Field Full of Boulders

I listened to a sermon by Doug Wilson a week or so ago in which he said,

Often we rebuke not the ones who need it, but the ones who will take it.

I’d like to work that soil a bit and talk about why we do that.

Rebuke is a strong word, and not every situation requires it. With that said, situations that call for rebuke usually are not the ideal teachable moments where the other person is listening and wants to do better. When rebuke is necessary it probably means that the other person isn’t thinking or listening or responding to gentler measures. Who wants to step into that? Who wants to plow a field full of boulders?

So instead, we search for softer fields. We aim our rebukes at those who don’t need to be rebuked, but at least we will feel like we accomplished something. Rebuke isn’t always necessary when the other person is already listening, already sensitive. But that’s the person who will feel our blow and, not only will they learn how wrong they are, they will also learn how much more we love righteousness than they do. What a large pile of dirt we can show after digging where the soil was already turned over.

Why not just remain quiet? Say you’re not strong enough to rebuke the hard case, why lay into the weaker one? Not everyone does, some are always quiet and occasionally that’s wise and not a compromise. But why do some go for the scold? Because at least that keeps the attention on someone else. Recrimination and credentialism are defensive techniques to avoid confessing sin ourselves. Rebuking those who don’t need it is an offensive move, but still deflection. We think it keeps people from seeing our own field full of boulders.

Right on Track

Our regular time around the Lord’s table supports and buttresses the gospel (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). As a church, our celebration of this ordinance declares and defends the truth.

When we eat here we make a statement that sin is our problem and that the wages of sin is death. We recall a crucified body and shed blood, the cost of our rebellion. Examination of our hearts and confession of our sin brings us to the cross, confronted by the gospel.

When we eat here we also remember that by one man’s sacrifice all those who believe are saved. That’s the good news! By His death and resurrection we–and whosoever believes–have eternal life. We can be brought to God, restored to communion with Him. The cross brings us to God, saved by the gospel.

And, when we eat here we remember that this supper is a shared one, that we come as a family, as the household of God to share this meal. We are united with each other, and our diversity with unity says to the world that the gospel is right on track. The truth of the cross brings us together, united by the gospel.

Insulation Techniques

We construct elaborate but rickety structures to shield ourselves from confession. One of the most popular insulation techniques is recrimination, accusing the other person of what the other person accused us of. It’s ugly business and, even though countercharging doesn’t make sin disappear, it at least leads to weeks or months in the appeals system before a verdict is made. Who knows, maybe the initial allegation will even get dropped because, really, who has the time and resources to endure the litigation?

Another useful technique to dodge confession we might call credentialism, asking the other person what gives them the right to confront us or call us to repent. In this game, the parent card trumps the kid card, the shepherd card trumps the sheep card and, sadly, there is no joker for those who claim the upper hand. Arguing that authority is infallible by definition is a logical fallacy. But even when it doesn’t work, at least we can waste time forming a committee to investigate who’s responsible and we might forget about the original sin after a while.

Here’s the thing: the other person might be guilty of what they’re accusing us of. Perhaps that’s why they can see our sin so accurately; they know exactly what they’re looking at. Also, the other person may not actually have authority over us, but they see what the underneath of our authority looks like in a way we hadn’t considered from the top. Either way, the question is: are we sinning?

Blowing smoke in the face of others doesn’t put out the fire. There are all sorts of ways we can distance ourselves from and argue ourselves out of confession. As we do so, we also distance ourselves from forgiveness and fellowship with Christ and with each other.

10 Things an Effective Minister Must Remember

10 Things an Effective Minister Must Remember

Brief and pointed post by Doug Wilson on the perspective and practices of effective pastors. These two stuck out to me, as they seem particularly absent from men who fancy their authority more than their Authority.

2. Acknowledge your sins to God, and do what He says to do about them.

8. Surround yourself with men who respect you, not men who cater to you.

A Trinitarian Table

The Lord’s table is a communal meal. At His table we commune with Christ: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). At this table we commune with each other: “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (v.17). At this meal we share Trinitarian fellowship, it’s a Trinitarian table.

We eat and drink with many who are different than us, significantly so. We are male and female, rich and less rich, those educated by books and those educated by life, employers, employees, and unemployed, old and young. But we are one one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). When we come together to eat, we wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33). At this table we look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Around this table we celebrate Trinitarian differences without division.

The Lord’s table has also been called a love feast (Jude 12). We sit down at this table and tell the story of the Father who sent His Son, the Son who laid down His life, and the Spirit who causes men to be born again to a living hope. We tell a Trinitarian story, a story where eternal love spills onto us and is shed abroad in our hearts. As we eat and drink these symbols of the cost of His love, we are strengthened to love the others around the table.

We who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, eat and drink with thanks.

Portions of Grace

Do you remember the story of Elijah, the widow, and the container of oil that never ran out? In the midst of a severe drought, with the prophet and her own son to care for, we can all imagine how cautious the widow must have felt making cakes day after day. But, according to the word of the Lord, the household ate for many days, the jar of flour was never spent and the jug of oil never emptied. How did that happen? It was a supernatural work of God.

The Christian life is also supernatural. It should not be explainable except for God’s work in us. According to Philippians 2, we’re to give ourselves for others, to treat them as more important than ourselves, and to see Christ as our model for humility such as this. That sort of a serving life is supernatural.

I’d like to knead that dough a little more. I think it’s a common experience for us to be very cautious with the portions of grace we give to others. We know that we’re supposed to give it, so we’re careful to position ourselves on the giving side of the line. But we also try to stay as close to the line as possible for fear that our bottle might run dry. Sure. We all understand that. That’s natural.

The problem is that we’re supposed to be supernatural, and being on the opposite side of the stingy line is not necessarily supernatural generosity.

As we angle to guard our flour and hoard our oil, we reflect a God who is not grace-full. We have received from His fulness, a fulness that is never spent and grace that is never emptied. Serving is better than no serving but, according to the word of the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, He fills us for much more than panicky, self-protective, bottom of the barrel serving.

Not Just in December

Paul commanded the Philippian Christians:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

These simple imperatives often feel impossible and, based on our struggle to remember them, let alone obey them, our practice seems to support how impossible they are. And, actually, they are impossible apart from Christ.

I want to point out that these commands are not simply what God requires us to do, they represent who He is. In other words, humble, glad, others-oriented service communicates God’s own character. How do we know that? We look at Jesus in whom the fulness of deity dwells (Colossians 2:9). We would be less proud, bitter, self-centered, and expectant of others serving us if we dwelt on the incarnation not just in December.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)

Jesus did that for sinners. He did it because true joy and true glory gush out for others like a fountain can’t help but get the ground around it wet.

Our lack of grace to others cannot be fixed with tighter rules or frequent reminders or whipping ourselves into a guilt-frenzy because we blew it again. If we want to show more grace, then we must worship God more, in particular, we must worship the Word made flesh.

Theology to Justify Rebellion

There are at least two corrupt ways to witness about Christ to others that we must confess. The first sinful approach is thinking that witnessing depends on us. The second sinful attitude is thinking that witnessing doesn’t depend on us. Stated as such, we’re always in sin; so is there a way out after we confess?

It is sinfully proud to think that our timing, our tone, our terms make the difference in evangelism. Spiritual darkness and deadness are spiritual conditions that only God’s Spirit’s can overcome. God causes men to be born again, and we can no more make someone a child of God than a doctor can make a baby have life. God is not impressed when we act like we can do His job.1

Likewise, it is sinfully proud to think that we have no responsibility whatsoever in evangelism. This pride masquerades as humility, but this modesty poorly masks disobedience to God who commands His people to make disciples, to proclaim the gospel, to defend the eternal hope within them. God is not impressed when we use theology to justify our rebellion.2

Pride may open our mouths or keep them shut, but it must be confessed as sin either way. So how can we witness and not sin? How can we be bold without getting big heads? By believing Him.3

Belief is the problem in both. In the first case, belief is misdirected, put in a place He didn’t say to put it. In the second case, belief is partial, not held in all the ways He did say to hold it. As we call men to believe, we need to be examples of believers even in what we believe about our place and God’s place in calling them to believe.


  1. Pelagian and semi-Pelagian/Arminian evangelizers should confess their sin.
  2. Hyper-Calvinist non-evangelizers should confess their sin.
  3. There is only one other soteriological paradigm for evangelism that honors God’s sovereignty and man’s responsbility.