Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Greatest Commandment and 'Warm Fuzzies'

By Pastor Matt Ellis

One day, a lawyer came to Jesus and asked what the greatest commandment was. Even though he asked the question to corner Jesus, it was a great question.

After all, there were hundreds and hundreds of laws when you consider all of the commands in the Old Testament and the ones the religious leaders had added. The answer to this question was the topic of intense debate among the religious leaders of that day.

Here's how Matthew 22:35-38 records the conversation. "And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'"

The question would have been a great one if it hadn't been asked with wrong motives. The lawyer was essentially saying: "There are so many commands that I can't remember them all much less obey them. Which one is so basic and essential that if I got everything else wrong, I need to get that one right?"

Jesus took the question seriously and gave a serious answer. The greatest and most important command is to love God with everything we've got.

That's pretty straight forward. But that begs the question ... "how?" How do we love God with all of our heart, soul and mind?

In a society where we talk of falling in love or falling out of love, we equate love with a fleeting emotion. Is that what Jesus is calling us to? If so, what about those godly men and women who aren't the affectionate type? Can they obey the Greatest Commandment?

To understand how we love Jesus, all we need to do is search the Scriptures to find out how He wants us to love Him. We can rest easy that we don't have to look far and wide. Jesus gave the answer repeatedly in one of His discourses no doubt to make sure His audience got the message. 

Let me share with you what He said about how we are to love Him:

John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (emphasis added)

John 14:21 "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me..." (emphasis added)

John 14:23-24 "...If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words..." (emphasis added)

Jesus' words are clear, aren't they? If we love him, we'll obey Him. If we don't want to love him, we'll disobey. Obedience = love. Disobedience = failure to love. It's that simple.

Do you want to love Jesus with all of your heart, soul and mind and thus comply with the Greatest Commandment? Simply commit to the Lordship of Christ.

Realize that while you are God's child, you are also His slave (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1; Revelation 1:1). He is your master. You don't belong to yourself because you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That's slave talk!

What do slaves do? It's really not that complicated. Slaves simply obey.

Show Him you love Him by diligently studying His Word and then complying with everything He commands.

And one little secret - when you develop a lifestyle of obedience, the feelings of love for the Lord will almost certainly come.

Pastor Matt Ellis is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Facebook @

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Should Sermons Be "Simple"?

by Pastor Matthew Everhard

Another pastor and I were recently discussing his upcoming sermon. He expressed the tension many preachers face in the development of his message. He was dealing with a complex issue in 1 Peter, namely suffering. His question was this, "How simple should I make this? This text is so complex, how deep should we go?"

If you have ever preached a sermon before, you too have felt this bi-directional pull between simplicity and depth. I know I have!

We live in an era where most preachers have already decided that sermons should be simple or simplistic. It is a foregone conclusion. Most strive for humor and likability above all else. Like late-night comedy, "good" sermons are memorable because they are humorous. Usually the result is theologically shallow water. Most congregations are deluged with personal illustrations serving to illustrate more personal illustrations. It is not surprising then that we live in an era of the highest biblical illiteracy since the time just preceding the Reformation.

Therefore, the question of simplicity vs. depth deserves some consideration. Let's examine this question a bit more carefully in several specific areas.

Language: Without any doubt sermons should be simple in their language. A pastor who talks over his people's heads will quickly lose his audience. We are not presenting at the Evangelical Theological Society on Sunday mornings, gentlemen. Like many professionals, we have a ton of jargon that we throw around. Some give in to the temptation to use it to sound intelligent. Nevertheless, Christianity is ripe with language that the world does not share. Words like "justification," "propitiation," and "sanctification" should not be forgotten in our communication, but rather explained. While the pastor should strive for clarity, he should not forsake the riches of our theological vocabulary.

Illustration: Illustrations too should strive for clarity. Many of our stories meant to highlight a particular theological point are often too successful. The point is lost due to the power of the story itself. A humorous anecdote often overwhelms the verse it is meant to highlight. Many of our points do not need much illustration, the power is latent in the text itself. While most pastors feel the need to "illustrate" everything, the stories meant to shed light may actually steal the moment and make the preacher's theme more difficult to follow.

Content: When it comes to content, however, simplicity can often be our enemy. Most of the truths we profess defy "simplicity." While the gospel is so clear that a child can understand it, we can never exhaust its riches. The nature of God, the work of Christ, the power of the Spirit, and the history of redemption are decidedly not simple. In attempting to make them seem so, pastors run the risk of sounding glib, trite, and worse yet: shallow. By avoiding difficult, obtuse, or complex themes and texts entirely, the pastor abdicates his role to declare the "whole counsel of God."

The fear that our congregations will not "get it" may actually be a form of pastoral pride. When God's Word is opened, and the preacher delivers the content with conviction and pathos, the Holy Spirit will yield incredible amounts of illumination so that Word of God does not return void.

Therefore, I say "Grab a shovel pastors, it's time to dig deep!"

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jesus, the Church, & Marriage: I had it all wrong!

By Pastor Matt Ellis

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to lead a couple in a marriage vow renewal ceremony. They had been married for 20 years and had experienced the ups and downs of a very eventful marriage. They wanted to celebrate the fact that as they had traveled the road of life together, they had grown closer to each other. They also wanted to recommit to remain faithful to each other as they looked to the future.

As is my practice at all marriage ceremonies, I read from Ephesians 5:22-33. No doubt you are familiar with that passage. It’s the one where husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives are told to submit to the loving leadership of their husbands as the Church does to Christ.

For years, I understood Ephesians 5:22-33 to be God’s word on marriage. I believed that in that passage, God provided instruction on how marriage could work best. Further, I believed the Lord gave us the relationship of Christ and the Church as an illustration to learn from and mimic.

But, unknown to me at the time, I couldn’t have been further from the truth! I completely misunderstood what God was saying!

You see, I was looking at the Bible with a very human-centered paradigm. I assumed that the main idea of the text was man-centered – how we could enjoy a great marriage. Christ’s relationship with the church was only the illustration.
With that approach to the text, I encouraged the grooms and brides to have a great marriage … for their own benefit. In doing so, even though it was not my intention, I was robbing Christ of glory. I was not making it clear that Christ was to be glorified in the marriage union.

Because this text was ultimately about marriage, right? Wrong!

If only I had paid more attention to verse 32. As Paul is bringing his comments about Jesus, the Church and marriage to a conclusion, he says: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Mystery? What mystery? What truth has been hidden but is now being revealed?

Paul is not saying that the principles of a good marriage have been a mystery. For thousands of years, men and women had enjoyed great marriages.

So, what was the mystery? The mystery is how good marriages illustrate the relationship that Christ has with His Church.

When a husband sacrificially loves his wife, he is illustrating to a lost world the kind of love that Christ has for us. When a wife submits to the loving leadership of her husband, she is illustrating to a lost world how believers submit to the loving leadership of Jesus.

Christ and the Church don’t provide an illustration for marriage. Marriage is an illustration of Christ and the Church.

Why is this important? Because, instead of seeing Ephesians 5:22-33 as a self-centered text on how to have a great marriage, we see marriage as an opportunity to glorify our Lord by making an invisible Jesus visible.

We also see that there is an evangelistic purpose in having a good marriage. The lost world gets to see how loving Jesus is and how believers should follow His leadership.

Does this diminish marriage in any way? Certainly not! It actually elevates marriage and calls upon every believer to fulfill their God-given roles as husbands and wives to point people to Jesus.

That’s a tall order! I don’t know about you but I’ve got some work to do!

Pastor Matt Ellis is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @mattellis1997.

Did Jesus Go to Hell?

 By Pastor Matthew Everhard

The Apostle’s Creed says…

He suffered under Pontius Pilate
Was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into Hades  
On the third day, He rose again…

What do we mean by "He descended into Hades"? Did Jesus go to hell after the cross? As to His mortal body, this is an easy question. It remained in the grave. But what about His soul? Did Jesus go to hell during that “Silent Saturday” between crucifixion and resurrection? The Apostles' Creed seems to suggest that He did. This is an interesting point in our theology, as we confess these lines each Lord's Day. 

First of all, let’s remember that all Creeds are subservient to Scripture. Actually the AC rose out of the teaching of the Apostles but did not come from the pen of any one Apostle. It was an early church confession, probably a proto-baptismal formula. The first occurrence being in the early 200’s AD.

What was called the “Old Roman Creed” simply said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son , our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh.”

Irenaeus (130-200) records for us an early form of the AC in his writings. We know that “He descended to hades/hell” was NOT in the earliest manuscripts, and did not appear until about 390 almost 200 years after the first version. Ironically, some versions at that time had “He was buried” and others “He descended to Hades,” (the Greek translation of the Hebrew sheol, meaning the state of death, or the grave). This suggests that both lines meant the same thing. Only the 390AD version had both.This troublesome line did not appear in other manuscripts again until almost 700AD.

We then enter into another problem. If Jesus went to hell, was it to suffer more on behalf of sinners? Was the cross not sufficient? We must eliminate this possibility from consideration because that would make His vicarious suffering on the cross insufficient for our atonement. We cannot go that direction. No further punishment needed to be made.

John Calvin writes, “Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine justice. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death.” (Institutes 2.16.10).

Thus, Calvin indicates that the phrase “He descended into Hades” is completely appropriate and worthy of our confession, provided that we understand this to be a summary statement of what precedes it: Jesus “descended into hell/hades” is a summary of the full wrath of God placed upon Christ in his suffering death and burial. In other words, "suffered" + "died" + "buried" = full wrath of God (descended into Hell). 

The Westminster Confession, too, avoids interpreting the Creed as a literal descent into the fires of hell. Question #50 asks, "Wherein consisted Christ's humiliation after his death?
A. Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, he descended into hell.

Although many Reformed churches profess the AC, most theologians in our tradition do not view this line to indicate a literal descent into hell, but rather that Jesus bore the full brunt of God's wrath and anger for us.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Was Whitefield's Prayer?

By Pastor Matthew Everhard

What exactly was George Whitefield's prayer? What did he ask for? Why was it so important that a blog should be named after it? The following is the great evangelist's prayer:

"Yeah that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more . . . raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be 'fools for Christ's sake', who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth's accolades, but to win the Master's approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness 'signs and wonders following' in the transformation of multitudes of human lives."
This blog is written by a team of young men who are seeking to fulfill Whitefield's prayer. Mostly unknowns. None of us has "made it" in the world's eyes. We are not so arrogant as to suggest that we are the answer to his prayer. However, with the strength that the Lord provides, we are seeking to be a generation of men who are proclaiming the same doctrines of grace that many men before us upheld in ages gone by.

In this page you will find writings on theology, Bible study, history, culture, and even humor. We hope you will join us as together we seek to "preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes," and yet with "minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace."  

Matthew Everhard is Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Brooksville Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every Word Matters: Why Faith Church is Changing to the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible

By Pastor Matthew Everhard

You have probably noticed that in January of 2012, I began preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible (the ESV) instead of the New International Version (NIV 1984) which had been in use here for decades. This was not an incidental or arbitrary change on my part, but is integral to our theology of the Word of God.

In this brief article, I will attempt to explain why we have made this significant change. I will do this by answering several important questions.

The Bible is the Word of God in written form. There is no other source of authority for faith, doctrine, practice, or worship that supersedes it.[i] The Bible is actually a compilation of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New) that comprise the Holy Christian Scriptures.

These ancient but authoritative books are written primarily from the Hebrew and the Greek languages of antiquity. Therefore, as English readers, a translation is necessary in order to understand the Bible.

We hold to what is called “verbal plenary inspiration.”[ii] This is the idea that not just the thoughts and ideas in Scripture are inspired but the very words as well. For this reason, we need to have the very best translation(s) made available to us.

My contention is that the ESV is currently the best translation available.[iii]

I will be the first to admit that I am not among the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Greek and Hebrew. Not even close! However, like most Presbyterian pastors, I too have been trained in the original languages. For instance, I spent years attempting to gain mastery of New Testament Greek at both Ashland Theological Seminary and Malone University before that.

Last year, I spent several months translating the entire Gospel of Mark from Greek to English. This took months of my devotional time. To do this I compared several of the modern English translations to the original Greek, and found that the ESV excelled them all in precision and clarity. While this project took me hour after hour to do in my hand-written journals, the fruit of such an endeavor was greatly beneficial to me.

However, it is not my contention alone that the ESV is now the best English translation; a consensus is quickly being reached in the academic community particularly among Reformed pastors[iv] and seminaries. Conservative scholars are reaching agreement that the ESV has now surpassed most of the other translations in two categories: (1) linguistic precision and faithfulness and (2) elegance in English. Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, for instance, now uses the ESV almost exclusively.

Of course, any translation committee (such as the scholars who put together the ESV) will have to make some major decisions early on to determine the course of its work. One such question is this: what method of translation will be applied?

Generally, there are three such styles. The first is called a paraphrase. The paraphrase (i.e. the Living Bible, the Message) attempts to take a particular paragraph of text and loosely and freely render it into the receiving language. Obviously, the paraphrase greatly favors the receiving language and may stray too far from the wording of the original. Technically, paraphrases are not really “translations” at all.

The second style of translation is called a “dynamic equivalent.” This style takes a particular sentence or phrase, and renders the thought or idea as closely to the original as possible, but with no intention of a one-to-one correspondence between original and receptor language words. The key here is to carry across the thinking of the writer. Dynamic equivalent translations include the NIV and NLT among others.

However, when we are dealing with the Word of God, we are dealing with words that possess uncompromising authority. Thoughts, of course, are comprised of smaller units of words. Even the pronouns and prepositions matter! They are all inspired by God. For this reason, like many conservative evangelicals, I favor the “literal” or “word-for-word” approach in translation. Here, all of the emphasis is on the primacy of the original language. The old KJV, NKJV, and NASB for instance are in this grouping.

Where the ESV steps ahead of its peers is this: it attempts to precisely and exactly render the original Greek and Hebrew originals in a word-for-word style while striving for beauty and clarity in English.

The translators of the ESV have morphological data that far exceeds that of the translators of the KJV in 1611 for instance. The “science” of ancient linguistics and morphology has advanced rapidly, taking us closer to the ancient world than ever before. At the same time, the English language itself has changed dramatically, as all languages inevitably do.

And yet, the Word of God, inspired and inerrant in the originals, can never change.

There is nothing “wrong” with the NIV (1984 version) found in the pews and in most of our homes today. Its freer dynamic equivalence style left expository preachers perplexed from time to time, but it was nonetheless the translation preferred by many evangelicals for decades.

The problem is in this: it is no longer for sale.

And now for a bit of a scandal: Several years ago, the publishers of the NIV wanted to make a major change in translation policy. They came to believe that the NIV (and the Greek and Hebrew originals for that matter) were too masculine in tone. They asked, How can a modern society read and admire an ancient text that seems so masculine? This prompted another question: As our understanding of society, sexuality, and gender evolve, shouldn’t our Bible translation evolve as well?

Thus, the publishers of the NIV came out with a new translation called the TNIV (Today’s New International Version, 2005). In thousands of places, it softened the male and masculine terms of the Bible to make Scripture more palatable to a modern audience.[v] This came to be known as a “gender neutral” translation.[vi]

Let me be clear: In our theology of Scripture, this is a great and dangerous error. We have no right to monkey with the sacred Scriptures to make them more “palatable.” As providence would have it, the TNIV was a public relations nightmare and the translation was a marketing bomb. The TNIV was first lambasted by conservative critics, and then abandoned by its liberal supporters. It has since been discontinued.

However, there is one more twist to the story:  The publishers of the NIV canceled the “gender neutral” TNIV 2005, but, still convinced of their position, re-issued another gender neutral Bible, now called once again simply the NIV (2011). And herein lies the problem. Anyone who purchases the NIV from 2011 forward will be purchasing a gender neutral translation whether they know it or not.[vii] The more conservative NIV (1984) has disappeared forever.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word.”
More than two-thousand five hundred years ago, the Lord God exhorted his prophet Jeremiah to preach His Word no matter what the cost. Jeremiah’s prophetic work is unusual in that he appears to have won over only two converts after decades of faithful preaching!

Nevertheless, God’s mandate to Jeremiah is very clear. In Jeremiah 26:2, God forbade His prophet to alter the revealed divine revelation at all saying “do not hold back a word!”

At Faith Church, we will continue to preach the timeless Word of God no matter whether it is “in season or out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). To do so, it is my conviction that we need the most excellent tools available. My conviction is that the ESV is the best translation at the given hour.

The new pew Bibles to be placed in the pews of Faith Church will not cost the church even one cent. This is a non-budgeted item and will not come from tithes or offerings.

The entire cost of furnishing Faith Church with 400 new ESV Bibles is around $2,200. Graciously, this cost was donated by one anonymous giver who believes in the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of the Scriptures. Faith Church can simply enjoy the free gift.

This change in Bible translation will once again serve as a witness to the world that Faith Church stands upon the truth that every word matters.

[i] See the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter One.

[ii] See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume I, 165.

[iii] I am not, however, arguing that the ESV translation is perfect. Our doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture pertains to the original autographs and not to translations.

[iv] For instance, see John Piper’s article on the ESV at

[v] For instance, changing words like ‘father’ to ‘parent,’ ‘son’ to ‘child,’ ‘forefathers’ to ancestors etc. While this is perhaps admissible in some contexts, this trend carried over thousands of times dramatically shifts the Biblical view of the family.

[vi] The NRSV, a revision of the RSV is also another of such “gender neutral” Bible translations. It now appears that the general trend will be for publishers to produce more GN translations in the future.

[vii] Admittedly, the NIV 2011 is not as bad as the TNIV of 2005. While the TNIV made some 3,699 modifications to gender language, the NIV 2011 retained 75% of these changes. A small step in the right direction, but still unacceptable to inerrantists. See a full analysis of the changes here: