“Light Bulb!”

The year the ESV Study Bible was published, I did not know who Tullian Tchividjian was. I saw his video introduction to Crossway’s new study Bible in the kiosk at the local Christian bookstore in Saskatoon and thought, “Who is that guy? And how many consonants are in the name, ‘Tullian Tchividjian’?” But since then, having jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon, I have been appreciating his tweets (@PastorTullian) and have also found myself often edified by his blog, “On Earth as it is in Heaven” at the Gospel Coalition.

This past Saturday, Pastor Tullian published an article to his blog entitled, “The Ongoing Need for the Gospel,” featuring a quotation from Tim Keller commenting on Colossians 1:6. Tullian’s point, gratefully derived from Keller, is that no matter how long we have been Christians, our need for the Gospel–the actual hearing and reading of the good news of what Christ has done for us in His life, death and resurrection—is never diminished. It is the fertilizer which the Spirit of God employs when He quickens our dead spirits to eternal life through faith in Christ; it is the food with which the Spirit endows us as we meditate on the Bible He inspired and which causes our growth in maturity, sanctification and fruitfulness.

One sentence by Keller, in that article, caught my attention in particular: “Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth.” Wait a minute… I can hear the objections already. “All?” Once during an informal pastor’s performance evaluation, when it was reported that my preaching was sharply criticized by some as being a perversion of Scripture and by others as simply being too hard to understand, the chairman of the church board asked me why I thought these particular people felt that way. My response seemed to add fuel to the fire: I said something to the effect that in general, because I knew of some relatively uneducated people who managed to come away with something beneficial from my sermons, the problem wasn’t merely that I tended to overcomplicate my points (a fair criticism), but also that some hearers lacked spiritual maturity. Apparently this was the wrong thing to say. But here’s the text of the verse Tim Keller was commenting on in the quote on Pastor Tullian’s blog:

" All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth." (Col 1:6 NIV)

The reason Keller says understanding of ALL the truth of God’s grace is necessary for the Gospel to do its work in us is that the Greek word for "understand" in Colossians 1:6 is epiginosko, which means, "to fully know". This is why people who refuse to study the Scripture, to dig deeper, who fall asleep during sermons, put no effort into preparing for their weekly small group Bible studies and rarely brush off their Bibles; these sorts of people do not grow spiritually. They remain immature Christians, bearing little fruit. That is, there is little evidence that they are born again.

I suppose it was sinful human nature at work in me when I bristled at some of the criticisms fired my way at that once-upon-a-time evaluation. After all, though some of the sting was helpful in the long-run and there were many things God had even then already begun to teach me through tough feedback, some darts were not motivated by love and some other revealed more about the critic than they did about me. However, as the preacher said this morning at the church we attended, meditation on God’s Word always brings correction. And correction is painful. Contemplating Colossians 1:6, sitting under the uber-competent teaching of Tullian Tchividjian and Tim Keller, simultaneously through Tullian’s blog, I had an, “Aha!” moment. The kind that Gru, in Despicable Me, would describe as, “Light bulb!” And it stung. Maybe some congregations which complain about their pastors do their pastors a great disservice. But the congregation I had did me a great service through their complaining. Perhaps the greatest service of all the benefit they were to me. Because I learned that a spiritually immature pastor is not justified in pointing the finger back at a spiritually immature congregation.

There are days when the only good adjective to describe my spiritual condition is “immature”. I don’t even want to think about how many days in my life actually are marked by spiritual regress instead of progress toward the goal of Christ-likeness. May God help me to make these few and far between. And may God quicken in my soul the appetite for His Word suitable to the new birth that happened to me when I became His child. I appreciated the reminder from Pastor Mark Buchanan this morning, during the song time, that we often have to talk to ourselves, urging ourselves to spend time in the Bible, especially when we don’t feel like it. Colossians 1:6 holds Divine promise that if we persist in plumbing the depths of Christ’s Gospel every day, it will bear fruit every day. Amen.


  1. Nice post, Joe. Irregardless of the source or motivation of criticism, God still uses it to either commend or rebuke us. That you would have the humility and desire to listen (even as you bristled) says something of sanctification and progress in your maturity – and as I trail you here, these kinds of reflections can't help but make you more effective in your teaching and preaching as you consider those like me who often hear you with half closed ears and dull hearts.


Comments are closed.