead many of us to conclude that good communication among peers in school, in families, or in dating and marriage relationships is lacking and diminishing. This is detrimental to our relationships. But what is the real cause of this?

While there are many factors involved in the breakdown of good communication, one culprit that we must be warned about is the overuse of technology for communication. To be clear, we may not blame technology itself, for technology is a good gift of God and is not evil in and of itself. But have we allowed our use of a good tool to detract from good communication? Have we allowed technology’s mediocre forms of communication to replace the best way of communication? Have we allowed our digital way of communication to so shape us that we have distorted ideas of what good communication truly is? Are we even able to communicate well without a device nearby? Are you sure?

The communication that we have on our cell phones and over social media is not wrong of itself, but the basics of good communication—logical speech, face-to-face interaction, attentive listening, truthfulness, and depth of content—are too often missing. As many bars of Wi-Fi or cellular service as we have on our screens, communication on our devices is still an inferior form. For relationships to thrive, we must maximize the good communication as described above and limit the subpar methods on our devices. I fear that Satan is working with our sinful natures to overuse modern technology in our communication, leading to the neglect of the highest forms of communication which God gives to us. Mediocre forms of communication are forming mediocre relationships. Reduction of good conversation replaced by an increase of digital communication results in cheap relationships. With our technological style of communication, I wonder if we still have warm, spiritual connections with one another, or if we are merely joined by a cold internet connection.

 

*Rev. Mahtani is pastor of Cornerstone Protestant Reformed church in Dyer, IN.

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” I Thessalonians 5:21

He was on the brink of forsaking his faith. For the first twenty years of his life, he had been a member of a conservative Christian family, community, school, and church, and thereby formally educated in the Reformed faith. As early as he could remember, he had been attending church services, memorizing doctrinal and scriptural passages for catechism, and adhering to the expected behavior patterns of his particular religion. But he had not been one to think too long or hard about his instruction. Why did he follow certain rules? Why did he believe certain doctrines? It was all just “what he was supposed to do.” Oh, for a time, he had asked questions, but after receiving a few rote answers joined with disdainful and suspicious glances, he fearfully felt it was better to shut up and go with the flow.

Then he met a few acquaintances at work and online. They were nice and intelligent sounding people who had the knack for challenging every aspect of his belief system and upbringing. After some time, this son of a Reformed church began to doubt everything he had been taught. He had never really understood why he believed and behaved the way he did in the first place, and now he felt like giving it all up to experience the “freedoms” that the world had to offer.

This is a true story, not of a specific person but of one who represents what has happened to many young people in conservative, Christian, and even Reformed circles. It is the story of a soul without an essential skill called discernment. He did not learn it, he did not practice it, and he hardly knew what it meant. Do you?

You need discernment. Scripture says you need this skill to understand sermons (1 Cor. 2:13–14), to partake of the Lord’s Supper properly (1 Cor. 11:28–29), and to understand the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3). More, you need it every moment of every day, for God says “Prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21a). This is God’s exhortation to discern everything in your life. Especially in these last days, when errors and evils abound, when the father of lies is loose to make the truth seem false and the lie seem alluring, when the post-modern world arouses passions blurring the difference between right and wrong, when our sinful nature is wooed unto this confusion, we need stalwart sons and daughters of holy discernment!

Parents, we must train your children in this holy skill. Teachers, pastors, and elders, we have the responsibility to educate our young people in this mental and spiritual exercise. Young men and young women, begin practicing it now. And together let us pray with young Solomon, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people that I may discern between good and bad” (1 Kings 3:9a).

What is discernment? It is God-given wisdom to test, to evaluate, to examine every belief or behavior, every doctrine or deed, and every idea promoted by word or example; then it is correctly to judge if such is good or bad, true or false, better or worse, wise or foolish. Discernment is the practical side of wisdom. While wisdom is a more general virtue that can include knowing what is true and having the intelligence to understand and memorize the same, discernment is a specific aspect of wisdom. A discerner does not soak in stuff like a speechless sponge. Rather, he has his mind engaged as he receives information. He thinks, he grapples with, he dissects, he filters, he wonders: “Is this really true? Is this consistent with the Bible? What are the ramifications for my life? What is the right application of this truth?” The discerner finds these answers and in doing so becomes convicted concerning what is good and evil. He tests all things and holds fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21).

But a discerner does not only test information he receives. He tests all things. He does not stop thinking! Before he engages in any activity the practical powers of his mind work to ascertain if what he is about to do is in accordance with his convictions. During a weekend activity or work, while sending texts or listening to music, while engaging in a Christian liberty or an American liberty, with those of like faith or alone, the discerner is constantly thinking, testing, and examining. He begins as a young person and never ceases in this holy endeavor.

The wise discerner tests all things with the infallible scriptures. That is the standard of his faith and the rule for his life. God’s infallible word is what the young Christian must grow up using as the authority to test the fallible ideas of men and women in home, school, and even church. Although a child should have a good degree of trust in the worth and credibility of his parents’ instruction, his minister’s catechesis, and his teacher’s lessons, a child’s faith may not ultimately be founded upon man’s word! As he matures, it is not satisfactory that something is true just because Dad said so, or even because Reverend so and so said so. He refuses to behave a certain way just because that is “the way we have always done it.” It is necessary to a young person’s spiritual development that he examine the instruction of his upbringing, holding fast only to what he has found consistent with God’s inspired word. As a young person practices such discernment according to scripture he will spiritually mature to continue this holy activity for a lifetime.

Scripture is abundant in its call to such discernment. The apostle John exhorts the church to discern the spirits which work in all kinds of teachers: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Wise Solomon contrasts the wise and foolish: “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” The noble Bereans of Acts 17:11 are commended for this discernment. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

Strikingly, the main application of the above verses is that the people in the pew (the young people too) are to test what the minister is preaching. The catechism students are to examine what their catechism instructor is teaching. We are to evaluate what our high school teacher is teaching, and yes, what our parents are saying. Before we accept it as true, we are to make certain that it is true! Before we engage in an accepted behavior pattern, we should evaluate the biblical principles behind it. Adults should encourage such examination. We should not allow our fear of not being able to answer, make our young people fearful of asking searching questions. We should invite their respectful challenges seeing them as opportunities for practice in such discernment. How else will our young people develop this ability?

This is not to condone an overly critical attitude toward a leader. It is not an excuse for rebellious and disrespectful challenges meant to embarrass a teacher. It is not to encourage doubt concerning everything you have been taught. Rather, it is a calling to begin cultivating this skill in the safe environments of church, school, and home in preparation for the more dangerous situations of the future.

Not only will such practice of discernment hone this skill for the future, but it will also be a means of impressing the truth upon young minds. After the Bereans of Acts 17 searched the Scriptures to ensure that what Paul preached was true, we read, “Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” Acts 17:12. What was the process that brought them to believe with all their heart the truth? They recognized that it was not merely Paul’s word, but that it was God’s word! In the way of exercising discernment now, the young person comes to a firmer conviction of the truths he is learning.

There is much to begin discerning now. Why are you a member of a specific denomination? Because your family is there? Because you fear they will shun you if you go somewhere else? Or have you discerned that the doctrines taught are founded upon scripture, and is best for your own spiritual good, your children’s good, and for the glory of Christ? Why do you worship the way you do? Because it feels right? Because it is what you are used to? Or have you discerned the elements of worship in the scriptures and want to worship according to God’s will rather than according to man’s ever-changing preferences? Why do you keep the Sabbath day the way you do? Because man-made rules bind you? Or have you discerned from the scriptures the calling and profit to keep an entire day set apart for restful worship? Why do you (or don’t you) listen to certain kinds of music? Why do you (or don’t you) watch certain things on your big screen or phone screen? Why do you dress the way you do? Why do you date the way you do? Why vote for him or her this election? Because it feels right? Or have you discerned from scripture holy principles to follow even with regard to Christian liberties?

Often, discernment is difficult. Scripture does not give laws for every single situation, and so the temptation is to add laws to the scripture. This legalism is easier at first, but it is a sin that always backfires. A careful discerner avoids legalism, using the lens of scripture with much prayer to understand the will of God in each situation. He sees the extremes or ditches connected with almost every issue and finds the narrow way that avoids both. He can live in the world but not be of it. He knows how to hold to good habits and traditions not explicitly commanded in scripture, and at the same time refrains from condemning Christians not identical to him. He has tamed his tongue to be bold with the truth and yet also meekly gentle. He knows when to partake of a liberty and when to abstain for the sake of a brother’s conscience. He understands when enjoyment of a good thing is becoming an idol or addiction. He honestly examines not only his outward behavior but his inward motivations. He knows how to reject common grace, live the antithesis, and yet still be a compassionate witness to the unbelieving neighbor. He carefully investigates the best ways to answer the partially slanderous accusations against his church of legalism, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. How discerning are you?

There are many impediments to our proper exercise of discernment. One is that we are too distracted. Our minds and hearts are so caught up with the noise and sights of media, devices and work, that we do not have a moment to think, to read God’s word at all, much less to test everything with this standard. One of Satan’s strategies is overloading and over-stimulating our senses so that we are too distracted even to discern his craftiness. How many times did your phone divert your attention while reading this article? We need to implement concrete plans and actions to reduce the bombardment of our senses so that we can simply focus on this mental work!

A second hindrance is our feelings. This world is much like the time of the judges when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Whatever feels right is right, even if it contradicts the equally strong right feelings of the neighbor. Mood determines right and wrong. This is not only today’s post-modern culture, but it is part of the temptation of our flesh. While feelings are not wrong of themselves, they are not dependable standards for discernment. Anger, fear, lustful passions, and sadness can often cloud clear thinking. Train yourselves to push aside feelings and objectively test all things.

A third great deterrent from discernment is laziness. It is mental, emotional, spiritual labor on the part of ministers, teachers and parents to coach in this mental work. They will have many questions to answer. They will have to search the scriptures themselves to address questions not immediately answerable. For the young person, he has to read and study the Bible at devotions, engage his mind in church, think critically when he would prefer fun. Our lazy natures would rather live life having someone else think for us (even if it is the computerized Siri). It is easier on our brains and also on our consciences.

A final obstacle is fear. Fear not only inhibits clear discernment, it also prohibits it from even beginning. Frankly, there are some of you who are scared about what you are reading, and what might happen if you begin to think for yourselves about what the Bible says. And out of fear a young person might ask, “Am I even able to discern properly?” The fearful parent might wonder that too: “Is my son or daughter able?” “Fear not!” God says repeatedly in His word. God gives to believers and their children the Holy Spirit who works in us Christ’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Our minds are sanctified to read God’s word and discern what is good and evil. Let us not fear but trust in God who says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2).

May God grow our young people to become spiritually mature, able to chew on the meat of God’s word and thereby exercise discernment. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: Ephesians 4:14–15

 

In the previous article, I explained four kinds of spiritual childishness to which scripture points: petty fighting, legalism, shallow thinking, and a lack of conviction. The calling to all of us, young and old, when we discover such immature characteristics in our lives is, “Grow up!” How do you do this? In addition to putting aside the four above mentioned traits, there is a positive side to growing up.

 

Acknowledging

Essential to spiritual growth is first a humble admission on your part that you still need to grow. It should be obvious that you will not mature if you stubbornly insist that you are all grown up. Such thinking makes you unteachable and hardened in childish sin. Imagine the teenager of about seventeen years saying goodbye to his mom and dad, packing up his belongings and leaving home like that prodigal son, proudly thinking that he is all grown up and ready to live independently. Such a young man will soon discover how blind he had been to his need to grow up. Spiritually that is the case with all of us, not just young people. Sometimes we feel as if we have arrived to the level of spiritual adulthood, only to have God show us again that we are still children. Lord’s Day 44 of the Heidelberg Catechism says, “…even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience.”

Acknowledge it. In Ephesians 4:14a, the apostle Paul writes to the members of various ages in the church: “That we henceforth be no more children.” He uses the pronoun “we” to include himself with all the members. If an apostle admits his continued need to grow up, then we ought to admit it also.

 

Truthing

“Truthing” is how you put aside childishness and grow up. Although “truthing” is not a word in the English dictionary, it truly is God’s way of spiritual growth. In Ephesians 4:14–15 Paul explains that we ought not to be children and then explains how: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things….” That phrase “speaking the truth” can be translated “truthing.” It refers not only to speaking the truth, but characterizing your whole life with truth. It is not merely belonging to a church that holds officially to truth, but actually having your life, your thoughts, your words, and your actions exhibit truth.

This is not an unfamiliar idea to most of us. In fact, the need for truth is so often spoken about and pounded into our minds that the temptation for us is to stop listening carefully to such exhortations. Don’t! Be “truthing.”

 

Learning Truth

Part of “truthing” is learning truth. In order to grow up spiritually, you need to learn truth. You to need to take in the word of truth. Christian education, devotions, catechism, sermons, and Bible societies are all ways to learn truth. But young person, if you are going to grow up, you need to take these things seriously. It is possible to be enrolled in a good Christian school, to sit in on family devotions, to attend catechism classes, to be present in a pew during sermons, to gather with groups that study the Bible, and not learn truth. There are many who do with truth what a young toddler might do with food he is not used to. He gets food in his hair, on the ground, in the high chair, smeared on his face and left on his plate, but very little gets in his mouth. To learn truth, you must have an appetite for truth, you must train yourself to partake of truth, and you must put truth in your heart.

Very practically speaking, learning truth involves disciplining yourself daily to read a portion of God’s word for devotions. Learning truth involves getting enough sleep on Saturday night, drinking coffee, chewing gum, taking notes and other practical measures to pay better attention in church. It means preparing carefully before society meetings so that you are ready to discuss the truth. It means understandingly memorizing your catechism and not ceasing from catechizing yourself after you make confession of faith. It means habitually reading good Christian magazines and books. Grow up by learning more truth. It is the nourishment you need for spiritual growth.

 

Speaking Truth

“Truthing” also involves speaking the truth. Often when we think about speaking the truth, we immediately think that the purpose of it is for the hearer’s benefit. So, the reason we speak truth to our neighbor is so that our neighbor gets witnessed to. Or the reason we speak up in society meetings is so that others profit from our contributions. But we must realize that our efforts to get up the courage and speak the truth also benefit ourselves. It is how we grow up. Ephesians 4:15 says this: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things.”

It is true that not all of us are extroverts. We do not all have talkative personalities. Yet we all talk at some point in our lives unless we have a handicap. When we do speak, let us speak truth. When we do speak, let us take God’s name upon our lips and reverentially speak of his providence seen in today’s events, his glory displayed in today’s sunshine, his salvation discussed on Sunday. Be not ashamed, push away the fear of men, and squeeze out of your trembling heart words of truth among family members, friends, peers, and the world. The discomforts you feel in speaking the truth are merely growing pains of accelerated spiritual growth.

 

Living Truth

“Truthing” is growing by learning truth, speaking truth, and living your life consistently with truth. You say you believe the truth of God’s law; then obey God’s law. You claim to believe in the truth of God’s grace; then live with grace. Strive for a life of integrity and put aside hypocrisy.

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul points out the specific way in which we are to live the truth. The command is to speak the truth in love! In love for God and for our neighbor, we are to learn the truth and speak the truth. God is love, and if we want to show forth the truth of God in our life, we must live a life of love.

Let it never be, young people, that we act superior to others. There is a difference between confidence and impudence, and the difference has to do with love. Our speaking of truth may never be done in an ungracious manner. Although it is possible for others to judge wrongly our expression of truth as unloving, we must examine our hearts and make sure such judgments are really false. We are not really “truthing” if we speak the truth or live with the truth in contempt of others. Instead, what we communicate with our deeds of disdain is this: “The God in me and the Christ I represent is ungracious like me.” And that is a lie that invalidates the words of truth we might speak. Growing up involves living a life of love, consistent with the truth.

 

The Nurturer

Having understood our need to grow up in the above ways, we must realize that though we have to be active in our growth, we need a nurturer—someone who will help us grow, someone who will nourish us, feed us, teach us, and lead us so that we can grow. A child left on his own will not grow but die. If we admit we are still spiritual children, then we must confess our need for nurture. Ephesians 4:15 points to this Nurturer: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” We are joined to Christ by the bond of faith, and it is from this Christ that we receive every benefit for growth. So we conclude with a most essential way to grow up. Pray, and do not stop praying, that Jesus will pour his grace and Spirit more and more in you, that you might grow up to be like him, our mature elder brother.

“You need to grow up!” Many of you young people have heard these words before. Most of the time you who really do need to grow up give a smirk, a grin, laugh it off, and go on living in the same immature way as before. Along with our worldly society enamored with youth and immaturity you go on taking nothing seriously and amuse yourself with your disrespectful, impulsive, irresponsible life, living with a swagger as though you are proud of it. If that describes you, then you need to grow up!

Not only do your teachers and parents call you to grow up, but your God and Father in heaven calls you: “Be no more children!” But rather, “Grow up!” Let every young person (and adult too!) take heed to God’s injunction. For all of us, young and old, have some growing up to do.

 

Proper Childlikeness

There is a certain kind of childishness that all of us need to put aside. However, there are times when God calls us to be child-like. Let’s remember Jesus’ words, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3–4).” The disciples in Jesus’ day, along with many leaders of the church, looked down upon the young children. They thought of themselves as better. They spoke and thought those words in pride, “These children are so immature. They need to grow up.” And so Jesus addressed their pride by showing them that they needed to become like a child again. First, he taught them to humble themselves like a little child who thinks and feels smaller, weaker, and naughtier than everyone else. Second, Jesus instructed them to take on the child-like characteristic of trust. Like the little child who trusts his parent and believes everything his teacher says, we must learn to trust and believe everything that our heavenly Father says. Although we are called to put aside childishness, Jesus actually calls us to have a childlike humility and faith.

However, the focus of this article is on God’s calling of us to put aside certain childish characteristics. Notice especially four characteristics that are not only biblically based, but also very pertinent to us as Protestant Reformed people and young people.

 

Petty Fighting

The first kind of childishness we are to put aside is petty fighting. 1 Corinthians 3:1 says, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” Yes, Paul tells the church in Corinth that they are behaving like big babies! He explains in verses 3–4, “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” The church back then was arguing over petty matters— even over who had the better minister! Some argued, “I was taught of Paul. He is a better preacher.” And others contended, “I was taught of Apollos, and no way is Paul a better preacher than he!” Paul says, “You are behaving like babies! How childish!”

We know this is how children behave. As they are playing together, suddenly you hear a bossy voice say, “My toy is better than your toy,” or, “My dad is better than your dad.” Fights break out over the smallest issues.

Is that the kind of childish behavior that we are engaging in? Do we compare ministers as though there is some kind of competition between them? Are we ripping on each other’s churches by calling one “liberal” or another “legalistic”? Do we divide ourselves over petty issues or separate ourselves into cliques even within our own congregation? If so, God says we need to stop behaving like spiritual babies. We need to grow up! The mature Christian will engage in controversy over truth and righteousness, but not over trifles.

 

Legalism

The second type of childishness we must put away is legalism. This term is frequently used wrongly, so we must understand it carefully. Legalism is not a love for God’s law or a dedication to obeying God’s law. It is not a stringent application of God’s law in every part of our lives, or even a rebuke of others who stray from God’s law. That’s not legalism—that’s godliness! Even if your godliness is called legalism, I encourage you to continue living in your piety in the midst of a church world that disdains those who uphold God’s law. Beware, however, of true legalism. Legalism is the proud belief that your obedience to God’s law saves you. It is also the addition of man-made rules to God’s law in such a way that you see yourself as better than those who do not obey your man made rules. Scripture calls that legalism childishness.

Paul says in Galatians 4:3, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.” Before Christ came, both Jews and Gentiles lived as though their obedience to God’s law and their man-made laws saved them. Because of that childishness they were in bondage—they had become slaves to the law. Paul says that Christ came to redeem us from that bondage and childishness, so that we realize that we are sinners saved by grace alone!

Young people who sing, “Oh how love I Thy law!” be careful that your healthy love for God’s law does not morph into legalism. This is a danger for us. As children who grow up in godly families we are taught distinctly what is right and wrong. But maybe we begin to feel after a while as though obedience somehow saves us. Perhaps we begin to feel that our obedience to certain laws makes us better than others around us.  We are by nature totally depraved sinners and must be constantly reminded that though we emphasize thankful obedience to God’s law, Jesus alone saves us. Are we legalistic? We need to grow up by constantly repenting of our legalistic tendencies by remembering the simple gospel of grace.

 

Shallow Thinking

A third childish behavior is shallow thinking. In Hebrews 5: 13–14 we read, “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The author of Hebrews compares the most simple teachings of God’s word to milk. He calls the more difficult doctrines of God’s word meat. As a young Christians, we drink in the more simple truths: the milk. But as we grow up, while we continue to drink in the milk, we also need to eat the meat of God’s word. We need to grow up and learn how to take meaty chunks of doctrine, the deep things of God’s word, and chew on them. Oh yes, such are more difficult to ingest intellectually, sometimes harder to accept emotionally, but chewing on deep truths is what a mature Christian does.

You have seen that child before, who loves to drink his milk but leaves all his meat on his plate. When his mother puts a piece of meat in his mouth, you see a grimace after the first few chews as the child stores it in the side of his mouth (we call it “chipmunk mouth” in our home). He refuses to do the work of ingesting that protein.  Instead he will eventually just spit it back out. Is that who you are spiritually?

Young people, do you read your Bible regularly? If not, you should start. When you do so, you will find some parts that you will understand easily, but you will also find difficult concepts. If you pick up the Beacon Lights, Standard Bearer, or another good Christian magazine or book you’re not always going to “get it” immediately. When you sit in church on Sunday, it’s going to be difficult at times to understand everything the pastor says. What are you doing with the meat? Are you leaving it on the plate for someone else to chew? Are you storing it the side of your mouth half chewed ready to spit it out? That’s childish! You need to grow up. Read! Listen! Then THINK to digest the deep and beautiful truths of God’s word. These kinds of mature Christians are dwindling in number.

 

Lack of Conviction

The final childish behavior we must put aside is a lack of conviction. Ephesians 4:14 says, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” The picture of that verse is of a ship on the sea in a storm. Paul, who had been shipwrecked three times, knew what this was like. The wind would form huge waves that would smash against the boat. And whatever way the wind blew, the boat would blow, out of control, up and down, side to side, soon to crash on the rocks. That is a picture of childish behavior. For example, take a child who is in second grade and allow her to be taught evolution by a nice teacher. Put her in front of the television and let the world teach her all about beauty. Any parent knows that a young child at that age is going to believe almost everything she hears. Children are easily swayed, are not very discerning, and will be like that ship tossed this way and that, if their parents do not carefully guide them.

But young people, you’re not in second grade anymore. You aren’t new to the faith. You’ve been taught the truth of the scriptures by faithful parents and churches. You ought not to be like children or boats in a storm tossed to and fro, believing everything new that comes your way. Hold on to your convictions. Be discerning of what is truth and what is lie. Don’t doubt what the word of God, the confessions, and the creeds teach. Be convicted about these truths, believe them, love them, and never give them up. As Paul says, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them: (2 Timothy 3:14).”

As you live in this world you will come into contact with many who call themselves Christians. You will surely hear new teachings, interesting perspectives, and persuasive logic from very nice people. The temptation on your part will be to doubt everything that you have been brought up with and open your mind to all that others say. They will say things like: “Don’t be so black and white!” or, “Be more open-minded.” What will you do? Your childishness will want to doubt what you have been taught in your formative years. Your childishness will want to oscillate from one doctrine to another. Your childishness will want to refuse to take a stance and to flip-flop to what the majority of your acquaintances believe. Your childishness will want to take on that post-modern mentality that no one really knows for sure what is right. Childishness is dangerous. If you are unwilling to take a stance for the truth, then the winds of false doctrine will shipwreck your faith. You must grow up. The mature Christian will be resolute and unwavering in his convictions of the truth.

 

To be continued….

If it had not been for the Lord’s gracious work of salvation in the lives of my parents and me, my life would be very different right now. I can imagine what life would be like. I would be living in Singapore along with most of my extended family, Indian on my father’s side and Chinese on my mother’s side. I would probably be a “free thinker,” as some call themselves there. That essentially means that I would be an agnostic, without any religion, dependent on my own reasoning and logic to figure out what is truth. I would probably be intrigued with the Hindu and Buddhist religions of my Indian and Chinese families, but I would probably view all religions of the world, Christianity included, as equally disillusioned about reality. I would be a humanist, dependent on myself, my reason, my opinions, and distrustful of any Christian teachings. I would be a god to myself. If God had not worked by grace in the hearts of my father and my mother, and then me, such, I imagine, would be my lost condition.

The Lord’s plan for my life, however, was very different. While both my unbelieving father and mother were attending high school in Singapore, the Lord used the witnessing of students in Arminian Bible Study groups to turn their hearts from paganism to Christ. Through the study of God’s word and the ministry of Reformed Christians in Singapore, both of them were converted to the Reformed faith. In his providence, the Lord drew them to himself, then drew them together in marriage. Two culturally different people were made one in the Lord. But the Lord was not finished. He then worked in my father’s heart the call to the ministry. Therefore Jai and Esther Mahtani moved to Grandville, Michigan where he studied at the Protestant Reformed Theological School for four years.

It was during those years in seminary that I was born—not in Singapore, but in Zeeland Community Hospital, not to pagan parents, but to believing parents with a father aspiring to the ministry as my example. Neither was I born alone, as my twin brother David was born a few minutes after me. Our family of four lived in Michigan for a short time until my father graduated from seminary, at which time we returned to Singapore where my father took a call to be the pastor of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church.

After that the Lord added to our family six more children. Three more sons were born in Singapore. My father then took a call to Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas, where another boy and two girls were added to our family. When that church disbanded, our family of ten moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my father became the Eastern home missionary of our churches.

It was during these years in Pittsburgh that I began seriously to consider the call to the ministry. I have to say that it was mainly through negative circumstances that the Lord placed it upon my heart to pursue the ministry. Houston, Texas, which we grudgingly left behind, had been a bright, cheery, warm, flat country in which the Mahtani clan made many good memories. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was a cloudy, hilly, often cold, fast-paced city that did not help the spirits of our family. Not only did the change of location try us, but domestic mission work was tough, with very few successes. Life in the home was affected by this. Depression and rebellion co-existed. David and I, the oldest children of the family were given many difficult responsibilities at a young age. We all felt “Down in the Pitts” after the move, but God was using all this to shape us—to shape me.

During these years, there were also good times. Trinity Christian School, where I went for both middle and high school, was a Christian school with many Presbyterian and Reformed teachers providing me a solid education. I thrived at school and school-sponsored sporting events. I loved the people of the mission station in Pittsburgh. And after graduating, I attended Grove City College, about an hour north of Pittsburgh. There I majored in Christian Thought, a Theology major, for I was intent on pursuing the ministry from my first day of college on.

Notice how I wrote that last phrase. I was intent on pursuing the ministry, not intent on being a minister. In other words, through eight years of education from college through seminary, I did not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be a minister. I had inclinations that God was calling me to the ministry. But I was not certain. I did know this: that God wanted me at least to pursue it. I knew that he wanted me to seek it, to take steps toward it. I remember one sleepless night, lying on my back in bed, the top of an old army bunk in the upper corner of our two-story house in Pittsburgh. I was at the end of my junior year in high school, and as so many juniors at that time, I began to feel the pressure of needing to figure out my calling in life. In a short year, I knew I would have to make a decision on a college major. As I lay there I earnestly prayed that God would show me what to pursue, but having done so, I still could not fall asleep. The thought kept going through my mind: “Is not the ministry the most God-glorifying occupation for you at least to pursue?[1] Should I not at least try to do that work?” And so I prayed: “Lord, I will pursue it, but show me clearly that the ministry is NOT for me if that is not thy will!” From that night onward, I decided that I would pursue this work. I would pursue it until the Lord shut the door.

The Lord never shut the door. He has only confirmed again and again that he wants me, weak as I am, to serve him in this way.

After I finished up college in three and a half year, I moved to Michigan and married my wife Keri, the second daughter of Rev. Carl Haak, before I began seminary. During my seminary years, God blessed us with three children, Levi, Shane, and Mayla; and since becoming a minister, he has added another boy named Ezra. For those who wonder if a wife and children hinder the work, I honestly testify that my family has only been a help and an encouragement.

The seminary years flew by. Through the ups and downs, successes and failures, God never shut the door. He kept growing me and shaping me and pointing me to the next step until he finally confirmed that I was to be a minister with the call from Cornerstone Protestant Reformed church.

From the end of my junior year in high school until the time I received that objective call, there were many ways that God made me surer of the call to the ministry. In fact, these confirmations are too numerous to remember and write in one article. But I will mention three ways the Lord significantly confirmed the call in my heart.

First, it was through the people in my life. God spoke and showed his will through my teachers, my parents, my twin brother David, my wife, her parents, my professors at seminary, Rev. James Slopsema—my mentor—and other beloved people in my life. And when I say that God showed his will through them, I do not mean that they only told me what a good job I was doing as I pursued the ministry. Some of them were brutally honest about my weaknesses. But as I listened to their counsel and wisdom, I heard the Lord speaking through them and telling me which steps to take and how to improve on my way to the ministry.

Second, God also confirmed the call by impressing upon me again and again how beautiful and powerful the true gospel as preached in our churches is. The more I studied and learned, the more he awed me with his word—precious doctrines of sovereign grace that mightily impact the hearts and lives of his people. He showed me what a privilege it would be to make it my full-time work to proclaim this good news.

Third, he also confirmed the call by pointing out weaknesses in the church. I know this might be offensive to some, but I write it anyway because I think it would be helpful to a young person considering the call. As I grew up in a minister’s home, as I interacted with the people in the church, I realized something very startling: God’s people are sinful! Though doctrinally strong, there are weaknesses in the church, yes, in our beloved Protestant Reformed churches. However, the knowledge of this did not make me bitter. On the contrary, the more I noticed these weaknesses, which mirror my own, the more I felt the call to the ministry. Yes, I confess that some of that was sinful pride on my part, as I thought that I myself could make a difference. But the main reason that weaknesses of the church confirmed the call to the ministry was that God gave me a love for his sinful people so that I sincerely desired, and I still desire to be used by him to minister to his needy people.

So if you are a young man considering the call to the ministry, I urge you to ask these questions. Yes, there are more questions to consider, but these three especially: 1. Is God calling you to the ministry through the wise and godly people in your life? 2. Do you love, and are you growing in love for the gospel that our churches promote? 3. Do you recognize weaknesses in the church, which rather than embitter you, make you desire to serve God’s beloved church all the more? If yes is your answer, then pursue the ministry until the Lord closes the door or confirms it with a call from his church.

 

[1] I do not mean to imply that the ministry is the most God-glorifying occupation. Any occupation can be equally glorifying to God when done faithfully in service of him. Here I simply give you a sample of my personal thoughts as I pondered the ministry as a young person.

2 Timothy 1:7-13:

7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: 11 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day [believed: or, trusted]. 13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Young people, you are ashamed of the gospel. I am ashamed of the gospel. Paul says in Romans 1:16, the theme text of this year’s convention, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” But I say to you, you are ashamed. I am ashamed. There are many experiences I went through as a young person like you that confirm that in my mind, and here is one: About five years ago, I heard of a debate that would be between an atheist, Christopher Hitchens, and his believing brother, Peter Hitchens. Perhaps I should not have gone, but I did. From the mouth of this respected atheist orator, before about a thousand people, there spewed forth mockery of Christ and the Christian religion. And then came this: “Anyone here want to stand up and call themselves sheep?” Shame poured into my heart; shame delayed me so that I did not stand up when I should have. And even if I had stood up, the shame would have still been there! Young men, young women, you and I are ashamed of the gospel.

To understand that fully, you have to understand what the gospel is. When we think of the gospel, we often think, “It’s what Jesus has done in dying on the cross for our sins.” And yes, that is the heart of it. But really, every truth in the Bible is intimately connected to the gospel. When Paul says that he is unashamed of the gospel, he means that he is unashamed of all the Scriptures which are about the gospel. Every single word, every single page in your Bible in some way or another points to Jesus and what he has done for you. Don’t forget that! Mess with creation in Genesis 1, mess with the truth of the unconditional covenant, mess with the virgin birth, and you mess with the gospel itself. The Scriptures, all of them, are gospel writings. And you and I are ashamed of them!

Ashamed? Yes, ashamed. Shame is that complicated mix of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment in your heart that you feel when someone whom you respect disapproves of you. Rev. Herman Hoeksema described the Greek word as an “inferiority complex.” When another looks down upon us, that painful shame overcomes us, making us red in the face, hot, sweaty, with a racing heartbeat, and a desire to cover our face and to disappear from the situation. You have shame; I have shame toward the gospel.

What happens, young people, when you find out that your friends are doing something contrary to God’s word, this gospel? The weekend comes and the beer is flowing. You may say, “That’s dumb.” Or you may speak the gospel – “Our Savior has saved us from the sin of drunkenness.” Your friends gather to watch the latest popular drama of pretty little liars in high school committing the grossest of sins. You may say, “Let’s change the channel,” or, “I’m going home.” Or you may speak the powerful gospel: “The Word, Christ himself, says that out of thankfulness we are to flee these sins!” And there are other sins you can address with the gospel. But the shame is already creeping within us, simply thinking about saying something in these situations.

After church, you gather with other young people and have a society meeting. Why are there those awkward silences? Ashamed of the gospel? Then it’s time to pray, and it’s your turn to pray. Why the trembling? Why is it so hard to speak to God about your love for Christ in prayer before others? Ashamed of the gospel? After church, you stand in a circle of young people or by your cars outside. You know there is a sermon to talk about, but who is going to bring it up? Ashamed of the gospel? Your friends hop in the car. You could turn on the popular secular radio station, some country, or hip-hop. Or you could stick in the Hope Heralds CD. Ashamed of the gospel?

Perhaps you spend time with people from other denominations. There is talk about evolution and how it’s not a salvation issue. Are you willing to insist, even though you may not be able to explain it perfectly, “YES, the gospel is at stake!”? There is talk among young people of other denominations that the doctrines the Protestant Reformed people hold to—those distinct teachings of the unconditional covenant, particular grace, the unbreakable bond of marriage –are not that important. URC, CRC, PCA, OPC, PRC, we’re all the same, we’re all going to the same place anyway. Which young person is going to humbly but passionately defend the gospel? Ashamed?

Yes. As I began, you are ashamed and I am ashamed. Because of that old man still within our hearts, we have that shame and feel that shame. That ought to be something to grieve over and to be troubled over. But the gospel for those who are ashamed of the gospel is that Christ has blotted out our sins, covered them over when he “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).” However, there is more to the gospel for us. Not only is it forgiveness for our shame, but it is also Christ’s power, by his Spirit, to live unashamed of this gospel.

By his power we seek to do so.

We first have to address the problem. Why are we ashamed? It is because we are way too concerned about what other people think of us. Why was the apostle Paul tempted to be ashamed of the gospel when he wrote Romans 1:16? Why was Timothy tempted to be ashamed of the gospel? They both were among many who despised the gospel. And we are ashamed because others, even those in the church among us, will despise us…or so we think. Why not say it’s sin? Because what will my friends think of me? Why not use God’s name in daily conversation? Because that’s not what others see as cool. Why not bring up a spiritual conversation after church? It’ll be awkward. They’ll all look at me weirdly. Why not insist that those doctrines are essential? People will be offended and think I’m saying I am better than they. The problem is that we are too concerned about what others think. We have made an idol out of people. And really, we have made an idol out of self, out of our reputation among others.

We fight against this problem and live unashamed of the gospel by growing in love for God. The reason that we are ashamed is that we love ourselves and our reputation more than God. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy1: 7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” How do we grow in love for God? There are many ways. But go back to the basics, young people. Do your devotions. Daily read that Bible, that gospel, and pray earnestly, “More love to Thee, O Lord, More love to Thee!”

Second, we must grow in faith, that is, a knowledge both intellectual and spiritual. Romans 10:11 says, “For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” You grow in faith by using the means of faith, and the chief means is found in God’s house under the preaching of the word, where you don’t just sit there, slouching, distracted, and sleeping, but doing whatever it takes to focus on every word of the worship service. Without faith strengthened in this way, you will be ashamed. You won’t know what to say when the opportunity comes to speak the gospel.

Third, we must grow in hope. Romans 5:5 reads, “And hope maketh not ashamed.” Meditate, young people, on heaven. You’re young, but the recent death of a young man in our churches should make you realize that life may end at any time. Meditate on, discuss, think on, sing about heaven. Yes, fill your life not with secular music, but with music that helps you meditate on your hope. See the greatness of glory and yearn for it more! If you have your desires molded by the hope of heaven, then that earthly desire to gain the approval of others diminishes, and you are able to live less ashamed of the gospel. Grow in faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Fourth and very practically, force yourself to talk about the gospel. Being unashamed about the gospel is especially using your mouths, breaking the silence, and witnessing to the gospel. That is what Paul is referring to in our theme text. He is talking about preaching, using his mouth to speak the gospel. That feeling of shame and awkwardness will arise in our hearts because of that old man, but that new man in us must fight that shame and force out those words of the gospel. No, it’s not just ministers who talk about these things, while the rest of the people listen, but all of us, as Christians are not only to live like Christians, but to speak the gospel as Christians.

It is very important that we do this, young people! It’s important simply because God’s word shows us that is how we ought to live in response to that precious gospel. It is important because it is how we glorify God.

It’s important that we work on it because the last days require it. We live in the last days. If you do not fight the shame in these last days, and boldly speak of that gospel in your own circle of friends, how will you speak of that gospel to the world when God requires it? If you can’t be unashamed before your friends right now, how can you confess your faith before the mockery of the world, its persecution, the burning stake, and the cross? By God’s grace, we must work against shame, preparing our hearts, so that we never deny him before men.

Pray, young people, for yourselves. Pray for each other as your parents pray for you. Pray for faith, hope, love, for the power of Christ’s Spirit to live unashamed of the gospel.

Part 1

“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” Daniel 6:10.

Usually when we think of Daniel, we think of Daniel’s boldness. We think of Daniel in the lion’s den. We think of Daniel’s friends when they were cast into the burning fiery furnace. We think of the beautiful truth of the Scriptures: dare to stand alone. Indeed, Daniel and his friends, in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, found the courage of faith to be faithful to Jehovah. Surely all of us would yearn to have that kind of boldness, to be able to stand fast for the Lord amidst the questioning of the ungodly, to be able to be honest and faithful to our God and to our faith in spite of all the ungodliness that surrounds us in this wicked world.

But why was Daniel so bold? What was it that made Daniel and his friends strong in faith, courageous for the Lord? The secret of the strength behind Daniel’s bold witness in Babylon is that he knew the power and the worth of prayer. Daniel would not have been able to go into the lion’s den alone. In his own strength, Daniel would not have been able to stand before great kings and to speak the Word of God. Truth is, Daniel knew what it meant to be on his knees! When the decree was signed, and Daniel would soon be cast into the lion’s den, yet his windows were open, he was bowed toward Jerusalem, and he was found kneeling praying to his God three times a day. Praying, surely, for deliverance, as you can imagine, but also, praying with thanksgiving before his God as he did aforetime. This is Daniel, one who lived a faithful prayer life!

Young people, do you want to be strong in faith? Do you want to be able to stand against the persecution of the world and the temptations that surround us? Do you want to walk a victorious, courageous, Christian life? Then you must learn from Daniel that the true Christian life is found on our knees, in prayer, in humble devotion to God day and night. Let us take a look at Daniel as a godly example of a faithful prayer life. We will consider three things: first, the fact of Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer. We will seek to demonstrate that Daniel was indeed a man who regularly, consistently, and faithfully prayed! Second, we will uncover the reason for Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer for there was indeed a secret behind Daniel’s prayerfulness. Finally, albeit briefly, we will consider the fruits of Daniel’s prayerfulness, his faithfulness to the end, and especially his fearlessness as a bold warrior in the midst of Babylon.

Daniel was not, first of all, a man of visions and dreams and revelations but a man given to prayer. The fact of his prayerfulness is not found for the first time in Daniel 6. Here Daniel is about 80 years of age and has lived a long time in Babylon. Already from his youth when he was brought into captivity in Babylon, we see Daniel as a man of prayer. In his teen-age years, when Daniel was placed under instruction in the Babylonian courts, he refused to defile himself with the king’s meat. You read of this in Daniel 1:8, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” Take note, it was not only when he was an elderly statesman that he was given to prayer, but already as a young lad. As a young man of probably fourteen years of age, Daniel knew that he must be consecrated to Jehovah. If he could not be faithful to God in food and drink, then when the crunch came, he would be forced to compromise. But why did he not eat the king’s meat? Were there some foods at the king’s table which were contrary to the law of God? We are not told. Was it because Daniel did not want to enjoy those luxuries of the king and thus be obligated to the king for his life in Babylon? We do not know. But one thing is sure. Daniel looked round about him and he saw in the courts and all about the land hundreds of Babylonian gods, and the idolatry of Babylon. His name had been changed to Belteshazzar. He was to be given training in the schools of the Babylonians. Was he going to allow himself to be assimilated, so that he would become just like one of the Babylonians? Think of that. Daniel chose food and drink to prove the point. He was going to discipline himself. He was not going to allow himself to be defiled with the king’s meat. Daniel would not defile himself! He knew his sinful nature. He knew his own weakness and temptations. He knew that if he drank of that wine and ate of that meat and enjoyed all the things of Babylon, then pretty soon, the next step, and then again the next step. How about their women, and what about all the other luxuries? And then it would become more and more difficult to stand fast. No, he would not defile himself. He would rather consecrate himself to prayer and fasting even if he must only eat pulse and drink water. Then he would be willing to stand against the idolatry of Babylon.

Young people, we must not wait until there is a lion’s den or when there is fierce persecution or when there is some dramatic event. We must learn from Daniel who turned his heart as a young man to serve Jehovah. How did Daniel come to have such a godly attitude? His parents must have taught him when he was in Jerusalem. He must have had some covenant instruction. He must have heard Jeremiah or one of the other prophets concerning the impending Babylonian captivity. He must have known that Jehovah is faithful and that His remnant must serve Him faithfully. This is clear when you find Daniel immediately in the next chapter, praying.

Interesting, is it not? We think of Daniel as a man filled with dreams and visions. But the book begins with king Nebuchadnezzar dreaming dreams. Not Daniel. It is Nebuchadnezzar who is filled with an ungodly ambition for himself and his kingdom that dreams dreams. He is unable to find anyone to interpret his dreams, so he decides to kill all the wise men in Babylon. But what does Daniel do? Daniel comes to the king and says, “Wait a minute. You remember that my face shined before you? I am ten times wiser than all the astrologists! I will dream and I will give you the interpretation.” Is that what Daniel said to the king? No, not at all. Instead Daniel requested some time and he immediately went to his house and asked his three faithful friends to pray with him! You read of this in Daniel 2:16-23. They “desired the mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon,” verse 18. And you read in verse 19: “Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.” Indeed Daniel was a man given to prayer. He encourages his companions in times of distress: “Let us pray to the God of Heaven, let us seek His mercies. We are consecrated to Him. He will deliver us. Let us ask Him what we should do at this time.” And as the secret was revealed, notice the prayer that Daniel then prayed. “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever! For wisdom and might are His. He changeth the times and the seasons: He removeth kings…setteth up kings,” verses 20-23.

In order to better appreciate this prayer of Daniel, we must remember that Daniel has just been given the secret and the interpretation of the king’s dream. He knows now concerning that great statue and how God will send that stone to dash to pieces Nebuchadnezzar and all the kingdoms that will follow. He has been assured that God is a sovereign God, faithful to His people! Daniel’s prayer reflects this confidence of faith. Who says that when we know God is sovereign and we know that God will save His chosen people, we do not pray—we need not pray? It is exactly because we know the greatness of our God that we should be found on our knees praying and worshipping and adoring our God like Daniel did. He knew the secret, therefore he prayed!

When we come to Daniel 6 we are not surprised to read that his enemies are plotting to destroy Daniel by attacking his prayer life. We read that the other presidents and all the princes decide to come together. In verse 5 we read that they have come to the realization that they would not find any occasion against this Daniel except they find it against him concerning the law of his God. “If we are going to accuse Daniel of being unfaithful, we cannot. We cannot accuse him of taking bribes or of being dishonest. We cannot accuse him of being a glutton or of womanizing, of course not. He is faithful! But one thing we can accuse him of: that he is dedicated to Jehovah alone, and that he prays.

If we flatter the king then the king will make a decree that no one can worship Jehovah, no one can pray to any god except to this king, then we have Daniel.” Do you know why? Because if Daniel prays, he will land in the lion’s den! He will be killed for sure! But if Daniel does not pray, then he is lost because his strength is in his prayer. Imagine that! Even the ungodly saw that! Daniel’s boldness was not in all his personality and in all his gifts and talents. Not even in his visions and dreams. His strength was that he was a man who prayed. His face did shine because he prayed. He was faithful and he was honest because he prayed. The ungodly came to this conclusion, “If we can stop him from praying, then we will destroy this man!”

From his youth Daniel had learned to be consecrated to Jehovah. What would he do now, when he knew that king decreed to cast all who prayed into the lion’s den? The decree had been signed and the law of the Medes and Persians changeth not. Even King Darius could not change it now. If Daniel prayed, he would be fed to the lions. We read in our text that even though he knew the consequence of prayer, he went into his house to pray. No, not in secret but with his windows open towards Jerusalem, he kneeled three times a day. Was it morning, afternoon, and evening? We are not told. But it was not in the quiet, secret morning hour or only at night when no one was looking! Three times a day! He made it very clear that he was still praying regularly, just as before! That is what we are specifically told, “as he did aforetime.” It was not as if Daniel was deliberately and purposely arousing the anger of the wicked. Rather, Daniel was given to prayer. That was his life. He had cultivated that habit as a young lad. He knew that therein lay his power, his strength. His faithfulness to Jehovah was in the way of prayer. His prayer life was being tested!

 

Rev. Mahtani is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas.

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