Tag Archives: Tim Keller

Tweeting as @DailyKeller, Painting as Tim Clark

Editors’ note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC’s Every Square Inch.

Tim Clark, 35, is a house painter in Greenville, South Carolina, where he lives with his family and tweets as @DailyKeller with about 145,000 followers.

How did you become a house painter?

Tim Clark and Tim Keller
Tim Clark and Tim Keller

I never planned on painting houses as a career. I started doing it in college in order to pay for school. When I graduated, though, I was married, and we had a fair amount of debt. So I needed a job. Although my degree was in health, fitness, and recreation, painting houses paid better than the jobs I could find in my major.

For a long time, especially when we were paying down our debt, I hated my job. All I could think about was how expensive college was and how many financial mistakes we made when we were first married. Those dark days were full of accusation: “You’re never going to be debt-free. You’ve made too many bad decisions.”

Did something happen that changed your perspective?

Yes and no. My heart changed, but my circumstances didn’t. Through John Piper’s ministry, I discovered what I was missing—the pursuit of joy. Then I downloaded Tim Keller’s talk from the 2006 Desiring God conference. I probably replayed that message 20 times. The real turning point, though, came when I listened to The Reason for God. (One perk of painting houses is getting to hear sermons and audiobooks on the job.) It helped me to see God’s grace in my work. I discovered that my job is a gift, not a punishment. I started seeing how my work mirrors God’s work. In house painting, we spend most of our time preparing surfaces—filling in cracks and holes. We can’t even think about putting paint on anything until the surfaces are made smooth and clean.

Can you tell me about a time when you really loved your job?

One of our clients loved the fact that my boss and a few of the guys on our crew were into hunting and fishing. So he threw us a big fish fry with an all-you-can-eat buffet. This was special because house painting really isn’t about relationships. Clients usually want us to come in and get out as quickly as possible because we’re invasive. We have to create a giant mess before we can eventually make a house look beautiful. Very few of them get to know us. We go unrecognized and unseen most of the time. Also, sometimes they assume we’re not intelligent since we’re blue-collar workers. That’s why this client was so unique. He saw us as people, not just painters.

What type of work do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t painting houses?

My heart is drawn to mercy ministries. I would love to be doing something full-time that’s focused on helping the poor and marginalized. What’s hard for me, as a full-time painter, is that most volunteer opportunities happen during work hours. I also want to be writing. Again, though, it’s hard to find time for that because I have a full-time job. I don’t think I’ll be a house painter for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure what I’ll be. I’m not worried about it. I know God has a plan. This year, we got out of debt. So I feel more freedom and see more opportunities than ever before.

When TGCvocations interviewed Max McLean, he said that the first step in adapting a book to a stage is finding the “narrative through line” that connects seemingly disconnected stories into one theme. As you think about your various activities—from tweeting to painting—can you find a “narrative through line” in your life?

When I first joined Twitter, I found that I really enjoyed the accounts that gave encouraging words. It’s amazing how much power is in 140 characters. Since Tim Keller was the pastor who most encouraged me and since he wasn’t on Twitter, I started @DailyKeller to encourage others. It wasn’t about me. In fact, it wasn’t even about Tim. It was about God. Last year, when I finally met Tim, I said, “You made Jesus beautiful to me.” He replied, “That’s the point.” That’s what I want @DailyKeller to be about. And that’s what I want my painting to be about. I’m a beautician, taking broken things and making them beautiful. I guess beauty is my “narrative through line.”

What Good Is God?

In his New York Times bestseller Good Without God, Greg Epstein points out a fascinating statistic: “Even if we exclude the approximately half of non-religious people who say they believe in some form of ‘spirit’ . . . there are still more than half a billion people in the world who live without belief in God.”

Good Without GodImpressive, but not surprising. Particularly in modern Western society, a growing contingent no longer affiliates with traditional religions, instead preferring science as an alternative and—dare we say—superior source of truth and knowledge. The question “Does God exist?” is no longer as relevant as it used to be, and a new default question takes its place: “Since God doesn’t exist, how should we live?” Such an environment simply assumes deep and abiding skepticism regarding the Bible’s authority and truthfulness, and therefore, its applicability.

At the forefront of this movement are the humanists. According to Epstein, “Humanism is being good without God,” which, at the core, is about “taking charge of the often lousy world around us and working to shape it into a better place.” It’s a tantalizingly compelling rally cry for our generation, and countless individuals inspired by this vision of a just society for us and by us have been working tirelessly for goodness, human flourishing, the end of suffering, and equal rights worldwide.

But none of these goals is new to Christianity; in fact, many humanist and Christian aims are in complete agreement, and it’s quite feasible for the two groups to work in tandem to find solutions to the myriad problems facing our world. Which begs the question: “If we can be good without God, why do we need God at all?” Might as well get rid of the redundancies.

Light of the World

Before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, however, we need to recognize that “good without God” is not a statement about the existence of God; it is an indictment against Christians. Such ideologies gain popularity in part because Christians so often fail to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile or love our neighbors as ourselves. Unless accompanied by compelling examples of Christ-like behavior, apologetics or theology will not convince many people that there is indeed one true and living God who will some day make all things new.

But what a difference it would make if they would see the fruit of the our faith, evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As the fragrance of Christ to a lost world, followers of Jesus diverge from the ways of the world as we live with a mission and purpose informed by the gospel message.

And so we find that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16 ring ever so true in our day and age:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The light will only shine if our hearts have been transformed by the love and grace shown to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Gazing upon Christ, his work in our place, and our justification before God, our hearts melt with gratitude and joy and we devote our lives to spreading the gospel as we await Jesus’ return, when he will renew his creation.

* * * * *

Join Redeemer Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening, November 17, as Greg Epstein talks with Tim Keller about the implications of C. S. Lewis’s classic essay, “On Living in an Atomic Age.” A time of questions and answers will follow. This event commemorates the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death. Prior to the conversation, Max McLean (Listener’s BibleThe Screwtape Letters) will perform a dramatic rendition of “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

You can watch this special event via live webcast on Sunday at 7 p.m. EST.

How to Prepare for Pain and Suffering

You wouldn’t want someone to hand you this book, because it probably means you’re enduring hardship and suffering. But you need to read this book, preferably before the hardship and suffering inevitably comes.

Walking with God through Pain and SufferingWe in the West somehow think if we’re lucky we’ll avoid the pain we see around us. So we cross our fingers and hope for the best. Of course no one can avoid death and aging, but we put off such thoughts until absolutely necessary and sometimes not until it’s too late.

Tim Keller’s new book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, forces us to confront life as it really is and not as our Western fairy tales suggest. The first part of the book considers the problem of evil, the way various cultures handle suffering, why Christianity prevailed in the Roman world, and the inability of secular views to give purpose to life. The second part digs deeper into Christian theology to explore various kinds of suffering in light of the sovereignty and suffering of God. And the final section helps believers walk, weep, trust, pray, think, thank, love, and hope through trials.

I talked with Keller, vice president of The Gospel Coalition, about the inspiring stories interspersed through the book, Dostoevsky’s answer to the problem of evil, the need to train our minds with the gospel to prepare for suffering, and much more.

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Tim Keller Wants You to Suffer Well

Suffering. Is there a more perennially and painfully relevant topic? Countless books address the subject—and countless sufferers read them. Beneath the sometimes shiny veneer, after all, this world is a profoundly tragic place.

Christian books on suffering tend to fall into one of three camps. Some are philosophical, written to address the “problem of evil” and other complex questions from a typically scholarly perspective. Others are theological, intended to survey the breadth of God’s Word to see what it has to say about affliction and evil. Still others are pastoral, designed to give down-to-earth devotional help to those locked in the grip of pain.

Of course, these categories often overlap, and some books may capably address two. I don’t know of any, however, that thoroughly tackles all three like Tim Keller’s new Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. (Read Joni Eareckson Tada’s review.) With an academic mind and a pastor’s heart, the senior minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York engages our minds and our hearts with the truth-anchored hope of the gospel.

I corresponded with Keller about the wimpishness of Westerners, the bankruptcy of secularism, the usefulness of Judgment Day, the gymnasium of God, and more. And come back tonight to watch the livestream from New York as Keller discusses his newest work.


We are “more shocked and undone by suffering than were our ancestors,” you observe. Why is suffering peculiarly traumatic for modern Westerners?

Most cultures—unlike our own—expect suffering as inevitable and see it as a means of strengthening and enriching us. Our secular culture, on the other hand, is perhaps the worst in history at helping its members face suffering. Every other culture says the meaning of life is something beyond this world and life. It may be (a) going to heaven to live with God and your loved ones forever; (b) escaping the cycle of reincarnation in order to enter eternal bliss; (c) escaping the illusion of the world to go into the all-Soul of the universe; (d) living a moral, virtuous, honorable life even in the face of defeat and doom; or (e) living on in your family and descendants. In each case suffering, though painful, can actually help you reach your life goal and complete your life story.


But in secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story—it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.

In what sense is the secular view of suffering, as French philosopher Luc Ferry put it, “too brutal to be honest”? Conversely, how does the Christian view offer both “greater room for sorrow and greater basis for hope”?

Ferry is referring to the remark, “If when we die we simply cease to exist, there is no reason to dread death at all.” After all, the reasoning goes, when I’m dead I won’t know anything. But Ferry says anyone who loves other people has to dread losing the relationship. It’s impossible not to want love relationships to endure, and death means (in the secular view) the end of all love relationships. So for a secular person to say there’s no reason to dread death seems dishonest.

Because Christianity gives us an assured hope that we will have infinitely greater and unending love relationships (with God first and foremost but with others too), this gives us not only a greater basis for hope, but it also gives greater room to express our sorrow. We don’t have to detach our hearts from loved ones the way the ancient and modern stoics have done in order to protect themselves emotionally from the hopelessness of death.

How does Christian belief in Judgment Day keep us from being too passive or too violently aggressive in our pursuit of truth and justice?

On the one hand, Judgment Day shows us that God hates sin, evil, and injustice and therefore we should hate it too. That prevents mere acquiescence in the status quo. But Judgment Day also assures us God and truth will eventually triumph, and that means it’s not all up to us. We can’t bring about complete justice by any human initiative. This discourages utopianism and the cruelty that so often accompanies such a false hope.

In contrast to karma and even common sense, how is the Bible’s perspective “less flattering to non-sufferers” and “kinder to those who are hurting”?

Karma says that if you’re suffering you always personally deserve it—it’s because of something you did in another life. And so if you aren’t suffering, it must be because you lived well in the past and earned your current pleasant life. Readers of the Bible will recognize this as the view of Job’s friends, a view that God condemns. The Bible’s perspective is that suffering is not distributed according to the relative moral deserts of people. Good people don’t all have more pleasant lives while bad people all have more difficult lives. That’s not the way of things. “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away” (Prov. 13:23). And so because Scripture makes this claim, it is less flattering to non-sufferers. Biblically, you cannot assume your good circumstances mean God is pleased with you. It may be his way of judging you, allowing you to perish in your complacency. And biblically, you cannot assume that if you’re suffering it’s a direct chastisement for some wrongdoing. See John 9 and the whole book of Job.

How is the Bible’s teaching on suffering “profoundly realistic and yet astonishingly hopeful”? 

It’s profoundly realistic because it tells us suffering is inevitable. No one escapes it. We shouldn’t be surprised and shocked by it. The Bible is terribly matter-of-fact about the reality that the world is filled with misery. Yet it offers not merely a spiritual afterlife but the hope of a renewed creation, the resurrection, and a material world wiped clean of decay and suffering and death. No other religion promises such a thing.

The Bible presents God’s relationship to suffering as both “stronger” and “weaker,” as it were, than does any other religion. On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us. No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.

One of the themes pervading the book is the idea that suffering ought not be avoided or denied. Why should we embrace the experiences in “God’s gymnasium” that he sends our way?

Secularism sees suffering as completely useless, while many ancient religions see suffering as useful to your character growth and spiritual attainments. While Christianity certainly acknowledges the outrageous, mysterious injustice of much suffering (as does the West)—and while it also points to the ways it serves as a “gymnasium” to help us grow stronger spiritually (as does the East)—I don’t think the Bible sees the main use of suffering to be our benefit. I think the main reason we should be patient under suffering is that it glorifies God and that, for Christians, doing so is our greatest pleasure and duty. When we endure suffering with all the patience we can muster, we treat God as God, and that glorifies him, regardless of any other results we can discern.

Why were early Christian churches “famously good places to be a person in suffering”? What can we learn from our spiritual forebears in this regard?

Society was more stratified, and the poor and marginalized classes were despised in the early days of Christianity. The church was far more open to the poor, women and children, slaves and the sick. In some ways it’s harder for churches today to look as compassionate to the world because secular Western society has co-opted the humanitarianism Christianity originally introduced. Christians displayed a previously unheard-of concern for all suffering people for many theological reasons, but especially because of their belief in the imago Dei in every individual. It remains to be seen whether our society—which is abandoning the idea of God and the imago Dei—can maintain its record of humanitarianism without it. Meanwhile the Christian church must certainly, then, be at least as well known for its care for sufferers as our spiritual forbears were.

You reflect how, before your cancer surgery a few years ago, you were granted a “sudden, clear new perspective on everything. It seemed to me the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty. . . . I went to sleep with a bright peace on my heart.” How can a sufferer get that kind of peace?

You can’t. I mean there’s nothing you can do that necessarily brings it about. It’s a gift. You should trust and pray and pour out your heart honestly to God and look to him. He promises in texts like 1 Corinthians 10:13 that you will have enough strength to get through it—but he doesn’t promise to give us experiences of super-abounding joy and serenity such that for a moment the stress and sadness seem to melt away. That can happen, and we should be endlessly grateful for such “touches” of God’s love. But he doesn’t promise them, and only he knows what we need and when. Remember John Newton’s maxim: “Everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds.”

Help Us Publish Keller’s ‘Gospel in Life’ for China

I want to make sure you know about an exciting new project that we have recently posted. This past year, we’ve been working with Redeemer City to City to put the final touches on a theological famine relief project for Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life, translated into Chinese and legally published in mainland China. 

China, the largest nation in the world, is home to the fastest-growing church movement in Asia. While Chinese nationals have emigrated throughout the world, more than 1 billion people still live in China and its provincial nations. With 1 in every 5 people in the world reading the Chinese language there is a need for biblically sound Christian books, theological training, and discipleship materials. 

The church is rapidly expanding and yet these pastors need good study and training aids and Chinese doctrinal books that will help them lead and guide their congregations in times of difficulty and in times of great blessing. Be sure to read this fascinating article on recent developments with both the registered and un-registered church in China.

Gospel in Life is an eight-week course on the gospel and how it is lived out in all of life—first in our hearts, then in community, and out into the world. 

God has provided us with a generous supporter who will match any gift to this project until we reach our $19,000 goal. We would love for you to prayerfully consider supporting this strategic project for China.

Thank you so much for your partnership in spreading the gospel.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 )

Trailer for Gospel in Life from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

The Gospel Coalition: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

From a Manhattan sidewalk cafe in 2002 to a Pastors’ Colloquium in 2004 to the first National Conference in 2007, The Gospel Coalition’s beginnings make for an interesting story. In this ten-minute video, co-founders Don Carson and Tim Keller join executive director Ben Peays to reminisce about how TGC came about, where we’ve been, and where in God’s mercy we hope to go.

It all began, Carson reflects, with the aim of helping to “restore the center of historic, confessional Christianity” in the broadly Reformed heritage. Officially constituted with a Council and Foundation Documents around the time of the 2007 National Conference, TGC has since seen the birth of a website with about 4 million monthly pageviews, more than a dozen Regional Chapters, a biennial Women’s Conference, and an International Outreach initiative dedicated to relieving theological famine around the globe.

“We were initially thinking more in terms of conferences than of the web,” Keller admits. “It seems we’ve created a space that’s made people think, ‘This is broad enough and yet focused enough that I can really learn from this group.'”

Regarding TGC’s international vision, Carson explains, “We’ve been clear from the beginning that we don’t want [overseas groups] to be American-controlled.” Instead of an “American hegemony that’s some sort of new worldwide mission,” the hope is simply to engender “strategic and mutually encouraging” fellowships around the world. As Keller remarks, it’s vital for such TGC-inspired partnerships to be and remain indigenous.

“We certainly make our share of mistakes,” Peays acknowledges, “but we’re grateful to God for where we are now, and we hope to honor him going forward.” And, Lord willing, Carson adds, “This is only the beginning.” May God grant us strength, humility, and wisdom to equip and encourage his saints in the days to come, to the praise of his glorious grace.

What Is the History and Future of TGC? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


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Are You Ready for the Urban Future?

Like it or not, it’s true: more people are living in cities than ever before. This migration cityward doesn’t appear to be waning, either; in fact, it’s projected that within the next 35 years our world will be 70 percent urban. (In 1800, that number was 2 percent. In 1900, it was 14 percent.)

So what bearing should this reality have on today’s church? In Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church (Crossway), Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard seek to address such pressing questions and trends. Their aim, as Um explains in the video below featuring Buzzard and Christ + City author Jon Dennis, isn’t to insinuate that city ministry is superior. It is, however, uniquely strategic.

“This book is not about why cities matter more. We need gospel-preaching, gospel-shaped churches wherever there are people,” Um says. “But more people are moving into cities than ever before. Around the world 5.5 million people per month are moving into cities. That’s another San Francisco every month.”

I corresponded with Um, senior minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, about Why Cities Matter, why American believers are often urban pessimists, how rural and suburban friends can champion God’s work in cities, and more.


What prompted you to write this book now? To whom is it addressed? 

No matter where you live, it’s an established reality that the world is rapidly becoming very urban. In 1900, the world’s urban population was only 14 percent. As I write, that number has reached 52 percent. By 2050, the number is projected to be near 70 percent. It’s hard to wrap our minds around this kind of enormous shift. So Why Cities Matter is addressed to anyone seeking to understand rapid global urbanization and its implications for our world, particularly as it relates to gospel mission. The book isn’t only written for people living in cities, but also for those in rural and suburban areas who want to prayerfully understand and support the work of God in urban centers.

We’re hoping the book is winsome enough to help the conversation move beyond the perceived divisions between urban, suburban, and rural ministries. We need churches wherever there are people. That’s something that we can all agree on. But we must also be honest about the fact that more people than ever before are moving to the cities of the world.

Tim Keller has observed, “Christians, particularly in America, are generally negative toward cities. . . . Very few American Christians have lived in urban centers or even like them.” Why do you think this is so?

Unfortunately, leaders like Keller are often subjected to the charge of being “anti-suburban” because of their willingness to speak clearly about a very real phenomenon. Research has shown that 68.1 percent of American evangelicals live in suburban and rural areas, while only 31.9 percent live in urban areas.1 Numbers like these force us to be honest with ourselves. The majority of evangelicals appear to have a preference for non-urban places, while the majority of the world’s population increasingly has a preference for urban areas. Simply put, if evangelicals stay where they are, in 35 years our geographical statistics will be the exact opposite of the rest of the world’s (i.e., we’ll be roughly 30 percent urban and 70 percent suburban/rural while the world’s population is roughly 70 percent urban and 30 percent suburban/rural). That ought to give us pause.

You remark that in 35 years the world is likely to be almost 70 percent urban. What kinds of challenges or opportunities does this trend present to believers?

The challenge will be keeping up with the combined phenomenon of rapid population growth and global urbanization. In the foreword to our book Keller observes, “In the next 20 years, China’s cities will add an additional 350 million people to their current population, more than the entire population of the United States.” Needless to say, if there isn’t a strategic gospel-centered church planting movement ahead of this curve, we’ll be playing catch-up for the next century or more. And this is just one example of how our world is shifting. But the opportunities for believers are endless. We can actually identify the urban areas to which millions of aspirational, marginalized, and explorational individuals will be streaming in the coming decades. These are people who are in great need of the gospel, and who will be uniquely open to hearing the gospel as a result of the cosmopolitan spirit so prevalent in cities.

Where do we see cities in Scripture, and what can we learn from those passages?

The Bible has much to say about the city, and we cover a lot of that ground in the third chapter of the book, so I’ll give just one example here. In Hebrews 11, we’re told Abraham was called by God to leave his birth city and to live “in tents” on the way to the land of promise (v. 9). The author assumes that this wasn’t an ideal way of life, and Abraham is seen to be “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (v. 10). In this way believers are seen as “not yet” sojourners en route to a city prepared by God (Rev. 21).

But in the next chapter, Hebrews 12, the author encourages his readers by stacking up the blessings they already have in Christ. Among those “already” blessings is this: you “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (v. 22). The implication is that while we’re still awaiting the full consummation of the new city of Revelation 21, we already experience the blessings of our heavenly citizenship. Citizenship in a future city shapes our approach to our penultimate citizenship in our present cities.

How can those who don’t live in cities be obedient to the call to love cities as God does?

It can begin with personal prayer to discern whether or not you’ve unknowingly adapted an anti-urban bias. What happens in your heart when you hear about cities or about city-specific ministries? If you find yourself getting defensive or polemical, you might ask God to disinfect your approach to cities. Not everyone is called to live in an urban area—many are called to live in suburban and rural areas—but everyone is called to pray for the spread of the gospel and the health of the church. If you have a hard time celebrating, supporting, and enjoying what God is doing in cities, then this may be an occasion for evaluating your heart posture toward God’s global kingdom work. The same goes for Christians in urban settings. We must be careful not to downplay or demonize the great work God is doing in rural and suburban areas. Justin and I lay out additional suggestions in the book.

What would you say to brothers and sisters serving in obscure places who may read a book like Why Cities Matter and feel like they’re missing out—perhaps even selling out—by not ministering in a city context? 

First, anyone who goes to the city because they feel they’re missing out or selling out needs to re-evaluate their sense of calling to the city. Though there’s much to love about cities and their culture(s), God’s call has little to do with what is culturally savvy. That said, if you’ve been called to an “obscure” place, Why Cities Matter isn’t a threat or a challenge; it’s a resource we hope will aid you in situating your own contextual ministry within a broad understanding of our world’s shifting cultural currents.

We are in this together. God is calling some to cities. He’s calling others to suburban and rural areas. We hope that Why Cities Matter will be an occasion for confessional evangelicals to be self-reflective and strategic as we think about what gospel mission might look like in an increasingly urban world.

1 Mark T. Mulder and James K. A. Smith, “Subdivided by Faith?: An Historical Account of Evangelicals and the City,” Christian Scholars Review XXXVIII, no. 4 (2009), 430. The numbers are even more striking when race is factored in: “Only 18.4% of white evangelicals live in urban areas, while 51.8% live in sub-urban/exurban contexts (just 29.8% live in rural areas).”

Gospel and the City from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Gospel Ministry vs. False Ministry

Paul was a man who poured himself into ministry. In Galatians 4:12-20, we’re given an insight into how he planted a church. There is much for us to learn here about gospel ministry and relationships in our settings today.

First, gospel ministry is culturally flexible: “I became like you” (v. 12). A ministry energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart from the gospel. It’s not tied to every specific of culture and custom. Its leaders can come and truly live among the people they are seeking to reach and adopt their ways and love them. Paul is a model of someone who truly comes close to and enters into the lives of the people he seeks to reach—just as Christ did in his incarnation.

Second, gospel ministry is transparent: “Become like me” (v. 12). Paul has been so open about his own heart and so consistent in his own life that he can invite the Galatians to imitate him.

Our words are not sufficient for persuading others about the truth of Christ. People have to be able to look into our hearts and lives, to assess how we handle trouble, how we deal with disappointment and interruptions, how we conduct our relationships, how we feel and act, so they can see whether Christ is real and how the gospel affects a day-to-day human life.

Third, gospel ministry looks for opportunities in hardship. Problems become possibilities. “It was because of an illness,” he reminds the Galatians, “that I first preached the gospel to you” (v. 13). That most likely means he was in Galatia either because of a detour from his planned itinerary or because of a delay in his planned schedule. Either way, he wasn’t planning on preaching the gospel to them. But the illness caused it to happen.

Two Ministries, Two Goals, Two Means

The Galatians had received Paul very warmly (v. 14); but now (v. 15) they’re treating him as though he were an adversary. Why? Not because Paul has changed his message or ministry, but because their response to that message and ministry has changed. They’re now under the influence of men who have a very different message, because they have very different goals.

The false teachers’ goal is “that you may be zealous for them” (v. 17). The NIV misses some of the nuances of Paul’s sentence. The phrase “zealous to win you over” renders a word that means literally “to build up” or even “puff up.” It translates better as, “They are flattering and making much of you, so that you will flatter and make much of them.”

A gospel-energized ministry does not need to have fans who are emotionally dependent on the leaders. It seeks to please God, assured of salvation through faith. These false teachers, on the other hand, are ministering not because they are sure of their salvation but in order to be sure of and win their salvation. Just as they are calling the Galatians to earn their salvation through works, so they are earning their salvation through works—it is salvation-by-ministry.

This means they need, emotionally, to have people who emotionally need them. They need their converts and their disciples to be wrapped up in their leaders, obeying and adoring them.

This goal affects the means they use. They are “zealous to win you over” (v. 17). This is a way of saying, “They are telling you what you want to hear; they are tickling your ears, pandering to you in order to get your loyalty.” There is nothing wrong with zeal (v. 18) in itself; what dictates whether zeal is good or bad is whether “the purpose is good.” The false teachers simply want to be built up by building the Galatians up—not in the gospel, but in pride and self-righteousness.

By contrast, Paul’s goal is in verse 19: he is in agony “until Christ be formed in you.” This is critical. Despite Paul’s appeal in verse 12 to “become like me,” Paul is only being an example to the Galatians in order for them to be changed into the likeness of Christ. Paul doesn’t say “like me,” but “become like me.” He isn’t trying to get fans but to get people to follow Christ as he does. Paul wants people not to become dependent on him, but on Christ.

This is why Paul uses the image of labor. He is like a mother, laboring “in the pains of childbirth” over his disciples. A mother in labor desperately wants her child to get out and be independently alive! A child grows inside the mother. The mother must suffer in order to give life to the child, but that does not mean she wants the child to stay in the womb. It’s a remarkable image for healthy, gospel-based ministry.

The false teachers want followers who glorify them; Paul wants partners who glorify Christ. And that directs the means to his goal. Unlike his opponents, Paul is not telling the Galatians what they would like to hear. He is telling them “the truth” (v. 16), and he is being vilified for it. Paul would love to be affirming and gentle, to “change my tone” (v. 20). But he would rather hold out the gospel than receive the praise. After all, the gospel brings people to Christ-dependence, shapes people in Christ-likeness, and provokes people to Christ-praise.

This kind of gospel ministry is costly to the minister. It’s not always easy for those they are ministering to. But it is based on the truth; it is pointing to Christ; and it is eternally worthwhile. We would do well to imitate Paul in our ministry to others; and to love and thank those who love us enough to minister to us as he did to the Galatians.

This excerpt is adapted from Tim Keller’s new resource, Galatians For You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading (The Good Book Company, 2013). Keller has also written an accompanying Bible-study curriculum, Gospel Matters: The Good Book Guide to Galatians.

Put Your Faith to Work at TGC13

The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good. Sadly, many Christians have learned to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation.

The Gospel Coalition has a vision for churches that equip people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. That’s why we’ve invited leaders from the church and marketplace to come together for an afternoon to discuss a variety of issues related to the Christian faith and its role in our work and vacation. This free Faith at Work event will take place from 1:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, following The Gospel Coalition National Conference at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida. Tim Keller, author of the recently published book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, headlines the post-conference. He will be joined by leaders in business, tech, non-profits, and the church as we seek to re-connect Sunday worship with Monday work.

We hope this event will lead to more churches supporting Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Visit the post-conference site for more details on the schedule, speakers, and subjects.

2012 New England Regional Conference Day 1

There’s a long history of gospel opposition in New England. The center of that opposition—even since Jonathan Edwards’ day—can be found in churches in and around Boston. Thankfully, the Lord has preserved faithful churches along the way, in Boston and throughout New England, who have been filled with leaders, longing for God to bring renewal in New England.

Today, in Boston, over 1,200 pastors, church leaders, campus leaders, and concerned laypeople from all around New England gathered together at the first day of the 2012 TGC New England Regional Conference. There was loud singing and joyful longing for God to pour out his Spirit.

Friday began, at 3:00 pm with a pre-conference event, ”The Gospel-Shaped Ministry” with Tim Keller.

A panel discussion with Stephen Um, David Wells, Richard Lints, and Tim Keller on particular challenges of contextualization.

The Gospel-Shaped Life, Tim Keller

The Gospel-Shaped Mind, John Piper


Photos by Scotland Huber