Do you remember greater than and less than problems in math? You remember how it goes. Four is greater than two. Two plus two is greater than three. Three times three is greater than four times two. Throughout the gospels we have the concept of greater than/less than. Sadly, some really struggled with it. They repeatedly saw Moses, Abraham, Jacob, and others as greater than Jesus. You might say that they were really bad at math. However, John the Baptist got it. He declared, “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31). Above all is another way of saying greater than. John understood that when Jesus was on one side of the equation and some other man was on the other side of the equation, Jesus was always greater. First, John realized this about himself. He knew that the bridegroom (Jesus) was greater than the best man (him - John 3:29). He knew that Christ must increase and he must decrease (John 3:30). He knew that he wasn’t worthy to remove Jesus’ shoes (Mat. 3:11). John was a great man, the greatest prophet until that time (Mat. 11:11), but he got it. Let’s make sure that we do too. Let’s make some comparisons:
Jesus Was A Greater Provider Than Jacob: The Samaritan woman asked, “Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:12). Jaco was a great provider. He dug a lot of wells, including the one where they were talking. It has blessed people for thousands of years. However, Jesus was a greater provider. He could provide water that would quench man’s thirst forever. We read, “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14; cf. 6:35).
Jesus Was A Greater Friend Than Abraham: The Pharisees asked, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). They clearly thought that Abraham was greater than Jesus. Abraham didn’t agree with them. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). He saw the ram caught in the thicket that was provided by God and that took the place of his son (Gen. 22:13-14). Abraham was a great man -a great friend. As you recall, he was called the friend of God for his obedience (Jam. 2:23). He offered his only son. However, Jesus is a greater friend, he offered Himself (Heb. 9:14).
Jesus Was A Greater Lawgiver Than Moses: The Jews certainly thought a lot of Moses. They chose to be his disciples, rather than Jesus’ disciples. Consider their answer when the blind man who had been healed asked them if they wanted to also be Jesus’ disciples. “Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples” (John 9:28). Moses was a great man - a great lawgiver. He went up into the mount and came down with the commands carved in stone (Exod. 20). However, Jesus was a greater lawgiver and gave a greater law(Heb. 3:1-6; 7:22; 8:6; 12:24).
Jesus Was A Greater Preacher Than Jonah: The Jews esteemed the prophets, even though their fathers killed them. They were certain that if they had been back there, they wouldn’t have done so. No doubt, they also thought that the prophets were greater than Jesus. However, they weren’t. Jesus declared, “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Mat. 12:41). Jonah was a great preacher. With a short message he brought a bloody city to repentance (Jon. 3:1-10). Jesus was greater. For one thing, he spoke with greater love (Mt. 23:37; Lk. 23:34). Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed and pouted when they weren’t (Jon. 4:1-4). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10).
Jesus Was A Greater Sage Than Solomon: Every Jew knew of Solomon’s wisdom. It was legendary. Yet, Jesus was greater than him. Jesus declared, “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Mat. 12:42). Solomon was given great wisdom (1 Kings 3). He could answer hard questions (1 Kings 10:1-7). However, Jesus could tell men everything they had done (John 4:29) and what they were going to do (Mat. 26:34).
Jesus Was A Greater King Than David: David was a hero of the Jews. He seemingly could do no wrong. Jesus disciples couldn’t pick a sheaf of wheat as they walked, without drawing criticism, but David could eat the shewbread without judgment (Mat. 12:1-8). David conquered enemy after enemy. He slew Goliath. Yet, even he acknowledged that Jesus was greater. Jesus was His lord (Mt. 22:41-46: Acts 2:29-36). Of course, Jesus conquered the greatest enemy of all - Satan (Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16).
Perhaps, the greatest thought of all is that the one who is greater than all of these is in you and me. John wrote, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 4:4-5; cf. 3:20).
A New Year, A New Appreciation
As a new year dawns, we should thank God for allowing us to live on the earth at this time. We truly are a blessed people. Please consider three new things for which we should be especially thankful.
The New Covenant
God promised a new covenant through Jeremiah. We read, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). We are blessed to be living under this new covenant. It was purchased with better blood and contains better promises (Heb. 8:6; cf. 7:19, 22).
The New Birth
Jesus told Nicodemus about a new birth. We read, “Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3-8). We are blessed to be able to be born again or anew. We have the opportunity to have our sins taken away and to walk in newness of life. We read, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). We have the opportunity to be a new creation. Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). In baptism, the old man is put off and the new man is put on. Again, Paul wrote, “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:20-24).
The New Heavens and the New Earth
When Jesus was about to leave the earth, He spoke of going to prepare a place for us. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Peter later spoke of this new dwelling place as the new heavens and the new earth. We read, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
A new year should bring a new appreciation for the blessings that we enjoy as Christians today. Let’s thank God for the new covenant, the new birth, and the new heavens and the new earth.
Twenty-Two Things To Do As This Year Ends And Another Begins
One, Forget The Things That Are Behind. Two, Reach For The Things That Are Before - “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Three, Lay Aside Every Weight. Four, Run The Race With Patience. Five, Focus On Jesus - “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
Six, Set Affections On Things Above - “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2).
Seven, Rejoice. Eight, Pray. Nine, Give Thanks - “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Ten, Test Everything. Eleven, Hold Fast To What Is Good. Twelve, Abstain From All Evil - “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
Thirteen, Draw Near To God. Fourteen, Hold Fast The Confession - “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:22-23).
Fifteen, Flee Unrighteousness, Pursue Righteousness, And Fight The Good Fight Of Faith - “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
Sixteen, Give Attention To Reading, To Exhortation, And To Doctrine - “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:13-16).
Seventeen, Overcome Evil With Good - “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12: 17-21).
Eighteen, Put Away Anger And Bitterness. Nineteen, Be Kind. Twenty, Forgive - “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32).
Twenty-one, Be Strong In The Lord - “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”(Eph. 6:10-17).
Twenty-two, Walk By Faith - “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
The Work of the Church
The Lord’s church was planned before the world was ever created (Eph. 3:10-11) and then Christ came and purchased and established His church in the first century (Acts 20:28). Man certainly has a lot of ideas about the church—what it is, what its purpose is, what its work should be, etc. In many instances, churches have become major businesses or even country clubs or entertainment venues. What does the Bible say is the work of the Lord’s church?
First and foremost, the work of the church is to evangelize the lost world. The church has no greater purpose than this. This was the work that Jesus focused Himself upon during His lifetime (Luke 19:10; Matt. 20:28), and it is the work that He gave to His followers (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). While this work can be done collectively as a congregation, each member of each congregation is individually responsible for taking the saving power of the gospel to the lost souls around them (2 Tim. 2:2; Rom. 1:14-16; 1 Cor. 9:16). Every endeavor of the church must focus on evangelism.
Second, the work of the church is to edify members of the church. So, first, the church must look without, to those who are lost, and strive to teach them and bring them into the church. Then, the church must look within, to build up those who are members of the church (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). There are those who are weak (Rom. 15:1), struggling (1 Thess. 5:14), in leadership (1 Thess. 5:12-13), dealing with loss (Jas. 1:27), young (Tit. 2:1-8), young in the faith (1 Pet. 2:2-3), etc. Of course, every member needs to be encouraged and built up, whether they fit in a certain category or not. Again, a congregation can edify collectively through events, but it is also an individual Christian’s responsibility.
Third, the work of the church is to extend benevolence to those in need. Remember that the first work of the church is to teach and save lost souls, so every effort of the church (including every benevolent effort of the church) should focus on helping people get to heaven. While there is a responsibility to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10) and to “do good to all” (6:10), God gives attention “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10) and to widows and orphans (Jas. 1:27). Obviously, the church cannot help everyone with every financial problem and the church is not an open bank with free money for all—the church must use prudence and wisdom in helping others. As with every work of the congregation, each member has an individual responsibility in this regard (Eph. 4:28).
The Lord established His church and gave clear work for her to do. Let us busy ourselves in these areas of His work!
Using the Word “Pastor” in the Way the Bible Uses It
It is very common in religious circles to refer to certain men as “pastors.” Denominational groups usually have someone known as “the pastor of the church.” Recent news articles talk about what some “youth pastor” did. Some religious schools have a spiritual guidance counselor on campus and they might refer to that person as “Pastor” so-and-so.
So what is a “pastor”? If we rely on modern usage of the term, various dictionaries define “pastor” as “a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation” or “the leader of a Christian congregation.” Note carefully the understanding of that term today: the pastor is “the leader” (definite article) of the church and is “in charge” of the congregation. But how does the Bible use that word?
The Greek word for “pastor” is poimen. The term is found frequently in the New Testament and is only once translated “pastors” (Eph. 4:11). Every other occurrence of the word is translated “shepherd.” By definition of the Biblical word, a pastor is a shepherd. Now, who does the Bible identify as the pastors or the shepherds of the church?
The verb form of the word for “pastor” is poimaino, and that word is used in two key instances in the New Testament to identify who a pastor is. Look at Acts 20:28 and First Peter 5:2 carefully. Both passages identify the WORK that is to be taken by certain men—they are to “shepherd the flock of God.” Both passages identify the POSITION of these men—they are “overseers.” Both passages are addressed to “elders” (Acts 20:17; 1 Pet. 5:1). What does that indicate?
In God’s organizational structure for His church, He designed the church to have no human authority or organization above the local congregation. Each local congregation is to be overseen by a plurality (always a plurality!) of qualified men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9), called elders/presbyters (same Greek word), overseers/bishops (same Greek word) or pastors/shepherds (same Greek word). The plural emphasizes that no one man can exercise oversight over a congregation—there must be more than one elder/overseer/pastor in each congregation. Thus, the oversight and authority within a congregation is not in “an elder” (or “pastor”) but in the “eldership.” No elder (or pastor) is above another.
The preacher is not by definition, then, a “pastor.” He is not “the leader” “in charge” of the church. He is one of the members (sheep) of the congregation and is subject to the eldership (like all members, including the elders). He is not on a level “above” anyone else or to be “revered” as such (cf. Psa. 111:9); thus, there is no special title (ex: Pastor, Reverend, Father) for him to wear or to be called (Matt. 23:5-12).