Summary: God offers every Christian the privilege of partnering in the advancement of the Gospel.
In our church structure, when we give a man authority to preach and lead a congregation we ordain him as a “minister of the Gospel of Christ.” Though I appreciate the honor of that title, I think God offers every Christian the privilege of sharing in this work; I do not believe gospel ministry is limited to pastors; the Christians in Philippi partnered with Paul “in the Gospel.” Let’s look at that text and think together about how we might do the same.
[Read Philippians 1.3-5. Pray.]
When I pastored in Nebraska, the elders studied the Bible for months before switching from grape juice to wine for communion. When we did, some members were concerned for the “recovering alcoholics.” After all, AA had “proven” that their only hope was never to drink alcohol. Is that true? As a servant of the Gospel of Jesus, am I limited to this counsel: “You recovering alcoholics must never allow wine to pass your lips”? For 1900 years the church only served wine at the Lord’s Supper; was this critical truth left to our century to discover? Or is there some uniquely Gospel answer for “alcoholics”?
Dr. Ed Welch teaches Counseling at Westminster Seminary. His book on addictions describes Jim, who “had been sober for a year—an amazing feat for someone who had been drunk about half of his forty-five years.” But when Welch met Jim for lunch to celebrate, something was clearly bothering him: “I am getting angry at God for giving me this problem with alcohol. Most people in the world don’t have to struggle to stay away from the next drink every day of their lives. But I do. It’s just not fair.” Jim went on to say that he was losing interest in his church because it just wasn’t speaking to his needs. He found his help and companionship in daily AA meetings.
Does the Gospel speak to one angry with God? Does it address Jim’s thinking about what is fair and how to judge his church? Does it offer anything to the “dry drunk,” one who no longer escapes through a bottle, but whose core beliefs and commitments have not changed? Does the Gospel delve deeper than sobriety? (Quotes and paraphrases from Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, 3-10).
What about those who feel empty—the man who uses pornography or the woman who fantasizes about romance – does the Gospel say anything to aching hearts other than, “Don’t do that”?
Or to the woman furious after the pastor preached on gossip? She complained that he missed the whole point: “My problem is that I need relationship; I am lonely.” Does the Gospel heal her problem?
What about the Darnell, who has the new disease, the Adonis Complex, a compulsive desire for a massively muscular body, sculpted to a superhuman physique. His psychologist told him that he has: 1) a genetic predisposition to obsessive-compulsive disorder, 2) fueled by social pressures for a perfect body, and 3) low-self-esteem from poor parenting. Darnell was offered a four-step solution: First, cognitive-behavior therapy assures Darnell that his thoughts are unrealistic and that he really is good looking; second, lifestyle changes are necessary, such as removing mirrors from his bedroom and working out when old, fat men frequent the gym; third, prescription Paxil treats the chemical imbalance in Darnell’s brain; and fourth, re-education trains Darnell and his friends about what is a desirable physique. (Excerpts from The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2004, 42-58.)
Is that how the Apostle would counsel? Obviously, Darnell needs God, but simply saying, “Invite Jesus into your life” will probably not help. Is there a Gospel solution?
Or for the lady Dr. Paul Tripp counseled? He explains that Linda had been “married for many years to a person who, very honestly, I would have to say was a bad man. He was angry, controlling, and manipulative. He regularly said and did hurtful things. She, meanwhile, had dreamed of the ultimate husband and had gotten so embittered by the blessing of other women in her church that she said she could no longer go to worship. She felt as if God had forsaken her, so much so that she could not read her Bible or pray.” The husband refused counseling. Is there gospel hope? (War of Words, 97).
I cannot solve these problems this morning; we would not have time to address even one sufficiently. I tell you these stories to expose a deeper issue. It appears to me that we often do not know how to apply the Gospel to practical problems. When we try, people hear us say, “Just invite Jesus into your heart,” even though we know that simplistic answers do not make our problems all better. As a result, Christians end up sounding more like pop-psychologists than physicians of the soul. So I thought these real-life stories might make us aware that we must learn to apply the gospel to real-life problems.