How Narratives Work, Part 2


, , ,

After noting the plot points in the section under consideration, we should note how this particular section of Acts 4 fits into the larger narratives.  First, this scene of Peter and John before the counsel fits into a larger section running from Acts 3:1 and ending with 4:35.

The scene in chapter 3 begins with Peter and John coming to the temple to pray. They meet a lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate. The beggar hopes to receive alms. Peter tells the man what he does not have (“silver and gold”) but he also makes an offer:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Acts 3:6 (ESV). If the close of the extended is 4:35, there is an interesting parallel concerning wealth, because 4:32-35 concerns the distribution of wealth throughout the church. If the section ends with 4:31, it closes with prayer. Acts 3 begins with the apostles going to prayer and having no wealth.

The man having been healed in the name of Jesus, a crowd gathers. Peter preaches a Gospel sermon “proved” by the power of Jesus in healing this man and the power of God in raising Jesus:

15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:15–16 (ESV).

Chapter 4 then begins with the power of the state in arresting and trying Peter and John. Luke parenthetically points to the power of the Word of God:

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Acts 4:4 (ESV). The apostles are interrogated concerning the source of the miracle: “By what power or in what name”? Whose authority is at play here?

Peter responds with a quotation from Psalm 118, that Jesus is the cornerstone.

There is then the famous response of Peter concerning God’s authority versus the authority of the state:


19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:19–20 (ESV).  Having been threatened by the powers that be, Peter and John return to the church.

The church prays: first, a praise to God for his sovereignty even persecution: Jesus was killed by wicked me which was “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27). They then pray for boldness to stand against the threats and persecution.

This section fits within the larger narrative of the primitive church’s growth and Peter’s preaching.

Finally, there is the master narrative set forth in the prologue: Luke was the “beginning” of what Jesus did and taught (Acts 1:2); and Jesus’ programmatic statement for Acts:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8. Jesus will continue to work and teach, but it will be through the power of the Holy Spirit and it will be through the witness of these disciples. The events of Acts 3 & 4 are further examples of how Jesus healed a man; how the disciples were witnesses to Jesus; and how this was done through the work of the Spirit (Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit’).

In doing this, we are still at the observation stage of our work. We note the major plot points of a section. We then note the general themes of the section and how these look compared to the larger narrative(s).

From a tiny human frame

The scene is December 21, in rural England, after midnight on a small hill, on a windy night. The novel is Far From the Maddening Crowd. It is a beautiful description of solitude – not loneliness.

But there a note of extraordinary sadness in this. Hardy was an atheist, and so could only see so far. He asks a question similar to Psalm 8. So I will present them for contrast.

Here is Hardy:

To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.


3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

What should a pastor be?


, ,

Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, an early martyr for the faith, (c. 70–c. 155), was considered a model of the faithful pastor. Since he had, according to Irenaeus, direct and personal links with eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry, his testimony concerning the qualities requisite for ministry had special importance for subsequent pastoral writers. Polycarp described the compassion needed for ministry in this letter to Christians at Smyrna:

As for the clergy, they should be persons of generous sympathies, with a wide compassion for humanity. It is their business to reclaim the wanderers, keep an eye on all who are infirm, and never neglect the widow, the orphan, or the needy. Their care at all times should be for what is honourable in the sight of God and men. Any show of ill-temper, partiality, or prejudice is to be scrupulously avoided; and eagerness for money should be a thing utterly alien to them. They must not be over ready to believe ill of anyone, nor too hasty with their censure; being well aware that we all of us owe the debt of sin. If we pray to the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves must be forgiving. (Polycarp, ECW, p. 146)

Thomas C. Oden, Becoming a Minister, Classic Pastoral Care (New York: Crossroad, 1987), 10–12.  I would draw your attention to this entire work, which is a wonderful discourse on the early church’s understanding of pastoral care.

For something more recent, I would direct your attention here:

  • Men who have an unflinching commitment to obey the Word of God, even if it brings persecution, slander, mocking, and reproach. Though humble and meek, an elder qualified man understands that the only way to love God and give Him glory is to obey the Word of God.

Read the whole thing.

How Narratives Work Part 1


, , , , ,

The language of Psalm 39, “O LORD make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Has struck me (“I am mute; I do not open my mouth”).  I know the meaning and can see the psychological and emotional relationship between fleeting days and anger — but this time through I have realized there is something much more profound there which I must sound. So while I work through that, here is another matter.

Bible teachers in my world seem to find Paul easiest to teach: his letters have structures which track in the way we are taught in school: here is a point, some rationale, implication. The elements are laid out as an argument. Diagram the sentence, make the main verb the principle point and you have a sermon outline.

But narrative suffers. I have actually heard men with significant seminary training make silly statements about hierarchies of genre, with narrative existing solely for illustration of the “clearer” letters.  I posit, that such thinking is primarily a reflection of an inadequate education, not a defect of the text.

The Bible is primarily poem and narrative. These texts are just as clear and necessary as Paul’s letters (if you don’t believe me, read Paul’s letters: he seems to find the letters and poems quite useful resources!). However, due to the inadequate education in literature, most pastors (and other teachers) simply don’t know how to handle such things.

My education is first in literature and the law (which is nothing but stories, reading stories, writing stories, telling stories: judges and juries do not believe facts, they believe stories; if I were to ask about you, you would tell me a story).

Here are some tips which I hope may help others in handling a story. I am going to take Acts 4, because I will be teaching through the text. So here are some steps.

The first step in understanding and working with a narrative section is merely to work through the plot points

ACTS 4:1-37


I.  Peter and John Before the Council

A.  The Arrest

  1. Setting

 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

  1. The Arrest

And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

  1. What happened from preaching

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

B.  Before the Council

  1. The setting

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.

  1. The question/charge

 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

  1. Peter’s Response

a.  The Spirit’s Help

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,

Initial X-ref: You will receive power. Acts 1:8 and be my witnesses (thus, how this section fits into the master narrative of Acts); and this

Luke 21:12–15 (ESV)

12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. )

b.  The Power of Jesus

i.  Jesus Healed

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,

c.  You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him (as God promised he would)

whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you,

the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Come back to this latter: Think about what an astounding thing Peter has just said: this man who you saw die a few days ago is not only alive but he actually has power over disease and if I ask him, he will heal people. As Christians, we easily move from Jesus to God (which is a legitimate move, but too easily passes over the fact to all of these people Jesus is a man. To the rulers, he is only a man. This story makes no sense if you miss that point.)

i.  You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him.

Peter quotes Psalm 118.22. This is a Psalm about persecution and deliverance by God. Peter himself will use this same verse in his first letter:

1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

                        “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,

a cornerstone chosen and precious,

                        and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

                        “The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone,”


                        “A stone of stumbling,

and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Jesus is the living corner stone of the church which is being built.

d.  The Council’s Deliberation

i.  How do they know these things?/They cannot answer them (as Jesus promised)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.

Just like Jesus, the rulers cannot understand where this wisdom and power from. However, they are right to understand that it was because they had been with Jesus

Spurgeon in Morning and Evening quotes this verse as a model for Christians (this would make a good application):

Morning, February 11 Go To Evening Reading

“And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

—Acts 4:13

A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ. You have read lives of Christ, beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is his living biography, written out in the words and actions of his people. If we were what we profess to be, and what we should be, we should be pictures of Christ; yea, such striking likenesses of him, that the world would not have to hold us up by the hour together, and say, “Well, it seems somewhat of a likeness;” but they would, when they once beheld us, exclaim, “He has been with Jesus; he has been taught of him; he is like him; he has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth, and he works it out in his life and every-day actions.” A Christian should be like Christ in his boldness. Never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you: take care you never disgrace that.

H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

 ii. Peter and John are sent out: What should we do?

15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

iii.  Peter’s response: we must obey God rather than men

18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

This is a key verse in considering what must be done when there is a conflict between living as a faithful Christian and some authority which forbids it. See Daniel 1. We must obey God even if it results in punishment

iv. Released with a threat

21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.






More from Henry Peachum, The Garden of Eloquence (1593):


Epiphora is a figure which endeth diverse members or clauses still with one and the same word.

An example: Since the tiem that concord was taken from the citie, libertie was taken away, fidelitie was taken away, friendship was taken away.

Examples of the holy Scripture: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I imagined as a child.”1.Cor.13.

Another: “Have we not prophecied in thy name? have we not cast out devils in they name? and done miracles in thy name?”Mat.

Ambition seeketh to be next to the best, after that, to be equall with the best: last, to be chiefe and above the best.


This figure is esteemed of many to be an ornament of great3 eloquence, yet it is very sparingly used in grave and severe4 causes, it serveth to leave a word of importance in the ende of a sentence, that it may the longer hold the sound in the mind of the hearer.


It appeareth by experience that this figure is not commonly used by eloquent authors, but sparingly, and as it were thinly 5 sprinkled, as all exornations are, and therefore it ought not to be too much in use, if we desire to follow the examples of the most eloquent authors.

A most masterful use of this device is seen in The Merchant of Venice. The play hangs upon a courtroom scene. Portia, disguised as a lawyer, has saved the life of  Bassanio’s friend Antonio. At the end, this mystery lawyer asks of Bassanio the little ring “This ring, good sir — alas, it is a trifle”). Portia had given the ring to Bassanio as a token of her love:

I gave my love a ring and made him swear
Never to part with it; and here he stands;
I dare be sworn for him he would not leave it
Nor pluck it from his finger, for the wealth
That the world masters

Portia (who actually has the ring), demands to know what happened to the ring:

Even so void is your false heart of truth.
By heaven, I will ne’er come in your bed
Until I see the ring.

Since the ring is the focused of the conflict (it will be resolved), Shakespeare underscores the conflict by ending each line with “the ring”. Effect underscores the meaning:

Sweet Portia,
If you did know to whom I gave the ring,
If you did know for whom I gave the ring
And would conceive for what I gave the ring
And how unwillingly I left the ring,
When nought would be accepted but the ring,
You would abate the strength of your displeasure.
If you had known the virtue of the ring,
Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,
Or your own honour to contain the ring,
You would not then have parted with the ring.
What man is there so much unreasonable,
If you had pleased to have defended it
With any terms of zeal, wanted the modesty
To urge the thing held as a ceremony?
Nerissa teaches me what to believe:
I’ll die for’t but some woman had the ring.

Grace as God’s Response to Human Rebellion

Grace, we might say, is a response, an application of God’s character and attributes, to human rebellion. Grace is that aspect of divine action by which God blesses his rebellious creatures, whether through preservation (common grace) or salvation (special grace). It characterizes the manner in which he deals with those who through their rejection of him as their Creator and sovereign deserve nothing from him and yet whom he still chooses to bless. In salvation in particular the character of grace is manifest. A loving God, faced with the rebellion of his creatures, desires to bring them back into communion with himself. Yet his holiness cannot simply allow their sin to pass without response, for if God allows our unholy rejection of him to stand, he is contradicting his own holy nature. The answer is grace: action on God’s part, motivated by love and shaped by holiness, which takes account of the seriousness of sin yet brings sinners back into communion with him.

Carl Trueman, Grace Alone

Counseling from Psalm 39, Part 2


, , ,

Continuing on with the prayer of verses 4-6. Weiser, in his comment upon this prayer, states as follows:

…in the midst of his physical and mental suffering. It is in this connection that the knowledge of the transient nature and futility of every human life and of all human effort in the sight of God is first fully brought to light. …for it is inly in that perspective which sees everything as God sees it that the only trustworthy criterion and compass for the true nature of man can be found….The most common prejudice, from which the psalmist himself did not escape, is the general tendency to overestimate one’s one importance. Man sees his relation to the reality of God in its right proportions only if that prejudice is radically eliminated — if  man sub specie aeternitatis Dei which he grasps in the light of his end of his life, comes to realize that his life and work are ‘much ado about nothing’, and has lost his rebellious self-assurance. The fact that the worshipper is so serious-minded and so courageous that he is even prepared to accept the radical result of that perspective which ruthlessly puts an end to any attempt at trying to hold on to what is only ephemeral.

Artur Weiser, The Psalms, trans. Herbert Hartwell (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 329.

Our affections, our love and hate are judgments, evaluations: when we love a thing, we think it somehow good and desirable. Our hatred sees something as dangerous, loathsome and to be avoided or destroyed. The less intense responses are the same quality though not of the same quantity.

The distress of the Psalmist thus lies in his false evaluation of the circumstance. It does not mean that the difficulty which he faces is not real. Indeed, the reality is necessary because God is using it as a means of transforming the Psalmist. The trouble is not in the objective thing itself, but in the inability to judge it rightly.

Make me know how vain all this life is! Make me know how fleeting are my days. Let me see that not only my own life, but all this great world are shadows.

We fight over things we think valuable. I knew of a case involving two homeless men fighting (to the point of extreme violence) over the “right” to comb through certain trashcans. I dare say that no one else even thought about such a “right”. But to these men, the trash was valuable. To those who walked by everyday, it was trash.

The Psalmist has been in distress because he was unable to see through his pain and circumstance. Only by seeing it as God sees it could he rightly judge the thing.

This Scripture applies this principle in a number of ways. For example, James — in a section concerning conflict — writes:

James 4:13–16 (ESV)

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Our obtaining wealth, our business is all in the hands of God: and even those efforts are fleeting, because we are mere breath. It is “arrogant” to think otherwise. In James 3:16, he has said that such “selfish ambition” is “demonic” and results in “every vile practice”. James 3:15.

Psalm 39 tells us that even if we gain such wealth, that we have been in “turmoil” “for nothing” and we do “not know who will gather”.  Solomon in Ecclesiastes speaks of the vanity of gathering wealth to leave it to another. Ecco. 2:18-19.


Counseling from Psalm 39, Part 1


, ,

Psalm 39

The Psalmist begins with self-control,

Psalm 39:1 (ESV)

I said, “I will guard my ways,

that I may not sin with my tongue;

I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,

so long as the wicked are in my presence.”

The reason is good, “that I may not sin with my tongue.”  As Spurgeon writes,

I steadily resolved and registered a determination. In his great perplexity his greatest fear was lest he should sin; and, therefore, he cast about for the most likely method for avoiding it, and he determined to be silent. It is right excellent when a man can strengthen himself in a good course by the remembrance of a well and wisely-formed resolve.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 27-57, vol. 2 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 214.  Now, perhaps this was repression as opposed to a godly determination: self-will as opposed to godly blessing when cursed; because,

Psalm 39:2–3 (ESV)

I was mute and silent;

I held my peace to no avail,

and my distress grew worse.

My heart became hot within me.

As I mused, the fire burned;

then I spoke with my tongue:

This moves the Psalmist on to a prayer which will provide the basis for his transformed affection: to learn how brief one lives:

Psalm 39:5–6 (ESV)

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,

and my lifetime is as nothing before you.

Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

Surely a man goes about as a shadow!

Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;

man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

How our responses to our circumstances do not match reality: “Surely for nothing they are in turmoil”. Our affections are judgments upon our circumstance: we think our anger justified, necessary because some tremendous has taken place. We think our lust for power meaningful, our wealth and fame: but, “man goes about as a shadow”.



A distinction between biblical counseling and an integrationist model

Those who insist on a biblical counseling methodology begin with the Scriptures. This is their basis. Their writings are filled with biblical exposition, and psychological insights are brought in only in a secondary and tentative manner. In contrast, Christian psychologists often tend to start with psychology and use Scripture to back up their views. Thus, it does not come down so much to whether or not one is committed to the final authority of Scripture in principle. Rather, it is how well and consistently one actually uses the Scriptures in counseling theory and practice. This is how Powlison ends an article titled “Which Presuppositions? Secular Psychology and the Categories of Biblical Thought.” He asks three questions: 1. Does the momentum behind a particular idea come from Scripture or psychology? 2. Is the God-ward referent in immediate evidence when discussing human behavior, motives, norms, problems, solutions and so forth? Or is psychology the moving force in a system and Scripture is employed essentially to window dress and prooftext? 3. Do the observations of psychology illustrate and apply biblical categories of thought about human life? Or is Scripture used to provide illustrations, applications and parallels to secular categories of thought? 

Developments in Biblical Counseling

J Cameron Frazer