Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Confession Re: My Sermon Today

So, as I mentioned last week, I had the opportunity to preach at Kosmosdale Baptist Church this morning.

By God's grace, I did not procrastinate, but I studied all week in preparation for the sermon (and really even longer than that, since I've been thinking about the text on which I was preaching-- Matthew 18:1-14-- for awhile).

Now, when I first began studying Matthew 18:1-14, I noted that "child," "children," or "little ones" are noted several times throughout the passage. I looked up these words, and it seemed that they were regularly used to refer to small children: perhaps toddlers and younger. Jesus put a child in the midst of His disciples and he spoke to His disciples about receiving children. And so I came to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking of literal children in general throughout the passage, and not using "children" as a metaphor for believers, as John does in his first epistle (1 John 3:18; 5:21).

As evident from yesterday's post, one of the key points that I planned to make in the sermon this morning involved drawing an application of Jesus' words in Matthew 18:10 to the issue of abortion. Actually, I thought that Matthew 18:10 was particularly applicable to Kosmosdale Baptist Church (KBC) in two ways: first, it seemed to me that Jesus' warning against despising the "little ones" should provide encouragement to the members of KBC regarding the preparations for Vacation Bible School; second, it seemed to me that Jesus' warning against despising the "little ones" may provide a challenge for us to get more involved in pro-life ministries in Louisville.

This morning I encountered a major problem. Abby was driving to church and I was again reading over Matthew 18:1-14. I was prayerfully contemplating how the parable of the lost sheep (vv. 12-13) fit into the rest of the passage and how Matthew 18:1-14 fit into the rest of the chapter (Matthew 18:15-35 is about church discipline and about Christian forgiveness). Suddenly I came to the realization that I had previously been mistaken and that the phrases "children" and "little ones" in Matthew 18:1-14 do not refer to literal children in general, but to the most humble of believers. This is why Jesus talks about "these little ones who believe in me" (v. 6); this understanding of the text makes the best sense of how the parable of the lost sheep is used in the passage as well as Jesus' phrase, "So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (v. 14); this is why the text continues to speak about church discipline and Christian forgiveness: the most humble of Christians includes Christians who have serious struggles with sin.

The above realization was a major problem because I had been planning on preaching the text in a straightforward manner. Jesus says,
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones" in Matthew 18:10, we are not to despise little children, and so we should not turn the other way when little children are being murdered: we should stand against abortion. But since Jesus is not speaking directly about literal children in general in the passage, but rather about the humblest of believers, then the application to abortion is not so straightforward. Therefore, I had to re-think what I was going to say in major portions of the sermon.

Now, the thought did cross my mind that I could preach the passage as I had intended, as if Jesus were speaking of literal children in general; if I did so, probably hardly anyone would notice. But this was not a serious temptation, since God has, through several faithful teachers, given me the conviction that preaching is all about bringing a word from Him. To misrepresent Scripture would be fundamentally opposed to what I'm trying to do when preaching.

And so I began to fervently pray for wisdom to discern how my sermon must change to better reflect the words of Jesus to Kosmosdale Baptist Church. I came to the conclusion that the reason that Jesus could present "little children" as a metaphor for the humblest believers is because He does indeed have a special concern for the children in general, as seen in Luke 18:15-17, where He certainly receives literal infants (and instructs His disciples not to hinder literal children) before comparing children to believers. This concern for children is part of a larger concern that God has for those who are the most disadvantaged in society, as seen in James' definition of true religion, which includes looking after orphans and widows as well as keeping oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:26-27). In my sermon, I spoke about the thoughts and verses mentioned above before making the application of Matthew 18:1-14 to concern for the welfare of literal children. I was concerned that referencing these other texts might introduce too much complexity into the sermon, and that I would confuse the congregation, but Abby assured me that I articulated my thoughts in an understandable manner. Also, because I spoke about Jesus' use of "little children" as a metaphor for believers, I was able to sharpen the specific gospel call in the sermon.

In conclusion: I praise God for whatever good came out of my stress this morning (and I will probably be more careful to consult some commentaries the next time I prepare a sermon).

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