Mailbag

The Mailbag: Husbands, pastors, and mentors- Which roles do they play in a Christian woman’s life?

 

I have three questions that are kind of related to each other:

1 Corinthians 14:35 says women should ask their husbands questions at home; how does this fit with women mentoring other women in Titus 2?

Where does a husband’s role end and where does the role of a godly older woman begin in terms of teaching younger women?

Are there areas where a pastor’s authority trumps a husband’s authority?

Thank you for your help.

These are really awesome questions. I love it when women ask questions that demonstrate that they’re digging into Scripture and thinking deeply about the things of God. It’s so exciting to me!

(Before I begin answering, let me just stipulate, as I usually do in articles about marriage, that the following statements assume a normal, relatively healthy, average marriage, not abusive marriages, extremely aberrant marriages, etc. Also, it’s not my intent to leave out my single sisters, but the reader asked specifically about married women, so that’s how I’m answering the questions.)

So let’s take each question separately…

1 Corinthians 14:35 says women should ask their husbands questions at home; how does this fit with women mentoring other women in Titus 2:3-5?

The first thing we need to do when we’re addressing questions like this is to look at each of these passages in context. This is a very simple study skill that will clear up nearly all instances of supposed contradictions in Scripture.

Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. What is the venue for Paul’s instructions in this passage? In other words, is he telling people how to behave at home? At work? At the movies? Look at the key phrases in verses 26 (“when you come together”) and 28,33b-35 (“in church”). Paul is giving instructions for how an orderly worship service is to be conducted. He is not making a blanket statement that any time any woman wants to know anything about Scripture or God or life in general that the only person she can ever ask questions of is her husband. What he’s saying is that in order to avoid chaos in the worship service, women are to sit down and be quiet during the preaching and teaching, rather than interrupting to comment or ask questions (one of the reasons Paul says this is that the women in the Corinthian church were doing just that – interrupting the preaching and teaching with questions and comments). If you read further in chapter 14, you’ll notice he places similar restrictions on prophesying and speaking in other languages to prevent chaos and confusion during the worship service. I’ve discussed this passage in further detail in my article Rock Your Role ~ Order in His Courts: Silencing Women?

Now read Titus 2. What’s the main idea of this chapter? Is it the same as the main idea of 1 Corinthians 14 – instructions for an orderly worship service? No. Verse 12 gives a nice summary of chapter 2: “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” That’s what this chapter is about. “Titus, here’s what your church members (and you) are to do and how they’re to conduct themselves as they go about the business of living as Christians in this world and in community with one another.” The older women teaching and training the younger women in verses 3-5 is not taking place during the worship service, but as these women go about daily life with one another. Today, this kind of teaching and training takes place in women’s Bible study classes, women’s fellowship groups, and in one on one discipleship, not in, nor instead of, the gathering of the whole church for worship.

So as we can see when we examine the context of both passages, 1 Corinthians 14:35 and Titus 2:3-5 are not in conflict, they’re actually in harmony, addressing two distinct ways women are to conduct themselves in two completely different venues.

 

Where does a husband’s role end and where does the role of a godly older woman begin in terms of teaching younger women?

I don’t think it’s really that discrete and linear, i.e. the husband teaches this list of topics the wife needs to be taught about and the godly older woman teaches that list of topics she needs to be taught about, and never the twain shall meet. It’s a much more informal and “whatever is needful at the moment” type of thing. Additionally, it’s going to vary from marriage to marriage. Some women have unsaved husbands. Some women are newly saved with husbands who have been saved for decades. Some husbands and wives are very private about everything, some are very open to others. So the balance between who (husband or older woman mentor) teaches what, and how much, and when, is going to look different in every marriage.

I would just offer a few guidelines:

• After your relationship with Christ, if you’re married, your highest allegiance is to your husband. He should be your best friend and first confidant, not a woman who’s mentoring you (or even your mother, sister, or female best friend). He should never feel like he’s in competition for your time, interest, or affinity with the woman who’s mentoring you, or that you esteem her on the same (or, perish the thought, higher) level of loyalty or emotional intimacy with him. If you’ve gotten that close to your mentor, you’re too close. Turn your attention toward your husband.

• Along those same lines, always keep in mind that God instructs you to submit to your husband, not your mentor. The only time you should ever follow your mentor’s advice over your husband’s desires is if your husband is asking you to do something the Bible clearly calls sin and your mentor is advising you to obey Scripture instead. (But even in that case, you’re not really choosing your mentor over your husband, you’re choosing to obey God rather than to sin.)

• There are some things that are private between a husband and wife that shouldn’t be shared with anyone, including a mentor. Which things? Again, that’s going to vary from marriage to marriage, but a few no no’s might include the private details of your sex life, your finances, and anything your husband would be embarrassed for someone else to know. Talk with your husband and ask if there’s anything he would rather you didn’t share with your mentor.

 

Are there areas where a pastor’s authority trumps a husband’s authority?

It really depends on what you have in mind when you ask that question.

If you’re talking about personal decisions made between a husband and wife, let’s say, for instance, whether or not to move to a certain part of town or whether or not the wife should take a part time job, it is not the pastor’s place to step in and overrule the husband’s decision, nor should the pastor have any expectation that the couple would obey any edicts he issues. If the couple goes to him for counseling or asks for his advice, he can certainly give it, but we never see any place in Scripture where a pastor has authority over another family’s decisions. The husband is responsible before God for leading his family, not the pastor.

But if you’re talking about a situation in the church, then yes, a pastor’s (or the elders’) authority – assuming he’s abiding by Scripture – trumps a husband’s authority, and pretty much every other church member’s authority as well. For example, a husband does not have the authority to walk up to the pastor and say, “I’m going to let my wife preach the sermon next Sunday,” or “My wife is going to take over this Sunday School classroom and use it as her personal office.”. If a husband were to say something like that, the pastor is well within his authority as shepherd of the church to say, “Oh no she’s not.”. The buck stops with the pastor when it comes to how the church runs, and he is responsible before God for making godly decisions for the church.

I’m aware that there are aberrant, fringe “churches” (many of them are some stripe of New Apostolic Reformation or extreme legalism/fundamentalism) out there in which the “pastor” has ultimate authority over every decision a family makes: where they live, how many children they have, what to name their children, whether and where each spouse should work, etc. If you’re in a so-called church like that, leave immediately and find a doctrinally sound church to join. A church doesn’t plunge to that depth of spiritual abuse without succumbing to other dangerous false doctrines along the way.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Home churches, Non-Calvinist authors, Memes from false teachers, Contrarian commenter?)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


What is your view of home/house churches?

My approach to home churches – small groups of Christians who meet in someone’s home to have a worship service together rather than attending an established local church- is:

  • I urge extreme caution when considering a home church
  • Start/attend a home church only as a last resort when you can’t find an established, doctrinally sound church within achievable driving distance of your home.
  • View the home church as a church plant (the home church will grow into an official, established church, rather than staying a home church)
  • Have a proper, biblical ecclesial structure (a biblically qualified pastor/elders/deacons, conduct worship gatherings according to biblical parameters, etc.)

I elaborated on this issue a little more in my article Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly:

I want to be clear that I advise [starting a home church] only as a last resort after exhausting every possibility of joining a biblical established church. I have known of people who withdrew from established churches because of doctrinal problems, and instead of searching for a sound, established church, decided to form a house church, which then fell into other doctrinal problems of its own. House churches can be very vulnerable to doctrinal error.

If you must meet with other believers outside of an established church, make sure whoever is pastoring the group is biblically qualified to do so, and that your home church carries out all of the components of a biblical church: Bible teaching, worship, prayer, care for members, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and church discipline. There are many wonderful, trustworthy resources such as sermons, Bible teaching, and Bible study lessons available on line for free. Take advantage of them. You may also wish to contact your denomination’s headquarters, a reputable missions organization, or a doctrinally sound church planting organization and ask about the possibility of a missionary or church planter coming to plant a new church in your area.

In countries with governments which outlaw Christianity, underground home churches are the only option. That is not the case in America and most Westernized countries yet, though we are headed down that road. Until that time, I would strongly urge Western Christians to join with an established, doctrinally sound local church (keeping in mind that no church is perfect, and most won’t meet all your preferences), and if there isn’t one in your area, either contact a church planting organization or move to an area where there is an established, doctrinally sound church.

Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians


Are there any non-Calvinist/Reformed authors you would consider solid?

There are probably scads of them, but – and it might surprise you to hear this – I don’t check to see whether or not someone is Calvinist/Reformed before deciding whether or not to read or listen to his materials, and consequently, I often don’t even know which soteriological label he wears. All I care about is whether or not he rightly handles Scripture and behaves in submission to Scripture.

I’m frequently on the receiving end of the accusation, “You just think anybody who’s not a Calvinist is a false teacher!”. It’s simply not true. That’s not something I consider an automatic litmus test of someone’s doctrinal soundness. The vast majority of the churches I have personally been a member of have not even had a Calvinist/Reformed pastor.

I’m sorry I can’t provide you with any specific names. Read people who handle Scripture correctly. That’s the best counsel I can give.

(Just a reminder, readers, I don’t allow Calvinism vs. Arminianism arguments in the comments sections of my articles. Comments like this won’t be posted.)


Just wondering how you respond to quotes/memes, etc from unbiblical teachers when it appears there’s nothing wrong with the quote/meme? A family member of mine often posts memes like this on Facebook. Most of them deal with being kind to each other, or continuing to trust God and rather simplistic things. I don’t disagree with that particular message but don’t want her to get caught up in false teaching.

I’m taking this to mean something like Lysa TerKeurst sharing a Bible verse meme or Beth Moore sharing a meme that says, “Prayer is a vital part of the Christian life,” or something like that. In other words, the content of the meme itself is in line with Scripture, but it has the name of a false teacher attached to it, and that’s what makes it problematic.

There could be a couple of different things happening here. It could be that your family member follows and is a fan of the false teacher she’s reposting. Or it could be that a Facebook friend of hers or some sort of “inspirational quotes” page she follows shared the meme and she is just re-sharing it having no idea who the false teacher is or what she teaches.

I would suggest contacting her privately in an e-mail or private message on Facebook (even if this is someone you see face to face regularly, because an e-mail or message is less confrontational and emotional, and also allows you to provide information more easily) and very lovingly, gently, and briefly say something like this:

Hi Laurel-

Hope you’re having a great day.

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I appreciate your heart for encouraging people on Facebook with the memes you post. So many people are hurting these days and are in need of a kind word.

I’m sure you didn’t realize it, but you’ve posted a couple of memes from Priscilla Shirer and Christine Caine, both of whom teach and do some very unbiblical things. As a Christian, I know you would never want to lead anyone astray from Scripture, even accidentally, so I thought I’d pass along this information on them to fill you in on where they’re coming from. If you have any questions or want to chat about it, just let me know.

Priscilla Shirer: https://michellelesley.com/2015/09/18/going-beyond-scripture-why-its-time-to-say-good-bye-to-priscilla-shirer-and-going-beyond-ministries/

Christine Caine: https://michellelesley.com/2016/03/04/chhave-no-regard-for-the-offerings-of-caine/

Love,
Kristy

And then I would leave it at that unless she brings it up and wants to talk. You can lead a horse to Living Water, but only the Holy Spirit can make him drink. :0)

Four Reasons Why It Matters Who We Share, Pin, and Re-Tweet

Words with Friends by Amy Spreeman

Words with Friends at A Word Fitly Spoken (several great resources in the show notes)


Several years ago I had a falling out with a friend when I warned her about a false teacher and she vehemently disagreed. Since that time, she has begun following more and more false teachers, and has started a blog which centers around extra-biblical revelation. Recently, she asked me to subscribe to her blog. Is it proper for me to get involved with a blog with which I will be in total disagreement and arguing theology probably constantly? Should I join and be the only voice of Biblical reason?

It’s interesting, knowing your disagreement with the false teacher you initially warned her about, that she would ask you to subscribe to her blog. Is it possible she just sent out a blanket invitation to everyone on her e-mail list or to all her Facebook friends, forgetting that you were on that list? If you think that’s the case, and she wasn’t really inviting you personally, I would just ignore the invitation and go on my merry way.

If, however, this really was a personal invitation to you, my counsel would be to drop her a note (similar in tone to the one in the section above) saying that you really appreciate the invitation to subscribe to her blog, but that you find much of the subject matter of her blog to be unbiblical. So if you do subscribe, you will feel compelled – fairly often – to comment with biblical arguments against what she has written. And because of that constant state of argument, you don’t think it would be a good idea for you to subscribe to her blog.

As a blogger, I can tell you that I don’t like it when a person takes it upon herself to constantly argue against or attempt to correct my theology, and if that person keeps it up after being warned, she usually gets blocked or banned. My thought is, “If you’re so diametrically opposed to what I write, why in the world are you following me? Go find a blogger to follow whom you agree with and enjoy, or start your own blog for sharing your opinions.” So, since I know what that feels like, I try to extend that same courtesy to others. I don’t generally* follow blogs, social media accounts, etc., that I strongly disagree with and constantly argue with them. It rarely does any good or changes anyone’s mind. Better to hang on to your pearls and stay out of the pig pen.

You may find some of my thoughts in my article The Mailbag: Should I attend the “Bible” study to correct false doctrine? to be helpful since this is a similar situation, but I would still lean toward encouraging you not to follow your friend’s blog and argue constantly.

*(In the interest of full disclosure there is one Twitter account I follow – LifeWay Women – which I strongly disagree with most of the time because they promote false teachers. This is an agency of my denomination, not an individual, and I occasionally tweet refutations to/about them in order to make my fellow Southern Baptists on Twitter aware of the false teachers/doctrine their own denomination is promoting, and because my previous attempts to contact LifeWay privately have either been ignored or rebuffed. Still, I try not to constantly barrage them with argumentative tweets.)

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Is casting lots a biblical way to make decisions?

 

I recently had an older Christian tell me that they feel it is appropriate to make decisions by “drawing lots” (writing decisions on different slips of paper, praying that God would reveal his will, then blindly drawing one piece and choosing that decision). They justified this by saying that in Acts 1:26, the disciples did this to choose Matthias. How would you respond?

Super question! Whenever we see Bible characters doing something in Scripture, it’s always a good idea to figure out whether or not we should be doing the same thing.

My response would be to encourage the person to read Acts 1 in its entirety to get a better understanding of what took place when Matthias was chosen.

We need always to keep two things in mind when we read the book of Acts: 1) it is a historical narrative, and 2) it is transitional. 

A historical narrative is simply a report of what happened – like a newspaper article – not usually a command for us to do the exact same thing as the characters in the story. It is largely descriptive, not prescriptive. Acts reports that Peter raised Dorcas from the dead, but that does not mean that God is commanding you to raise people from the dead any more than Genesis reporting that Noah built an ark means that God is commanding you to build an ark. So the simple fact that Acts reports that Matthias was chosen by lot does not automatically mean that’s how we’re to make decisions.

Acts is also transitional. It records the events that took place as God’s people were transitioning from following Old Testament Judaism to establishing the New Testament church. And in the same way that when you’re building a house you only lay the foundation once, many of the events or issues in Acts were a “one and done” kind of thing (ex: the sign of speaking in foreign languages, the apostolic sign gift of miraculous healing, the question of circumcision, etc.)

It’s a little bit like opening up a brand new board game for the first time. You’ve got to assemble the spinner, punch the tokens out of the piece of cardboard, take the plastic wrap off the cards, and figure out what that poorly worded rule in the instructions means. But the second time you pull that game out to play it, you don’t have to do those things again, because you already did them the first time. You can just start playing the game.

Both the descriptive and transitional nature of the book of Acts should make us extremely cautious about blindly emulating the specific behaviors of its characters. When we want to know whether or not we should behave in a certain way, we need to look first to the prescriptive passages of Scripture which deal with that issue.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

So which prescriptive passages can we look at that teach us how to make decisions in a godly way?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7

(These are just a few verses, and of course there are others that would be pertinent to specific details about particular decisions. Read more about godly decision-making here.)

Ask God for wisdom, do what His Word says, turn away from evil, persevere, trust God and His Word above what you can see in your circumstances, and He will direct you. This is the Bible’s general instruction to us about making godly decisions. Christians are not instructed to cast lots in order to make decisions.

But is it a sin for Christians to cast lots, flip a coin, draw straws, etc., when making a decision? Maybe, but not necessarily.

You described your friend’s process of lot casting this way:

writing decisions on different slips of paper, praying that God would reveal his will, then blindly drawing one piece and choosing that decision

I realize you were probably trying to be brief with that description and there’s likely more to it than that. But if that’s an accurate description of how she makes most of her decisions – putting no more thought, wisdom, or effort to search the Scriptures into her decisions than that – then I would say that probably qualifies as the sin of laziness. Because God has been clear to us in His Word that we’re to make the effort to use the brains He gave us to dig into Scripture to see what He has to say about the issue, ask Him for wisdom and guidance, trust Him, and obey Him.

Additionally, I’m concerned that, if she doesn’t know her Bible well enough to make decisions based on Scripture rather than casting lots, and if she thinks making decisions this way is biblical simply because of a descriptive verse about Matthias, then she probably doesn’t have enough knowledge of Scripture to guarantee that all of the decisions she writes down on her pieces of paper are biblical. I mean, what if she has two pieces of paper and she writes down, “Leave my husband for my boyfriend,” and “Stay with my husband and be a godly wife.”? One of those choices isn’t biblical. Is she going to assume it is and that God wants her to leave her husband for her boyfriend if that’s the paper she draws?

On the other hand, let’s say your friend is a mature Christian who knows her Bible. She’s trying to decide between two job offers that would each be equally biblical for her to take. She has prayed and asked God for wisdom. She has compared each job, its requirements, and its logistics with Scripture. She has sought out godly counsel. She’s equally drawn to both jobs. Yet she still can’t bring herself to make a final decision. If the only way she can bring herself to make that final decision is to flip a coin or cast a lot, I can’t see any biblical problem with that. (Is that scenario likely to happen? Probably not. There’s rarely a situation in which both options are exactly equal. Life just doesn’t work like that, and that’s one way God guides us and gives us wisdom.)

Finally, I’d like to point out a few more things about the casting of lots for Matthias. Namely, that the way the disciples did it, and the circumstances in which they did it, are vastly different from your friend’s circumstances and the way she’s doing it. Again, let’s look at Acts 1 in its entirety.

• The casting of lots for Matthias took place before Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), which means that, with regard to receiving direction from God for a particular decision, the disciples were still operating in an “Old Testament” sort of way. This is why we see lot casting much more commonly in the Old Testament, and we never see it again in the New Testament after Acts 1. From Acts 2 on, we see Christians praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction. If your friend is a Believer, she, unlike the disciples in Acts 1, has the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide her.

• Look at the timeline (v. 6-11). Jesus had just ascended, like, five minutes ago. Not only was there no Holy Spirit (in the sense that we have the Holy Spirit now), there was no church, no New Testament to read for instruction, very few Believers, and no understanding of how to “do” Christianity. The disciples were doing the best they could with the knowledge that they had, and nearly all that knowledge was from the Old Testament. Your friend has the benefit of having  the entire New Testament, a pastor and fellow Believers to counsel her, and 2000 years of church history that has hammered out how to “do” Christianity.

• If your friend is simply writing two options on pieces of paper, praying God will help her pick the right one, and then blindly picking, she’s not casting lots the same way the disciples did for Matthias. Look at verses 12-26.

·This was not a personal, individual decision, this was a corporate decision for the embryonic church. The eleven remaining disciples (13), the women, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers (14), about 120 in all (15), were all gathered and taking counsel together.

·This body of Believers was gathered together for an extended time of corporate prayer for direction to make the right decision for the church, not a quick “God please help me pick the right piece of paper,” kind of thing.

·The disciples searched and knew the Scriptures that applied to this situation (15-20) and had a biblical set of parameters for making the decision about who would take Judas’ place. (21-22)

The way the disciples cast lots for Matthias was much more akin to the scenario I described above about your friend choosing between two jobs (which, as I said, would not be biblically problematic).

I think it would be much more beneficial and spiritually healthy for your friend to learn how to make decisions based on Scripture than to continue her practice of casting lots. I would strongly suggest she read my article Basic Training: 8 Steps to Finding God’s Will for Your Life.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag, New Year's

The Mailbag: My word for the year is…

Originally published January 7, 2019

 

I can’t seem to find information on one topic that keeps coming up with women I am friends with. “One word” for the year. They are all waiting to “hear” from God what one word they need to focus on for the year. I have been asked what my word for the year is. I just think… the Word Of God is my word for every year. Do you happen have any links, resources, or input?

I wish there weren’t any links or resources on this, but, unfortunately, it looks like a small cottage industry – both secular and evangelical – is growing up around this unbiblical concept. (I’m not going to give anyone free advertising and website hits by providing their links.)

The idea is pretty simple. You pick (or God “speaks” to you) a word that represents some sort of change you want to see in your life and you focus on that word, especially during situations when you want to see that change manifest itself, for the remainder of the year. For example, if you want to be a more peaceful person, you might choose “peace” as your word for the year. You find some way to think about or meditate on the word “peace” every day, but especially in worrisome or chaotic situations, and that’s supposed to make you a more peaceful person by the end of the year.

The only problem with this is – as with so many things in pop evangelicalism – the Bible.

You will not find this practice taught, endorsed, or even mentioned in the Bible. In fact, I suspect this idea traces its roots back to some form of Eastern mysticism. It’s a modern day twist on repeating a mantra. And somebody thought it would be a good idea to “Christianize” it – so she slapped a thin coat of “this is how God can speak to you and work in your life” paint over the surface of it.

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. You don’t just get to make up Christianity as you go along. That’s God’s job, not ours, and He already set it up exactly the way He wants it – in the Bible.

We know that God is not going to speak a certain “word for the year” to people for two reasons. First of all, extra-biblical revelation is unbiblical. God speaks to us through His all-sufficient written Word, not audibly. Which brings us to reason number two. Because God speaks to us through His written Word, and there’s nothing in His written Word about getting a word for the year, we can be certain that He’s not going to be whispering a word for the year in anybody’s ear.

OK, so let’s take the extra-biblical revelation component out of it. What if we go at it from a sanctification angle? Maybe I’ve noticed that I tend to worry too much, so I decide, for the sake of my own spiritual growth, that my word for the year is going to be “peace”, and I’m going to focus on that word this year?

Still not biblical. Not just because it’s not taught in the Bible (although that’s certainly reason enough), but for a host of other reasons as well.

For starters, we are not in charge of our sanctification, God is. He is the one who gets to decide what work He’s going to do in our hearts, and how He’s going to do that. And that’s a really good thing because He is infinitely wiser and more powerful than we are and He knows our hearts much better than we do. You probably won’t hear many of your girlfriends choosing words like “suffering”, “humility”, or “repentance” as their word for the year, but God knows that areas like these – the ones we often push back against with the greatest resistance – are the ones we usually need the most work on.

Next, sanctification isn’t linear. You don’t tackle peace, master it, then move on to patience, master it, and then move on to whatever’s next. And that’s how this “word for the year” thing is set up. This year, you choose the word “peace”. Next year, maybe you’ll choose “patience”, and so on. But what do you do when you get to the end of the year and you know you haven’t mastered peace yet? What then? Do you choose the word “peace” again? Give up on peace and choose another word?

Biblical sanctification is more like a big bowl of spaghetti noodles. Everything is all tangled up and inter-connected. At any given time, God could be working on one or five or a dozen different aspects of your character. And while you’ll rejoice when you occasionally look back over how much you’ve grown, you’ll never “master” any aspect of Christlikeness this side of Glory.

Finally, God has already prescribed our role in sanctification, and meditating on a particular word for the year is not even a little part of it. Our role in sanctification is to abide in Christ. How? We learn the “how” of abiding in Christ from studying our Bibles. John 15 offers us a little glimpse:

V.1: I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Recognize that, as I mentioned, God is the vinedresser – the one who prunes, waters, fertilizes, harvests – not you.

V.2: …every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Bear up under pruning as God conforms you to the image of Christ. Cooperate with whatever He’s trying to do in your life by obeying Him, thanking Him, and realizing that He’s doing it to make you more fruitful.

V.4: As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Recognize and practice your dependence on Christ and His work for you and in you, not on a word you meditate on. You can’t be a fruitful Christian by coming up with your own way to grow in Christ. You can only do it His way.

V.7a: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… To abide in Christ is simply to live for Him and commune with Him day by day. One of the ways we do that is to study “His words” – the Bible – so that those words will live in us. We ingest the words of Christ by studying our Bibles at home, with our Sunday School or Bible study class at church, sitting under good preaching at our church, and consuming other biblical materials during the week.

V.7b: …ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. If you’re abiding in Christ and His Word is abiding in you – what kinds of “whatever you wish” things do you think you’ll be asking Him for? Your foundational prayer to anything else you might ask for will be for God to be glorified and for Him to make you more like Christ. “Father, please heal me, but only if that will glorify You and make me more like Christ.” “Lord, I’d like You to take away this difficult situation at work, unless letting it continue would grow me to be more like Christ. Help me to glorify You no matter what.” Prayer is one of God’s prescribed methods of sanctification.

V.8: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. Glorify God by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, displaying the fruit of obedience, harvesting the fruit of evangelism, and by doing so, displaying for the world what a real disciple of Christ looks like in order to point them to Him.

V.10,12,14: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…You are my friends if you do what I command you. Obey Christ’s commands and love one others the way He loves you. That’s the heart of your role in sanctification. It’s an outward focus on how you can bring Him glory in any situation by obeying Him and loving others with a die-to-self love rather than a navel-gazing, self-centered, inward focus on “How can I be a better me?”.

V.11: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Don’t forget the joy! What joy is there in a word that you focus on? How can you quantify whether or not you’re a better person at the end of the year and derive joy from that? Sanctification God’s way offers instant, daily gratification in the joy department. Joy dwells in us because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Joy wells up when we see the hand of God at work in our hearts and lives, when He answers prayer, even just from spending time with Him in His Word, worship, and prayer. Joy is communion with a Person, not satisfaction over a job well done of pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.

 

This “word for the year” thing is not necessary, it’s not biblical, and it kicks God out of His rightful place of authority in sanctification and attempts to put self in the driver’s seat. You’re on the right track with your thinking. When someone asks you what your word for the year is, just hold up your Bible and tell her, “All of these.” After all, Christ gives us abundant life. Why would we limit ourselves to one measly little word when we can study all of God’s words?


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag, Top 10

Top 10 Mailbag Articles of 2019

I always enjoy the annual “year in review” articles and TV shows that run in abundance in late December, so I thought I’d contribute my own. Several Mailbag articles were among this year’s most popular, so I decided to make two separate lists. Check out my top 10 non-Mailbag articles of 2019 tomorrow. Here are my ten most popular Mailbag blog articles from 2019:

Vaxxers, Anti-Vaxxers, and the Health of the Body

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate? It’s a tough issue to discuss these days. 


Do You Recommend Angie Smith (“Seamless”)?

Wife of Todd Smith of the Christian music group, Selah, Angie started out as a blogger, then blossomed into a Christian author and speaker. Her best known book to date is a women’s study: Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story


Potpourri (Todd Friel on Rick Warren, Enneagram, Should I stay or should I go?…)

Todd says Rick isn’t a heretic?…Sharply, yet gently, rebuking false teachers…What is an Enneagram?…Books vs. interactions…Should I leave my women’s Bible study group?


BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)

While I totally support the idea of delving deeply into the Scriptures with other women, there are a few of aspects of BSF that concern me… 


Should My Church Participate in Operation Christmas Child’s Shoebox Ministry?

Should my church participate in Operation Christmas Child? What are some other good international ministries my church could participate in instead?


Do you recommend these teachers/authors? Volume 1

Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Lisa Harper, Karen Kingsbury, Rebekah Lyons, Raechel Myers, Shauna Niequist, Jennifer Rothschild, Susie Shellenberger, Sheila Walsh, Amanda Bible Williams

(After today, I’ll be retiring this article. Thanks to Project Breakdown, I have completed updated, individual articles on each of these teachers which you may access at the Popular False Teachers and Unbiblical Trends tab at the top of this page, or by entering the teacher’s name in the search bar.)


Should Christians listen to “Reckless Love”?

Remember, everything we do should be governed by Scripture, not our opinions and preferences, or whether we happen to like a particular song or not…


Questions about the Open Letter to Beth Moore

Since the publication of the Open Letter to Beth Moore, several questions have arisen that I’d like to address…


Do you recommend these teachers/authors? Volume 3

Jill Briscoe, Lauren Chandler, Tony Evans, Rachel Hollis, Chrystal Evans Hurst, Brenda Leavenworth, Leslie Ludy, Bianca Olthoff, Wellspring Group, Jen Wilkin


Do you recommend these teachers/authors? Volume 2

Jennie Allen, Lisa Bevere, Rachel Held Evans, Heather Lindsey, Ann Graham Lotz, Kelly Minter, Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth

(Project Breakdown begins on this list next!)


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.