David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

The Evangelistic Value of Electing Elders

I and my fellow elders at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church have been focusing on elder training over the past couple of months. Part of that involved preaching on 1 Timothy 3v1-7, a sermon that ended up with 10 points (not usually recommended!):

1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy

This passage is the second “faithful saying” and is introduced with the same words as the amazing statement of soteriology in 1 Tim. 1:15, emphasizing the importance of ecclesiology.

2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer

Paul uses “shepherd,” “elder,” and “bishop/overseer” interchangeably indicating that they are three different words for the one office.  To “oversee” includes observation, analysis, discernment, guiding, guarding, etc.

3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…

This is a strong desire but also a commended desire because it is not motivated by selfishness and pride but by a desire to serve Christ and His church.

4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task

It is work; it involves labor, sweat, toil, and effort. But it is noble (lit. “beautiful”) work.

5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be

Given the importance and worth of this work, there are rigorous qualifications to be imposed. It’s not “Ideally…If possible…We’d prefer…” It’s a “must.” An imperative. An uncompromising standard.

6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless

After insisting that the elder must be “above-reproach,” “blameless (lit“unassailable”) Paul moves to Christian morality in general with a strong emphasis on Spirit-given self-control or self-discipline:

  • Self controlled in sexual matters: husband of one wife
  • Self-controlled in behavior: vigilant, temperate:
  • Self-controlled in thinking: sober-minded
  • Self-controlled with money: not covetous
  • Self-controlled in the use of addictive substances: not given to much wine:
  • Self-controlled in conflict: not violent

7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach

His holy character comes out in holy service of others:

  • The elder is hospitable: warm, welcoming to others, invites people to enjoy food and fellowship in his home
  • The elder is able to teach: able to communicate appropriate information in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time

8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well

Due to parallels, a man’s home is a testing place for his role in the church. One indicates suitability for the other.

9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert

Choosing elders is a serious business with serious consequences if we get it wrong – both for the church and the person. That’s why we must avoid electing new converts or any with limited spiritual maturity.

10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

Christ Shares His Happiness With Us

Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?

  • Nature happiness: Enjoying the creation
  • Social happiness: Enjoying friends and family
  • Vocational happiness: Enjoying our jobs
  • Physical happiness: Enjoying health and strength
  • Intellectual happiness: Enjoying study and learning
  • Humor happiness: Enjoying jokes and funny stories.
  • Spiritual happiness: Enjoying God through His Word and Spirit

I recently wrote about the seven kinds of happiness God has left for us to enjoy in the world, concluding with the question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?

My answer: All of them! He’s the only one who experienced them all in perfect proportion and place.

Perhaps the one we might choke on a bit is the idea of Jesus having a sense of humor, laughing with friends and family, etc.

This really all comes down to one question: Was humor part of perfect pre-fall humanity?

If not, then not only did Jesus not experience it, neither should we. Humor is a consequence of sin, part of the post-fall world, and therefore should be shunned and avoided.

But if it was part of perfect pre-fall humanity, then there’s no reason why Jesus would not enjoy or even tell a funny story, especially in his childhood and youth. We’re on fairly safe ground there. I do question whether that would continue as he aged and matured. As He grew in knowledge of His work, as He entered upon public ministry, and especially as His sufferings increased exponentially throughout the following three years, He would increasingly become “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The Gospels reveal him to be a deeply serious man, and no wonder.

Christ’s Supreme Joy
Having said that, there’s no question that Christ’s supreme joy among the seven was spiritual joy: His delight in His Father’s will, His Father’s Word, and His father’s presence. Without totally excluding the other six kinds of happiness, that’s the joy that He was especially speaking of when He prayed to His Father: “These things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

But what specifically was the source of His happiness at that time? When we come across a happy person, a person who’s smiling, we ask them, “What’s so funny?” or “Why are you so happy?” and they’ll tell you about something that had just happened or that they’d just heard or thought about. So what was there in the run up to John 17:13 that made Jesus so happy that he spoke of “my joy”? There were multiple ingredients:

  • The joy of God’s presence – communing with God in prayer (v. 1)
  • The joy of God’s sovereignty (2)
  • The joy of God’s salvation (v. 2, 8 )
  • The joy of knowing God (v. 3)
  • The joy of glorifying God on the earth (v. 4)
  • The joy of doing God’s work (v. 4; John 4:32)
  • The joy of God’s heavenly glory (v. 5)
  • The joy of communicating God’s Word (v. 6, 8, 13, 14)
  • The joy of God being obeyed (v. 6)
  • The joy of God’s election (9, 10)
  • The joy of God’s preservation (11, 12)
  • The joy of a returning to God with the ransom price (13)

This is a multi-dimensional, super-abundant, over-flowing spiritual happiness that Jesus identified in Himself, and was enjoying so much that He looked at His disciples and prayed, “Father, give them this too. Transfer my joy to them. Share my happiness with them.”

And perhaps even more amazingly, this is a prayer Jesus is still praying for His people. Every Christian’s every smile, joy, and pleasure, is an answer to this prayer. Every Christian who is dejected and depressed is being prayed for in this way by their great High Priest.

As Arthur Pink wrote: “The Savior would not only have His people safe in eternity, but He desires them to be happy here and now.”

More New Student Tips: Memorization

Few students are taught how to memorize, usually resulting in lots of inefficient and ineffective trial-and-error methods. Although schools and colleges have moved away from the imbalanced emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating huge chunks of information (with a better focus on demonstrating understanding) many subjects still require an ability to memorize, especially for tests and exams.

Some of the following tips are based on research and some on my own experience of learning and teaching.

1. Go to lectures

One of the benefits of being present at lectures is that the material not only goes in the eye-gate but also in the ear-gate. Reading the material is good, but hearing the material is even better. It would be really easy for many teachers just to pass out their notes and say “Go read!” But educators have found that most students understand and retain knowledge better when it is heard as well as read. There’s something about the physical presence and audible voice of a teacher that make the information stick better than just reading.

2. Take notes

Sharing notes seems to be a highly efficient method of study. However, taking your own notes has been demonstrated to lay the information down better in the brain. In fact, writing them by hand rather than typing them on a laptop activates even more regions of the brain and fosters better recall.

3. Single-task

Yes, believe it or not, you will learn more and better by focusing on the lecture alone. This study examined the impact of multi-tasking with digital technologies while attempting to learn from real-time classroom lectures in a university setting.

Participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology. Consistent with the cognitive bottleneck theory of attention (Welford, 1967) and contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

4. Outline

You cannot memorize globs of undifferentiated data. Your brain will rebel or explode. If you want to love your brain and your brain to love you, you need to organize and outline your lecture notes and any notes on assigned reading. I’ve written more about the how of note-taking here. When outlining, make a huge effort to make your structure and content as logical as possible. Your brain finds it far easier to remember the logical than the illogical!

5. Summarize and simplify

You will remember more if you write it in your own words, if you reduce the number of words, and if you use simple words. That’s why, when you are putting your notes in outline form, you should do the intense mental labor of summarizing as much as possible and simplifying as much as possible. You can’t remember everything, and you’ll forget everything if you try. Better to memorize less but memorize it well. You’ll be amazed at how much a well-memorized summary outline will trigger memory of the material not in your summary.

6. Color your notes

Given a choice between memorizing simply black text on white paper compared to color-highlighted text, the brain will choose the latter any day. A well-highlighted page looks more like a picture to the brain, something like a map, which leaves a deeper and longer impression on the mind.

7. Use mnemonics

A mnemonic is a strategy or technique to improve memory. It translates information into a form that the brain finds easier to remember. If that’s still double dutch to you, here are a few samples to get you started. Using mnemonics  can be tough work at first, but the brain is like a muscle in some ways, the more you push it, the stronger it gets. The mental “lifting” that you used to find impossible gradually gets easier with practice and of course the ability transfers to other subjects too.

8. Little and often

Short and frequent is better than long and rare. It is better to study your four or five subjects every day for shorter times than to study one subject each day for the full day. By the time you go back to what you studied four or five days previously, most of what you learned will have gone.

When I ask struggling Hebrew students about their study habits, they will usually say, “Well, I study 2-3 hours every day. The first thing I tell them to do is to shorten their study time. Once they’ve started breathing again, I explain the strategy using the following diagram:

Study-habits 1

7-8am: Study the subject first thing in the morning for 45-60 minutes maximum. As soon as you end that period, your mind immediately starts losing data at a frighteningly rapid rate. Imagine where this graph ends up by the end of the day (feel familiar?)

11am: Re-study the same material again, although this time it should only take you 20-30 minutes. Notice that the knowledge level is higher than the the first period (and reached faster), and that the data loss rate has a shallower gradient (it takes longer to forget what you’ve learned).

4pm: Re-study same material again, this time for 10-15 minutes. Knowledge peak is even higher and gradient of loss even shallower. (In between these study times, you can be studying other subjects using the same method.)

9pm: Just before bed, review the material one more time for about 5-10 mins. Note peak and gradient (appealing, isn’t it!).  Compare where you are now with where you would be if you only studied the subject for one long period. Where would that red line be?

And if you want to seal it for good, do a quick 5-minute review first thing the next morning before studying new material. That will really set the mental concrete.

9. Test yourself

It’s easy to think we’ve memorized something…until we get into the exam room and it’s gone. That’s why you should test your recall beforehand, perhaps using flashcards or getting someone to test you. Forcing yourself to recall something itself improves your memory of it. Speaking answers out loud also secures the data better in your mind.

10. Feed and rest your brain

This Wall Street Journal article cited evidence showing that students who ate a regular balanced diet that included fruit and veg did better than those who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet that was heavy on meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. The brain requires a constant supply of energy and “has only a limited backup battery.”

The same piece also recommended that students don’t wake up earlier than usual to study as this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. All-nighters impair memory and reasoning for up to 4 days.

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management

Books

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students

God's Idea of a Happy Meal

When you eat of the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

 (Psalm 128:2)

Here is God’s idea of a happy meal and it’s a much healthier happiness than the usual box of carbs and sugar. Although it doesn’t include a plastic pink mermaid, it has much deeper and longer-lasting pleasures. So what makes such plain fare taste so good?

God has given work: The godly woman sits down at the meal table and thanks God for occupying her hands, for giving her work, and the ability to do it.

God has given work that pays: The working man rejoices that he is not a slave and that his daily labor results in daily pay.

God has given food to purchase: What use is money if the store shelves are empty? The believer knows there are places where shortages are common and therefore sees rows of varied breads as the gift of God.

God has given efficient means to cook it: He doesn’t need to hunt for wood, start a fire, and wait for hours. He turns on the electricity or pops something into the microwave and a few beeps later, a tasty meal is ready.

God has given the appetite for it: Anyone who’s spent even a few days without an appetite will tell you what a misery it is. You have to eat but you can’t eat. The godly woman therefore rejoices for every hunger-pang.

God has given a body that can process and use it: When you pop a potato in your mouth, multiple internal factories start whirring to receive and process the food for the good of our body.

God strengthens for the next day of labor: ”It shall be well with you.” Future tense because food not only refreshes from the toils of today but strengthens for tomorrow’s tasks too.

God gives good company: Have a read of the whole Psalm to appreciate the domestic harmony at this dinner table. No home alone for this man. His table is adorned with a loving wife and lively children.

God gives a taste of heaven: As heaven is often portrayed as banquet, every happy meal is a little foretaste of a happy heaven, with the whole person being satisfied and nourished. That’s a happy meal that will never end,

God gives all this to the undeserving: Knowing that all he deserves is eternal hunger and eternal thirst in eternal misery in eternal hell, the Christian tastes mercy in every morsel, grace in every glass, happiness in every hoagie. He tastes and sees that God is good, who trusts in Him is blessed.

When you eat of the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

 (Psalm 128:2)

About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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